To really understand why the WCAG matters so much, you need to know who is behind them. The WCAG was created by the World Wide Web Consortium, known as the W3C. The W3C was founded in October 1994 in the halls of MIT’s Laboratory for Computer Science (MIT/LCS), when global web activity started soaring. Founding members included top scientists, and by late 2019, the organization has over 440 members including leaders from business, nonprofit organizations, universities, government entities, and relevant industries.
W3C’s originally focused on standardizing web protocols so that websites and web tools would be compatible with each other. Every W3C standard is reviewed several times, tested, and analyzed before it’s approved by members. Usually, W3C standards have 3 levels of compliance, from A to AAA.
Web accessibility was one of the earliest issues that W3C addressed. The first WCAG was published in 1999, but it was revised in 2008 as WCAG 2.0 and updated again in 2018 in the form we use today.
2. Operable - operability means the ways that someone can use the site. It’s particularly relevant to people with motor disabilities, weak muscles, injured limbs, etc. An operable site needs to be navigable entirely by keyboard, sight-assisted navigation, and other alternatives to a classic mouse.
3. Understandable - understandable sites are easy for everyone to understand. They don’t use a lot of technical terms or complex jargon, don’t have complicated instructions that are difficult to follow, and have consistent directions won’t confuse readers.
4. Robust - there are two factors for a robust site:
• Using clean HTML and CSS code that meets recognized standards
• Being compatible with assistive tools that people with disabilities use to browse online
When individuals in the US have sued businesses with websites that aren’t accessible, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), courts have required those websites to reach WCAG 2.0 Level AA compliance. You'll often hear the term WCAG ADA Compliance. That means that the best way to comply with ADA is by following the WCAG.
Several provinces have also passed accessibility laws, such as the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (2005), the Accessibility for Manitobans Act (2013), and the Nova Scotia Accessibility Act (2017), which all use the WCAG as the standard for compliance.
In 2010, the Australian government’s Web Accessibility National Transition Strategy required all Australian government agencies to meet WCAG 2.0 Level AA.
Ignoring the WCAG Risks Legal Action, as it forms the backbone of accessibility legislation in most countries around the world, and it’s globally recognized as the most reliable and effective set of accessibility standards. If you comply with the WCAG, you can’t go wrong.