From the U.S. Access Board:

W3C Releases Updated Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

W3C logoOn June 5, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) released an update of its Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, a globally recognized, technology-neutral accessibility standard for web content. WCAG 2.1 builds upon guidance developed by W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative by expanding coverage of mobile device accessibility and enhancing access for people with low vision and who have cognitive or learning disabilities.

“The Board applauds the progress made by the W3C Accessibility Guidelines Working Group in its release of the WCAG 2.1,” said Board Executive Director David Capozzi. “The efforts to broaden the range of disability needs currently addressed by WCAG 2.0 will benefit many individuals who still encounter barriers to accessing the web.”

The Board’s updated Section 508 Standards for information and communication technology in the federal sector reference the WCAG 2.0 and apply it to websites, electronic content, and software. In developing WCAG 2.1, the Accessibility Guidelines Working Group ensured backwards capability so that content meeting WCAG 2.1 also satisfies WCAG 2.0.

W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative works with organizations around the world to promote accessibility of the Web. It helps ensure that web technologies support access, develops accessibility guidelines and related resources, and promotes harmonization of international standards. For further information, visit www.w3.org/WAI/ or contact Amy van der Hiel, W3C’s Media Relations Coordinator at w3t-pr@w3.org or (617) 253-5628.

Interpretation:

WCAG 2.0 is still the “law of the land” in the U.S. This fact was noted during the initial roll out of Section 508 Refresh.

I haven’t yet dug into the differences between WCAG 2.0 and WCAG 2.1, but my first read suggests that the differences are mostly related to success criteria and not in the actual guideline. This is what the W3C says:

0.5 Comparison with WCAG 2.0§

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. Many ways to meet these needs were proposed and evaluated, and a set of these were refined by the Working Group. Structural requirements inherited from WCAG 2.0, clarity and impact of proposals, and timeline led to the final set of success criteria included in this version. The Working Group considers that WCAG 2.1 incrementally advances web content accessibility guidance for all these areas, but underscores that not all user needs are met by these guidelines.

WCAG 2.1 builds on and is backwards compatible with WCAG 2.0, meaning web pages that conform to WCAG 2.1 also conform to WCAG 2.0. Authors that are required by policy to conform with WCAG 2.0 will be able to update content to WCAG 2.1 without losing conformance with WCAG 2.0. Authors following both sets of guidelines should be aware of the following differences:

0.5.1 New Features in WCAG 2.1§

WCAG 2.1 extends WCAG 2.0 by adding new success criteria, definitions to support them, guidelines to organize the additions, and a couple additions to the conformance section. This additive approach helps to make it clear that sites which conform to WCAG 2.1 also conform to WCAG 2.0, thereby meeting conformance obligations that are specific to WCAG 2.0. The Accessibility Guidelines Working Group recommends that sites adopt WCAG 2.1 as their new conformance target, even if formal obligations mention WCAG 2.0, to provide improved accessibility and to anticipate future policy changes.