WCAG 3.0: First Draft, First Impressions

On Thursday last week, the W3C published the first working draft of the W3C Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 3.0. Previous versions of the WCAG have been adopted around the world as the best and most important standard for digital accessibility, and has formed the basis for digital accessibility legislation in the EU.

Focused on user needs

Previous versions of the WCAG used “success criteria” to test the accessibility of a page or website. Passing a particular success criteria was binary — you either met their minimum colour contrast, for example, or you didn’t.

In WCAG 3.0, the success criteria are replaced with Outcomes. This will take the form of a simple, easy to understand statement framed around the needs of a specific type of user. Outcomes are scored based on how well a page fulfils that outcome from 0 (very poor), to 4 (excellent).

This allows for a far more nuanced look at the accessibility of a website, instead of the more black-and-white view presented by previous versions.

Gold, Silver, and Bronze

Conformance is based on the score for each outcome, as well as the overall score of the website. The current draft focuses on Bronze, with more details on Gold and Silver coming in future drafts.

To achieve Bronze, a site must score 3.5 for each outcome, and in aggregate, and must not have any “Critical Errors” — errors defined for some outcomes that would prevent the user from being able to complete a task.

Gold and Silver levels will require a higher score, as well as more holistic tests, including testing using assistive technologies.

A long way to go

There’s still a lot of work to do for the WCAG 3.0 — the majority of outcomes are still to be written — so it’ll be at least a couple of years before the new guidelines are published as a recommendation.

But my first impressions of this first draft are incredibly optimistic. It’s a huge project, that’s trying to improve and expand on the already huge WCAG 2.x.

The end goal of accessibility is always to make your websites and products more usable for more people, so the outcome approach, focusing on users’ needs is a great step forward, compared to the functional approach of previous versions.

Lewis Dorigo

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