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What’s In WCAG 2.1?

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The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has published the latest update to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines – WCAG 2.1. Building off of the existing guidelines and principles found in WCAG 2.0, WCAG 2.1 adds additional guidelines and guidance to improve the accessibility of web content, with particular emphasis on improving accessibility on the web for persons with cognitive or learning disabilities, persons who are low-vision, and for persons with disabilities interacting with content on mobile devices. In this blog post we’ll provide a brief overview of the changes in WCAG 2.1 and point out some important facts about the changes.

WCAG 2.0 vs. WCAG 2.1

WCAG 2.1 builds upon WCAG 2.0, which was a significant revision of the original WCAG 1.0 guidelines. WCAG 2.1 extends WCAG 2.0, adding 17 additional success criteria across the same four principles: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust (POUR). WCAG 2.1 does not modify the existing WCAG 2.0 success criteria; it adds additional success criteria to support modern web technologies and to accommodate a wider range of disabilities. The practical result of this is that content that conforms to WCAG 2.0 will continue to conform to all of the same success criteria in WCAG 2.1. Therefore, content that meets WCAG 2.0 need only be checked against the 17 new success criteria to determine if it conforms to WCAG 2.1 as well.

In order to ensure backward compatibility with WCAG 2.0 and to help prevent confusion, all new success criteria introduced in WCAG 2.1 were appended to each guideline. The benefit of this is that no success criteria from WCAG 2.0 have been rearranged, and no new success criteria from WCAG 2.1 have been placed in between them – which ensures that the numbering for WCAG 2.0 success criteria remain exactly the same in WCAG 2.1. For example, a new success criterion for guideline 1.3 “Adaptable” was introduced in WCAG 2.1. This new criterion, 1.3.4 “Orientation” was added after the existing guideline 1.3 criteria, meaning WCAG 2.0 criteria such as 1.3.1 “Info and Relationships” or 1.3.2 “Meaningful Sequence” remain unaffected.

One side effect of appending the new WCAG 2.1 success criteria after the existing WCAG 2.0 criteria is that the success criteria are no longer in order based on their WCAG conformance level. For example, in WCAG 2.0 guideline 1.4 success criteria 1.4.1-1.4.2 were level A, 1.4.3-1.4.5 were level AA, and 1.4.6-1.4.9 were level AAA. While these existing criteria remain the same in WCAG 2.1, the new guideline 1.4 success criteria, 1.4.10-1.4.13 are level AA. It is important to verify the level specified in the success criteria as there is no longer a correlation between the numbering of the success criteria and its WCAG conformance level.

The New WCAG 2.1 Criteria

The following list contains the 17 new success criteria introduced in WCAG 2.1, including the new success criteria number, the title of the success criteria, and the WCAG 2.1 conformance level for the new criteria.

  • 1.3.4” Orientation” (AA)

  • 1.3.5 “Identify Input Purpose” (AA)

  • 1.3.6 “Identify Purpose” (AAA)

  • 1.4.10 “Reflow” (AA)

  • 1.4.11 “Non-Text Contrast” (AA)

  • 1.4.12 “Text Spacing” (AA)

  • 1.4.13 “Content on Hover or Focus” (AA)

  • 2.1.4 “Character Key Shortcuts” (A)

  • 2.2.6 “Timeouts” (AAA)

  • 2.3.3 “Animation from Interactions” (AAA)

  • 2.5.1 “Pointer Gestures” (A)

  • 2.5.2 “Pointer Cancellation” (A)

  • 2.5.3 “Label in Name” (A)

  • 2.5.4 “Motion Actuation” (A)

  • 2.5.5 “Target Size” (AAA)

  • 2.5.6 “Concurrent Input Mechanisms” (AAA)

  • 4.1.3 “Status Messages” (AA)

We’ll go into each of these new success criteria in greater detail in subsequent posts on this blog, so stay tuned!

When to start using WCAG 2.1

Here at Accessible360, we believe the time to start using WCAG 2.1 is now. By beginning to incorporate WCAG 2.1 into your development process, you’ll help ensure your web content is accessible to a wider array of users than would be achieved using WCAG 2.0. Using WCAG 2.1 now also helps future-proof your content when agencies and the courts begin to refer to these updated guidelines. In addition, if you are already under a mandate to comply with WCAG 2.0, you can fulfill this mandate by conforming to WCAG 2.1 as it is fully backwards-compatible.

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