If you’re searching for the meaning behind the term “WCAG compliance,” you’re in luck – you’ve come to the right place to learn all about it and why it’s important!
Start with the basics
Before we dive into what “WCAG compliance” means, let’s start with a bit of context. You may have heard of a group called the W3C, which stands for the World Wide Web Consortium. The W3C is tasked with creating web standards, which, when followed by developers, enable users to have comparable experiences throughout the web, even while using different devices, browsers, operating systems, etc.
One subset of these web standards are the Web Accessibility Content Guidelines (WCAG). Content creators and developers follow these guidelines when generating digital content to help ensure what they create is accessible to people with disabilities.
What is WCAG compliance?
WCAG compliance is simply conforming to web accessibility criteria. At this point, we’ll throw a tiny wrench into this post: there is a difference between WCAG compliance and WCAG conformance. Strictly speaking, websites can conform to WCAG, but the concept of compliance doesn’t fit. Many people use the terms interchangeably, but WCAG conformance is more technically accurate.
Versions of WCAG
WCAG continues to update and evolve. As user needs and technology change, so do the guidelines and requirements designed to provide the most inclusive experience. The complete list of WCAG versions includes the following:
- WCAG 1.0: Released in 1999, this was the first version of WCAG
- WCAG 2.0: Released in 2008, this version provided the first set of updates and became the most universally accepted standard of its time
- WCAG 2.1: Released in 2018, this version expanded on WCAG 2.0 to accommodate new technology and serve even more users than before
- WCAG 2.2: Releasing early in 2023, this version will be a smaller update compared to others but will announce nine new Success Criteria to consider
Working towards the latest version of WCAG should always be the goal. Continuing to track and understand updates as they are released will ensure your content is always accessible for people with disabilities.
Levels of WCAG
Three levels of conformance make up WCAG guidelines. Each one represents different standards but can also serve as building blocks to continue to achieve accessibility for all.
- WCAG Level A: The bare-minimum level of conformance
- WCAG Level AA: The target level of conformance
- WCAG Level AAA: The highest level of conformance
Please note Level AAA conformance is incredibly challenging to achieve. While it is a testable standard, most goals or priorities do not require it. Generally, Level AA is where most businesses and organizations should strive to be. It exceeds the lowest guidelines and has a history of legal acknowledgment and standing.
Requirements for WCAG
WCAG has a comprehensive and detailed list of standards to ensure all digital assets are accessible for people with disabilities. While this may seem complicated and overwhelming, the standards are based on four basic principles:
Perceivable: Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.
Users need to be able to access your content in multiple ways. Therefore, it should be easy for them to see and hear, for example. Your content should retain meaning when presented differently, too.
Some considerations include text alternatives for non-text content, captions in multimedia content, and distinguishing foreground from background.
Operable: User interface components and navigation must be operable.
Users should be able to navigate your website’s interface effortlessly. By ensuring all functionality is available from a keyboard, giving users time to engage with your content, verifying your content is not designed in a known way to cause seizures or physical reactions, and providing ways to help users navigate your site, you can vastly improve usability.
Understandable: Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.
In addition to being operable, your content should be straightforward. Considerations such as making your text readable, making your web pages operate in predictable ways, and helping users avoid mistakes to ensure the most accessible experience.
Robust: Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.
More specifically, it is important to focus on compatibility with existing technologies. By continuing to maximize compatibility now, you’ll be able to grow with new technologies as they arise.
When incorporating WCAG guidelines into your workflow, keeping these pillars in mind can help you think more strategically about user needs and identify potential shortcomings.
Why is WCAG compliance (er, conformance!) important?
WCAG is comprised of a multitude of criteria, but to an accessibility newbie, many of them can seem ambiguous. Let’s start with a few of the easy-to-understand practices that will help you improve the accessibility of your digital content.
Including alternative text when you have an image on a website is one very easy way to help your content conform to WCAG. Blind and low-vision individuals use assistive technology called screen readers to access digital content, but a screen reader will only read what is on the screen (hence its name.) Therefore, if there is an image without alternative text included in the HTML, the person using the screen reader will have no idea what the image is conveying.
Here’s an exercise to try: take a look at your organization’s website and picture it without any illustrations, banners, or photos. Does it still make sense? Are you still able to navigate it and understand what it’s about or how to complete a task?
Second scenario: imagine you’re in your doctor’s waiting room watching a television program. The sound is turned all the way down, and the program does not have any captions. It’s a news show, and the anchor looks pretty serious but other than the headline, you have no idea what she’s talking about. This is a frustrating position to be in, one that deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals find themselves in all too frequently. If you are looking to conform to WCAG, you should always include captions and transcripts for your multimedia so they will be accessible to as many users as possible.
These simple scenarios illustrate the importance of WCAG conformance, but there are other, more serious situations in which an inaccessible website can be life-threatening.
How can we help you conform to WCAG?
TPGi offers a variety of services to help your organization make its digital content accessible, from training, to accessibility reviews, to long-term accessibility monitoring. We realize it can be a challenging journey, but we will partner with you 100% of the way to achieve a more accessible future. Remember, WCAG compliance is not the goal; WCAG conformance is. Contact us today to get started on your journey to conformance!