Some new and upcoming changes to the land of accessibility guidelines and standards

We welcome 2017 by celebrating a lot of big changes happening in the land of accessibility guidelines and standards.

The Accessibility Guidelines Working Group and WCAG 2.1

One of the biggest news is that W3C group previously called the “Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Working Group” is now renamed to simply the “Accessibility Guidelines Working Group” . Along with the change in name comes in a new charter, which will work in the next evolution of WCAG – Which is WCAG 2.1.

WCAG 2.1 will focus on addressing the gaps in the previous iteration (WCAG 2.0). Our world is increasingly going mobile, and with that, we need to increasingly consider the various screen sizes (mostly small screen) as well as the input mechanisms typical to it (like touch screens, stylus input etc). WCAG 2.1 will try to address this.

It will also try to address concerns related to people with low vision as well as people with cognitive disabilities, which is a wonderful thing as often these groups have not been well represented in the past.

The new charter also proposes working on developing a framework and repository of test rules to provide a consistent and unified interpretation of WCAG amongst different test tools. These test rules would include automated, semi-automated and manual testing procedures. This would hopefully lead to less ambiguities and scope for varied interpretation of rules which would lead to a more consistent and clear environment for everybody to follow.

Proposals for new success criteria for all of the above are being discussed in the working group right now. Barrierbreak is also active in many of those discussions, doing our part in making the guidelines better for people with disabilities. 

A refreshed Section 508

The United States Access Board published a final rule updating the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) standards and guidelines. This covers Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act as well as Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act.

One of the major changes with this refresh is that it formally adopts WCAG 2.0 (Level A and Level AA) by reference. They apply to all web sites, as well as all non-web electronics documents (like PDFs) and software. This is great, and puts it in line with internationally agreed guidelines. In fact, the Access Board worked with the European Commission and their development of their own counterpart of ICT standards, so that they remain in harmony with each other.

The refresh also states that authoring tools (like Microsoft Word, etc) also would need to have to allow creation of accessible content conforming to WCAG level A and AA, including having prompts  to let the author create accessible content.

The refresh was done on January 18, 2017 and it will take formal effect from a year from now, i.e,  January 18, 2018. So if you want to do business with the US federal government, then you need to make sure you comply by those rules from that date onwards at the very least (though complying with the WCAG guidelines is always a good idea, regardless of regulation or dates!).

It’s an exciting time for the world of accessibility. It will be interesting to see how (and at what pace) do these new guidelines and regulations change the landscape for the better.