Since the posting of this article, final preparations on WCAG 2.2 continue before publication. A final WCAG 2.2 release is expected in August 2023. For an updated in-depth review of the success criteria in the current WCAG 2.2 recommendation, visit our WCAG 2.2 Summary and Checklist.
This update outlines changes reflected in the May 2023 Candidate Recommendation. These changes are mostly quite minor, but one criterion has been moved from AA to AAA, as it was determined to be more complex to achieve. With these changes, the numbering of the new criteria has also been adjusted to make sure new criteria are in order by level but still placed after existing WCAG 2.1 criteria.
- One of the previously proposed success criteria, Focus Appearance, has been moved to Level AAA and marked as “at risk” of removal, leaving only six new criteria at Level A and AA.
- New wording for the criterion on target size (minimum) will be “at risk” with fallback to prior wording if consensus is not achieved.
- Based on the changes to the Focus Appearance criterion, criterion 2.4.7 Focus Visible has now been moved back to Level AA rather than being promoted to Level A as previously reported.
We’ve been anticipating the final release of version 2.2 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) for some time now, ever since the standard reached candidate recommendation status in September 2022. But the launch of the final version has been delayed once again, and instead, a new candidate recommendation was released this January. In this blog, Chief Accessibility Officer Jonathan Avila unpacks why WCAG 2.2 hasn’t been released yet, when we can expect the final version, and what to do as an accessibility program owner in the meantime.
Since this fall, those in the digital accessibility industry and community have awaited the final release of WCAG 2.2. The document had reached candidate recommendation status, meaning that it satisfied the technical requirements of the Accessibility Guidelines Working Group (a working group of the W3C, of which I am a member) and received a wide review. It was also a signal to the wider community that it was time for a final review, which provided an opportunity to gather implementation experience on practical application of the standards. But after all that, we’re still waiting for the final 2.2 release, and at this point, it is likely we’ll still be waiting until at least April 2023. As a refresher, here’s some background on what’s in the most current version.
What’s new in WCAG 2.2?
Currently, there are nine new proposed success criteria in WCAG 2.2 that build on the existing WCAG 2.1 criteria. These success criteria mainly focus on extending requirements for users with low vision, cognitive impairments, and limited fine motor skills. Seven of the new success criteria are at level A and AA. Also, as part of this new version, one pre-existing 2.1 criterion, Focus Visible, has moved from Level AA to level A because it was deemed so important for people with low vision and/or fine motor disabilities.
You can refer to our previous blog posts on 7 Quick Facts about WCAG 2.2 and our WCAG 2.2 Summary and Checklist to learn more about what’s new in WCAG 2.2 in detail. But as a member of the web content Accessibility Guidelines Working Group, I wanted to provide more insight into what has led us to the stage we’re in now, our second candidate review phase. The following is my own understanding, from my participation in the working group, and is not written on behalf of the W3C.
Why has WCAG 2.2 not been released yet?
Since the first candidate recommendation was published, there have been a few substantial changes to WCAG 2.2 that the working group has addressed, based on feedback received during the past few months. This has required another candidate recommendation of WCAG 2.2 to be published. The working group is continuing to seek feedback on WCAG 2.2 with a focus on the most recent changes and on criteria that are marked as “at risk”, particularly Criterion 2.4.11 Focus Appearance.
Criteria may be marked as at risk because they are difficult to implement across different scenarios or may be difficult to test, with inter-rater reliability being low. So, it’s important for the group to get feedback on the benefits for users with disabilities from this criterion, and its challenges for implementation and testing.
When will WCAG 2.2 be released?
A final, published recommendation is expected around April 2023. However, depending on the feedback received, WCAG 2.2 could continue in candidate recommendation further until substantial feedback is addressed. Generally, at this point, only minor changes occur, or criteria can be removed. Substantial changes do not usually occur at this phase, or else the standard will have to go back into a different phase again. Before publication, results for implementations that have been evaluated will be documented. The final implementation report (when available) will be on the WCAG 2.2 Implementation Report page.
Substantive changes: A closer review
Below is a list of changes that have been made in the most recent editor’s draft of WCAG 2.2.
This criterion is being removed in WCAG 2.2. It is the first time a criterion is being removed in the WCAG 2 series of accessibility standards. The reason for its removal is that any functional issues impacting users with disabilities pertaining to this criterion will be caught by other success criteria. Also, parsing issues are not common accessibility errors anymore based on how today’s browsers and assistive technologies work. You can read more about the specifics behind the decision to remove this success criterion in my related LinkedIn article.
Many people will find the removal of this criterion a welcome change, as many of the issues that were flagged under this, such as duplicate IDs, may not actually impact the functional use of the content by users with disabilities. So, issues created under this criterion result in extra noise and busy work.
WCAG 2.2 promises to be backwards-compatible with prior versions WCAG 2.1 and 2.0, meaning if you conform to WCAG 2.2, you also conform to those previous versions. The working group has said that, from a practical standpoint, WCAG 2.2 will remain backwards-compatible—but, additional discussion is needed to determine if or how to apply the removal of 4.1.1 to WCAG 2.1 and WCAG 2.0. Some international standards, such as Section 508 and EN 301 549, still refer to a dated version of WCAG 2.0 and WCAG 2.1, which include this success criterion. This means, for the time being, criterion 4.1.1 may still need to be tested for in previous versions of WCAG 2 until a decision is reached on this matter.
2.5.8 Target Size (Minimum)
The changes to Target Size in the 2.2 updates clarify the intention of the success criterion as well as expand inline target exceptions to bulleted/numbered lists or when inline targets are constrained by the line height of the containing element. This provides more flexibility for authors on structures like lists of text mixed with links, so they don’t end up requiring extra space around bullets/numbered lists.
- 3.3.7 Redundant Entry: This criterion was moved from 3.3.9 to 3.3.7 to keep the newly added criteria for this guideline in A, AA, and AAA order.
- 3.3.8 Accessible Authentication (previously 3.3.7): A change to the note describing object recognition and personal content (which are ways of meeting this criterion) was added to clarify that: “Object recognition” and “Personal content” may be represented by images, video, or audio. This exclusive statement also clarifies what they may not be – e.g., text.
- 3.3.9 Accessible Authentication (No Exception): This criterion was moved from 3.3.8 to 3.3.9 and renamed to Accessible Authentication (Enhanced).
- 3.2.6 Consistent Help: A small wording change in the first note was made to clarify the “access to” help mechanism rather than the help mechanism itself be provided on the page or linked to from the page.
What does this delay mean for accessibility program owners?
WCAG 2.2 is not yet ready to be used as a web standard. It’s still being reviewed and edited. Technically, these new proposed requirements can still be changed. So, for the time being, it’s best to proceed with caution, and take the time to get to know the new Success Criteria proposed for WCAG 2.2. Think carefully about how they can be applied to your website or digital assets, but keep in mind that they may still be edited.
In addition, while we anticipate the release of 2.2, now is a great time to check that you’re following legal and compliance best practices by ensuring your digital experiences conform with the most current version of WCAG, version 2.1. If you have questions about where to start, reach out to our team. We’ll be happy to help you assess where you’re at, and what you’ll need to change first, keeping this new standard in mind.
Jonathan Avila (CPWA) is the Chief Accessibility Officer at Level Access. He has invested two decades in the digital accessibility field guiding organizations to create inclusive experiences that are usable to a wide range of people with disabilities. Through this work, he has supported accessibility across many different environments including web, mobile, documentation, extended reality, kiosk, and gaming, to empower people with disabilities to live their best lives. Jonathan is a member of the Accessibility Guidelines Working Group of the World Wide Web Consortium and the International Association of Accessibility Professionals. At Level Access, he focuses his time on testing methodology, thought leadership, and internal accessibility program policy to grow and sustain the company’s implementation of an inclusive workplace.
eSSENTIAL Accessibility has changed its name to Level Access! Read More