On January 21st, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) released the first public draft of a new generation of the WCAG Accessibility guidelines: WCAG 3.0. WCAG 3.0 has a number of significant differences from WCAG 2.x, not just in the site requirements, but also in how the standard is measured and applied. The 2.x guidelines can often be complicated and ambiguous, and one of the primary drivers behind the introduction of 3.0 was to make the guidelines easier to understand and allow for flexibility so that they can be applied to web technology as it evolves over time.
One of the most significant changes under 3.0 is a shift in how conformance is achieved. In 2.x, “success criteria” could either be passed or failed, leading to minor bugs causing failure. Now under 3.0, success criteria are called “outcomes” and scored on a scale from 1 to 4. These outcome scores are then used to determine a site’s conformance level. A, AA, and AAA conformance levels are now called Bronze, Silver, and Gold, and achievement of these conformance levels depends on the average score of outcomes, plus holistic scoring which has yet to be determined. This means that content that conforms to WCAG 2.x A and AA will likely meet the minimum conformance standards for WCAG 3.0, but additional tests will need to be applied to determine their WCAG 3.0 conformance level.
No “critical errors” and an average score of 3.5
Bronze level of conformance plus adherence to TBD “holistic tests”
Silver level of conformance plus adherence to TBD “holistic tests”
It’s important to note that WCAG 3.0 will not deprecate WCAG 2.x and both will exist in parallel. Once WCAG 3.0 becomes the W3C Recommendation, it will be up to various governmental organizations to adopt it as the required standard for their jurisdictions.
The timeline for official adoption of WCAG 3.0 is unclear, but won’t be until 2022 or 2023. With that in mind, most sites have significant work to do to achieve WCAG 2.x. WebAIM did a study of the top 1,000,000 websites to look at homepages, plus an additional 100,000 “interior” pages. In February 2020 they found that 98.1% of home pages had WCAG 2 errors, which was a slight increase from 2019. On those pages, they found a total of nearly 61 million distinct errors, a number that increased 2.1% year-over-year. In short, as the internet is becoming increasingly complex, companies are not prioritizing accessibility as much as they’re prioritizing new experiences.
There are a number of factors that lead to this, but the complexity and lack of clarity in WCAG 2.x is a notable one, causing companies to struggle to understand and apply them. Accessibility is often seen as expensive overhead and not ingrained in overall processes, underscoring the importance of clear, easy to understand and implement guidelines. With this in mind, WCAG 3.0 should be a much improved resource for businesses, and will hopefully play an important role in the future of web design.
Stay tuned as we continue to unpack WCAG 3.0 as the guidelines are established, refined, and formalized.
Avatria’s Globalization and Compliance team specializes in navigating complex accessibility issues for clients of all sizes and industries.