An update to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is here. On October 5, 2023, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Accessibility Guidelines Working Group (AGWG) officially released version 2.2 of WCAG. Due to the evolving digital landscape, these guidelines and standards must be reviewed and refreshed to ensure they address current needs. This is why the WCAG 2.2 update is so important.

Background on WCAG

WCAG is a foundational, internationally recognized technical standard that guides how web developers make their content fully accessible to people with disabilities. WCAG also applies to non-web content and software. The W3C has developed Guidance on Applying WCAG 2.2 to Non-Web Information and Communications Technologies (WCAG2ICT), including any digital content and software user interfaces. WCAG standards are aligned with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act1 in the United States and EN 301 549 in the European Union, both of which state that WCAG applies to both web and non-web content. The U.S. Department of Justice has repeatedly cited these standards in hundreds of settlements, affirming how the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to digital accessibility.

WCAG 2.2 Updates

WCAG 2.2 builds upon WCAG 2.1, which the W3C released in June 2018. WCAG 2.2 includes several critical updates that will benefit all disabled people, especially those with cognitive disabilities, fine motor disabilities, and people who have low vision or color blindness. The WCAG 2.2 update removes the previously included success criteria, 4.1.1 Parsing, which was deemed obsolete, and introduces 9 additional success criteria that are outlined below.

Keyboard Navigation

There are three new success criteria aimed at improving how users navigate content using a keyboard (2.4.11, 2.4.12, 2.4.13). The first two success criteria provide techniques for ensuring that author-created content does not obscure whatever component the user’s keyboard is focused on. Another criterion in this group clarifies that when the keyboard focus indicator is visible, it needs to have a thick enough border and enough contrast to meet the new standard. These recommendations will make it easier for people with a variety of disabilities (cognitive, fine motor, and low vision) to interact with web content more easily, but especially people who may use a keyboard or switch control.

Pointer Inputs

Two new success criteria improve the accessibility of “pointer” inputs, meaning a mouse, finger, stylus, etc. (2.5.7, 2.5.8). The first new criterion in this group states that any functionality that uses a dragging movement must be achievable using a single “click,” as well. The other new criterion related to pointer inputs establishes a minimum target size for pointer inputs, which should reduce the frustration of accidentally performing the wrong action with your finger on a smartphone. Both of these guidelines will especially benefit people with fine motor disabilities.

Understandable User Interface

The remaining four success criteria all come from the portion of WCAG focused on ensuring that information and operation of the user interface is understandable (3.2.6, 3.3.7, 3.3.8, 3.3.9). The first success criterion of this group states that if a website has any “help” mechanisms available to the user, those mechanisms need to be presented in the same manner and location on all pages within the site.

The second success criterion of this group states that redundant data entry should be reduced as much as possible. For instance, if information that the user has previously entered needs to be entered again, it should be auto-populated or available for selection—except in cases when re-entry is required for security reasons.

The final two success criteria aim to make the authentication process more accessible by giving the user the option not to perform a cognitive function test (such as entering a password or solving a puzzle) and instead providing more accessible authentication methods. These criteria focus on enhancing “help” features and reducing repetitive data entry. Making authentication more accessible will be a boon for people who are neurodiverse or have cognitive disabilities—a population for which WCAG is still developing new recommendations.

To understand how to use their guidelines, the W3C provides helpful personas that include fictionalized stories of people with disabilities. PEAT also provides the Buy IT: Your Guide to Procuring Accessible Technology resource to understand how to use WCAG standards when working with vendors to purchase accessible technology. These resources range from an article on understanding technical standards to a template of model language for ICT accessibility requirements to add to contracts.

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[1] Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act incorporates WCAG 2.0 standards, not WCAG 2.2.