Keeping Up With WCAG: Staying Accessible When the Finish Line is Always Moving

By: Sarah Roberts

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The struggle to stay on top of what’s needed to provide accessible, inclusive environments is real. Most US accessibility laws don’t place direct, clear guidelines on how to deliver access online, making it even more challenging.

Did you know that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) doesn’t directly mention online accessibility? While there are some regulations noted, they apply mainly to government agencies. However, it doesn’t mean that businesses and other organizations are off the hook when it comes to making their sites and online content accessible. It’s therefore important for professionals to understand what today’s courts and the public deem to be accessible.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are the most widely used set of standards. However, like technology itself, WCAG’s standards continue to evolve to promote better access whenever possible.

As Verbit’s team works with companies and educational institutions to help them understand the accessibility standards outlined by WCAG, we wanted to share these insights with you too. The video and below details can be used to better explain today’s accessibility expectations to your team, peers and senior management.

woman on a sofa working on her laptop  and reading about WCAG

Familiarize Yourself with the Different Levels of WCAG

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) created the WCAG standards. WCAG 1.0 set some basic standards, but since then, W3C developed several updated versions. There are also three levels of WCAG compliance, A, AA and AAA. Level A is the lowest, while AAA creates the strictest standards for web content accessibility.

As a result, “when a company says that they’re WCAG compliant, that doesn’t really tell you enough information. You need to be able to better understand exactly what they mean by WCAG compliant,” explained Scott Ready, Global Head of Accessibility & Inclusion, Verbit.

The first step in discerning a site’s accessibility is to identify the basic differences between WCAG A, AA and AAA.

WCAG Compliance Levels:

WCAG Level A

WCAG Level AA

WCAG Level AAA

Everyone should be meeting the expectations of WCAG’s lowest level. WCAG A requires simple, now standard accommodations like captions on recorded content. A website that can’t meet this standard is likely excluding many users while also offering a poor user experience.All the requirements of level A carry over into level AA, but website content must meet additional standards for this rating. For instance, captioning prerecorded and live captioning is a WCAG AA requirement, as is standard audio description. Level AA is currently the expectation that websites should meet, at a minimum.Level AAA includes some standards that are aspirational for many web pages. Webpages must include extended audio description, which provides more in-depth explanations for people who are Deaf and hard of hearing. Also, the standards for color contrast and other features are more ambitious for those who wish to achieve AAA.

In addition to the levels, there are versions of WCAG. The most recent updates are in WCAG 2.2. Some notable updates to these versions include accessibility standards for mobile devices, which are in WCAG 2.1, and updates to user authentication, which are part of 2.2.

WCAG 2.2 came out in 2022, but version 3.0 is already on the horizon. It’s possible to see the draft form of the future version, which will promote accessibility in the metaverse, among other updates. 

Which version should businesses strive to meet?

Although there’s no law stating that compliance with one version of the WCAG will prevent liability, Ready says that “the acceptable industry standard is AA.”  

The Biden Administration stated that their objective is to meet AA 2.1. The government’s stated goals are a good indication that businesses that meet that threshold are doing what they need to provide reasonable access in the eyes of the law.  

However, WCAG 2.1 standards are really just “good enough.” Companies that wish to promote themselves as leaders in inclusivity and accessibility will have to strive for something more ambitious.  

person holding a tablet

Pushing the bar on accessibility 

In the US, it’s often lawsuits that are creating new expectations for accessibility. The legislative system moves slowly, and thus, the standards often appear in the form of court decisions. Additionally, even cases that settle out of court can serve as bellwethers. If a certain accessibility defect leads to litigation, it’s wise to remedy the issue before it becomes a stressful and costly legal battle.  

However, the ambiguity surrounding legal expectations for accessibility online might be coming to an end. Current lawmakers drafted a bill that sets new standards for accessibility, including expectations for audio description. While audio description is starting to catch on in some areas, such a law would push many content creators to upgrade their practices. 

In other ways, accessibility laws will likely codify practices that are already standard. For example, captioning is a common accommodation that viewers can use even on social platforms where individual content creators post, like TikTok.  

The most progressive companies will benefit from getting ahead of the curve. Reaching the standards in WCAG AAA 2.2 are a worthwhile achievement. Still, the goal will never be to reach the finish line. Accessibility is a journey, not a destination. As technology evolves, so will the tools and practices that ensure that content and experiences are available and equitable for all.  

How to stay up to date with WCAG

Company leaders must assign an individual or a team to be responsible for assessing and improving their websites and content to meet ever-changing accessibility standards. Connecting these individuals assigned to leaders who understand the nuances and how to go about improving online accessibility is key.

Reach out to Verbit if you’d like a proven partner to help you remediate the ways you engage with your customers, audiences and teams currently. We not only provide live captioning, transcription, audio description and more, but ongoing advice from experts you can rely on in your efforts.