The Accessibility Guidelines Working Group (AG WG) is very happy to announce that the first public working draft of the new Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 is available. This new version aims to build effectively on the previous foundations of WCAG 2.0 with particular attention being given to the three areas of accessibility on small-screen and touch mobile devices, to users with low vision, and to users with cognitive or learning disabilities.
WCAG 2.0 is a well established vibrant standard with a high level of adoption worldwide. WCAG 2.0 is still broadly applicable to many old and new technologies covering a broad range of needs. However, technology doesn’t sleep and as it marches on brings new challenges for developers and users alike. WCAG 2.1 aims to address these diverse challenges in a substantial way. To do this, over the last three years the (newly renamed) AG WG undertook extensive research of the current user requirements for accessible content creation.
This work took place in task forces that brings together people with specific skills and expertise relating to these areas accessibility on mobile devices, users with low vision and users with cognitive or learning disabilities. Together this work forms the substantial basis of the new WCAG 2.1 draft.
WCAG 2.1 was initially described in the blog WCAG 2.1 under exploration, which proposed changing from an earlier model of WCAG 2.0 extensions to develop a dot-release of the guidelines. The charter to develop WCAG 2.1 was approved in January 2017. We are also happy to say that we have delivered the first public working draft within the charter’s promised timeline.
So what has the working group been doing? Working very hard looking at how to improve WCAG 2.0! To successfully iterate such a broad and deep standard has not been easy. There has been extensive research, discussion and debate within the task forces and the wider working group in order to better understand the interconnectedness and relationships between diverse and sometimes competing user requirements as we develop new success criteria.
This extensive work has resulted in the development of around 60 new success criteria, of which 28 are now included in this draft, to be used as measures of conformance to the standard. These success criteria have been collected from the three task forces as well as individual submissions. All of these success criteria must be vetted against the acceptance criteria before being formally accepted as part of the guidelines. As WCAG is an international standard and widely adopted the working group reviews everything very carefully, at this point only three new proposed success criteria have yet cleared the formal Working Group review process, and these are still subject to change based on public feedback. The draft also includes many proposed Success Criteria that are under consideration but have not yet been formally accepted by the Working Group.
Further review and vetting is necessary but we are very happy to present our work to the world. This is a first draft and not a final complete version. In addition to refining the accepted and proposed Success Criteria included in the draft, the Working Group will continue to review additional proposals which could appear formally in a future version. Through the course of the year, the AG WG plans to process the remaining success criteria along with the input we gather from the public. The group will then produce a semi-final version towards the end of this year along with further supporting “Understanding WCAG 2.1” (like Understanding WCAG 2.0) material.
There is no guarantee that a proposed success criterion appearing in this draft will make it to the final guidelines. Public feedback is really important to us—and based on this feedback the proposed success criteria could be iterated further. We want to hear from all users, authors, tool developers and policy makers about any benefits arising from the new proposed success criteria as well as how achievable you feel it is to conform to their requirements. The AG WG is working hard to ensure backwards compatibility between WCAG 2.1 and WCAG 2.0. However, the full extent and manner of how WCAG 2.1 will build on WCAG 2.0 is still being worked out.
The working group’s intention is for the new proposed success criteria to provide good additional coverage for users with cognitive or learning disabilities, low vision requirements, and users of mobile devices with small screens and touch interfaces. Mapping the delta between these diverse user requirements is rewarding and challenging and this WCAG 2.1 draft has been made possible by the diverse skills and experience brought to bear on this task by the AG WG members.
The AG WG also has a Accessibility Conformance Testing (ACT) Task Force that aims to develop a framework and repository of test rules, to promote a unified interpretation of WCAG among different web accessibility test tools; as well as a 3.0 guidelines project called ‘Silver’ that forecasts more significant changes following a research-focused, user-centered design methodology.
So while WCAG 2.1 is technically a “dot”-release, it is substantial in its reach yet also deliberately constrained to effectively build on the existing WCAG 2.0 framework and practically address issues for users today.