Web Accessibility: Looking ahead to WCAG 3
The W3C Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 3 are in an exploratory phase and will most likely change. Any information currently posted on this is a draft only. These new guidelines are supposed to be released in a few years. No exact date is given. The WCAG 2.2 update was finally released in October 2023.
The 3rd iteration of standards is slated to have a different structure, different conformance model, and broader scope than the current Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Why update to WCAG3? The guidelines are being updated to make them easier to understand and to cover more user needs, including the needs of people with cognitive disabilities. They are also going to increase flexibility to address more types of web content, including apps, tools, and organizations. They note in the draft that “Content that conforms to WCAG 2.2 A and AA is expected to meet most of the minimum conformance level of this new standard but, since WCAG 3 includes additional tests and different scoring mechanics, additional work will be needed to reach full conformance.”
Each of the guidelines in the new WCAG 3 will have outcomes listed, which will be similar to the success criteria that is listed in WCAG 2. These outcomes will be more specific and focused on the desired results. WCAG 3 will also have something they call assertions. These are essentially a claim of fact that WCAG determines can improve accessibility.
In July 20223, the most recent draft of WCAG 3 was published. W3C plans to utilize public feedback to release updated drafts every 3-6 months. They are asking for input from the public as well as people with disabilities, developers, designers, and any interested party. This second draft is already extensive but does contain some placeholder text. There are various places in the draft document where they pose questions to the public explaining what they are seeking input on.
There will be a more detailed conformance process which allows you to test your project’s accessibility so that you may claim conformance to WCAG 3. They are discussing having three levels of conformity to show how accessible content is. These are drafted to be bronze, silver, or gold level. The reasoning behind using the three levels versus the A, AA, and AAA used in WCAG 2 is to use a more advanced approach to the levels in order to improve accessibility. Bronze level is the minimum conformance level. If your content doesn’t reach bronze, then it is non-conformant. Silver was added to incentivize organizations to go above the minimum if they want to be recognized for their efforts. Gold level is included to identify organizations that are exemplary, cutting edge, and can be used as accessibility role models. The guidelines also plan to list issue severity levels for various outcomes to help prioritize accessibility concerns.
There are currently no standards listed in the draft version but the overall themes should be close to previous guidelines. If you have any comments or concerns about the current WCAG 2 guidelines, sending in feedback on their new W3C draft would be a great way to have your concerns heard and addressed.