Blog: What to know about Web Content Accessibility Guidelines WCAG 2.1

At Circus, we’re passionate about what the virtual world can do for accessibility. And last year the Government introduced new guidelines in this area for creators and providers of digital experiences. For now these apply to the public sector. But the vision is no doubt to cover all experiences. Below we lay out a brief introduction to these guidelines and what it all means in practice. 

Why do we need Web Accessibility?

Over time our society has become more aware of the need for physical accessibility, to create an environment that is fair and equal for everyone to access and enjoy. We’ve put in place measures for buildings to be accessible and debated how it practically translates into our working, leisure and domestic environments – and although a way to go yet, there’s been some real progress made in recent years. 

Parallel to physical accessibility changes, in light of new online services such as virtual reality experiences, there has also become a pressing need for accessibility on the web too. 

Such a need that in September 2020 the UK government released new Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, also known as WCAG 2.1. These guidelines, structured around five key principles, look to regulate digital services to ensure they are, and continue to be, created for the benefit of all users. More specifically, the ‘WCAG 2.1 was initiated with the goal to improve accessibility guidance for three major groups: users with cognitive or learning disabilities, users with low vision, and users with disabilities on mobile devices.’ This change is particularly essential during a time when digital technology such as virtual reality experiences are becoming prevalent in households across the country. 

The 5 Key Principles of WCAG 2.1 

There are five key principles that underpin the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines that creators and providers of digital experiences need to be aware of and apply. They are:  

  1. Perceivable: Users must be able to identify a service and perceive ways to use it. It must be a concept they understand, can contextualise and can pursue without barriers that confuse or complicate those first steps. Creators of digital tools need to consider alternative texts, time-based media, adaptability and distinguishability. 
  2. Operable: A user must be able to navigate around a service and be able to fully operate the technology. They need to be able to use the software without facing keyboard issues, time restrictions or interruptions. They need to be able to navigate through the experience and must not be designed in a way that causes physical reactions.  
  3. Understandable: Users must be able to understand the interface and information they are presented with. At all stages of the experience, content must be readable and predictable. Being mindful of abbreviations, reading levels, navigation and identification processes, and must include input assistance. 
  4. Robust: Technology behind the service must be robust so it can be used by other agents including assistive technologies. It must be compatible with other web functions. 
  5. Conformance: The service or system must meet the required standards as specified by these guidelines.  

What do the WCAG 2.1 guidelines look like in practise?

Much like physical accessibility, the web accessibility guidelines are looking to make sure everyone is able to access the same content regardless of personal limitations. That could be to provide large text options so info points are easy to read, to provide an easy menu bar that shows users where to click next, an experience without excessive noise or environments that could cause a person to physically react. It could have audio buttons that allow users to learn more without needing to read text. It would also be an experience designed using software that can be adapted to tech designed for disabled users. 

By making these changes, organisations are able to address the varying needs of the wider public. Something that comes at a pivotal time. Previously, students with disabilities or workers with limited vision were unable to access these digital services and have been denied their right to education, training or even employment. And in 2021, that’s simply not on. 

Who do the WCAG 2.1 guidelines apply to?

The long term goal is for the WCAG 2.1 guidelines to apply to all creators and suppliers of digital experiences, but for now these guidelines are focused on those in the public sector. Education and tourism providers for example. Spaces designed for the general public. See our examples below.

What about in the future?

In years to come the aim is to set these guidelines for all providers across the digital space, not just those in the public sector. We’ll let you know as soon as further updates are made. 

What does this mean for you today?

If your organisation receives public funds then as of 1st September 2020, your digital content will need to meet the requirements mentioned above. That includes virtual materials such as:

  • Virtual Tours
  • Virtual Open Days
  • Virtual Sales Tools
  • Virtual Training
  • Virtual Recruitment
  • Virtual Tourism

If you’re a private or non-profit organisation the rules are more relaxed, in that you are not required to abide by the guidelines. But web accessibility is becoming a mark of best practice within the digital space and is something to start applying now. 

Our Accessibility Conscious Projects

We are proud to promote and work on accessibility-conscious projects. If you’ve read this far, and you are looking for examples of how this works in practice, click through some of the projects we’ve worked on where accessibility has been at the forefront of the brief. 

We believe this is an exciting time, knowing that these improvements are going to make a positive difference to people and their online experiences. 

So what next? 

If this does apply to your organisation, and your services and experiences are not yet compliant, or if you’re planning a project and not sure what you need to do next, don’t worry, we can help. 

At Circus we are passionate about accessibility for all users and build projects with these latest guidelines in mind. We have measures in place to ensure projects can be tailored and adapted to suit any requirement. Simply give us a call and we’ll talk you through all you need to know. 

Contact us today.

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