On October 5, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) published the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.2 to extend the WCAG 2.1 guidance from June 2018. WCAG guidelines are widely regarded as standardized best practices for accessibility worldwide, and federal agencies should begin ensuring all of their services meet WCAG 2.2 guidelines to stay compliant with federal policy and provide consistently accessible services to the public. Compliance with these new guidelines will be crucial to ensuring the most accessible, equitable, and positive user experiences across government websites.
Compliance and beyond
Government agencies and contractors must adhere closely to the criteria outlined in the new WCAG guidance to remain compliant with federal laws and recommendations. The recently published M-23-22, Delivering a Digital-First Public Experience memo from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) explicitly requires agencies to follow WCAG 2.2. The memo states that all agencies must, to the extent possible, “apply the most current Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to websites and web applications”. This guidance reinforces that agencies must ensure that their websites, applications, and digital services are accessible to people with a wide range of abilities.
The Delivering a Digital-First Public Experience memo also provides additional guidance for agencies to comply with the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (IDEA). The 21st Century IDEA calls on agencies to ensure “compliance with industry standards and adherence to best practices for design, accessibility, and information security”. With WCAG 2.2 being universally accepted as an industry standard for accessible websites, agencies must follow the new guidelines to stay compliant with the 21st Century IDEA.
While agencies must adhere to laws like the 21st Century IDEA, Ad Hoc advocates for going beyond compliance in ensuring an accessible and equitable digital experience for all users. Our Accessibility Beyond Compliance Playbook outlines nine plays to help agencies and civic organizations go beyond the limitations of legal compliance to design more inclusive and human-centered services for people with disabilities.
The new success criteria
Agencies should be in a good spot to comply with WCAG 2.2 if their websites already meet the current standards of WCAG 2.1. The new guidance builds on the criteria outlined in WCAG 2.1 with additional recommendations to improve website accessibility for three major groups:
- Users with cognitive or learning disabilities
- Users with low vision
- Users with disabilities using mobile devices
The aim to improve accessibility for these user groups led to nine new success criteria in WCAG 2.2. The success criteria fall into four main categories of improvements as outlined in the WCAG 2.2 map by Intopia:
- Make websites more navigable
- Better input modalities
- Increase predictability
- Improve input assistance
Along with the nine new success criteria, WCAG 2.2 also removed success criterion 4.1.1 Parsing. Due to changes in the HTML standards since 2008, this success criterion no longer provides a benefit to people with disabilities.
How to incorporate the guidelines
The first step in integrating this new guidance to make your design system more accessible is to do an audit of your current system to determine if:
- The focus styles of links, tabs, and form elements meet the new success criteria. See our blog post about developing a focus style for a themeable design system for help.
- Items that receive keyboard focus are at least partially visible, including form fields, buttons, etc.
- Components with dragging movements meet the success criteria by providing simple pointer alternatives
- Current design system standards for interactive element size meet requirements related to target size
- Navigation, chat help features, feedback buttons, or forms meet the Consistent Help guidelines
- Forms meet the redundant entry criteria
- Log-in options meet the accessible authentication criteria
When making updates or improvements to your design system to align more closely with WCAG 2.2’s criteria, use Ad Hoc’s Accessibility Beyond Compliance Playbook to take your improvements a step further and create a more inclusive user experience.
If you don’t have a design system already in place, we strongly recommend using one to make it easier to develop and maintain your site as well as improve the user experience of your site. Use of the US Web Design System (USWDS) is required for government websites by OMB’s Delivering a Digital First Public Experience memo to ensure a consistent experience across public-facing websites. The USWDS is also a helpful tool that can help you start creating and using your own design system. Check out our blog series on design systems in government for more information about how design systems can create more efficient, consistent digital experiences.
WCAG 2.2 is an exciting next step in making websites and digital services more accessible to more people. Agencies and civic organizations should familiarize themselves with the new guidance, integrate the new recommendations, and consider ways that they can make their services accessible beyond complying with the WCAG guidelines or existing accessibility legislation. If you’re interested in learning more about incorporating the WCAG 2.2. guidance into your digital service with an Accessibility Beyond Compliance mindset, reach out at email@example.com.