WCAG 2.0. WCAG 2.1. Section 508. WAI-ARIA. AA and AAA compliance.
Have we lost you yet?
With all these guidelines around website accessibility, it’s easy to get overwhelmed in the never-ending jargon and acronyms. Here at Verndale we’ve been exploring and explaining these current accessibility guidelines, but also believe it’s important to look to the future and anticipate what’s to come for these rules and regulations.
One of the biggest challenges in defining what makes sites accessible is that unlike physical spaces, the digital world is constantly evolving. WCAG 2.1 launched in 2018, 10 years after its predecessor WCAG 2.0. Intended to bring accessibility into its next evolution, WCAG 2.1 provides guidance for a wide range of disabilities – taking special care to account for those with underserved and unrecognized disabilities. And while it may feel like the ink is barely dry on WCAG 2.1, there is a consortium hard at work establishing the principles of WCAG 3.0, code named “Project Silver,” which is projected to land in 2021.
Silver will continue this work, while focusing in on what accessibility will mean in this rapidly evolving technological environment. That includes accounting for technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, and the Internet of Things. Silver also pays specific attention to technologies that impact accessibility, such as operating systems, authoring tools, and assistive technologies.
Inclusive Creation Process
The creators of Silver take inclusivity seriously — so they’ve baked it into their entire creation process. In shaping these new guidelines, they’ve sourced a range of usability professionals and even opened it to the public for feedback. The goal is to gain the most comprehensive look at the needs of accessibility. From this, they’ve been addressing areas of technology that are lacking guidelines, how to restructure criteria and conformance, areas to improve the usability of the guidelines themselves, and ways to better include a wider range of disabled users.
Looking forward, we expect to see this trend line of inclusive decision-making continue, and for members of disabled communities to play an active role in building the framework for accessibility. Instead of the traditional build-then-test workflow, we will see an evolving process that is driven by the target users at the onset. Throughout the inclusive design process, one important truth must be recognized: each feature created by designers determines who can interact with an environment, and who is left out.
Encompasses Technologies of the Future
Silver is looking towards the future is by creating guidelines using the concept of technical neutrality. Writing with technical neutrality means using generic terms that are able to be applied to a range of digital experiences, including those that don’t exist yet. As the landscape of technologies that engage end-users continues to expand, accessibility guidelines must express a framework that can be applied to all ways a user may be able to interact with a digital experience.
Accessible Accessibility Guidelines
One irony that has plagued the creation of accessibility standards is making the guidelines themselves accessible. Historically, developers and designers have had difficulty finding the specific information they need to bring their sites up the WCAG standards. While WCAG 2.1 does a better job at guiding websites to be more accessible in outlining areas of impact, the presentation of the standards themselves falls short, as it is difficult to navigate, and is at a level of language that is hard to comprehend. To address this, Silver is moving towards using plain language and adapting the Disability and Diversity writing style guides into how criteria and methods are written. This includes the ways to measure and grade the criteria for both designers and developers. How they are doing this is creating a technology neutral, task-based approach for criteria conformance. This will not only promote these guidelines to include technologies, both current and emerging, but also give UX professionals a series of measurable and gradable success criteria.
As we look forward to Silver, we can expect an evolution of these guiding principles on accessibility that makes them more technology neutral, readable, and comprehensive. It’s clear based on what is known today that the future of accessibility standards will be exponentially more inclusive for users, and this presents both challenges and opportunities for organizations as they prepare to meet — and exceed — these new standards.