WCAG 2.1 – what’s up and coming?

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 are planned to be released in June 2018. Even though a lot may change before the release, we already have some indication of what’s going to be new in the 2.1 update.

Rolls of newspaper, image.

The journey ahead

When I’m writing this, it’s just over a year before the planned release in June 2018. WCAG 2.1 is on a journey through seven iterations called “Working Drafts”.

Right now “Working Draft 2” is out, and a new one will be released each month from now until November 2017. Everyone is invited to comment on the working drafts on the WCAG 2.1 GitHub.

So what’s going to be in it?

Well, it’s hard to know for sure right now.

In the first working draft released last month there were 28 newly proposed success criteria. Compare that to the total of 61 success criteria in WCAG 2.0, and you understand that it would be quite a big update.

However, in Working Draft 2, only 4 of the 28 new success criteria are left. So it’s hard to know how they will change in the future. A few of the 24 criteria that didn’t make the cut in Working Draft 2 will probably come back, but we don’t know which ones.

One thing we do know is that WCAG 2.1 is going to be backward compatible with WCAG 2.0, meaning that if you fulfill 2.1 you’ll automatically fulfill 2.0.

Four likely new criteria

These are four newly proposed success criteria that will probably be in WCAG 2.1 in some shape or form:

1.4.10 – Resize content, level A
Requires that content can be resized up to 400% without the loss of content or functionality. And without horizontal scroll. This is a change from the 200% requirement in WCAG 2.0

1.4.11 – Graphics contrast, level AA
Extends the contrast requirements to include graphical objects that are “essential for understanding content or functionality”. So no more low contrast hamburger menus or tab icons allowed. However, logotypes are sadly excluded from this success criterion.

2.2.6 – Interruptions, level AA
Requires an “easily available mechanism to postpone and suppress interruptions and changes in content”. They are trying to address popups that interrupt the users’ focus, which is annoying to everyone but extra tough on people with some cognitive impairments like adhd or autism.

3.2.6 – Accidental activation, level A
This addresses a problem many people with lowered motor skills have: activating the wrong button or link by mistake. The success criterion requires activation to be on the up-event, so that a user can touch the screen, realize they are touching the wrong target and move their mouse or finger to the right target.

Some proposed criteria that might make it

Outside of the four likely new criteria, there are plenty of other proposals that might make it into WCAG 2.1. Here are a few that we think look extra interesting:

  • Target sizes. Require at least 44*44 pixel target sizes for touch and 22*22 pixels for mouse targets.
  • Plain language. “Instructions, labels, navigation, error messages in simple tense, common words, basic rules of grammar, clear writing.”
  • Animations. “No motion over 3 seconds as a result of a user activating something, or provide a way to turn it off. Addresses parallax scrolling.”

Interested in more? Read this great blogpost by David MacDonald on all proposed news:

Quick guide to WCAG.2.1

Milestones in the past and future

Here’s a quick summary of the long history of the WCAG, and some planned milestones in the future. As you can see, the standard really does move forward at great speeds compared to glaciers.

1999 – WCAG 1.0
2008 – WCAG 2.0
2018 – WCAG 2.1 (planned)
2020 – WCAG 3.0 (planned)

A lot has changed in the world of tech since 2008, so the 2.1 update is welcome. For example, the use of touch screens has exploded and so has the knowledge of cognitive impairments. We’re happy to see that WCAG 2.1 addresses both of those changes, with quite a few new criteria focusing on touch and cognition.

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