s far as acronyms go, WCAG 2.1 is a bit of a doozy.
It’s not the most recognisable, and certainly not the easiest to say. There’s a good chance you’ve never even heard of it before.
Yet WCAG 2.1 has been gaining more and more traction around the world. Large businesses and governments have been leading the charge to promote accessibility in their workplaces, and are using WCAG 2.1 to make it happen.
What is WCAG 2.1?
WCAG stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
It’s a wide-ranging set of recommendations for making digital content more accessible for people with disabilities. It’s incredibly comprehensive too, taking into account all kinds of restrictions caused by physical or cognitive disabilities.
Many of the recommendations are also just good design principles that benefit all users by promoting simple, intuitive interactions.
Why is WCAG 2.1 so important?
Many people with disabilities, such as visual or motor impairments struggle to navigate digital content. They are often unable to use equipment that others take for granted, such as a mouse, keyboard or screen.
Imagine you’re visually impaired (if you’re not already!) and couldn’t see the screen, or could only see parts of the screen. How would you be able to see the mouse on the screen to know where to click? You couldn’t! So many visually impaired people use their keyboards to navigate, using the ‘Tab’ and ‘Enter’ or ‘Return’ keys to move through and activate text, images, buttons and other elements on the screen. They might also pair this with technology called a ‘Screen Reader’. Screen Readers describe the elements on the screen aloud.
However, both keyboard navigation and screen readers require website and software developers to develop their code carefully. Keyboard navigation requires page elements to be structured in a sensible and sequential order, as users can only go forwards or backwards. Meanwhile, screen readers require meaningful descriptions of elements. Otherwise the user may hear a bunch of random nonsense.
Without meaningful guidelines like WCAG 2.1, it’s easy and tempting for developers and creators to take shortcuts and skip over steps like writing element descriptions. However, this makes digital content far more difficult - if not impossible - to understand and navigate for many people with disabilities.
As so much of society becomes more and more digital, many people risk being unfairly excluded on the basis of a disability. The ability to have a fulfilling career is particularly at risk for exclusion if workplaces cannot provide inclusive digital environments.
Who developed WCAG 2.1?
The WCAG 2.1 guidelines were developed by the Web Accessibility Initiative, a part of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) who are the main organisation for managing internet standards.
Because they were developed by an non-affiliated organisation, WCAG 2.1 are a truly international set of guidelines that are recognised around the globe.
The first set of guidelines (WCAG 1.0) were released in 1995 as a set of 14 general principles.
WCAG 2.0 was released 2008, superseding WCAG 1.0 and consisting of 12 guidelines arranged under 4 categories.
WCAG 2.1, the most current iteration, expanded upon 2.0 with additional criteria to better support users with cognitive disabilities, users with low vision, and users with disabilities using mobile devices. WCAG 2.1 was released in 2018.
What does WCAG 2.1 involve?
There are four principles into which the recommendations are sorted. The four principles are:
Each of these principles contains between 1 to 4 guidelines that describe the key outcomes of the principles. W3C then provides a list of techniques for developers and designers to meet these guidelines. This list is kept regularly updated to reflect evolving technology.
What are the WCAG 2.1 levels of conformance?
Each guideline within each principle has a success criteria with up to three levels of conformance; Levels A, AA and AAA.
Level A defines the lowest level of conformance, and Level AAA defines the highest level of conformance, which is the most difficult to achieve.
A piece of digital content must meet the desired level of conformance (or higher) across every guideline - falling short in even one guideline will cause the level of conformance of the entire piece of content to be reduced to the lowest denominator.
Currently, much web content is able to achieve Level A conformance thanks to awareness of basic techniques such as alt text, transcripts and closed captioning. However, it is rare for content to meet even Level AA of conformance, and Level AAA conformance is exceptionally rare and difficult to meet.
Many large businesses and government organisations around the world mandate for their content to meet Level AA conformance of WCAG 2.1.
HowToo's commitment to WCAG 2.1
HowToo is passionate about contributing to digital accessibility. That’s why we strive to meet Level AA across all our digital content, including the HowToo tool, published learning objects and our website. To achieve this goal, we work closely with Intopia, a fantastic agency that helps organisations like us to become more accessible and inclusive.
How can I check if my digital content is accessible?
Easy! Download our free Accessibility Checklist. It’s based directly on WCAG 2.1, but puts the recommendations in simple, easy to understand language. You can see exactly where you’re doing well, and where you could improve.