What are accessibility standards?
First of all, they’re a legal requirement. In the UK, as of summer 2019, public sector websites have had to comply with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 AA standards. This requirement was further extended as part of the EU’s Web Accessibility Directive, which requires public sector websites created before September 2018 to be compliant by September 2020, and mobile apps by June 2021.
Long-story short, your website should be accessible and compliant with the WCAG 2.1 AA standards as a minimum by now. That’s part of the reason why at Un.titled, we work to include these guidelines throughout our end-to-end processes, from design to code to content.
As all good things that evolve over time, so is this current standard which will get quite a major upgrade in the form of the upcoming WCAG 3.0. As the W3C site explains: “The W3C Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 3.0 provide a wide range of recommendations for making web content more accessible to users with disabilities.”
What can we expect from this update?
Whilst the new format isn’t likely to be published until 2023, it’s worth understanding that WCAG 3.0 is designed to be easier to learn, and for its results to better reflect the experience of people with disabilities on the web.
What are the main differences between WCAG 2.x and 3.0?
An important point is that WCAG 3.0 isn’t intended to be backwards compatible.
As it stands it is a significant departure from the WCAG 2.x guidelines, with an extended scope as references to content have been dropped. Rather, WCAG 3.0 is seen as the new W3C accessibility guidelines, making them more complex.
There also appears to be a different approach to accessibility, moving away from the pass/fail approach of the current standards and shifting into a more nuanced way of testing and scoring online accessibility.
An overview of the differences, based on the initial draft of WCAG 3.0 as of January 2021:
- 'Principles' which appear in WCAG 2.x are removed in WCAG 3.0
- 'Guidelines' are maintained in both
- 'Success criteria' becomes 'Outcomes' in WCAG 3.0
- 'Techniques' turn into 'Methods' in WCAG 3.0
- 'Non-interference requirements' are replaced by 'Critical errors' in WCAG 3.0
- 'Level A, AA, AAA' from WCAG 2.0 are renamed as 'Bronze, Silver, Gold' in WCAG 3.0
Bronze, Silver, Gold?
That’s right. Rather than the more static compliancy levels of the current standards (A,AA,AAA), WCAG 3.0 aims to meet their goals by changing the structure of the guidelines. That includes transforming the conformance model and updating the content of the guidelines.
What that means is that whilst the requirements from the previous guidelines won’t radically change, they will be expressed differently. These new standards then will be measured as an overall score, rather than failing certain elements.
When it comes to assessing the accessibility levels of a website, testing is crucial. Within Un.titled, our current accessibility testing regime falls broadly into two types:
Using testing tools
Tools such as Axe from Deque, WebAim and Accessibility Insights – all of which are Google Chrome addons – capture issues relating to visual contrast, missing alt text and general code elements (eg. missing form label), all of which allow users to consume content on a page.
These tools produce a ‘fail’ on elements where relevant, meaning that the site itself fails on these accessibility violations. The tools can be set to test to one of the A, AA or AAA levels, and will output results accordingly.
These methods look at the areas which the above testing tools don’t cover or pickup on, such as:
- Missing ‘skip to content’ links
- Visual tabbing
- Ensuring the tabbing works well, that the user can interact with the page and any functionality within it (eg. A search input)
Manual testing can outline that, whilst a testing tool may give a page an excellent score, the usability of the page itself for some users would fail.
These testing methods (and violation reporting) will evolve in WCAG 3.0 which will include what are known as atomic and holistic tests.
Atomic tests look at specific subsets of websites, or specific criteria, and also at content without clear boundaries; eg. how clear is the language included on a web page.
Holistic testing takes more of an overall view. Tests will include more usability orientated methods such as testing with assistive technology, user-centered design methods or expert usability testing.
At Un.titled we will continue to evolve our testing regimes around this whilst also ensuring that, as accessibility is end-to-end, we’re not just testing the final product, after the fact. Testing is continuous so that when your site is built, all of the above will have been done.
As we can see then, within WCAG 3.0 overall scores will be more nuanced and an aggregate of these tests.
How will WCAG 3.0 affect my site?
Although the new 3.0 version doesn't come into effect yet (and for quite a good while still), accessibility standards as a whole need to be taken into account for every aspect of your digital presence. We’ve written previously outlining the various reasons why this is so, but in summary it’s good for users, SEO and ultimately your bottom line. All of that on top of it being a legal requirement like we discussed in the introduction of this blog.