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Introduction to WCAG2.1

Léonie Watson has worked closely with Invotra to guide and instruct us on making our intranet and extranet accessible to all. In this blog she shares her expertise on The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 became a W3C Recommendation on 5th June 2018. The first update to WCAG since 2008, WCAG2.1 is the most comprehensive and useful set of accessibility guidelines yet.

The web has changed in the decade since WCAG2.0 was released. Only 20% of the world’s population was using the web in 2008, Flash was still a dominant technology, “Web2.0” was still a buzz word, and the era of the touch-screen interface had barely begun.

Now in 2018, 55% of the world’s population is using the internet, Flash and numerous other plugins are all but dead, there are Assistive Technologies (AT) built into every platform (giving disabled people unprecedented access to the web), and traffic from touch-screen devices regularly surpasses that of conventional devices.

WCAG2.1 goals

WCAG2.0 does not include Success Criteria (SC) for touch-screen interfaces. It is also light on SC intended to improve accessibility for people with low vision or cognitive disabilities. When work began on WCAG2.1, the aim was to close these gaps. Three Task Forces (TF) were set up in 2015: the Mobile TF, Low Vision TF, and Cognitive Accessibility (Coga) TF.

The result is that 17 new SC have been introduced in WCAG2.1. These new SC do not change WCAG2.0 in any way. The decision to leave WCAG2.0 unchanged was based on the assertion that it would harm the global harmonisation of WCAG2.0 as a legislative standard, but that decision may come at the price of making things more difficult for content authors wanting to use WCAG2.1 to create more accessible interfaces.


The 17 new SC in WCAG2.1 are distributed across the three WCAG conformance levels (Level A, Level AA, and Level AA).

Level A

2.1.4 Character key shortcuts

2.5.1 Pointer gestures

2.5.2 Pointer cancellation

2.5.3 Label in name

2.5.4 Motion actuation

Level AA

1.3.4 Orientation

1.3.5 Identify input purpose

1.4.10 Reflow

1.4.11 Non-text contrast

1.4.12 Text spacing

1.4.13 Content on hover or focus

4.1.3 Status messages

Level AAA

1.3.6 Identify purpose

2.2.6 Timeouts

2.3.3 Animation from interactions

2.5.5 Target size

2.5.6 Concurrent mechanisms

Whether or not WCAG2.1 will be adopted into law anytime soon remains to be seen. The most likely candidate is the forthcoming EU Directive on the Accessibility of Public Sector Websites and Apps, set to become part of UK law on 23rd September 2018. The EU Directive currently references EN 301 549, which itself references WCAG2.0, but the hope is that EN 301 549 will be updated to use WCAG2.1 instead.

Regardless of how quickly (or not) laws are updated, organisations should start to consider WCAG2.1 as the basis for their internal policies and standards. Similarly, web teams should start to adopt WCAG2.1 into their work modes as soon as they can. The new SC in WCAG2.1 enable organisations to create web content that is more accessible to more people, using more devices, than ever before.

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