WCAG2.1: Web guidelines set for makeover, enabling better mobile and web access for disabled users

It’s a mobile-first world. The global web content accessibility guidelines WCAG are being updated to make sure that sites and apps are now inclusive for all users on the go, including disabled people. This post is based on an article which first appeared in E-Access Live, written by editor Tristan Parker.

New guidelines to focus on mobile access, vision impairment and learning disabilities

The first public draft of an update to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) has been released, with an increased focus on mobile content, users with low vision, and users with cognitive and learning disabilities.

The current guidelines – WCAG 2.0 – are seen by many as a benchmark for web accessibility. WCAG 2.0 is widely used by authorities and organisations seeking to review websites, and to make and keep them accessible for users with disabilities. For example, the Society of IT Management (Socitm) uses WCAG 2.0 to test the accessibility of UK council websites in its annual Better Connected review.

The public working draft of the update, WCAG 2.1, seeks to build on the existing guidelines, adding in new recommendations for those creating and designing web content.

WCAG2.1: By mid-2018

WCAG 2.1 is being developed by the Accessibility Guidelines Working Group (AGWG), a sub-group of the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). WAI is part of the much larger World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) - an international voluntary standards community founded by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web.

Judy Brewer, director of the web accessibility Initiative at W3C, told e-Access Bulletin about some of the new measures which would be in WCAG 2.1 - includes an extension of requirements for mobile device access.

person using braille computer

Brewer said: “Research, tools and awareness in the areas of accessibility for people with cognitive and learning disabilities, and for people with low vision, have been increasing in recent years, and we are updating WCAG 2.1 to reflect this.”

The next steps are for AGWG to review and respond to public feedback, and make changes for new versions of the WCAG 2.1 draft. The draft will continue to be reviewed and evolve throughout 2017, with further testing in early 2018. “The goal is to finalise [the draft WCAG 2.1] as a W3C recommendation (a web standard) by mid-2018,” Brewer said.

Have your say on new web accessibility guidelines WCAG2.1

Speaking about W3C’s aim for organisations to begin implementing the WCAG 2.1 draft – and upcoming final version – Brewer called on readers to help get the message out: “There are many things that you can help with, starting with helping to spread the word of the update under development. Then, eventually, spreading the word that there’s an updated standard, encouraging people to implement it, and to adopt and reference it in policies that they have an opportunity to impact.”

Public feedback on the draft officially closed on March 31, but Brewer confirmed that comments received after that will still be useful. Feedback on the draft can be emailed to the following address: public-agwg-comments@w3.org.

Next: WCAG3.0 to embrace the ‘internet of things’

A longer-term ‘3.0’ update to WCAG is also being worked on by AGWG’s ‘Silver Task Force’, explained Brewer: “The [Task Force] are initially focusing on improvements in terms of usability of the guidelines themselves, but may also look at expanding the scope to encompass technologies that are converging on the web, such as digital publishing or the Internet of Things. The goal is to produce a very flexible set of guidelines that can adapt even better to evolving technology and user needs.”

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