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Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)

The primary policy for web accessibility is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Globally, through the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) process, The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) were developed, with a goal of providing a single shared standard for web content accessibility that meets the needs of individuals, organisations, and governments internationally. The WCAG explains how to make web content more accessible to people with disability. This includes information in a web page or web application, such as: natural information such as text, images, and sounds & code or markup that defines structure, presentation and more. In 2017, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was revised with the requirements that by January 2018, all federal agencies and contractors must, among other revisions, comply with WCAG 2.0 A or AA. Therefore, in the context of federal government agencies, WCAG is formalised by law as the accessibility standard. There are policies internationally and in Australia that reference this standard. For more information, please refer to the ‘International requirements’ and ‘Australian requirements’ sections below.

Different versions of the WCAG

The first version of WCAG (WCAG 1.0) was released in 1999. The second version (WCAG 2.0) was published in 2008 and was the first widely adopted WCAG and is the current Australian standard. The WCAG 2.1 was published in 2018 and also remains as the current standard. WCAG 2.2 is scheduled to be published in 2021. All requirements (“success criteria”) from 2.0 are included in 2.1. The 2.0 success criteria are exactly the same in 2.1, thus content conforming to WCAG 2.1 also conforms to WCAG 2.0, and content conforming to WCAG 2.2 will also conform to 2.1 and 2.0. (making it “backwards compatible”). All requirements in 2.0 and 2.1 will be included in 2.2. The wording of the 2.0 and 2.1 success criteria will be exactly the same in 2.2. A website that meets WCAG 2.1 or 2.2 should meet the requirements of policies that reference WCAG 2.0. On another note, WCAG 2.1 does not deprecate or supersede WCAG 2.0, they are both existing standards. W3C encourages the use of the most recent version of WCAG when developing or updating content or accessibility policies. WCAG 2.0 and WCAG 2.1 are stable, referenceable technical standards, comprising of 12-13 guidelines, organised under 4 principles: perceivable, operable, understandable and robust. Each guideline has a testable success criterion, which are at three conformance levels: A, AA, and AAA. Level A conformance is the minimum level. Level AA conformance satisfies all level A and level AA success criteria. Level AAA conformance is the highest level and satisfies all the level A, AA and AAA criteria.

Summary Reference of WCAG 2.1

For better understanding, here is a summary of the accessibility requirements for content producers within the WCAG 2.1 standard digital access policy.  To make content perceivable, they must provide text alternatives for non-text content, present captions and other alternatives for multimedia, construct content that can be presented in different ways, including by assistive technologies, without losing meaning, and make it easier for users to see and hear content. To make content operable, they must make all functionality available from a keyboard, give users enough time to read and use content, refrain from using content that causes seizures or physical reactions, help users navigate and find content, and make it easier to use inputs other than keyboard. To make content understandable, they must make text readable, unambiguous and comprehensible, make content appear and operate in predictable ways, and help users avoid and correct mistakes. Lastly, to make content robust, they must maximise compatibility with current and future user tools.

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