What is WCAG 2.1 compliance?
WCAG stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, and it's the most recognized web accessibility technical specification.
It's not a law or regulation itself, but instead a crowdsourced list of specific guidelines – although many regulations are based off WCAG.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) first started working on WCAG in 1995, and they still lead the initiative to this day.
There are only a few versions, and version 2.1 is the most relevant these days – at least until version 2.2 is finalized.
- WCAG 1.0 (1999)
- WCAG 2.0 (2008)
- WCAG 2.1 (2018)
WCAG 2.2 is currently in a working draft and will likely finish in 2021.
It's very important to understand the three levels of WCAG compliance, if you're looking to improve your web accessibility situation:
Websites that do not at least meet Level A are overwhelmingly difficult or impossible for disabled people to use.
Meeting all of the Level A criteria is relatively easy – especially for smaller sites.
There's actually a decent chance your website is already compliant with Level A and you don't even know it.
- Basic keyboard navigation
- Alternative text on non-text media
- Captions on videos
Compliance at this level is a very standard and widely accepted baseline for acceptable levels of accessibility.
WCAG 2.1 Level AA is perhaps the most well-known and most referenced web accessibility standard, though less than 2% of websites comply with it.
When people talk about "WCAG compliance", this is the specific set of guidelines they are likely referring to, which includes some of the following criteria:
- Alternative text on meaningful images (including Open Graph and Twitter Card images)
- Coherent page structure, correctly ordered headings, and consistent navigation components
- Events are readable by screen readers
- At least 4.5:1 color contrast (usually)
Level AAA compliance is a truly rigorous standard that indicates accessibility to the greatest amount of people.
The W3C actually states that not all websites should strive to fully meet Level AAA compliance, mainly because it isn't even possible for some types of websites.
Meeting this level of compliance communicates active dedication to web accessibility and includes implementing features such as:
- Sign language versions of audio and video content are provided
- Timing is not required by any action
- At least 7:1 color contrast
We really respect any website that goes above and beyond to this level of compliance.
Who must comply with WCAG 2.1?
The W3C does not require anyone to comply with these standards, and they do not have the authority to enforce such compliance anyway.
In fact, they're really just a set of recommendations, albeit highly impactful, at the end of the day.
But WCAG has influenced many regulations, and Level AA is the base requirement of meeting the following legal standards:
There are some small nuances regarding the influences of WCAG on the aforementioned regulations. You can check out their specific pages for more details.
Ultimately, if you can at least reach WCAG 2.0 Level AA, or better yet, WCAG 2.1 Level AA, you're definitely in good shape.
It makes business sense, too
Businesses often talk about accessibility and inclusion until they are blue in the face, but data shows that few actually care about putting in the effort to provide an even somewhat accessible experience to their customers.
The market size of disabled users, in the U.S. alone, is in the tens of billions.
An inaccessible web prescense drives away this market, while the few websites that are actually accessible concentrate a much higher share of this market.
WCAG is a great blueprint for setting up the digital wheelchair ramp that so many online stores and platforms are missing severely.
Need a lift?
If all this sounds a bit overwhelming at first, that's normal, and also a big reason why such a small fraction of websites are actually compliant.
But you don't have to waste hours and hours stressing over all this. Our software makes automating the difficult, time-consuming parts of this process a breeze.
In fact, our smart audits even show you how compliant your web pages are on a scale 0% to 100% under all three levels of WCAG 2.1 and several other standards.
If automating your compliance with WCAG 2.1 Level AA and beyond is a step you're ready take, then we encourage you to start a free, no-risk trial with us.
Disclaimer: Information on this page should not be construed as legal advice.