What in the World Wide Web is WCAG?

Chris Towers

For the uninitiated, WCAG can be quite intimidating. We give you a brief primer on what WCAG is, why it matters, and why it makes good business sense to include it in your web products and services.

What is WCAG?

In today’s rapidly evolving digital landscape, the internet has become an indispensable tool for people all around the world. From online shopping to news portals to service providers, websites have become an essential part of our daily lives; however, it is crucial to recognise that not all users have the same level of access when it comes to using websites, especially those with disabilities. To address this need for inclusivity, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) developed the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) - a set of principles that websites should adhered to in order to make website content accessible to as many people as possible.

The guidelines were initially developed in 1999 and introduced the well-known conformance levels: A, AA, and AAA. Since that time, the W3C has continually improved and updated the guidelines to make them better fit the ever changing landscape of the internet, and to keep up with developments in assistive technologies. The current version of the guidelines is WCAG 2.1; however, WCAG 2.2 is set to be released in May this year, with the draft version potentially including the addition of nine new criteria across the three conformance levels.

Is WCAG a requirement?

Many countries around the world have adopted, or make heavy reference to, WCAG as the standard for web accessibility. In several countries, compliance with WCAG has become a legal requirement to some degree. For example, in the UK, since 2018, the external-facing websites of all public sector bodies, as well as some charities and non-governmental organisations, have had to be AA compliant. The United States takes this a step further under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, which requires all federal agencies, their contractors, vendors, and partners to ensure their websites meet AA standards.

For the majority of those in the UK private sector, companies are not currently required by law to meet any level of WCAG compliance on their customer-facing websites; however, that doesn’t mean that it will not be introduced in the future. That being said, the Equality Act 2010 does require that when providing services, a company does not put “a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage […] in comparison with persons who are not disabled” and must “take such steps as it is reasonable to have to take to avoid the disadvantage”. This could potentially leave a company open to litigation if their website is not accessible.

In the past, many firms have been taken to court due to their websites being inaccessible, such as in the 2021 case in the US, in which Domino’s Pizza was forced to pay a visually-impaired user $4,000 for being unable to use their website and mobile app to order food using a screen reader.

What’s the business case for being accessible?

Legal considerations should not be the only reason to put accessibility front and centre. Ensuring your website or mobile app is accessible is best practice for a number of reasons: first and foremost, it should be a moral obligation for us all to guarantee equality, it demonstrates a commitment to inclusivity and diversity; it enhances brand reputation; and it helps organisations expand their reach to a wider audience.

The disability market, also known as the Purple Pound, represents a significant (and often overlooked) sector of the economy that includes people with disabilities, their families, friends, and caregivers. With an estimated global market value of over £7 trillion, the Purple Pound presents a vast potential market for businesses, moreover, one that can easily be accessed.

Implementing WCAG in your organisation

Accessibility needs to be taken into consideration throughout the full lifecycle of a website or mobile app, from concept to design, from development and testing to later updates and additions. It is crucial to establish internal policies early on to ensure this is done and promote accessibility throughout the development process.

Automated testing can be a key tool for both testers and developers to help identify many accessibility issues, but it is not enough on its own. Manual testing carried out by an accessibility professional will uncover far more issues and prevent them from making it in front of users on the live application. Staying updated with the latest guidelines, such as the upcoming WCAG 2.2, and incorporating them into website design and development processes is also crucial for organisations that want to ensure accessibility compliance and create inclusive online experiences for all users.

If you want to check the accessibility of your website or mobile app, Blazie can provide you with a full accessibility audit. Our team of experts can help you identify and fix accessibility issues, ensuring that your website or app meets the latest WCAG guidelines. For more information, please email info@blazie.co.uk.