WCAG 2.0 is a set of technical guidelines for web accessibility. In a previous article, we discussed the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), how they came into being, and why it is the world’s most universally accepted set of web accessibility standards.
There are not one but now three versions of WCAG: 1.0, 2.0, and 2.1. And while WCAG 1.0 was certainly groundbreaking and critically important when it was first developed in 1999, today it’s old news.
WCAG 2.0 was released in 2008, almost a decade after the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) first created its expert-sourced set of accessibility standards for the Internet. Version 2.0 was designed to replace WCAG 1.0 completely and for a good reason. In many ways, the first set of standards had become obsolete.
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The latest version, WCAG 2.1, was released in June 2018. This iteration does not replace WCAG 2.0, but includes additional information about newer technologies, and addresses a broader range of disability-related needs. Websites that conform to 2.0 are still considered accessible, but WCAG 2.1 is a useful reference tool for organizations that need the most up-to-date guidance.
WCAG 1.0 vs WCAG 2.0 vs. WCAG 2.1
In the fast-moving world of technology, a lot can change very quickly. By the time WCAG 1.0 was released, programmers were developing websites in new and different ways. That’s just one reason why an update was needed; version 2.0 considers more advanced technologies that aren’t covered by WCAG 1.0. The same is true for version 2.1, considering even further advanced technology not covered in 2.0, specifically regarding mobile accessibility.
Consider a few of the other key differences between the versions:
- The guidelines in 2.0 and 2.1 are designed to be easier to test than those in 1.0, whether by human checkers with expertise or automatic online testing.
- The 2.0 and 2.1 versions reflect efforts to harmonize web accessibility standards already in place worldwide.
- The usability is improved in versions 2.0 and 2.1. For example, they include concrete instances to make them easier to follow, such as typical accessibility errors that web designers make, along with other resources and support.
- 2.1 expands the guidance provided in 2.0 to include more coverage of mobile accessibility and provisions for people with low vision and cognitive and learning disabilities, helping organizations to improve inclusion and better serve a wider audience with 17 new requirements.
At the end of the day, content that conforms to WCAG 2.1 also conforms to WCAG 2.0. (this is often called “backward compatible”). Therefore, a website that meets WCAG 2.1 should meet the requirements of policies that reference WCAG 2.0.
To put it another way: If you want to meet WCAG 2.0 and WCAG 2.1, you can use the 2.1 resources and don’t need to bother looking at 2.0. The World Wide Web Consortium encourages you to use the most recent version of WCAG when developing or updating content or accessibility policies.¹
Why Should Your Website Follow WCAG?
There’s only one reason for a website to adhere to the latest website standards, and it’s simple: If it doesn’t, then it’s not considered accessible to people with disabilities.
WCAG 1.0 doesn’t cover nearly all the ground that 2.0 and 2.1 do. There are guidelines today that didn’t exist in 1.0, such as the ability to turn off any background sounds. Other guidelines in 1.0 are expanded with much more applicability in 2.0 and 2.1. Notably, 1.0 also has content that should no longer be followed, as it’s now outdated and can hinder, not help, accessibility.
What a Difference a WCAG Makes
When your organization’s website follows broadly accepted web accessibility standards, you are ensuring that people with a variety of disabilities and assistive technologies are able to make full use of your site.
Imagine if you happen to be blind, and you rely on a screen reader to read the text on a website automatically. And then suddenly, when you land on the homepage of a restaurant, loud jazz music starts playing, and you can’t hear the speech output from your screen reader. You could turn down your computer’s volume, but that would also lower the volume of your screen reader – not helpful.
When the latest WCAG guidelines are followed, there is a way for the user to stop the music or lower the volume of background sounds without turning down their computer volume.
Another example of a standard in the latest versions of WCAG is providing a title for every web page. It sounds simple, but it makes a difference. A user does not have to click on a link, wait for the page to load, and use their assistive technology to read parts of that page… before they have any idea what the link actually leads to!
How is WCAG related to Section 508?
Section 508 is part of the Rehabilitation Act that requires Federal agencies to make their digital information accessible to disabled employees and members of the public. Section 508 requires organizations to follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines to achieve and maintain web accessibility compliance.
Getting Out of Your WCAG Rut
What if your organization’s website was designed to adhere to an old WCAG version? The good news is, given the additional resources, helpful examples and lists of common errors included with 2.0 and 2.1, you’ll have an easier time understanding the new guidelines and how best to conform to them.
Furthermore, partners with expertise in evaluating websites for accessibility can guide you in updating your website to conform with the proper guidelines. They should also be able to help remediate PDF documents and make them accessible, as per the techniques for WCAG 2.1 laid out by the W3C.
When you’re already making an effort to ensure your website is inclusive to everyone, it makes sense to do it right. Why accept second-rate accessibility standards? There are different levels of WCAG that organizations can strive for, with WCAG 2.0 AAA being the gold standard.
When you ensure that your website is compliant, you’ll increase the likelihood that your customers will have a barrier-free online experience.
Get started today by checking out our latest WCAG Checklist or requesting a time to connect with one of our accessibility experts. We’re here to help!
- WCAG 2.0 and 2.1. W3C Web Accessibility Initiative, 22 January 2018
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in January 2017 and has been updated regularly for accuracy and comprehensiveness.