Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

Introducing Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
a cartoon computer with html code on it

Introducing Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)

October 2020 | Issue #18

WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) are developed through the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) in collaboration with organizations and individuals around the world. It is developed with one goal in mind, to provide a single shared standard for web content accessibility that meets the needs of governments, organizations, and individuals.

Web content is defined by two things:

  • The code and/or markup that defines structure, presentation, etc.
  • And the natural information such as images, text, and sounds.

Within the last 12 years there have been two iterations of WCAG developed and published. WCAG 2.0 was developed and published on December 11, 2008. The 2.0 version defines how to make Web content more accessible to individuals with disabilities. Accessibility involves a wide range of disabilities, including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, language, learning, and neurological disabilities. Most recently the W3C has developed and published WCAG 2.1 on June 5, 2018. Though this is a different release, it still holds the same success criteria from 2.0. The 2.1 update follows the same structure and levels of compliance as 2.0. WCAG 2.1 includes more standards that benefit individuals with cognitive or learning disabilities, users with low vision, and users with disabilities on mobile devices.

Here at the California Association of Health and Education Linked Professions, a Joint Powers Authority (CAHELP, JPA) we have developed a Strategic Plan for Web Accessibility. The most recent January 16, 2020 revision includes the new WCAG 2.1 guidelines that have been approved by the CAHELP JPA Governance council. The CAHELP values diverse experiences and perspectives and strives to fully include everyone who engages with the organization. Therefore, CAHELP is committed to ensuring that individuals with disabilities have an opportunity equal to that of nondisabled peers accessing CAHELP programs, benefits, and services, including those delivered through information technology (IT). The CAHELP Strategic Plan for Web Accessibility, hereinafter referred to as “SPWA” establishes a foundation for equality of opportunity and provides guidance to ensure equal access to IT the CAHELP purchases, creates, and uses, such as websites, software, hardware, and media in accordance with applicable state and federal laws including, but not limited to, Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act as amended (ADA).

Who WCAG is for

WCAG is primarily intended for:

  • Web authoring tool developers
  • Web accessibility evaluation tool developers
  • Web content developers (page authors, site designers, content managers, ect.)
  • Others who are wanting or needing a standard for web accessibility, including mobile accessibility.

Understanding the Four Principles of Accessibility

As we discussed earlier about the content needing to maintain a “success” criterion, they are organized around four principles that serve as a foundation that is mandatory for any content developers on the web. These four principles are known as the acronym POUR:

  1. Perceivable: Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.
    • This means that users must be able to perceive the information being presented (it can't be invisible to all of their senses)
  2. Operable: User interface components and navigation must be operable.
    • This means that users must be able to operate the interface (the interface cannot require interaction that a user cannot perform)
  3. Understandable: Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.
    • This means that users must be able to understand the information as well as the operation of the user interface (the content or operation cannot be beyond their understanding)
  4. Robust: Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of users, including assistive technologies.
    • This means that users must be able to access the content as technologies advance (as technologies and user agents evolve, the content should remain accessible)

If there are any of these foundational elements not true, individuals with disabilities will not be able to use the web. Here at CAHELP we strive to provide

WCAG W3C Resources:

How to Meet WCAG 2: A customizable quick reference to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2 requirements (success criteria) and techniques is essentially the WCAG 2 checklist. Most people use these quick references as the main resource for working with WCAG.

Techniques for WCAG 2 (2.1 Techniques, 2.0 Techniques) gives you specific details on how to develop accessible web content, such as HTML code examples. The techniques are “informative”, that is, you do not have to use them. The basis for determining conformance to WCAG 2 is the success criteria from the WCAG 2 standard, not the techniques. Read more in Techniques in the FAQ.

Understanding WCAG 2 (2.1 Understanding, 2.0 Understanding) has additional guidance on learning and implementing WCAG 2 for people who want to understand the guidelines and success criteria more thoroughly.