The level of accessibility that people with disabilities have has been increasing over the years, but web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG) will continue to grow and change in the coming future.
As more technology is created and the definition of disability evolves to include more people, WCAG compliance needs to adapt. If we are going to discuss the levels of accessibility for WCAG compliance, we should start at the beginning, when accessibility was at its lowest.
Prior to the creation of web accessibility guidelines, there were many serious accessibility issues that prevented users with disabilities from accessing digital content. There was a lack of options to even fix these accessibility barriers, as there were no universal standards to follow. Videos may not have had captions or transcripts, images likely didn’t have descriptive alternative text, text resizing wasn’t possible on websites, and very little was readable with screen readers.
Luckily society has made advances toward the inclusion of people with disabilities. Today, we have disability acts and laws; we have more technology to assist those with disabilities; we, very importantly, discuss issues like making web content accessible to everyone.
Society now has a larger focus on this web accessibility initiative, and any digital content or website owners that are looking at increasing website accessibility for users have more information available to them now.
World Wide Web Consortium
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) was founded to create and maintain web standards and guidelines. W3C is an international community with a focus on long-term accessibility of the World Wide Web. If it wasn’t for the W3C, our internet likely wouldn’t look or function as it does today. They are responsible for developing and maintaining the technical standards that are a keystone in the World Wide Web’s functionality.
W3C recognized the need for a set of standard guidelines. These guidelines would help web developers, web designers, and content creators with their conformance levels.
They saw that most organizations did not have web page content that was accessible to people with disabilities, so any advancement towards more accessible websites would be a step in the right direction. To do this, they set out to create web content accessibility guidelines, otherwise known as WCAG.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
The WCAG guidelines were ultimately developed by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The WAI’s main goal is to ensure digital accessibility for people with disabilities.
In 1999, the first set of WCAG guidelines was released. Since then, there have been additional iterations: WCAG 2.0, WCAG 2.1, and WCAG 2.2. Each of these iterations built on the previous one, keeping the previous guidelines, but adding additional rules due to the advancement of technology and the change in the definition of exactly who is considered disabled.
All WCAG compliance iterations are based on four key fundamental aspects:
Information and user interface elements are presented in a way that is noticeable and understandable to all users, including those with disabilities.
Perceivable guidelines include providing text alternatives for non-text content, allowing text to be resizable, having captions for videos, and other aspects that make the information able to be “seen” by everyone.
This ensures a website or application is user-friendly and can be used effectively by people with various abilities, including mobility issues.
Operable guidelines include providing navigation through keyboard inputs, making that navigation clear and consistent, allowing users to control time-sensitive content, and including other aspects that make the information able to be used by everyone.
This guarantees information is presented in a straightforward and intuitive manner, allowing it to be interpreted without confusion.
Understandability guidelines include clear and concise language, consistent navigation patterns, error prevention mechanisms, and other aspects that make the information able to be comprehended by all.
This means creating content that remains dependable and accessible regardless of web browser, device, or assistive technology and will remain that way over time.
Robustness guidelines often deal with the underlying code, making sure it is compatible with assistive technology.
WCAG compliance levels are categorized below.
Level A conformance is the minimum level of conformance. Level A is aligning to and implementing the most basic of accessibility features. Some of these basic features are text alternatives, clear and consistent navigation, and keyboard accessibility.
Level AA conformance is adding more advanced aspects of accessibility. Level AA builds upon the Level A guidelines. Some of these Level AA success criteria features include captions for videos, allowing dark mode or color-blind mode for readability, and making sure all areas can be interacted with using only keyboard inputs.
Level AAA conformance is the highest possible level of accessibility. Meeting AAA requirements means that digital content is highly accessible to people with disabilities. This level builds on the level before and adds strict guidelines to create this optimal accessibility.
Level AAA content embodies the fundamental key aspects of WCAG, those being perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. This content will have such aspects as sign language interpretation for all pre-recorded videos and audio clips and ensuring the ability to scale text up to 200% larger without any loss in functionality.
Level AAA Success Criteria
Right now, this is the pinnacle of digital accessibility, being the highest possible conformance level attainable. We applaud everyone who strives to reach the excellent accessibility Level AAA! However, there are a few areas to consider and this is not an exhaustive list.
WCAG Level AAA is the most demanding, as it includes the previous levels of A and AA, and addresses the more challenging aspects of web accessibility.
Digital content that falls under WCAG Level AAA conformance undergoes rigorous testing. The content will need to be tested using an automated system, but manual testing will also be needed. Manual testing is important because automated testing cannot be done using assistive technology. Also, individuals with disabilities should be used to manually test these aspects.
If a content owner wants to maintain accessibility, they may need to become an expert on web accessibility or hire one due to its ever-changing nature. An expert will be needed if there are any accessibility issues that arise and need to be addressed.
Commitment and Resources
Level AAA demands commitment. This commitment often leads to a requirement for resources, whether those resources are money, time, or training to maintain compliance.
Design and Development
Level AAA includes careful consideration of the design and development of digital and web content. Something that might seem simple to users, such as resizing text, could need lots of time and effort to implement accurately and appropriately.
Level AAA conformance is not something that can be implemented once and then it’s set for life. It’s an ongoing commitment, and content needs to be maintained to ensure it remains accessible over time.
Accessibility tools are often used so Level AAA content can be tested and evaluated when there are issues. Automated tools can detect a wide variety of issues, but manual testing is still often necessary to discover and remedy more complex aspects of digital accessibility.
It is important to understand if your area has any laws regarding accessibility. If you are located in the United States, digital accessibility is a requirement.
There isn’t a certain WCAG level of compliance that must be met, but understand that lack of conformance to any of the three levels could open up your organization or business to legal liability, as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. Creating a site accessible only to people without disabilities could be considered discrimination.
Digital accessibility is needed for our future. We live in a world that is advancing technology and digital content faster and faster. WCAG conformance makes sure that people with disabilities have the same access to the World Wide Web.
When someone has access to the web without needing assistive technology, it’s easy to overlook how hard it would be if they didn’t have that access. This is unfortunately something people with disabilities have to deal with on a daily basis.
The internet is a vast ocean of knowledge that can answer many of our questions, teach us skills, and allow us to communicate across nations. Accessibility experts understand that for those who live with a disability, common tasks can be near impossible when not given the access they need.
Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the W3C, many organizations are working to create strong accessibility in their digital content.
Our app can help alleviate the worries of wondering whether you’ve met the WCAG standards mentioned above or not. Using our simple widget grants you features like bigger text and cursor, inverted colors, readable fonts, a page reader, alt text for images, and much more. We hope to hear from you so we can work together to bring digital content to more people.