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illustration of WCAG 2.2 celebration on stage with fans, balloons and confetti

What's New in WCAG 2.2

David Gibson

Before we dive in, I want to be sure you realize that websites, web applications and mobile apps are specifically designed and built to be accessible to people with disabilities, they will inevitably be filled with barriers - especially for those using screen readers or other assistive technologies. According to the WebAIM team at Utah State, 96.8% of websites failed to meet current standards for web accessibility. I just want to make it clear just how pervasive non-compliance reallly is, and that nobody should assume their websites are legally accessible. 

And yes, there are Federal and State laws designed to protect such access. Most notably there is Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, which covers federally funded websites and apps, and the Americans with Disabilities Act which applies to commercial and non-profit spaces.  The legal risk of non-compliance to website owners has become especially high for commercial website operators as lawsuits targeting website owners of all sizes and in all states have become prolific.

The global standard for digital accessibility is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). This globally recognized standard provides guidance to developers, designers and content creators on how to make online experiences usable to all visitors. And this most recent version, WCAG 2.2 adds 9 criteria for a total of 26.


Now in this article, my goal is to explain what is new in WCAG 2.2, why web accessibility matters, and how organizations can begin integrating these updated criteria into their digital properties and meet both ethical and legal goals, and expand market reach to not only people with disabilities, but Seniors also. I further hope to break down these additional guidelines in plain language for both technical and non-technical peeps.

What Are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines?

Published and maintained by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international community devoted to advancing web standards, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines consist of a series of evidence-based recommendations to make digital content accessible and usable for all people regardless of disability, device limitations, or other factors.  

Often referred to simply as “WCAG,” these guidelines aim to ensure no user encounters unnecessary barriers when accessing websites, web applications, digital documents, media, and other online resources.

WCAG covers a wide spectrum of criteria for removing barriers, some examples include:

  • Providing text alternatives for non-text visual content such as images, charts, graphs, videos, and animations. Adding descriptive alt text provides the information needed for blind users relying on screen reader software.
  • Offering captions, sign language interpretations, and text transcripts for audio and video content. This enables people who are deaf, hearing impaired, or unable to process auditory information to access multimedia resources.
  • Structuring web pages with hierarchical headings and meaningful page titles. These provide internal navigation and context to users with cognitive disabilities, allowing them to better understand relationships, orient themselves, and complete intended tasks.
  • Ensuring all functionality can be accessed and operated via keyboard, voice input, single switch devices, screen reader software, or other adaptable means. This assists those unable to use a computer mouse or touchscreen interface.
  • Implementing color contrast ratios sufficient for low vision users to clearly distinguish text from backgrounds. Also avoiding combinations that can be imperceptible for users who are color blind.
  • Warning of and allowing users to avoid or adjust settings that could trigger seizures for those with photosensitive forms of epilepsy. 
  • And many additional criteria regarding link identification, page layout, timing of interactions, target sizes, text spacing, plain language, predictable navigation mechanisms, and more.

At a high level, following these guidelines makes websites, apps, documents, and tools usable by people with diverse needs and disabilities including blindness, deafness, mobility limitations, seizures, learning and cognitive differences, age-related declines, and combinations of these conditions.

But beyond assistive technology, adherence to WCAG also benefits people without specific disabilities. Design elements like clear headings, sufficient color contrast, and plain language aid all users in comprehension. Closed captions and transcripts increase understanding in loud environments. And keyboard access assists those temporarily limited by injury. Website accessibility supports inclusion and improves experiences for everyone.

Why Do the WCAG 2.2 Updates Matter?

On one level, pursuing website accessibility is simply about basic human dignity, equity and respect. Digital spaces should be open to participation for all people regardless of innate traits or temporary limitations.

On another level, getting sued for failure to comply with WCAG and ADA/508 is expensive, time consuming, and damaging to brand reputation.

WCAG 2.2 compliance also delivers tangible benefits:

  • Reaching more users and customers - Globally over 1 billion people experience some form of disability. Also consider that the crossover of needs for Baby Boomers - our first digital Seniors. According to the Federal Reserve Senior hold $77 trillion or 53% of wealth in the US. Not a bad market to court.
  • Enhanced legal compliance - Not only here in the US, but many countries abroad mandate WCAG conformity in part or whole. Following WCAG reduces risk of legal risk internationally.
  • Improved search optimization - Many techniques prescribed by WCAG also benefit search engine bots’ ability to effectively crawl, index, and rank web pages.
  • Artificial Intelligence Optimization - AIO is a brand new benefit that enables AI bots to more easily navigate and interact with content
  • Increased user engagement - More usable and satisfying website experiences yield higher session times, lower bounce rates, greater ability for users to become customers.
  • Stronger brand reputation - Proactive accessibility aligns with values of diversity, equity and inclusion. Companies leading on this front are perceived positively.

On both an ethical and pragmatic basis, implementing accessible design via WCAG is beneficial. Emerging assistive technologies combined with growing numbers of aging web users will only increase this relevance going forward.

What’s New in WCAG 2.2? 

While retaining the existing structure and criteria of WCAG 2.1, version 2.2 incorporates an additional 9 success criteria to the guidelines. These build upon the original four principles of accessibility: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust.

Some of the most notable new and altered criteria in WCAG 2.2 include:

  • Focus Visible (2.4.7 AA) - Any user interface component receiving keyboard focus (for example when tabbing through fields) must become visibly indicated and cannot be fully obscured from viewport. This aids users with dexterity issues relying on keyboard navigation.
  • Focus Appearance (Minimum) (2.4.11 AA) - Sufficiently bold and high-contrast focus indicators must identify interactive elements as users tab through them. This helps those who have difficulty perceiving subtle visual changes.
  • Hover on Focus (2.4.14 A) - Functionality triggering just on hover, like dropdowns on menus, must also be available on focus without requiring a hover. Caters to keyboard and gesture users.
  • Target Size (2.5.5 AAA) - Touch targets, buttons and tappable links must meet minimum sizes, to assist motor impaired users interacting via touchscreen.
  • Concurrent Input Mechanisms (2.5.6 AAA) - Operations must support alternative forms of input like voice commands alongside traditional manual entry. Expands accessibility.
  • Timeout Adjustment (2.2.7 AA) - Users need options to disable, adjust, extend or pause time limits on activities like submitting a form. Accommodates those requiring more time.
  • Animation from Interactions (2.3.3 AA) - Motion animations triggered by interactions can be disabled, to avoid vestibular disorders.
  • Status Changes (4.1.3 AA) - Provides notification when an app is placed into background or foreground. Helps avoid disorientation for users of screen readers.
  • Identify Purpose (4.1.4 AAA) - Communicates the purpose of user interface components like search boxes or buttons to assistive technologies.  

Along with additional guidance on focus order, drag and drop, orientation, and more, these new criteria close gaps to create easier access for all users.

When Do Organizations Need to Adopt WCAG 2.2 Criteria?

While WCAG 2.2 represents the most up-to-date web accessibility best practices, it will likely take a good amount of time for these guidelines to become fully integrated into legal standards and enforcement. Organizations should expect WCAG 2.1 Level A and AA conformance to remain the benchmark for ADA compliance and most website accessibility regulations globally for 4-6 years.

However, proactively developing processes to implement 2.2 criteria in new website and application projects demonstrates an organization’s commitment to continuous accessibility improvement. This conscientious effort could potentially offer some protection in a legal dispute by showing statutory obligations are taken seriously. 

On existing older digital properties that may require significant remediation to achieve 2.2 compatibility, taking incremental steps to gradually layer in criteria over time through regular site updates and redesigns can demonstrate good faith efforts at compliance. Maintaining accessibility is an ongoing exercise as technology progresses.

While regulatory standards commonly lag behind the latest technical guidelines, striving to incorporate enhancements beyond legal minimum requirements is wise from both an ethical and risk mitigation perspective.

No Shortcuts: Avoiding Compliance “Band-Aids” 

Certain products in the marketing promise a quick path to ADA compliance by claiming the ability to automatically scan websites and inject missing accessibility code without fundamentally modifying site architecture. Sometimes called overlays, plugins, widgets or toolbars, these only provide a superficial level of accommodation.

Genuine compliance requires accessibility to be built into the underlying HTML, navigation schema, interface design, content, media delivery, and functionality from the start. Bolted-on adaptations frequently fail to fully support adaptive technologies and users with disabilities. Expedient automated solutions rarely withstand legal scrutiny when challenged. Much more on the topic of why overlay widgets and plugins are bad

Making websites accessible to all requires a nuanced understanding of diverse user needs. While AI has a supporting role in identifying potential issues, human expertise remains irreplaceable in evaluating usability barriers and mapping solutions. There are no shortcuts to holistic inclusive design. But the rewards are immense.


Planning the Transition to WCAG 2.2 Alignment

Effectively adopting new accessibility guidelines demands education, resources and organization-wide commitment. Consider taking these steps to integrate 2.2 criteria:

  • Review the new WCAG 2.2 success criteria and supporting resources. Develop an understanding of what has changed.
  • Conduct updated compliance audits on existing digital properties using the 2.2 standard to identify gaps.
  • Create a comprehensive roadmap for 2.2 adoption including timelines, milestones, targets, and budgets.
  • Update design, development, and content workflows to incorporate relevant 2.2 criteria moving forward.
  • Incrementally update old content or sites through regular maintenance windows and redesigns.
  • Utilize automated testing solutions (here is a list of WCAG compliance testing software) but be aware that even the best software is limited to detection only ~%30 of WCAG issue types. WCAG is nuanced and interpretive, and only qualified and experience WCAG auditing consultants can adequately test a website, SaaS or mobile app accurately.
  • Provide accessibility training for all content producers, designers, developers, and tests to build internal capability.
  • Maintain continuous 2.2 compliance by testing new code releases before launch. 

With the right planning and resources, organizations can make steady progress on remaining at the forefront of web accessibility advancements.


The Path Forward for Digital Inclusion

The internet has opened profound opportunities for communication, community, commerce and learning. However with 96.8% failing current WCAG 2.1 standards, there is quite a way still to go. WCAG 2.2 represents the next step on the long path to a web that empowers everyone. 

For organizations already committed to accessibility, WCAG 2.2 provides additional guidance and best practices for reaching new levels of inclusion. For those still building programs, it offers a comprehensive framework to create welcoming digital experiences.

While regulatory obligations are an important driver, remember accessibility benefits all. When sites offer clearer information and easier interaction, more users can connect to content. By embracing continuous improvement and regarding accessibility as universal design, we move positively towards greater accessibility and equity online.


Recap: Key Takeaways on WCAG 2.2

  • The latest version 2.2 adds 9 refined success criteria on top of 2.1 to advance accessible design.
  • Proactive adoption demonstrates commitment to digital inclusion and improves experiences for millions of users with disabilities and Seniors.
  • Expect 2.1 Level AA to remain the legal standard for the next few years, but integrally planning 2.2 criteria adoption will maximize future readiness.
  • There are no shortcuts - comprehensive human-led review and remediation is required to meaningfully make sites compliant.
  • With the right understanding, roadmap and commitment, organizations can stay at the forefront of web accessibility. 

With the exponential growth of digital experiences defining modern life, ensuring these platforms remain accessible and empowering for all is an ethical and business imperative. WCAG provides guidance for this journey. Let's keep moving forward.

Please feel free to reach out with any questions. I'm always happy to help organizations on the path to digital accessibility!