New WCAG Guidelines: Impact on Quality Assurance Accessibility Testing

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Every application and website should meet basic accessibility standards. It's the right thing to do and can positively impact your client's bottom line. One out of every four Americans has a disability. That rate will continue to rise as the average lifespan ticks upward. Many users with disabilities rely on the ease of web and app services. They expect to see, understand, hear, and navigate the digital content necessary for them to live, work, and have fun in the digital era. Studies have shown that users with disabilities are loyal to websites and apps that meet their services but are also litigious if the apps and websites do not meet basic accessibility needs. It is critical for quality assurance analysts to help their clients meet these standards, which are clearly laid out thanks to a thoughtfully developed set of universal guidelines known as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

WCAG 2.2 Conformance

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3) established 14 basic guidelines in 1995 to help website designers create accessible digital spaces. W3 has since updated the WCAG several times because technology has changed how users experience digital content, such as through mobile browsers and applications.

Sizable Changes

WCAG 2.2 will include some sizable changes to the guidelines when it’s released in 2023. The Accessibility Guidelines Working Group (AGWG) started drafting the new guidelines nearly three years ago that will be added to WCAG 2.1 guidelines. The updates will improve accessibility to three major groups:

  • Users with cognitive or learning disabilities
  • Users with low vision
  • Users with disabilities on mobile devices

Testable Criteria

A website or app can meet three testable success criteria to comply with the new guidelines. The WCAG 2.1 levels are A (30 criteria), AA (50 criteria), and AAA (78 criteria). AAA can be hard to meet. That is why most organizations aim for the AA level. The AGWG team wants you to succeed and offers a cheat sheet showing which techniques you must apply to your product to meet conformance levels. If you use all techniques classified as Sufficient, your product will conform to the new guidelines.

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You can learn more about conformance levels on the W3 website. Our friends at ThinkBean offer specific examples if you want more clarification on specific criteria.

The New Features

The WCAG 2.2 guidelines will likely include nine new success criteria. We will inform you if the team alters or omits a guideline as soon as the update is released this spring.

Illustration of a desktop monitor displaying a web page. There is a focus selector around an element and description in the corner.

Focus Appearance

Conformance Level: AA

Description: A focus indicator establishes an easy-to-see outline around a component or sub-component the user can switch to using a keyboard (usually by pressing the Tab button). Affected components include form fields, links, and other website functions. Affected subcomponents include opened sections of a dropdown menu and focused grid cells. This guideline establishes color and pixel standards for these areas, making them easier to see and interact with.

Illustration of a desktop display showing a web page with an element that is only partially obscuring other components.

Focus Not Obscured

Conformance Level: AA

Description: Author content can sometimes obscure or cover user interface components, such as text boxes, sliders, dropdown lists, toggles, search fields, and tags. This guideline makes sure they are not entirely hidden, allowing users to see at least a portion of the component.

Illustration of a desktop display demonstrating a ui component not obscuring any other ui components.

Focus Not Obscured (Enhanced)

Conformance Level: AAA

Description: This guideline is a step up from the AA level because it makes sure every interface component is 100% visible.

Illustration of a desktop display demonstrating a single cursor dragging a scrollbar to move content

Dragging Movements

Conformance Level: AA

Description: Some users cannot drag web page content using a cursor. This guideline makes sure a single pointer (that doesn’t drag) can perform every functional component of a website that uses dragging. Examples include single taps, double clicks, long presses, and path-based gestures such as swiping and sliders. Of course, there will be exceptions for components requiring dragging movements to function correctly.

Illustration of a desktop display demonstrating a large enough UI element so it can be targeted.

Target Size (Minimum)

Conformance Level: AA

Description: To ensure usability, any part of a website that can be targeted by a mouse, pen, or finger must be large enough to read. This guideline ensures those targeted actions have a minimum pixel size in order to make them easier to see.

Illustration of a desktop monitor with a question mark displayed on a web page.

Consistent Help

Conformance Level: A

Description: Consistency is important to maintain visual and functional design, which is important for users who frequently require help navigating a website. Therefore, this guideline makes sure web designers list help mechanisms in a specific order. Those mechanisms include human contact details, human contact mechanisms, self-help options, and automated contact mechanisms.

Illustration of a desktop display with a web page visible. On the screen is a series of recognizable shapes and two are similar. The similar shapes have a dashed line pattern surrounding them representing that they are selected.

Accessible Authentication

Conformance Level: AA

Description: Identity confirmations can be accessibility barriers for some users with cognitive disabilities. This guideline makes sure users will only have to perform a cognitive function test, such as a password or puzzle, to complete the authentication process if alternatives are offered, such as recognizable object tests or mechanisms that help solve cognitive tests.

Illustration of a desktop display with a web page visible. On the screen are two similar shapes. The 'correct' shape has a dashed line pattern surrounding it representing that its selected.

Accessible Authentication (Enhanced)

Conformance Level: AAA

Description: This guideline is a step up from the AA conformance level because it allows fewer authentication process alternatives.

Illustration of a desktop display with a page. On the screen is a form with its fields auto-filled.

Redundant Entry

Conformance Level: A

Description: Redundant entry fields can block some users with disabilities from content and services. Thus, the Redundant Entry guideline will make sure that any time a user must re-enter information, it will auto-populate in a form or be available to select.

What's Next for WCAG?

The AGWG team admits that WCAG 2.2 will not meet the needs of all users, even if you seek AAA compliance. It is likely the first of several updates in the years ahead. The team is also working on a significant overhaul to WCAG, but that is years away, so don't wait for it.

If you want to learn more about the need for accessibility testing, download our latest Accessibility Testing Guide. This post was last updated on May 22nd 2023.