WCAG conformance ensures web accessibility in line with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Standards set by WCAG have pioneered digital inclusivity for disabled users of the web for over 20 years, WCAG continues to be held in the highest regard by governments, accessibility experts, web developers, and organizations alike.Talk to an Expert
What Is WCAG? - An Introduction To Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) was first established in 1999 by The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The purpose of creating WCAG was to ensure digital inclusivity and accessibility for those with disabilities.
At the time of its inception, internet use was becoming more mainstream, as more companies became available online, and the ability to communicate through digital means was made possible. However, even though the web was intended to bring people together, it was clear that accessibility challenges created barriers for users with disabilities. WCAG was formed to remove these barriers to ensure a fairer society for all.
To this day, WCAG is considered the gold standard of digital inclusion. WCAG guidelines, which began with WCAG 1.0, have since been updated to WCAG 2.1.
WCAG 2.1 guidelines outline a full list of requirements that organizations must follow with digital content such as websites and applications. The standards apply to all aspects of web design and development and consider any accessibility challenges that could arise for someone with a disability or impairment.
WCAG Conformance Levels
- Level A - The minimum level of WCAG has been met. Or an alternative version of the web page has been provided which conforms to the required criteria.
- Level AA - The web page satisfies both Level A and Level AA criteria. Or an alternative version of the web page has been provided which conforms to AA required criteria.
- Level AAA - The web page satisfies Level A, Level AA, and Level AAA criteria. Or an alternative version of the web page has been provided which conforms to AAA required criteria.
WCAG And Web Accessibility
Web accessibility is not possible without WCAG conformity.
With one in four people considered to have a disability, the economic impact of web inaccessibility stands at around $16.8 billion.
But beyond the potential financial loss for organizations, the core ethos of WCAG is ensuring web accessibility in terms of human equality. That’s because, to make the world inclusive, people should not be faced with barriers or additional challenges due to having a disability. Instead, how digital products and services are designed must consider accessibility, so that everyone can be included in everyday life. Accessing the web is no exception.
WCAG is reflective of the many disabilities that exist, which may be auditory, cognitive, intellectual, neurological, physical, or visual in nature.
The Four Principles Of Accessibility (POUR)
When discussing WCAG accessibility, a commonly used term is POUR, which is an acronym relating to the WCAG four principles of accessibility.
The four principles of accessibility as outlined by WCAG are: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust.
In simple terms, if any of these four WCAG principles are not met, disabled users may be unable to access a website, application, or file either at all or without great difficulty.
Together, the POUR model sets a benchmark for the four guiding principles needed to establish inclusivity across the web.
Information on the web along with the components of an interface must be perceivable to at least one of the user’s senses. When information is perceivable, it means users can interpret that information.
All input to our brains comes from one or more senses. Sight, hearing, and touch are the most common ways humans convey and interpret information.
But when someone has any sensory impairments such as vision or hearing loss, content may not be perceivable unless it has been created, or has been adapted with such impairments in mind. Furthermore, users may have more than one sensory impairment or disability type which must be factored in.
So for instance, if someone is blind, will a screen reader work with the content? Or, if someone is deaf, is there a text representation of any media that can be read if a user is unable to listen to the audio? Such consideration of sensory loss or impairment helps ensure that content is perceivable for everyone.
The main categories of perceivable criteria include adding text alternatives, considering time-based media, and making content adaptable as well as distinguishable.
Users must be able to physically operate the web and navigate any interfaces with ease. Operable standards consider the adaptive tools and technologies that disabled people may use. These may differ substantially from how the web is typically accessed, creating the potential for accessibility barriers should the content not be adaptable.
For instance, navigating the web is usually made possible using hardware such as a mouse and keyboard. Likewise, when using a mobile phone or tablet, commands can be executed using hand digits to make tapping and swiping motions to replicate mouse clicks.
However, someone with a disability that affects their mobility or dexterity may not have the fine motor skills to operate technology hardware in a typical way. They may rely solely on a keyboard instead of a mouse or even voice commands to perform certain actions.
Operable considers all user scenarios in terms of operating tools and technologies. Plus, ease of navigation of aspects such as menus, buttons, and forms when traditional hardware cannot be used.
Another component of operable is the potential for content to cause harm to the user. This includes the triggering of seizures or any other negative physical reactions. With flashy graphics and animations becoming an ever-popular video editing style, operable acts as a gatekeeper to protect those medically vulnerable from such content.
Websites, applications, and files must be easy to understand to be classed as accessible. By understandable, this refers to the language of the content. Plus the design features of the interface itself. Both of which must be comprehensible for users.
Writing for the web requires a consideration of language based on the intended audience. To ensure the information is understandable, it must factor in the user's background knowledge of the subject, education level, culture, and life experience. Unless the content is intended for a specific audience, best practices for understandable require defaulting to simple and concise text.
Functionality is also a key component of understandable criteria. Therefore, the design of content must have predictable elements that operate in a familiar way. For instance, a hamburger menu is a common navigational feature of mobile web design. If this was replaced with another icon that signified a different action altogether, this would confuse and frustrate users.
Conforming with the understandable principle has wider benefits for organizations beyond accessibility. That’s because the understandable principle closely relates to user experience as a whole. When a website is easy to understand and navigate, conversions are more likely.
Web content must be accessible across multiple devices and browser types, plus be compatible with assistive technologies to be deemed robust.
While it is not always possible to support every version of a browser or application, by the same token, the content cannot be too restrictive in terms of how it can be accessed. That’s because users should have autonomy in terms of choosing the browser, device, or operating system that they want to use.
In essence, robust content works well. It is compatible when accessed in alternate ways and offers a reliable experience for users.
Keeping Up With WCAG Standards
WCAG standards are periodically updated, as knowledge of digital accessibility grows, and new technologies come to the forefront.
The latest fully published guidance is known as WCAG 2.1, with WCAG 3.0 currently in draft and due for release imminently.
WCAG is an excellent set of frameworks designed to make digital products including websites, applications, and mobile apps more accessible. Federal agencies must conform to WCAG 2.1, and this requirement will eventually move to WCAG 3.0 once the update is released.
Accessibility services provided by Includia can help ensure your website, application or digital content as a whole keeps up to date with WCAG standards.
Frequently asked questions
We have answered the most common questions about WCAG conformance below. Don’t see your query? Please send us a message for further guidance, and our team will get back to you.