On January 21, 2021, the W3C Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 3.0 Working Draft was released for the public’s first look at the future of website accessibility. For those familiar with website accessibility, the release of version 3.0 might come as a surprise, since Version 2.2 is expected to be released in the “Summer of 2021” and W3C has even reserved the right to release further 2.x upgrades as needed. Importantly, W3C, the authors of the WCAG, do NOT expect WCAG 3.0 to become the standard when it is released; it will not even supersede WCAG 2.2. And while the Working Draft is far from complete, it is important to look at what might be coming down the road.
Goodbye, Level AA
One of the motivations of WCAG 3.0 is to make it less confusing, and one of the most noticeable changes to this end is the elimination of Levels A, AA, and AAA. Many website owners were confused by this baseball-type level system, and in version 3.0, conformance levels will be known as Bronze, Silver, and Gold. It will not be a one-to-one change where A is Bronze, AA is Silver, and AAA is Gold. Instead, your website will receive a conformance score.
Conformance Score, Critical Tests and Outcomes
Only five sample guidelines were included in the Working Draft but what is most interesting is that the guidelines are not grouped according to the level they are in. For example, a guideline regarding alternate text (ALT tags) does not have requirements for being conformant in Bronze and then more stringent requirements for achieving Silver and Gold. Instead, each guideline will have a series of “Outcomes” that are testable statements which will be completed to assess the degree of conformance for that guideline. At least one Outcome for each guideline will test “Critical” errors. If a site has even one failure of a Critical test, not even Bronze conformance can be achieved, which means that the site fails conformance standards.
Beyond Critical tests, further Outcomes are provided and depending on the number of tests passed, a numerical “Rating Scale” of 0-4 is earned. Finally, based on a tally of numerical ratings, a Bronze, Silver, or Gold conformance level can be achieved.
What Conformance Level Should be My Goal?
While it would be easy to say that everyone’s goal should be Gold with a perfect rating, that’s not going to be reality for businesses, organizations and institutions. Thinking of the WCAG 2.1 world in which we exist, it would also be easy to assume that our goal will be Silver. But WCAG version 2 was released in 2008 and back then, getting a site owner to commit to even Level A was a win for the disabled. Now, since the standard around the world is Level AA, the base for the new guidelines would be assumed to be Bronze. However, because there will be a rating scale, the conformance of a site will not be limited to three levels. The bottom line is that site owners should strive for the highest rating that makes sense for their site, knowing that all sites are not the same.
The goal of WCAG 3.0
The changes above are expected when 3.0 is released sometime in the next few years, but why are these changes being made? The editors state that, in part, their goal is to:
help more people, especially those with cognitive disabilities
make the WCAG easier to understand, especially for those without a technical background
provide accessibility guidelines for more than just the Web
encourage site/app owners to achieve a higher score (and thus greater accessibility) rather than simply stopping once AA is achieved
While it is still early in the version 3 process, for the first time, we can see the direction that website accessibility is headed – a direction that focuses on making the web more inclusive for all individuals and motivates site owners to get on board. ZAG’s website accessibility experts are here to help you understand what you need to be doing to make and keep your site conformant. Contact us to learn more.