What to Expect from the WCAG 2.2 Release
The WCAG—Web Content Accessibility Guidelines—describes a set of recommendations for making a website or application more accessible to people with different disabilities. These guidelines take into account many different criteria in various categories, such as content structure and presentation, structural elements and attributes, input and output support, and navigation mechanisms—all of which are essential in providing greater digital accessibility to a wider audience. The WCAG is published by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), an organization that is part of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The W3C is the main organization for international standards of the Internet.
Evolution of WCAG
The first version of the WCAG was published in 1999. It consisted of 14 guidelines associated with checkpoints describing how to comply with each guideline. There were a total of 65 checkpoints with a priority level based on the impact of the checkpoint. There were three priority levels:
- Priority 1 (Level A) – the minimum accessibility requirement for a website. It has a large impact on many users with disabilities. It is easiest to meet this level of accessibility.
- Priority 2 (Level AA) – compliance level that also has a big impact on website accessibility. This level focuses more on people with certain disabilities.
- Priority 3 (Level AAA) – the highest level of compliance. This level of compliance targets specific user groups. It can be expensive to comply with this level, but if the website complies with this level, it is accessible to most people.
WCAG 2.0 was published in 2008. Four principles were introduced and the guidelines were now organized according to these principles. According to these principles, the content must be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. WCAG 2.0 consisted of 12 guidelines and each guideline had testable success criteria. There were 61 criteria in total, corresponding to three different levels—A, AA, and AAA. Level A had 25 criteria, level AA had 13 criteria, and level AAA had 23 criteria.
In 2018, WCAG 2.1 was published. It was backward compatible with WCAG 2.0. WCAG 2.1 added 17 new criteria. Level A had five new criteria, level AA had seven, and level AAA had five. The number of criteria increased from 61 in WCAG 2.0 to 78 in WCAG 2.1.
What will be new in WCAG 2.2?
WCAG 2.2 will add nine new criteria—four new A level criteria, four new AA level criteria, and one new AAA level criterion:
- Focus Appearance (Minimum) (Level AA)
- Focus Appearance (Enhanced) (Level AAA)
- Page Break Navigation (Level A)
- Dragging Movements (Level AA)
- Target Size (Minimum) (Level AA)
- Consistent Help (Level A)
- Visible Controls (Level AA)
- Accessible Authentication (Level A)
- Redundant Entry (Level A)
In addition to the nine new criteria, one of the existing criteria (Focus Visible) will move from level AA to level A. These nine new criteria are placed under two of the principles. The Operable principle is expanded by five criteria, while the Understandable principle is given four new criteria. Let us take a closer look at each of the criteria and what they will include.
Focus Appearance (Minimum) (Level AA)
This will be a new criterion under the Operable principle in guideline 2.4.11 under Navigable. The guideline aims to help users navigate through pages, find what they are looking for, and determine where they are on the page. This criterion requires user interface components to meet contrast, size, adjacency, and visibility requirements when they receive keyboard focus. Specifically, the focus indicator should have a contrast ratio of at least 3:1 between indicator pixels in two states—focused and unfocused. It should also have a contrast ratio of at least 3:1 to adjacent colors and the item in focus should not be fully obscured.
Focus Appearance (Enhanced) (Level AAA)
This new criterion will be also added to the Operable principle in guideline 2.4.12 under Navigable. It is similar to the Focus Appearance (Minimum) criterion, but this is a Level AAA criterion and therefore the requirements are higher than those of the Level AA criterion. According to the requirements, when the user interface component has keyboard focus, the focus indicator should have an area with a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 between colors in the focused and unfocused states. This area should also be at least twice the area of a 1 CSS pixel thick perimeter of the unfocused component. In addition, the focus indicator should always be visible and no part of the focus indicator should be obscured by other content.
Page Break Navigation (Level A)
Page Break Navigation is another criterion that will be added to the Operable principle in guideline 2.4.13 under Navigable. This criterion focuses on web content with page break locators. To meet this criterion, there should be an available mechanism for the user to navigate to each locator so that it makes no difference whether the user is using a print or digital version of the publication and is able to find the same content after page breaks.
Dragging Movements (Level AA)
This will be a new criterion under the Operable principle in guideline 2.5.7 under Input Modalities. This guideline focuses on making it easier for users to operate functionality through various inputs beyond the keyboard. It specifies that all functions that use a dragging motion can also be accessed by a single pointer without the necessity of dragging. Exceptions are cases where dragging is essential or the functionality is determined by the user agent.
Target Size (Minimum) (Level AA)
Another addition to the Operable principle in guideline 2.5.8 under Input Modalities, this criterion is about the size of the target where the pointer input is required. It specifies that the target size should be at least 24 by 24 CSS pixels, but there are some exceptions. The first exception is spacing. If the target offset is at least 24 CSS pixels from other possible targets, the target size can be smaller. Target size can also be smaller if the target is in a sentence or block of text. If the visual representation of the target is essential or required by law, the target can be smaller than 24 by 24 CSS pixels. If the size of the target is determined by the user agent then it can be smaller. The last exception is when there is an equivalent control that complies with the criteria and the user can achieve the same result with this other control.
Consistent Help (Level A)
This will be a new criterion under the Understandable principle in guideline 3.2.6 under Predictable. This guideline describes how to make web pages appear and operate in predictable ways so that users can navigate through pages more freely. This criterion is about help mechanisms on web pages and their location. Some examples of help mechanisms include:
- Human contact details
- Human contact mechanism
- Self-help option
- Fully automated contact mechanism
If any of the above-mentioned help mechanisms are available on a web page, then they should appear in the same relative order on all pages within this one specific web page. This way, users will always know where to look for help options on the current web page.
Visible Controls (Level AA)
Visible Controls is another criterion that will be added to the Understandable principle in guideline 3.2.7 under Predictable. This criterion requires that there should be a visible indicator for user interface components that appear only on hover or focus. This visible indicator is needed to show the user that components are available and make sure the user is informed about them. This visible indicator is not needed if the same functionality is available to the user through another user interface component that does not require hover or keyboard focus to make that component visible. However, this component must be on the same page or on a different step in a multi-step process. Another exception is when this hidden user interface component provides keyboard-only functionality. There is also no need for a visible indicator for hidden user interface components if there is a mechanism to make these hidden components visible. And if it is essential to hide the visual indicator, then that is also an option.
Accessible Authentication (Level A)
This will be a new criterion under the Understandable principle in guideline 3.3.7 Input Assistance. This guideline focuses on helping users to avoid and correct mistakes. This criterion focuses on cognitive function tests and helping users pass them. If the authentication process relies on a cognitive function test, at least one other authentication method must be available, or if no other authentication method is available, a mechanism must be in place to assist the user in completing the cognitive function test. There is only one exception to this criterion—if the cognitive function test is based on recognition of common objects or content provided by the user to the website, no other authentication method or assistive mechanism is required.
Redundant Entry (Level A)
Another criterion that will be added to the Understandable principle in guideline 3.3.9 under Input Assistance is Redundant Entry. This criterion specifies that information that has previously been entered by or provided to the user is required to be entered again in the same process and user session, then that information should either be automatically filled in or available for the user to select. This way, cognitive effort is reduced and the user does not have to remember information entered in previous steps. Of course, the exception is when re-entering information is essential or when the information must be re-entered for security reasons. It is also an exception when information has been changed and the previously entered information is no longer current.
In the table below, we can see how the nine new criteria planned for the WCAG 2.2 release will be distributed between principles and priority levels. The Operable and Understandable principles will get five and four new criteria, respectively. For the Operable principle, there will be one new level A criterion, three new level AA criteria, and one new level AAA criterion. For the Understandable principle, there will be three new level A criteria and one new level AA criterion.
Troubling past with the release of WCAG 2.2
The release of WCAG 2.2 has been postponed several times over the years. Initially, WCAG 2.2 was supposed to be released in November 2020 and later in June 2021, but on both occasions was postponed due to the pandemic. Then, it was scheduled to be released at the end of 2021 but again, it was not released and the release date was pushed back to summer 2022. It is now expected to be released in September 2022.
There are many reasons why the release of WCAG 2.2 was delayed multiple times—and it was not just because of the pandemic. There were situations where it was difficult to formulate the new criteria in a way that they would be understandable and comply with safety regulations. The new Focus Appearance criterion is one example of this. As many have noted in online discussions about WCAG, writing and defining this criterion was the most challenging part of this release. What makes it so complicated are the many variations of possible focus indicators that currently exist. The most popular option is a rectangle around the user interface component, but there are many other options such as a thick bar on the side of the user interface component, changing the background color for the focused element, and more. Another reason for the delay is the received feedback. Users have been very vocal about this version of WCAG and have sent in an impressive amount of feedback. Each piece of feedback needed to be reviewed and discussed, which also takes time. In addition, already written material had to be changed according to the feedback received. But fingers crossed, there will be no more delays and WCAG 2.2 will finally see the light of day in September.
WCAG are a set of standards that need to be followed to ensure websites and mobile applications are inclusive and accessible to people with disabilities. Achieving WCAG compliance helps companies build better, more accessible products, and reach more users by ensuring all users have equal access and an equally good user experience. And with around 15% of the world’s population experiencing some form of disability, accessibility is more important than ever. So taking the time to test your product in terms of accessibility and making sure it complies with WCAG will take your product to a whole new level.
The latest version—WCAG 2.2—introduces 9 new criteria to the Operable and Understandable principles, four of which are level A and four are level AA criteria, while one is level AAA. These new criteria promise to help companies cater to an even wider group of users with different abilities by improving accessibility. So keep an eye out for the WCAG 2.2 release and make sure you meet the requirements.
Want to see how well your web or mobile application complies with the accessibility standards described in the latest version of WCAG? Make sure you meet all the criteria and are ready for the release of WCAG 2.2 by working with accessibility testing experts who will thoroughly test your application against various standards using a range of devices and tools. Contact us to find out more about our accessibility testing services and how we can help you develop a more accessible product that is compliant with standards and regulations.