For those who follow the world of web accessibility, this year brought a big development—the first public draft of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1.

WCAG 2.1 is exciting because it will update WCAG 2.0, the internationally-recognized technical standard that guides how web developers make their content fully accessible to people with disabilities. Those who followed the refresh of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 know that WCAG 2.0 plays a starring role. Information and communication technology (ICT) covered by Section 508 must now conform to WCAG 2.0.

Since the first public draft of WCAG 2.1 in February 2017, the Accessibility Guidelines Working Group (AG WG) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has continued its work with new drafts. Their final recommendations are scheduled for publication in mid-2018. And recently, at the 2017 M-Enabling Summit, PEAT had a front-row seat at an AG WG panel discussion exploring the expected changes.

So what’s to come in WCAG 2.1? Judy Brewer, the Director of W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), offered reassurance that WCAG 2.1 will in no way reverse or overwrite WCAG 2.0. Rather, it’s a response to the increased demand for updated guidance that keeps pace with the agile development of technology. “With WCAG 2.1,” she explained, “we’re addressing things people have wanted us to be addressing, so that if you were in a situation where it’s needed, you can point to updated guidance. [WCAG] 2.1 is a standard that is well-vetted. We want to be helpful with this additional information, but stable with regard to existing information.”

The AG WG is working hard to engage stakeholders in the process as it drafts WCAG 2.1. As Preety Kumar, the CEO and Founder of Deque Systems, emphasized in reference to WCAG 2.1: “Planning, planning, planning is what it takes.” Under the umbrella of the AG WG, task forces made up of technology and accessibility experts are working on specific projects to bring WCAG 2.1 to life. Of these task forces, three are concentrating on the key facets that will form the basis of the new guidance. According to a blog post from W3C, these “areas of accessibility” include:

  • small-screen and touch mobile devices;
  • users with low vision; and,
  • users with cognitive or learning disabilities.

According to Kathy Wahlbin, the Founder and CEO of Interactive Accessibility and Co-Chair of the Mobile Accessibility Task Force, WCAG 2.1 builds upon 2.0 in important ways. “What’s really exciting for me about 2.1 is we’ve started to think of end user needs,” she said.

As it stands, WCAG 2.1 includes 28 success criteria, selected from over 60 new proposals. These criteria, Brewer explained, are meant to ensure that the guidelines for accessibility can be successfully implemented and tested, but the criteria are likely to change before official publication. The team behind the first draft of WCAG 2.1 will be continuing their work conducting research and engaging stakeholders internationally to create the best possible guidance regarding web accessibility for all in a technologically advancing world.

To learn more about the current accessibility guidelines, WCAG 2.0, check out PEAT’s interview with W3C’s WAI Outreach Coordinator, Shawn Henry. And be sure to visit PEAT’s Policy Matters resource to stay up-to-date on standards, legislation, and other developments impacting the accessibility of ICT.