WCAG 2.1 Overview: Updates in Accessibility

Accessibility on the internet has been long overdue for an overhaul. One of the most undervalued audiences on the web is that of disabled people (who use the internet just as much, if not more, than “non-disabled” people). That’s why up until recently, it was kind of shocking that there hadn’t been an update to WCAG (the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines).

WCAG updates on accessibility

Back in 2018, W3C (the World Wide Web Consortium) finally updated WCAG to its newest iteration; WCAG 2.1. With the long overdue update came a lot of changes to web accessibility standards. WCAG 2.1’s main focus is on improving the web experience of disabled people (not just making sure they have access to web content).

Below we cover what is WCAG 2.1 (exactly), who it applies to, and also delve into specific update details.

WCAG 2.1: The Web’s Newest Accessibility Standards

Since WCAG’s last update, the web has seen a huge increase in mobile usage. People aren’t just browsing the web from a desktop computer anymore (or even a laptop). Rather, they’re surfing the internet on the go from their mobile phones and tablets. This huge increase in mobile internet use means that mobile accessibility standards need to become more of a priority (which is a focus on WCAG 2.1).

Improved visual standards are another major focus of W3C’s latest accessibility update. Not only do disabled people need to have appealing and intuitive displays (of web content), but they also need to be able to actually consume it without being interrupted every two seconds. What’s meant by this are pop-up forms, advertisements, etc. WCAG 2.1 focuses on minimizing this type of content for disabled audiences.

There are approximately 17 main changes to WCAG’s newest update. In addition to the ones we went over above, below we list a few of the other main updates (along with a brief description of each).

1. Make Navigation Easier to Use

Another one of the main focuses of WCAG 2.1 is making navigation elements easier to use for disabled people. Not only does this mean actually making navigation elements easy to click and interact with, but it also means making it easier for users to correct and/or cancel incorrect clicks. For example, if a user accidentally clicks the wrong link in a menu, they may have a difficult time going back and then clicking the proper link. WCAG 2.1 made remedying this issue a priority.

2. Content Timeouts

Have you ever accidentally left a website open, and then when you went back to it the content actually had to reload and/or even disappeared? This could be very troubling for a disabled person (who already has a difficult time getting around the web). One of the new additions to WCAG makes content timeouts another priority. The addition requires that users be warned about any type of timeout that could lead to any amount of data loss.

3. Minimizing Animations

For disabled users who suffer from vision issues (or other problems such as cognitive disabilities), animations can present certain issues that can cause adverse effects (e.g. seizures, vision impairment, etc.). Content that uses animations (e.g. clicking a button or an interactive element) must include the option for the user to turn the animation off.

4. Motion Activated Content

If you’ve ever used a mobile app or website that requires you to move your device, you know how frustrating that can be. Now imagine you aren’t able to move your device, or you’re using a screen reading app to browse the web. Doesn’t sound too fun does it?

One of the major focuses of WCAG 2.1 is on improving the general UX of disabled people on the web. So, if your website or mobile app includes any motion activated elements, it’s important for disabled users to be able to deactivate them.

5. Textual Content

One of the biggest updates in the newest WCAG is the focus on increasing textual readability. Under the new guidelines, text/font should have a decent amount of spacing between letters/words. Any textual content must also have an optimal level of contrast (which is a massive help to people who suffer from vision issues).

Although the above list isn’t comprehensive, it’s a good start at covering the newest updates to WCAG. If you’d like to learn more about specific WCAG updates, or have questions about certain guidelines, we recommend going to W3C’s website (www.w3.org).

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