The Accessibility Guidelines Working Group (AG WG) announces the First Public Working Draft of W3C Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 3.0. This is the first of many drafts, and the document is not expected to advance to W3C Recommendation for a few more years. In this planned major revision of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, we want your feedback on the areas where we are striving to improve upon WCAG 2, in order to:
- provide a flexible structure to address more needs of people with disabilities;
- be usable by a broader audience;
- give guidance that is easier to understand, especially for beginners;
- use a flexible scoring system to address needs of more diverse organizations;
- use a new conformance model to provide a more nuanced understanding of the accessibility of a product or site;
- use a scoring model that encourages websites to continue to do better and better (vs. stopping at the previous AA level);
- better reflect the lived experience of people with disabilities whose priorities are not always reflected in WCAG 2;
- allow for bugs and oversight by content authors, provided the impact of them on users with disabilities is limited.
These goals are set out in Requirements for WCAG 3.0, which was published at the same time as the guidelines. Note the change in name from “Web Content Accessibility Guidelines” to “W3C Accessibility Guidelines”. It maintains the well-known acronym of “WCAG”, but shows our intent to have WCAG3 apply more broadly than just web content.
It proposes major revisions to accessibility guidelines, and feedback on this document is very important! This blog post provides orientation to WCAG 3 and then contains review questions to consider.
To accomplish these goals, the proposed organization of the guidelines in this draft is different than in WCAG 2. “Guidelines” are the highest level and mainly organize guidance into conceptual categories. Guidelines have “outcomes” which are the specific benefits to the user. Outcomes are the level at which conformance is measured and reported. In that sense they correspond to success criteria in WCAG 2, but are more user-focused and granular. Outcomes may define “critical errors” which cause content not to conform even though other guidance is met.
Guidelines and outcomes are supported by “how-tos”, external from the specification itself, which provide background on the user needs addressed, ways to ensure those needs are met at various stages of the website development process, examples, and references to research and resources. These correspond to “understanding” pages for WCAG 2 but are more action-focused.
Outcomes are also supported by “methods” which describe concrete approaches to meet the outcome requirements. Methods correspond to “techniques” in WCAG 2 but cover a wider set of situations and technologies.
Scoring and Conformance
The guidance on evaluation and reporting conformance is significantly different in this draft of WCAG 3 from WCAG 2. The conformance model has taken a lot of time to develop, and the version in this first draft is simply a starting point for feedback. The Working Group needs public feedback to continue to develop the conformance approach to best meet the requirements. Some highlights of the current draft conformance model:
- Conformance applies to a site or product, not a page or set of pages. Conformance may be claimed for a subset or particular activity of the site.
- WCAG 3 attempts to provide a more flexible conformance model that does not require 100% of the content to pass tests to make a valid conformance claim (as long as there are no critical errors). Content most needed by the user is prioritized.
- Evaluation and conformance focuses on a “process”, which is a task that a user would want to accomplish. A process can be single page or multi-page on a website, or across multiple views in an application.
- Outcomes define test thresholds for “ratings”. This allows different guidelines to be scored differently in order to reflect the accessibility impact more accurately. For example, a test for the quality of text alternatives could use a rating scale instead of a pass / fail test result. A test for the existence of text alternatives could continue to use existing binary pass / fail tests.
- The site, product, or scope being tested must meet a minimum score in each “functional category” which broadly correspond to various user groups. This is intended to ensure that a conforming site meaningfully addresses the needs of each group.
As in WCAG 2, WCAG 3 defines three levels of conformance: “bronze”, “silver”, and “gold”. The current draft mainly provides information about requirements to meet the minimum bronze level, using tests that are reasonably objective and ideally automatable. The higher silver and gold levels will require additional types of testing, such as holistic (usability) testing, testing with assistive technologies, and having processes to keep the product, site, or application accessible.
There are 5 guidelines in this First Public Working Draft, whose purpose is more to demonstrate and explore the new structure proposed for WCAG 3.0. Each guideline relates to functional categories and contains outcomes, methods, rating criteria, and some also describe critical errors. Each guideline has a specific purpose in this draft:
- Text alternatives is a simple port of guidance from WCAG 2, to show how WCAG 2 guidance could fit into WCAG 3;
- Clear words demonstrates guidance that was considered insufficiently testable in WCAG 2 but can be tested in WCAG 3 using the rating scale;
- Captions was included to demonstrate guidance for new technologies, in this case virtual and augmented reality, though in this version primarily demonstrates how scoring varies by context;
- Structured content combines guidance from multiple WCAG 2 success criteria;
- Visual contrast of text updates the color contrast guidance from WCAG 2 with a new algorithm and support for different situations.
For this publication, the Working Group is primarily looking for feedback on the proposed WCAG 3 structure as represented by these guidelines, not the guideline content specifically, though feedback on that is also welcome.
The Accessibility Guidelines Working Group, Silver Task Force, and Silver Community Group have been working for years to bring WCAG 3 to this stage. Much thought from many types of stakeholder has gone into the structure and conformance model. The groups now need input from the public about the usefulness and achievability of the guidelines, and thoughts about future direction and adoption. As you review the document, keep in mind the following questions:
- Are there additional Design Principles and Requirements that should be included in the WCAG 3 project?
- There is considerable introductory information, including information about the guidelines structure, testing, and scoring. Are there usability improvements that would make it easier to use and find information?
- Outcomes are normative. Should guidelines, methods, critical errors, and outcome ratings be normative or informative, and why?
- We would like constructive feedback on the testing approach, and examples of why you would or would not implement it in your organization.
- Is this approach of using complete processes as the smallest unit of conformance workable for different types of organizations? These include organizations with very large, dynamic, or complex content, medium-sized organizations relying on external accessibility resources, and very small organizations with limited resources?
- Does the model for scoring and aggregated ratings work? Why or why not? If not, please propose an alternative solution.
- As you evaluate this document, please consider whether there are ways the Working Group can better support your review, feedback, or inclusion within the process of creating this standard.
Additional detailed questions are in the document in editors’ notes.
To submit feedback, file an issue in the W3C silver GitHub repository. Please file one issue per discrete comment. If filing issues in GitHub is not feasible, send email to email@example.com (comment archive). The Working Group requests comments on this draft be sent by 26 February 2021.
Following the work
For updated information about the evolving structure, development process, and timelines of this work, see the WCAG 3 Introduction page.
If you are interested in participating more directly, consider joining the Accessibility Guidelines Working Group or the Silver Community Group.