WCAG 2.1—Why It’s Time

 In Articles, PDF Accessibility

Life in the prehistoric days—2008

Think about what your life was like in 2008. Try to remember what your television’s capabilities were. What kind of computer were you using? And how was your Blackberry doing?

Needless to say, a lot can happen in nearly 10 years, especially when it comes to technology. Coincidentally (not really), in December of that same year, an updated version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), WCAG 2.0 was released. Considering how much time has elapsed, and how technology has evolved, the guidelines have held up shockingly well, but it’s definitely time for change, time for improvement.

The W3C and the Introduction of WCAG 2.1

The Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) is an international community that develops standards for the World Wide Web and leads the Web to its full potential by developing relevant protocols and guidelines. A W3C recommendation means that it’s the official final publication for a technical standard that has been thoroughly reviewed, going through a number of review steps before the W3C deems the standard is ready to be published.  Earlier this year, the W3C introduced WCAG 2.1 to update the WCAG 2.0 standard.

So, What’s New?

For starters, nothing is being discarded. WCAG 2.1 is meant to expand upon the existing guidelines of WCAG 2.0 to better focus on the needs of people with disabilities and how they access digital information. Thus, it is what is called backwards compatible—any site that follows WCAG 2.1, automatically also follows WCAG 2.0. What is happening to the guidelines are enhancements to keep up with today’s world and how we use technology. If your website is WCAG 2.0 compatible, you don’t need to scrap your site. The new technical requirements are in addition to what you currently have. As of yet, these are not Federal mandates, but who knows what the future holds. It’s is usually best to be ahead of the curve.

Accessibility Enhanced in Three Primary Areas

As one would expect, given the number of years that have passed since the introduction of WCAG 2.0, there are categories in which major technological innovations have occurred, and WCAG 2.1 addresses those changes and what is missing from the WCAG 2.0 guidelines.


The changes in mobile technology are massive. People no longer rely solely on laptops and desktop computers to go online. Now there are tablets, smartphones, televisions, and watches that are vehicles for accessing online content. And speaking of vehicles—do you even recognize your car of today with that of yesteryear? These changes raise a host of accessibility concerns such as smaller screens, touch screens, and the physical environment in which these devices are used. WCAG 2.1 addresses these issues.

Low Vision

People with low vision face a host of issues affecting their ability to access digital information such as color contrast, light sensitivity, and color blindness. Now there are technological solutions provided by WCAG 2.1 to meet these accessibility needs.


Persons with intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, autism and age-related cognitive degeneration all face accessibility issues. WCAG 2.1 addresses and improves accessibility for these users.

What’s Next?

Once again, it’s important to remember that the WCAG 2.1 standards are not Federal mandates…yet. So, there is no reason to panic about implementing anything new immediately. However, as you make improvements to your website, these guidelines should be kept in mind. In addition, the W3C’s Silver Task Force will be working on updates to WCAG 2.1. More information about their work can be can be found on the W3C website.

What About My PDFs?

If your PDFs were accessible before, they still will be under WCAG 2.1. The enhanced guidelines apply to the Web and other digital technology. If your PDFs aren’t accessible…well, what are you waiting for? They needed to be accessible yesterday!

Enhanced Usability for All

What should be kept in mind as you read about and begin to implement these new guidelines, is that these enhancements in accessibility to online content is good for all of us. It makes the digital experience accessible to all, improves user experience for everyone…not just those who have disabilities, and can broaden your market reach.

More Information

We hope you’ve found this material informative. We’ve just provided you with the WCAG 2.1 highlights. For more detailed information, you should visit the W3C Recommendation page.