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Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) developed the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). WCAG is the primary policy for the web. Its global goal is to provide a single shared standard for web content accessibility; meeting needs of individuals, organisations, and governments internationally.

WCAG explains how to make web content more accessible to people with disability. This includes information in web pages, applications and documents. It involves: natural information such as text, images, sounds, code or markup that defines areas such as structure, presentation and navigation.

Different Versions of the WCAG

The first version of WCAG (WCAG 1.0) was released in 1999. WCAG 2.0 was then published in 2008. WCAG 2.0 is the current Australian standard and the first widely adopted version of WCAG. WCAG 2.1 was published in 2018.  A new update, WCAG 2.2 has been launched in 2023, and is the current recommended standard by W3C.

  • All testable success criteria in WCAG 2.0 are also included in WCAG 2.1 plus additional guidance that focuses primarily on the mobile web
  • WCAG 2.2 removed one success criterion (4.1.1 Parsing) as the working group determined that it no longer provided any meaningful benefit.

WCAG 2.2 will contain the Success Criteria found in WCAG 2.1 (excluding 4.1.1 Parsing) with additional guidance focusing on cognitive disability. Websites meeting WCAG 2.1 or 2.2 will fulfil the requirements of policies that reference WCAG 2.0. On another note, WCAG 2.1 or 2.2 does not deprecate or supersede WCAG 2.0 as they are all existing standards. W3C encourages using the most recent WCAG version when developing or updating content or accessibility policies. WCAG 2.0 , 2.1 and 2.2 are stable, referenceable technical standards.  All have 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. Most countries that implement WCAG in their policy frameworks aim for Level AA conformance. Australian government websites must meet WCAG 2.0 Level AA. The Australian Human Rights Commission states that all public-facing websites must also conform to WCAG 2.0 Level AA. W3C does recommend using the latest WCAG standard to develop or update websites.

Summary Reference of WCAG 2.1

To make content perceivable, websites must provide text alternatives for non-text content, present captions and other alternatives for multimedia, and construct content that can be presented in different ways. This could be by supporting assistive technologies to make it easier for users to see and hear content.

To make content operable, websites 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, websites 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.

There are Australian and international policies that reference this standard. For more information, please refer to the Australian requirements. Australia’s main accessibility law is section 24 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA). DDA applies to all website developers (government and private) using an Australian server. WCAG assists section 24 of the DDA as a guide for website developers to follow so their websites are not discriminatory and meet DDA requirements.

For more information, please refer to the International requirement sections. There is also a six-part guide available that explains all of the testable components of the WCAG 2.1 standard.

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