July 24, 2018

New Website Accessibility Guidelines: W3C Publishes WCAG 2.1

2 min

Any organization with a publicly facing website—in other words, virtually any organization—should be aware that the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) recently published its most recent update to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, titled WCAG 2.1. The W3C is a private organization that develops website accessibility standards.

As you may now know, in recent years, the WCAG 2.0 has become the widely accepted industry standard of technical requirements for making websites, mobile apps, and other digital content accessible to persons with disabilities. Although the Department of Justice (DOJ) has yet to adopt the WCAG 2.0 as the applicable standard for the private sector, governmental and private plaintiffs increasingly urge adopting WCAG 2.0 AA as the standard by which to measure a website's accessibility—and more and more courts and agencies do so.

WCAG 2.1 augments but does not supersede the WCAG 2.0 guidelines. Businesses seeking to enhance their websites' accessibility should still aim to comply with the broader WCAG 2.0 technical requirements. WCAG 2.1 adds 17 new success criteria (five at Level A, seven at Level AA, and five at Level AAA) designed to remove website accessibility barriers primarily related to:

  1. mobile devices (e.g., accounting for technological advances since WCAG 2.0 was released in 2008);
  2. disabilities that affect vision, such as colorblindness or low vision (e.g., criteria for text spacing and non-text color contrast);
  3. cognitive and learning disabilities, such as attention deficit disorder and age-related cognitive decline (e.g., criteria for timeouts related to use inactivity, criteria for motion animations, etc.).

WCAG 2.1, together with the broader WCAG 2.0, likely will receive increasing attention from courts, regulators, and plaintiffs. Organizations that already comply with the WCAG 2.0 standard should consider incorporating the new success criteria where feasible. That said, the new guidelines do not alter the legal analysis for typical website accessibility claims. To determine what such analysis means for your organization, you may need to speak with a lawyer familiar with these issues.