The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) will be updated from version 2.1 to 2.2 this month (August 2023), with the view of improving digital experiences for people with disabilities, particularly cognitive and learning disabilities.
According to the World Health Organisation’s latest data, around 1.3 billion people experience significant disability, which accounts for 16% of the world’s population. WCAG version 1.0 was released in May 1999 and focused mainly on users with blindness and visual impairment. Later versions – such as December 2008’s 2.0, and June 2018’s 2.1 – also considered mobile disabilities, which include difficulty with the use of hands or arms.
Whereas there has been a ten-year gap between previous updates, version 2.2 has come around in just half the time, with a working draft of version 3.0 already published, though it won’t be complete for a number of years. Six new compliance guidelines have been added in version 2.2 to ensure the continued accommodation of users with low vision and users with disabilities on digital devices, while also catering for users with cognitive or learning disabilities.
The first new guideline requests that “elements that receive keyboard focus”, meaning they can be navigated using a keyboard, must not be obscured or hidden by “user-interface components”, such as banners or pop ups. This will mainly benefit users who motor disabilities use a keyboard to navigate a web page.
Another focus-related guideline to aid sight-impaired users is that there must be a clearly visible “focus indicator” to show the current point of focus, so users who depend on a keyboard to navigate the web page can more easily see where their keyboard focus is.
Performing dragging movements using a track pad or mouse can sometimes cause issues for people with motor function-related disabilities. Another of the new criteria seeks to improve this experience by requesting that “a single-pointer alternative”, such as tap or long press, also be available.
Motor-impaired users might also struggle to press small buttons onscreen, even with a mouse or pointer device, so the new criteria also requires that the target size for “pointer inputs” must meet minimum size requirements. It also details the minimum distance that should be between two interactive elements, in a bid to reduce the chance of people accidentally clicking the wrong button.
Having help features, including contact info, FAQs and search bars, “presented in a consistent manner” – meaning having them in the same place across your website – is a guideline which aims to help those with cognitive disabilities.
The following two guidelines look to help users suffering from motor and cognitive disabilities.
When filling in forms, it can be time consuming for people in these two disability groups to repeat information unnecessarily, for example, if a shipping and billing address are the same. As a result, WCAG 2.2 requires that a “service-side mechanism” is in place, such as an auto-populating field, drop-down selection or checkbox to confirm using the previous information. Browser-related features – such as Google auto-fill – will not count as a satisfactory solution.
Lastly, authentication features should not require users to go onto a third-party device to find one-time passcodes or tokens. Instead, copy and paste should be available for authentication services. Object recognition tests, such as CAPTCHA, are exempt from this guideline.
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