The First Look At WCAG 3.0 Is Here!

The World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) has now published the first public working draft of their long-awaited WCAG 3.0 Accessibility Guidelines. While the document is far from finished and is not expected to advance to WC3 recommendation for a few years when it comes to digital accessibility WCAG is the most significant standard, and so a new version is big news.

This planned major revision is intended to be easier to understand than WCAG 2, and more flexible, meaning it will seek to address many different types of content, apps, and tools, as well as organizations and disabilities.

It is important to note that WCAG 3.0 does not supersede WCAG 2.2 or previous versions, but rather it is an entirely new and alternative set of guidelines. It will be a long wait for the new guidelines to be reflected in international law, and it will be very interesting to see how the WAI position them in order to make their purpose clear and encourage their adoption.

Why WCAG 3.0?

So why does the online world need WCAG 3.0 and what might be the impact of having two separate standards? Let's take a look at its stated goals and see what they can tell us about the direction accessibility guidelines are headed and why.

The stated Goals of WCAG 3.0 are as follows:

Goal 1: Update guidelines to better address user needs and accommodate new technologies
Underpinning the entire project is the overarching goal of making the web more accessible to all users on all possible technologies. New technologies are constantly emerging, such as augmented/virtual reality(AR/VR/XR) and voice assistants, and the new guidelines recognize the need to accommodate them where possible.

Goal 2: Incorporate tool guidance with authoring guidance to avoid the ‘’accessibility support’’ challenge of WCAG 2
One of the perceived shortcomings of WCAG 2.0 & 2.1 was a lack of practical support to accompany and augment the guidelines and help users implement what was being espoused. WCAG 3.0 seeks to be far more robust in this aspect by providing practical tool guidance and authoring guidance that will be especially helpful for non-experts looking to comply with accessibility requirements.

Goal 3: Define clearer testing procedures and allow for multiple approaches
There’s not much point in telling people to improve the accessibility of their website if you can’t also give them concrete testing procedures that allow for multiple approaches. WCAG 3.0, therefore, aims to provide clearer procedures that support automated testing where appropriate and provide a procedure for repeatable tests when manual testing is appropriate.

Goal 4: Meet the needs of policies while being updated more frequently than WCAG 2
The new guidelines have been designed to both satisfy the needs of those developing policies to create, manage and deliver accessible websites, while at the same time recognizing the need to be responsive to changing online landscape and remain as current as possible by being updated with greater regularity.

Goal 5: Define ways to claim conformance for different units than ‘’web page(s)’’
Part of what makes the new guidelines so ambitious is their broader scope, which takes into account the fact that not all web units come in the form of traditional web pages, but can also take the form of fully interactive and immersive environments. The new guidelines seek to address the need to be able to validate such units as being compliant in instances where conformance claims are made.

Goal 6: Reduce reading complexity where possible
It is in everyone’s interest to make web accessibility guidelines more understandable, and so the goal of reducing the reading complexity level of the guidelines is pure common sense.

Goal 7: Base guidance on research where feasible and emphasize the importance of future research
The ever-changing and evolving nature of the web and the tools used to access it means that accessibility is a task that is never quite finished. The guidance presented in WCAG 3.0 aims to reflect the most current research and to support the development of future research in order to ensure that it is based on a solid, scientifically grounded foundation.

Why These Goals?

All of the above goals fit in with the central aim of making WCAG 3.0 a more nuanced and wide-ranging set of guidelines that reflect more accurately the real experience of people with disabilities.

In order to achieve this, the new guidelines will follow different testing, conformance, and scoring models from those established in WCAG 2.0 & 2.1. Perhaps the biggest challenge facing the WAI is to avoid the potential confusion caused by having two separate guidance standards, and it will be fascinating to see how they meet this challenge in the coming years.

Monsido is committed to staying at the forefront of accessibility testing and will provide more information on WCAG 3.0 and what it means for web accessibility as the draft develops further. We recommend anyone with any interest or investment in web accessibility check out the full first draft of the WCAG 3.0 document and submit any feedback you may have before the deadline of 26 February 2021.