5-Minute Guide to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)

Give us five minutes and we’ll help you understand WCAG. Read on to learn what it is, what it covers, why it’s important, and how you can achieve compliance.

Have specific questions about WCAG as it relates to your organization? We’d love to answer them. Simply fill out the form and a team member will be in touch.

Connect with a WCAG Specialist

What is the bare minimum I need to know about WCAG?

  1. WCAG stands for the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
  2. It’s pronounced WICK-agg.
  3. The guidelines describe how to make web content accessible to people with disabilities.
  4. While using WCAG is not required to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), most ADA settlements require the defendant to achieve WCAG 2.1 AA compliance within 2-5 years.
  5. WCAG is written and published by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

Why does my business need to achieve WCAG compliance?

Being WCAG compliant is the best defense against being sued for having an inaccessible website. Is it bulletproof? No. But if you get a demand letter, you will have the documentation to prove your website or mobile app’s WCAG compliance.

Being WCAG compliant increases the number of people you reach. Estimates are that 1 in 5 Americans has a disability that affects their daily life. Technology is a big part of daily life.

Being WCAG compliant makes it easier to sell your goods and services. If you sell technology B2B or B2G, having an accessibility conformance report will rank your product higher in the minds of your buyers, especially in highly regulated industries or the government.

Being WCAG compliant is the right thing to do. Assistive technology helps people with disabilities use the web. All we need to do as creators is ensure that we meet WCAG standards and we can include them in everything great about modern life.

Learn more about the business case for web accessibility.

Can you explain WCAG’s principles in plain English?

WCAG’s 4 guiding principles require web content must be:

Perceivable. Everything can be perceived in more than one way. If someone cannot see, written content can be read by a screen reader. If someone cannot hear, audio content has captions.

Operable. Everything can be operated in more than one way. If someone cannot use a mouse or touchpad, they can navigate by keyboard or by voice command software. If someone moves or reads slowly, they can request additional time to complete a task.

Understandable. Everything can be understood. If someone clicks on a navigation menu, it behaves like a navigation menu. If a button says, “Read More” it does what you expect it to do. If an error is made on a form, an error message points out the location of the error and suggests how to fix it.

Robust. Everything can roll up to the newest and shiniest hardware and not break.

Let us walk you through your site and explain if, and how, these four principles are being met

What’s the difference between A, AA, and AAA?

WCAG has three conformance levels – A, AA, and AAA. Let’s explain with an example.

Level A – You livestream a video on your website. After the livestream is over, you upload accurate and properly timed captions to the video.

Level AA – You livestream a video on your website. You hire a transcriptionist to provide live captions.

Level AAA – You livestream a video on your website. You hire a transcriptionist to provide live captions as well as a sign language interpreter.

Your goal should be WCAG AA compliance, with a sprinkling of AAA when it’s feasible.

A, AA, AAA? We can advise you on the best goal for each feature of your product.

What is WCAG 2.1? Do I need to comply with that now?

W3C made WCAG 2.1 the official recommendation in June 2018. It builds on and extends WCAG 2.0. It does not supersede or replace it. If you’re already compliant with 2.0, great! From a legal standpoint, you’re doing better than most.

WCAG 2.1 adds success criteria to improve mobile (and other small screen) experiences, especially for people with low vision, motor and dexterity disabilities, and cognitive disabilities.

Read more about the 17 new success criteria

The bottom line? Start to integrate WCAG 2.1 criteria as you’re developing new assets.

person with a magnifying glass over a mobile phone screen

How do I test my website for WCAG compliance?

If you’ve never tested your site before – or you’ve only used free tools – you will want to set up an audit with an accessibility expert. During the audit process, there will be automated testing, manual testing, and functional testing by people with disabilities.

At the end of the audit process, you will receive a report with your overall level of WCAG compliance and a list of accessibility issues that need remediation. Depending on your relationship with your vendor, they can provide training or helpdesk support, or even code side-by-side with your developers.

To get a free risk assessment (mini audit) of your website now, contact us.