Web Design 4 min

WCAG 2.1: How Digital Accessibility Affects Your Business

Posted by Ashley Mugnolo

WCAG 2.1 is the addendum to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, which is a set of guidelines designed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to make websites and all digital technology accessible to people with disabilities. Countless businesses and all federal agencies already treat WCAG 2.0 guidelines as commonsense rules and await the […]

WCAG 2.1 is the addendum to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, which is a set of guidelines designed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to make websites and all digital technology accessible to people with disabilities. Countless businesses and all federal agencies already treat WCAG 2.0 guidelines as commonsense rules and await the 2.1 additions, which are set to be finalized in mid-2018.

Most digital marketers know it’s beneficial to stay on top of accessibility standards when it comes to building and updating websites in 2018 – and tech companies strive to do the same when developing new technologies – but did you know that level of accessibility can affect the reputation and web traffic of absolutely any business or organization with digital content? In today’s world, that’s almost every one.

Businesses and organizations who want to establish themselves as ethical / inclusive, avoid discrimination lawsuits and reach the widest customer base should incorporate these guidelines in all the digital tools they use to connect with the public: websites, electronic documents, apps / software and more. Some of the existing guidelines of WCAG include offering transcripts and captions for audio content, using certain colors and contrast levels in design elements, and using appropriate alt text for images and graphics (compatible with screen readers or Braille systems). The guidelines are built to apply even to technology that hasn’t been invented yet, and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) may eventually define W3C’s regulations as law for digital spaces (though the rulemaking action has just been tabled indefinitely).

Now that the 2.1 additions are expected to be released in 2018, it’s time for businesses – especially web designers, developers and programmers – to make sure they’re fully 2.0-compliant and to begin making changes to adhere to 2.1.

What Do We Know About WCAG 2.1?

WCAG 2.1 will serve as set of bridge rules as a more comprehensive version (3.0) is being developed. Luckily, W3C has published several drafts of 2.1 in order to invite public opinions and suggestions, so we have an idea of what the guidelines will encompass. The latest version, which W3C called the final working draft, was published in December. So what do we know? First, the 63 success criteria that make up WCAG 2.0 will be grandfathered in to version 2.1. There will be about twenty brand new success criteria. These additional criteria were designed to improve accessibility for several groups, including these:

  • People with low vision or blindness and/or people who use speech technology
    • Proposed rules would extend color contrast and text spacing guidelines, disallow single-letter key shortcuts and change hover content behavior.
    • A “reflow” rule would basically ask that aspects of web design be responsive and user-friendly so that users can enlarge or manipulate content for accessibility.
    • A proposed rule would require accessible descriptions or names of CTAs to include alternate words such as go so users can easily identify verbal commands for clicking.
  • People with cognitive disabilities such as memory impairment, ADHD, dyslexia and more; or mental illnesses such as PTSD
    • Proposed rules would eliminate timeouts that delete data (i.e., from forms), require a path for users to reduce interruptions, and limit actions that require memorization.
    • Another rule would disallow auto-play videos and content that plays after mouse interaction; or require that there be a way to turn features like this off.
  • People with motion sickness (See the rule description just above.)
  • People with dexterity disabilities.
    • Proposed rules would state a target size minimum, adjust pointer gesture guidelines (for one-finger clickers or assistive tech users) and require authors not to rely on screen orientation.
    • Another proposal is that tilting, shaking and other motion-activation movements (such as in gaming systems) should be achievable with interface components.

Why Your Business Should Comply with WCAG 2.1

If your business is up to date on 2.0 compliance, incorporating 2.1 guidelines shouldn’t be too troublesome. Shooting for the highest level of WCAG compliance (Level AA) will benefit your business in several ways:

  • It will establish your business or organization as one that cares about accessibility for all potential clients. You’ll gain the respect and support of the 19 percent of Americans who have disabilities – about 50 million people – and the people who respect and support them.
  • It will improve your SEO and Google search ranking potential. Google rewards sites that have a lot of accessibility features.
  • It will benefit all customers and leads whether they have disabilities or not, as most of the proposed guidelines extend user-friendliness for everyone. Improved user experience (UX) means more conversions. WCAG 2.1 is essentially a free, publicly available guide to achieving great UX.
  • You’ll future-proof your legal compliance. For years, it’s been up for debate whether the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title III, applies to digital spaces. Now that federal agency sites have adopted WCAG as their standard, it’s possible that the federal government may officially extend ADA compliance regulations to digital content. That decision is currently on hold, but that doesn’t prevent lawsuits and complaints. Being compliant now prepares you for anything.

How to Start Applying WCAG 2.1

Read the latest working version of WCAG 2.1, and familiarize yourself with the proposed guidelines. Some parts of the addendum are supported widely, while others have sparked some debate. Use your discretion to begin applying the guidelines to your existing and new digital content. Tools like the WAVE browser extension and WebAIM can be great resources to use alongside WCAG 2.1 as you apply accessibility standards. Oneupweb is also running FREE website audits and reports for WCAG compliance.

The final published version of WCAG 2.1 is not likely to differ greatly from the most recent draft, so it’s not too early to begin examining your digital content and improving it. Make a plan to achieve the highest potential accessibility and set your business apart in 2018.

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