After stepping into the new year, harking back on 2020 brings bittersweet memories in our minds (more bitter than sweet, is it?). Within a span of a few months, a drastic shift was witnessed which no one saw coming. A snowballing effect impacted every sector, let alone the digital sphere.
But what was even more hard-hitting was the impact on the differently-abled community which had to struggle through pronounced hardships, especially on the virtual arena in terms of inaccessible websites for shopping, conferencing, etc.
As 2021 paves its way, the question that comes to the mind is- what changes will come about in the arena of digital accessibility, especially with the new version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines that are underway; and would these address the hardships of inaccessible applications that the differently-abled community has and is facing due to the pandemic.
This highlights the importance of WCAG compliance testing, which needs to be carried out simultaneously when the latest version is crystallized and comes into being.
Overview of the New Success Criteria in WCAG 2.2
Looking at the future, 2021 has a lot to offer in terms of accessibility, with its the latest edition of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. 2020 already saw a preliminary Working Draft for WCAG 2.2 which included 9 additional success criteria since the last WCAG 2.1. These 9 success criteria include: Accessible Authentication, Dragging, Findable Help, Fixed Reference Points, Focus Appearance (Minimum), Focus Appearance (Enhanced), Hidden Controls, Pointer Target Spacing and Redundant Entry.
Currently under review, WCAG 2.2 is expected to roll out this summer. These success criteria essentially outline the additions to be made for enhancing nuances within P.O.U.R, i.e., Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Robust.
These criteria also fall under different conformance levels: A (minimum conformance), AA (optimal conformance) and AAA (highest conformance to accessibility)- for example, Focus Appearance has AA as well as AAA conformance criteria.
With the new success criteria, the overall guidelines will get a boost in terms of enhancing functionalities for differently-abled users. To elaborate on these criteria further-
- Accessible Authentication will help users with cognitive impairments for getting easier access which does not rely on a cognitive function.
- Dragging highlights the replacement for the dragging function with a single pointer, unless mandatory- helping users with motor impairments navigate easily.
- Findable Help would ensure that users are easily able to locate help sections such as, “Contact Us”, “FAQs”, phone numbers, chat boxes, etc.
- Fixed Reference Points highlight the fixed position of locators in a web page, irrespective of platform or the formatting.
- Focus Appearance (Minimum and Enhanced) define the minimum area, colour contrast and ratio, and un-obscurity of the focused item for all User Interface Components.
- Hidden Controls define the clear visibility of tasks that need to be completed for users with cognitive or learning impairments.
- Pointer Target Spacing helps users with motor impairments to easily click on the targeted controls with appropriate spacing in between so that the target next to it isn’t accidentally clicked or activated.
- Redundant Entry helps in eliminating unnecessary information to be filled repeatedly in different steps helping users with cognitive impairments.
Still a work-in-progress, these criteria will mostly come into being, if not extremely disputed. As these criteria tackle the added pain points of users with vision, cognitive, learning and motor impairments, advancing digital accessibility will become all the more seamless.
The need for WCAG compliance testing will rise concurrently, helping the product exhaustively adhere to the given guidelines.
Need for WCAG Compliance Testing
More often than not, in the quest of making products accessible, critical emphasis is not paid to the norms or guidelines that back this domain, such as Section 508, Americans with Disabilities Act or Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
Countries across the world follow their own customized laws as well, such as AODA in Canada or EN 301 549 in EU, but WCAG is still seen as a universal set for digital accessibility which has been incorporated within the existing local laws for a concise focus on web accessibility.
As a product is developed, mapping it with the set guidelines and adhering to the latest version becomes imperative. WCAG compliance testing helps organizations achieve exactly that, with its concise focus on the latest success criteria that come into practice.
With the new criteria listed under WCAG 2.2, WCAG compliance testing will help organizations be at par with the industry norms and guidelines, and incorporate the latest additions of the success criteria within the products. A thorough test coverage can be conducted with the help of an amalgamated approach of testing- using manual and automated testing efforts.
With the use of test automation, tools or screen readers and assistive technologies such as aXe or JAWS, can help in mapping and adhering to the guidelines in an effective way- saving both time and cost. However, automation testing can only do so much. A human-centric approach is needed as well for a comprehensive test coverage.
A paired testing approach, in this case, would do wonders with the blended efforts of an SME and a differently-abled engineer, producing reliable and realistic results. For example, checking alt text can be carried out by using automated tools such as aXe or WAVE but it also needs to be checked manually for logical coherence.
Thus, an amalgamated approach produces better results as well as true pain points that are faced by the real end-users. With this approach, a holistic understanding of the bug composition is reported, which makes mapping easier.
Thus, with the new version of WCAG 2.2, which is backward compatible to its earlier versions, such as WCAG 2.1 and WCAG 2.0, the future of digital accessibility seems promising. Although there are continuous additions and enhancements that will keep coming in and this version is yet to be finalized, the new success criteria do give a preliminary understanding on what to expect with WCAG 2.2.
Alongside, the significance of WCAG compliance testing shouldn’t be undermined and should be carried out as an equal testing effort to ensure that the websites or applications align seamlessly with the set guidelines. With an amalgamated testing effort, the results too, would be comprehensive.
Once WCAG 2.2 comes into being this summer, with its draft to be finalized by February mostly, guess we’ll see a light at the end of the tunnel for 2021, wouldn’t we?