WCAG 2.1 under exploration, comments requested by 1 November

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The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Working Group announces a plan to develop WCAG 2.1, which builds on but does not supersede WCAG 2.0. The group would like input from stakeholders on this plan.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 became a W3C Recommendation on 11 December 2008. It has been one of the major resources for making web content accessible to users with disabilities, referenced by accessibility policies of many countries and organizations, translated into twenty languages, and it has become an ISO standard (ISO/IEC 40500:2012). Supporting these references, WCAG 2.0 was structured to be a stable resource, and technology-specific implementation guidance was provided separately (in the Techniques and Understanding supporting documents) and updated as web technologies evolve.

WCAG remains relevant nearly a decade after finalization. Technology has, however, evolved in new directions. For instance, the widespread use of mobile devices with small screens and primarily touch-based user input methodologies has led to challenges making content that conforms to WCAG 2.0 accessible on those devices. Technology evolution makes it possible to meet the needs of more users, and users with low vision, or with cognitive, language, or learning disabilities see new benefits that should be better represented in guidelines. Further, the increasing role of the web in our lives means technologies such as digital books, payment systems, driverless vehicles, etc. now need to be addressed by web accessibility guidelines.

In 2015, the WCAG Working Group had chosen to develop extensions to WCAG 2.0, in order to provide targeted guidance quickly, without changing the meaning of conformance to WCAG 2.0 itself or disturbing policies that reference WCAG 2.0. In review of the Requirements for WCAG 2.0 Extensions, however, it became apparent that the interrelationship of extensions could be complicated, and accessibility for some user groups could vary if organizations chose to meet some extensions but not others.

After careful deliberation and consultation, the Working Group has now decided not to put the new guidance in extensions, and instead to work on an updated version of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. This dot-release, WCAG 2.1, will build on WCAG 2.0 to provide guidance urgently needed for today's technologies. As a dot-release, it will have a restricted scope, be as similar to WCAG 2.0 as possible, and be fully backwards compatible. While WCAG 2.1 will be available to organizations that wish to follow updated advice, WCAG 2.0 will not be retired. References to WCAG 2.0 and within it will continue to be valid, and sites that conform to WCAG 2.0 will still have valid conformance claims. Over time, the hope is that policies and sites will migrate to the newer guidelines at times that make sense for them. Because of the backwards compatibility, sites conforming either to WCAG 2.0 or to WCAG 2.1 will share a common base of accessibility conformance.

In order to develop WCAG 2.1, the Working Group needs to obtain support from the W3C Membership. The current WCAG charter anticipated this refresh and indicated a plan to combine content, user agents, and authoring tools within a single Working Group (and thus the scope of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines, and User Agent Accessibility Guidelines). The Working Group plans to propose a new charter (current draft in-progress) to include WCAG 2.1 and then publish a first review version of WCAG 2.1 in early 2017, aiming to finalize the new 2.1 specification by mid 2018. This is fast work for standards of this type, and it will be necessary to focus on the most critical issues for today's technology, while reserving other issues for future work. The group will also work on requirements and a first draft for a new major version update (3.0 version) of accessibility guidelines that encompasses the full scopes listed above. Issues that cannot be resolved in time for the mid-2018 publication of WCAG 2.1 are expected to be deferred to later versions of WCAG 2 or to the restructured 3.0 guidelines.

Input about this project will help to ensure that it meets the needs of content developers and web users, and is beneficial, not disruptive, to organizations that use WCAG 2.0.

At a high-level, we call reviewers' attention to the following points and aspects of the WCAG WG's ongoing work-mode:

  • WCAG 2.0 remains an active Recommendation, available for reference by sites and policies.
  • New web accessibility guidance may address technology changes.
  • Updated guidance will be incorporated via dot-releases such as WCAG 2.1 (and ultimately 3.0) rather than through extensions.

To send feedback to the working group, please send email to public-comments-wcag20@w3.org. You can also reply to this message to carry out discussion on this list. In order for us to process feedback in time to take next steps on this plan, we request feedback as early as possible, and by 1 November 2016. If you would like to be more involved in shaping this work, consider joining the WCAG Working Group.

Thank you for your time in helping keeping web accessibility guidelines current.

Andrew Kirkpatrick, WCAG WG co-chair
Joshue O Connor, WCAG WG co-chair
Michael Cooper, WCAG WG staff contact

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