Internet functionality was never intended to be a one-size-fits-all application. From day one, the World Wide Web was devised as a system meant to evolve and be improved upon by the generations to come.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are strategically researched and developed web standards published by the Web Accessibility Initiative within the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the main international standards organization for the internet. Since its inception in 1994, the W3C has strived to elevate the internet to meet the needs of everyone. Engaging in constant education and outreach, the W3C develops software while it serves as an open forum for discussion about all aspects of the internet and its functionality.
The ultimate goal of the individuals and organizations around the world involved with the WCAG through the W3C is to provide a single shared standard for web content accessibility that meets the needs of individuals, organizations, and governments—all on an international level.
Who is WCAG Intended For?
If you’re charged with working on web pages—in almost any regard—WCAG applies to you. More specifically, WCAG is primarily intended for:
- Web content developers (page authors, site designers, etc.)
- Web authoring tool developers
- Web accessibility evaluation tool developers
- Others who want or need a standard for web accessibility, including for mobile accessibility
- Related resources are intended to meet the needs of many different people, including policy makers, managers, researchers, and others
For all intents and purposes, WCAG 2.0 is the gold standard when it comes to making the World Wide Web equally accessible for all users, regardless of physical or cognitive ability. It’s compliance levels consist of the main reference points for accessibility standards across the globe. However, WCAG 2.0 was published in 2008. In terms of technology, 2008 is practically the stone age.
As such, WCAG 2.1 was published in 2018. That update, and all subsequent modifications, address changes to the web and how new technologies can be implemented so that every single user can enjoy equal access. And guess what? The updates implemented in WCAG 2.1 are set to be updated yet again, when WCAG 2.2 is published sometime in 2021.
How To Comply With All the WCAG Updates
With multiple versions of the WCAG, you might be asking yourself, “Am I still compliant with WCAG standards?” The answer is “yes,” for the most part. All requirements from 2.0 are included in 2.1, and all requirements in 2.0 and 2.1 will be included in the 2.2 update when it’s published.
However, there are new requirements to meet in the updates that have rolled out following the WCAG 2.0 version. Check out What’s New in WCAG 2.1 for the additional success criteria in 2.1 that are not in 2.0 and preview What’s New in WCAG 2.2 Working Draft for the proposed new success criteria in 2.2.
What really matters to you is a trait of WCAG that’s known as “backwards compatibility.” This means that all content that conforms to WCAG 2.1 also conforms to WCAG 2.0. And content that conforms to WCAG 2.2 will also conform to previous versions. The W3C encourages everyone in the business of web building to use the most recent version of WCAG when developing or updating content and accessibility policies.
Why Comply With WCAG Standards?
On a shallow, superficial level, complying with WCAG standards ensures you’re catering to all potential customers, not just the ones without disabilities. There are millions of people who require accessibility in order to navigate the internet. Are you really going to shut out a huge swath of potential customers? That’s not good business.
The nonprofit American Institutes for Research states that people with disabilities in the U.S. who are of working age boast $20 billion in discretionary income and $490 billion in disposable income. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that one-in-four Americans—more than 60 million people—live with a disability. There’s no denying it: That represents a hefty wad of cash left on the table by businesses with websites that are devoid of accessibility features.
Then there’s the question of legality. Designing and launching websites without accessibility and digital inclusion as guiding principles could leave your business in violation of WCAG, as well as Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
And finally, let’s be honest—you have a moral obligation to meet the needs of web users who have a disability.
When you decide not to update your website, instead deciding to go ahead without the additions necessary for accessibility and digital inclusion, you’re choosing to be a villain on the internet. And in today’s world, a less-than-stellar reputation with the World Wide Web-crawling public can sink any business in a viral second.