WCAG 2.1 Overview
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has updated the Web Content Accessibility Guideline and added 17 new criteria to what was established in WCAG 2.0. Version 2.1 addresses new technologies (mobile in particular) and other digital barriers that have become better understood since version 2.0 was published in 2008.
This comes at a time when Web Accessibility has become a very hot button issue in the US, as serial plaintiffs and law firms are aggressively going after businesses and institutions of all shapes and sizes over claims that their websites fail to satisfy Title iii of the American Disabilities Act, or Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. WCAG 2.0 has served as the de facto standard for each.
WCAG 2.1 adds 17 new criteria to 2.0. These updates address new technologies that have emerged since 2008 - namely mobile. Vision issues such as low vision and color blindness are addressed, as are cognitive functions that affect people with attention deficit disorder, or age related challenges.
What does this mean for businesses, schools, and institutions?
Do I need to audit and remediate my website for WCAG 2.1?
The answer is no, there is no immediate need to rush out and update your website to the new standard. Neither the DOJ nor the courts are going to expect websites to suddenly comply with this version. The DOJ hasn't even officially set WCAG 2.0 as the standard, even though its been the de facto standard for many years.
What you should not do is do nothing.
What you definitely should do first is assess where your website is in its lifecycle, and if you're anywhere close to redesign time. If you are, find a website development partner with chops in web accessibility (like us) and get going sooner than later.
If your website is relatively new or your not ready to redesign, then you'll need to audit your website and remediate based on what that audit reveals. Here, its important to avoid anything that appears to be quick, cheap, or easy. There are many false claims and weak products out there that will not protect you from legal exposure. The only way to be assured is to follow a thorough 3 step process that starts with Automated software (not free or under $50/mo) to capture the volume of easy to catch issues, followed by Manual Testing, and then Assistive Technology Testing.
If you are in either process, setting the goal to WCAG 2.1 won't add to your cost dramatically, and will set you up for compliance for years to come, so go for it. You'll find that good accessibility equals good usability for all (and good SEO too).