WCAG 2.1 (short for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) is the newest implementation of W3C’s international web accessibility standards. Version 2.1 came into effect in 2018 and features several new areas of focus that aim to improve and enhance accessible content on the internet.
Maybe you’ve heard WCAG but are unsure of what it really is, or maybe you think it has something to do with the ADA (and you’re partially right).
Either way, WCAG is important for businesses who want to make sure that their web content is accessible by everyone (including disabled people).
Why is it important to have accessible content, and exactly what is WCAG 2.1? Disabled people use the internet at a much higher rate than non-disabled people.
There are over 50 million disabled internet users in the US alone (and that number is even bigger on an international scale). WCAG ensures that these internet users are able to access all types of content with ease (both now and in the future).
WCAG is important because of the equality of access it brings to the internet (and web content).
What’s New in WCAG 2.1
Before delving into the specific updates that were introduced in WCAG 2.1, it’s important to note that 2.1 features all of the same guidelines as 2.0 (so 2.1, therefore, builds on 2.0).
What this means is that all of the same standards found in 2.0 are also found in 2.1 (such as the A-AAA ratings, all of the basic accessibility guidelines, etc.).
Below are some of the major updates to WCAG. The following isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s enough to provide a general overview of the updated standards.
Note: More details regarding all of the updates in WCAG 2.1 can be found on this page.
- No forced mobile device orientation
- Autofill enabled for input fields
- Interactive features must be identifiable and easily understandable (e.g. buttons)
- Focus on enhancing identification of web elements by screen-reading technology
- All web content should be responsive
- Increase contrast between elements for those who suffer from vision problems
- Increase space between textual content (words, letters, paragraphs, etc.).
- Hoverable content must be easily exited (for visually impaired users).
- Shortcut keys must be able to be turned off and/or adjusted.
- Any content-timeouts must be presented with a warning (e.g. if you don’t finish filling in this form your data will be lost within 20 minutes).
- Web element and media animations should be able to be shut off if needed. More details regarding this and other updates can be viewed here.
- Mobile movements like swiping, zooming, etc. must be able to be performed with simple movements (e.g. tapping).
- Web elements must have proper labels (especially for screen readers).
- Any web element that’s triggered by moving a mobile device must also be able to be triggered via pressing a button, or other element.
- Interactive web elements should at least be 44 x 44 px (e.g. buttons).
Why Being Compliant Is Important for Businesses
Not only will having accessible web content improve the UX of your business’s website, but it’s also important from a financial perspective. However, being compliant is a lot easier said than done, especially for businesses that aren’t very large (like most small businesses).
Staying abreast of every WCAG update can be complicated and require a lot of man-hours to properly understand and implement.
If you’re a large multinational corporation this probably isn’t an issue for your organization, but what if you’re a small local business? How can you possibly even find the time to learn about WCAG let alone implement it?
How SMBs Can Become More Compliant
Barring hiring an in-house accessibility expert, most small businesses that wish to be compliant (and remain so) will need to hire a specialty compliance service to audit and revamp their web presence.
While this may not be the cheapest option, it certainly is the easiest (and it can save your business thousands upon thousands down the line if it falls victim to an accessibility lawsuit).
There are numerous accessibility services that utilize AI and machine learning to constantly audit (and even update) business web content for improved accessibility.
These types of services are typically the prudent option for both small businesses and large corporations.
With over 50 million disabled internet users in the US alone, excluding this audience from your web content would be a massive mistake. Remember that having accessible content means having a more inclusive business, which is a win for everyone.