WCAG 2.0 has been in place for more than a decade, and is more relevant today than ever before in our constantly connected world. However, while technology has evolved since the early 2000s, the WCAG have not. One example of a major development that has not yet been addressed in the WCAG is the evolution of mobile devices. While a decade ago, most people used computers with large screens and keyboards to access web content, today most content is accessed on a smaller touch screen. This presents challenges for some users, particularly those with vision or mobility issues.
To address issues like this, W3C has proposed an updated version of the guidelines, WCAG 2.1. These new guidelines will address many of the issues brought about by newer technology, giving businesses and web developers a framework to ensure accessibility by all and avoid costly lawsuits.
The WCAG 2.1 TimelineIn 2015, nearly a decade after WCAG 2.0 was developed, W3C created a working group to develop an update to the guidelines. The initial approach was designed to create updates quickly without disrupting either the still-relevant policies of WCAG 2.0 or what it means to comply with them.
However, it soon became clear that amending and extending existing policies was only going to create confusion and leave policies open to interpretation — and give website owners some leeway in whether and how they would comply with the guidance.
As a result, W3C opted to create a new version of the guidelines, WCAG 2.1, which will keep the existing guidelines intact, while updating guidance for the most current technology. WCAG 2.0 is not being retired at this time, and WCAG 2.1 will be fully backwards compatible with version 2.0. In addition, organizations can use either WCAG 2.0 or 2.1, and still maintain accessibility. The first draft of the 2.1 guidelines are expected to be released within the next few months, with the final publication to come in mid-2018.
Accessibility vs. UsabilityOne of the major issues that WCAG addresses is the distinction between web or application usability and accessibility. While there are some similarities between them, and accessibility is one of the most dominant UX design trends, they actually refer to two different concepts.
Application usability refers mainly to how easy it is to use an app or website; that is, how quickly can a user figure out how to navigate the site and use its features, how likely it is that they will make an error, and how easily they can find what they are looking for — and then remember how to do everything on subsequent visits. Apps and sites that are usable tend to achieve higher levels of satisfaction, which is often a primary goal of usability testing.
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On the other hand, W3C defines accessibility as how well “people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the web, and how they can contribute to the web.” This includes all disabilities, including physical, cognitive, neurological, speech, auditory, and visual. It’s possible, then, for an app to be usable, but not accessible. For instance, if the only tutorial is provided in the form of a video with a voiceover, it is not accessible to the hearing impaired.
WCAG 2.0 guidelines outline the ways in which websites and apps need to maintain accessibility and the minimum requirements for doing so. Many times, the issues that create inaccessibility aren’t obvious to those without disabilities, so it’s important to test your apps appropriately to ensure that you have followed the guidelines. Otherwise, you could be setting yourself up for a costly lawsuit, and an expensive lesson in the difference between usability and accessibility.
An experienced and informed digital consulting partner like Worry Free Labs can help ensure your apps or enterprise solutions are accessible to any and all users. Connect with us today to learn more about how we design and develop technology with accessibility in mind.
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