What to Know About Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0)

Published: 04-Feb-2022
Last Updated: 09-Jan-2022
What to Know About Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0)

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) were created to help businesses roll out digital content that's easily accessible to people with disabilities. WCAG guidelines (also known as ISO 40500 and EN 301 549) were developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The World Wide Web Consortium is the largest non-governmental organization that sets internet standards. W3C began releasing internet guidelines in 1995. 

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

These are rules that dictate how to set up your website, app, or other digital platforms so that individuals with disabilities can still operate and explore them.

The World Wide Web Consortium considers different forms of assistive technology and the needs of a wide variety of users when developing their guidelines. 

  • Individuals with physical disabilities. For example, those who can't or have limited use of their hands/arms and use assistive technologies (mouthstick or voice to operate their computer)
  • Individuals who suffer from hearing loss or are deaf that use captions to watch videos
  • Individuals who are low vision or blind and use assistive technologies (screen readers, screen magnifier) to read web pages
  • Individuals who are older and struggle to maneuver their cursor accurately
  • Individuals with cognitive limitations or learning disabilities
  • Mobile-first or only internet users

WCAG 2.0 and WCAG 2.1 should serve as an accessibility guide for everything digital that your business rolls out, from small digital documents all the way up to your website. This will ensure that your business follows federal, state, or local regulations about accessibility. Additionally, we recommend familiarizing yourself with different forms of assistive technology.

What Is WCAG 2.0?

A bottle of beer being poured into a glass.

Compared to WCAG 1.0, which was formed in 2008, WCAG 2 is more user-centric and updated to match the current technological landscape. WC3 has now released WCAG 2.1 guidelines that are even more comprehensive. 

Perhaps its biggest difference is that its guidelines are more focused on its core principles rather than the technology. This helps it become more evergreen, as it can accommodate any future innovations. That being said, WCAG 2 guidelines are meant to serve as a technical standard for web developers. 

The principles of WCAG 2.0 fall under the acronym POUR, meaning Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, Robust. WCAG 2.0 has defined conformance levels (Level A, Level AA, & Level AAA) that apply to each element of POUR. To further expand on WCAG 2.0 and WCAG 2.1, here is a quick guide:

Perceivable

A website that is perceivable means that it caters to all of the senses. Should one of your users have difficulty with a sense, they can still navigate through your website through accessibility options. 

To ensure that they can be navigated easily even when lacking autonomy in one sense, websites typically use assistive technology to help out. For this core principle, the guidelines are mainly focused on sight, sound, and touch. There are three levels of compliance for the perceivable element. Here's more detail on each level. 

Level A Conformance 

Level A Compliance deals with text alternatives for non-text (visual or audio) website content, time-based content, adaptable content, and distinguishable content. 

Level A compliant websites also need to follow adaptability and distinguishability perceivable principles. These areas deal with page structure, content sequencing, sensory characteristics of instructions, color, and audio control. For more details read guidelines 1.3 and 1.4

  • Convert non-text content into large print, braille, speech, symbols, or simpler language.
  • Captions and audio descriptions must be provided for all pre-recorded video content that isn't serving as a content alternative. 
  • Pre-recorded audio-only content must have a non-audio alternative and video-only content must have an audio alternative to comply.

Level AA Conformance  

Level AA compliant websites meet all of the standards of level A compliance. Level AA compliant websites must also provide captions for live audio content and ALL pre-recorded content. Forms must identify input purposes to those with disabilities.

  • When presenting an image that includes text the contrast ratio should be at least 4.5:1 (read guidelines 1.4.3 for exceptions). 
  • Text on a webpage should be able to be read without difficulty at 200 percent zoom (captions and images of text are excluded). 
  • Avoid using images of text as the main way to communicate. 
  • Content must be equally accessible as a landscape and portrait. 
  • Follow WCAG Reflow, non-text contrast, text spacing, and hover guidelines (1.4.10 - 1.4.13)

Level AAA Conformance

Level AAA compliant websites meet all of the standards previously established in level A and level AA as well as the following. 

  • All pre-recorded audio content is accompanied by sign language interpretation. 
  • Extended audio description accompanies all pre-recorded video content to provide increased understanding when foreground audio makes it difficult to understand.
  • An alternative is provided for all pre-recorded content, pre-recorded video-only content, and live audio-only content.
  • Purpose of user interface elements (buttons, CTAs, Icons, etc.) and region/language identifiers are able to be read using assistive technologies.
  • Background audio included in pre-recorded content (if there is any) doesn't prevent the primary audio content from being understood. 
  • Visual blocks of text follow WCAG standards outlined in 1.4.8.

Operable

The principle of operability is about how the website can be navigated through motor functions. Some people have physical disabilities (such as motor difficulties or issues with sight), and thus prefer to use their keyboard rather than a mouse. 

If you want your website to be operable to users with disabilities, make sure you allow keyboard navigation and don’t place time limits on your buttons and actions. 

You'll also want to design your website in a way that is easy to navigate from page to page and determine what elements do.  

Additionally, design elements that are known to cause seizures or other physical reactions (vestibular disorders, migraines, nausea, vomiting, etc.) should be avoided. It's best to avoid flashing lights, unsafe flickering images, and repetitive patterns.

Last but not least, for the highest level of conformance, you will need to design your website for use with assistive technology (single pointer gestures using a finger or other pointing device).

Level A Conformance

Level A compliant websites:

  • Users are able to access all content functionality by using only their keyboard (some exceptions are acceptable). 
  • All content that can be accessed by using a keyboard should be able to be exited by using a keyboard. 
  • Are thoughtful about keyboard shortcuts.
  • Don't put unnecessary time constraints on users. If you include a time limit, give users the option to turn off, adjust, or extend the time limit. There are exceptions where it is necessary to have time limits. For example, it would be hard to operate eBay without time limits because it is an essential part of an auction. 
  • Users should be given the option to stop, pause, or hide animated elements of a page or content that visually updates in real-time 
  • Avoid creating content that causes physical reactions. WCAG 2.0 recommends that elements shouldn't flash more than three times in any one second period,
  • Give users the option to bypass repeated text blocks.
  • Provides descriptive page titles and context for links. 
  • Accounts for the use of single pointer gestures 
  • Label interface elements that prevent text visually. 

Level AA Conformance

Level AA compliant websites:

  • Include informative headings and labels
  •  Provide multiple ways to reach a webpage when it’s part of a process.  

Level AAA Conformance 

Level AAA compliant websites:

  • ALL content is accessible by keyboard (no exceptions).
  • Time limits are not used as an essential part of web experience.
  • Users can restore authenticated sessions with no loss of data after re-authenticating. 
  • Users can opt-out of interruptive elements. 
  • Users are warned of potential data loss due to inactivity. 
  • Web pages do not contain anything that flashes more than three times in any one second period.
  • Users can disable non-essential animations.
  • The focus of section headings is organization. 
  • Additional Level AAA guidelines were added in WCAG 2.1 

Understandable

This core principle is arguably the most crucial principle to follow. Without it, having an operable and perceivable website becomes a moot point. When you create a website, it has to be understandable by everyone that comes across it.

Being understandable can come into play in various facets of your website design. For instance, understandability can be measured by how simple and easy-to-follow your instructions are. Consequently, you should also avoid unexpected functions.

When you make your viewer’s user experience smoother, it will ensure that they come back and continue to patronize the website.

Level A Conformance

Level A compliant websites:

  • Follow WCAG focus and Input guidelines. 
  • Provide context when data entry is needed. Entry errors will be identified automatically and a text explanation will be displayed. 
  •  

Level AA Conformance

Level AA compliant websites:

  • Follow language of part guidelines.
  • Use similar components and navigation mechanisms that are easily identifiable and appear predictably. 
  • Provide suggestions for input errors when appropriate. 

Level AAA Conformance

Level AAA compliant websites:

  • Have built in mechanisms to help with unfamiliar words, phrases, and abbreviations. 
  • Write page content is at a middle school level or a lower level version is an available alternative. 
  • Have built in mechanisms to help pronounce words that have multiple meanings based on how they're pronounced. 
  • Do not trigger page changes/context changes without user initiation. 
  • Follows WCAG data entry error preventions guidelines.

Robust

Finally, being robust applies more to your code than your website design. Your code has to be compatible with just about any third-party technology that helps make digital content more accessible. For instance, web browsers and screen readers need clean HTML and CSS.

Another example of third-party technology could be text-to-speech (TTS) which enables those visually impaired to have your content read aloud to them by AI technology. The robust principle of WCAG 2.0 currently only has 1 level of conformance. 

Level A Conformance

Level A compliant websites:

  • Include markup language that is compatible with assistive technology. 
  • Only includes names, role, and value of form elements, links, and components generated by scripts that can be programmatically determined.

Wrap Up

At its core, WCAG 2.0 aims to make sure that people with a wide range of disabilities are not left behind by the advancement of technology. Unfortunately, studies show that loss of content and the difficulty of use are already contributing to lower levels of internet use among the disabled. 

According to the Pew Research Center:

  • 54% of adults with a disability use the internet vs. 81% without disabilities. 
  • 41% of adults living with a disability have broadband at home vs. 69% of those without a disability. 
  • 67% of disabled Americans ages 18 to 64 own a desktop or laptop computer vs 84% of those without a disability. 

WCAG is constantly evolving to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities. The World Wide Web Consortium's proactive approach will help it remain up to date even if any future technological advancements pop up. The guiding principles and technical standards established by WC3 will serve as valuable resources for brands. 

The work that WC3 does is a valiant effort to serve those with disabilities, but at the end of the day, businesses must put their plan into action for the disabled to see the fruits of WC3s labor. 

We understand that web design can be cost-prohibitive for small businesses and it might not be in your budget to reach the highest conformance levels (level AAA). That being said, we do recommend that every business we work with should at least reach the minimum conformance level. If every small business on earth could reach level A conformance, it would go a long way towards making the internet accessible to those with disabilities. 

In 2006, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) defined access to information on the internet as a human right. This convention was ratified by most countries around the world and some countries created legislation to further codify this human right.

Want to design a website that is accessible and inclusive for people with disabilities? You can trust Carbon Digital to help you out. We are a marketing agency providing digital solutions to help you create a solid brand identity. Our services include app development, branding, SEO, website design, and more. Consult with us today to build your online presence.

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