WCAG 2.1: The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines You Need to Know

WCAG 2.1: The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines You Need to Know
WCAG 2.1 is the latest update to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Released in December 2018, WCAG 2.1 includes feedback from stakeholders worldwide. This article will look at what WCAG 2.1 contains and how it might affect your website.

What exactly is the WCAG?

The WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) is a set of standards that describe how websites should be accessible to people who have impairments. The WCAG 2.1 guidelines are the essential standards for making websites accessible for people with impairments.


Why should I be concerned about WCAG compliance?

The WCAG was created by the World Wide Web Consortium, more commonly known as the W3C. The World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C, is responsible for setting the standards for how websites should work. They do this by creating the WCAG or Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. The W3C was formed in MIT's Laboratory for Computer Science (MIT/LCS) in 1994 when global web use began to explode. The group's founding members included top scientists. By late 2019, it had over 440 members, including business executives, nonprofit leaders, academics, government agencies, and industries relevant to the fields of study.

In the 1990s, one of the earliest challenges addressed by W3C founders was making the web accessible to everyone. However, it took many years before a solid set of standards was released. In 1998, the University of Wisconsin's Trace R&D Center produced a 25-point guide on optimum web accessibility standards in collaboration with the W3C. The WCAG 1.0 was published in 1999, based on a specification. The WCAG 2.0 was later released in 2008 after almost ten years of development. Today's standard, WCAG 2.1, is the W3C's current web accessibility standard, and it is the one we adhere to today.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) started by standardising web protocols for websites and web tools to be interoperable. Before members approve a W3C specification, it is reviewed, tested, and scrutinised several times. The W3C's requirements for conformance are usually graded from A to AAA.

The Four WCAG Principles

The WCAG 2.1 standard is long and complicated. It has many requirements based on four ideas: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. Many people don't know that there is no WCAG 2.1 checklist and think it is more straightforward than it really is. You need to understand the basics of WCAG Compliance before moving on:

  1. Perceivable - People's senses of sight, hearing, and touch are all impacted by how they see content online. This includes video captions, text that may be changed for contrast, colour, font type, size and spacing. Factors that can make it easier for people to read what is online.
  2. Operable - The degree to which a website is accessible depends on how individuals may use the site. It's particularly significant for those with motor impairments, weak muscles, or damaged limbs. An operable site must be entirely navigable via keyboard, sight-assisted navigation, and other non-classic mouse methods.
  3. Understandable - Websites that are easy to understand do not use complicated language or instructions. They are simple and easy to follow. This makes it easier for everyone to understand them.
  4. Robust - there are two factors for a robust site:
  • Keep your HTML and CSS code neat and clean, following industry standards.
  • Compatibility with assistive technologies that persons with disabilities employ to access the internet

How does WCAG affect accessibility laws?

The WCAG is a set of guidelines rather than a legal framework that may be enforced. Many governments have chosen to implement it as the official accessibility standard. Below is a short overview of European accessibility laws that rely on WCAG guidelines. WCAG compliance is the best means for achieving compliance with most worldwide legislations.

European Union: WCAG related regulations

In 2010, the European Union mandated WCAG 2.0 Level AA for all official EU sites and public sector web platforms, with WCAG 2.1 being introduced in 2016. The EU has also opted for WCAG 2.0 as the official standard for the new European Accessibility Act, EAA, which will become law in 2025. We will explore EAA further in a separate article and the implications this may have on organisations across Europe.


WCAG is a set of guidelines that help make websites accessible to everyone. Even though it doesn't have any legal authority, it is highly respected and followed by most major nations.

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