March 23 2022

What to Expect with WCAG 3.0

This article is part two of a two-part series 

wcag 3.0As WCAG 3.0 moves closer to adoption, among the most noticeable updates are new conformance and scoring models meant to encourage website owners to “go for the gold” in terms of providing access for people with disabilities.

We previously shed light on the draft Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 3.0, the long-awaited consolidation and update of international web-accessibility guidelines for people with disabilities, now undergoing final peer review ahead of its scheduled 2023 release. The Department of Justice also recently issued a press release confirming that it too is fully behind the “beta guidelines” that have long been recognized.

Overview of what’s in 3.0

While WCAG 2.1 and 3.0 both offer accessibility recommendations for website and content developers and administrators, 3.0 expands ADA accessibility guidelines to also cover current and future web design and content management tools, publishing, and emerging web technologies. WCAG 3.0 also offers protocols that web developers can use to verify the ADA accessibility and functionality of their websites.

A deeper dive into draft WCAG 3.0 reveals the extent to which the panel of digital software, hardware and web-accessibility professionals have identified more conformance opportunities – and incentives -- to make websites and their content more inclusive.

Widening web-accessibility with WCAG 3.0

Since its 2008 introduction, website owners, designers and web accessibility pros have relied on WCAG and subsequent updates to build, test, operate and update sites to be successfully used by people with physical and cognitive disabilities. 

The overarching goal of draft WCAG 3.0 is obvious: spread conformance with accessibility guidelines to the broadest pool of websites and applications possible.

New scoring model for accessibility conformance

Early on, applying WCAG standards to websites was largely an afterthought, with many site operators choosing to meet minimal accessibility guidelines. Under WCAG 2.0, website owners chose their level of compliance based on their needs, which garnered a minimum A ranking. Sites that expanded conformance beyond the minimum draw rankings of AA (mid-range) and AAA (highest). Most website owners targeted the AA level because it offered the right mix of design and development flexibility while still adhering to the guidelines.
WCAG 3.0 substitutes letters with “bronze,” “silver” and “gold” rankings meant to spur site owners to exceed accessibility minimums with more objective and automated conformance testing.

Framers of WCAG 3.0 indicate that more clarity in rankings, too, will allow users with disabilities to more easily identify websites that offer them the most accommodating features and content.

  • BRONZE – assigned to content that satisfies minimal levels of WCAG conformance with a total score and score of at least 3.5 tied to specified outcomes within each of the functional categories.

  • SILVER – builds on Bronze conformance levels, but achieving that rank also requires “holistic” testing, such as assistive technology testing and user and expert usability testing.

  • GOLD – takes Silver to the highest conformance level. The WCAG 3.0 working group intends for additional holistic testing to achieve it, but have yet to detail the type of tests.

Wider accessibility improves bottom lines

Many website owners have made web accessibility a priority when designing and building their sites, drawn to the sales and profit potential from catering to the widest pool of consumers possible.

Not to be overlooked, too, is that lack of website inclusiveness has triggered a rise in the volume of Americans With Disabilities Act lawsuits against scofflaws. So naturally many businesses and organizations are also complying to avoid these costly lawsuits.

WCAG 2.1 standards won’t disappear

With those and other proposed upgrades to WCAG 3.0, the good news for websites already compliant with WCAG 2.1 won’t have to start from scratch. WCAG 2.1 and WCAG 3.0 will be parallel standards.

The world of website conformance is continually evolving and website owners will want to stay on top of the latest developments. WCAG 2.2 is still in draft mode but expecting to be will be introduced in the near future. Contact our web-accessibility pros to discuss your unique website conformance needs and plans, and we’d be happy to consult with you.

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posted by
Dan Seagull
Dan Seagull
Sr. QA & Certified Accessibility Analyst

ZAG Interactive is a full-service digital agency in Glastonbury, CT, offering website design, development, marketing and digital strategy to clients nationwide. See current job openings.
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WCAG 3.0: Next-Generation Web Accessibility Guidelines Take Shape