WCAG 2.2: A Comprehensive Checklist of What’s New

Change is the only constant in life, and the same goes for accessibility. Our understanding of how to create truly accessible websites is always evolving, and so are the standards for measuring if we’ve succeeded. 

The most recent update to the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) — released on October 5, 2023 — is the latest attempt to help brands make their digital experiences more accessible for all users.

Don’t panic, WCAG 2.2 isn’t an overhaul. But it does shift the previous standards, delivering more specific and, in some cases, more realistic guidelines that make compliance easier (good news, website managers!). While WCAG 2.2 isn’t cause for alarm, it is something to get out in front of. Here’s what to know about WCAG, the ins and outs of the latest updates, and what it all means for your website.

What Is WCAG, Anyway? 

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines set the standard for accessible website design. WCAG first issued design guidance in 1999, but the 2008 WCAG 2.0 laid the groundwork for accessibility today. Those standards created a framework for designing websites that are perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust for people of varying abilities. 

2018’s WCAG 2.1 wasn’t a radical departure from its predecessor, but it did add criteria related to mobile devices and users with vision and cognitive impairments. By 2023, accessibility had become widely understood and embraced as essential for inclusive design. That shift helped usher in WCAG 2.2, an update based on multiple years of research and review.

WCAG 2.2 adds nine new success criteria split across three different levels, A, AA, and AAA:

  • Level A: This is the WCAG minimum, and it now includes two additional success criteria.
  • Level AA: Websites that achieve AA status go beyond the basics. We advise our clients to achieve Level AA as much as possible, depending on their audience. 
  • Level AAA: Websites that implement all WCAG guidelines to the highest degree can achieve AAA status. We recommend our clients do so when it suits their website and their users’ needs. For example, a healthcare organization serving older patients may need the highest level of color contrast on its site, while a university serving young students may not.

The WCAG 2.2 update didn’t just add criteria; it made some criteria obsolete, others weaker, and still others more essential than ever. Specifically, WCAG 2.2 promoted 2.4.7 Focus Visible from Level AA to Level A, which means all websites will need visual indicators that show which page feature is in focus. It also changed the recommended size of touch targets, making it easier for designers everywhere to comply.

What WCAG Standard Am I Required to Meet? 

The standard you’re required to meet depends on your industry: 

Though there is no official standard in courts, the DOJ has referenced WCAG 2.1 Level AA in past filings. We expect the courts to slowly start referencing 2.2 as cases catch up, but it might take another year for version 2.2 to become the standard. 

While wanting to stay out of court is understandable, legal requirements are only one reason to adopt WCAG. Millions of users around the world use screen readers and other assistive devices. Those users have buying power and they want to engage with your organization, whether that’s registering to vote, signing up for a class, or making an appointment with their healthcare provider. When your website is accessible, you’re able to connect with the broadest audience possible — likely earning more loyal users in the process.

WCAG 2.2 Checklist

While achieving inclusive website design is an exciting prospect, the nuts and bolts of getting there can feel anything but. Here, we help you visualize what the new guidelines mean in practice. You might be surprised by how accessible your website already is. 

Guideline 2.4: Navigable

The standards under guideline 2.4 address anything that will make it easier for users to move through your website.

2.4.11 Focus Not Obscured (Minimum) (AA)

  • What It Means: The indicator that signals which page element is in focus is unobscured. “Sticky” elements on the page that don’t move as the user scrolls are the most common culprits that obscure key features. 
  • How To Succeed: People who can’t use a mouse need to see where the keyboard has focus. You’ll have succeeded if the item that has keyboard focus is at least partially visible as a user moves from one interactive element to another. 

2.4.12 Focus Not Obscured (Enhanced) (AAA)

  • What It Means: This also addresses the visibility of the keyboard focus, but it offers a path for organizations that want to go the extra mile.
  • How To Succeed: You can satisfy 2.4.11 with partial visibility, but 2.4.12 requires complete visibility of the keyboard focus. 

2.4.13 Focus Appearance (AAA)

  • What It Means: This is an additional measurement criterion for how a website visually indicates what the keyboard focuses on. WCAG recommends a 3:1 contrast ratio for the colors for the focus state vs. the non-focus state and an outline or border around the entire element that is at least 2 CSS pixels thick. Background colors are acceptable as long as they still satisfy the contrast ratio.
  • How To Succeed: WCAG 2.1 was ambiguous about what it meant for a focus indicator to be visible. This update clarifies what’s required with clear benchmarks for contrast and thickness/visibility.

Guideline 2.5: Input Modalities

An “input” is an action a user takes to elicit a response from your website — think clicking a button or dragging and dropping a feature. These standards govern the design of those inputs. 

2.5.7 Dragging Movements (AA)

  • What It Means: When an interface provides drag-and-drop functionality, there should be a simple pointer alternative that does not require drag-and-drop. This is more relevant for apps and web tools that will need to provide an alternative interface. 
  • How To Succeed: This standard serves users who can’t use a mouse or touch screen to drag items. You meet the standard by allowing a user to choose not to use the supplied drag-and-drop functionality unless dragging is considered “essential.”

2.5.8 Target Size (Minimum) (AA)

  • What It Means: A minimum size and minimum space for an interactive element allows a user to choose one action without accidentally triggering a nearby action.
  • How To Succeed: Some people with physical impairments may not be able to click buttons that are close together. For example, they might hit the “Cancel” button instead of “Submit,” forcing them to start the process over again. You can succeed with this guideline by ensuring the size of the target for pointer inputs is at least 24 by 24 CSS pixels, with some exceptions. 

Guideline 3.2: Predictable

This guideline covers repeating features that may appear across your web pages, such as email sign-up forms or support widgets. 

3.2.6 Consistent Help (A)

  • What It Means: When a site or app has a help feature, it appears in the same location consistently.
  • How To Succeed: People who need help can find it more easily if it’s in the same place. If a web page contains help mechanisms that repeat across pages, they should occur in the same order relative to other content on the page — unless the user initiates the change. Those help items can include human contact details, human contact mechanisms, self-help options, or a fully automated contact mechanism (i.e., a chat feature). 

Guideline 3.3: Input Assistance

Many websites include elements that help users take certain actions. This could include directing a user to re-enter information or to make sure two fields match. Guideline 3.3 addresses this type of assistance, increasing WCAG’s support of those with cognitive disabilities. This puts the onus on developers to provide simple and secure methods for all users.

3.3.7 Redundant Entry (A)

  • What It Means: Ask for information only once in the same session.
  • How To Succeed: Some people with cognitive disabilities have difficulty remembering what they entered. If you’re asking the user to re-enter information they previously added, the field must either be auto-populated or the previous answer must be available for the user to select. The exception is if the user is re-entering information essential or required for security or the previous information is no longer valid.

3.3.8 Accessible Authentication (Minimum) (AA)

  • What It Means: Don’t make people solve, recall, or transcribe something to log in.
  • How To Succeed: Some people with cognitive disabilities can’t solve puzzles, memorize a username and password, or retype one-time passcodes. This guideline considers remembering a password or solving a puzzle (like a CAPTCHA) a cognitive function test. Websites that comply won’t require that step unless the step also provides an alternate authentication method, an assistive mechanism, a test with simple object recognition, or a test to identify non-text content the user provided to the website. 

3.3.9 Accessible Authentication (Enhanced) (AAA)

  • What It Means: This builds upon 3.3.8, offering developers a greater opportunity to include users with cognitive disabilities. 
  • How To Succeed: The success criteria for 3.3.9 are narrower than for 3.3.8. Websites meet the enhanced standard when a cognitive function test isn’t part of authentication unless the website also offers an alternative authentication method or a mechanism to assist the user with the test. 

Walking the Walk of WCAG

A commitment to accessibility is two-fold. It requires understanding what the most recent guidelines are (the talk) and putting those guidelines into practice (the walk). 

While it might seem like Level AAA accessibility is the way to go, the reality is that accessible websites are nuanced. Some level of accessibility is non-negotiable, but the ideal level for your site very much depends on your industry, your users, and how mature your website is — all factors we can better assess with an accessibility audit. 

If you’re building a new website, embedding WCAG principles is smart. But if you’re WCAG 2.1 compliant and a refresh is a year or two off, WCAG 2.2 may be able to wait. Curious about where your website stands? Let’s talk about it.

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More about this author

J. Hogue

Director, Design & User Experience

I have over 20 years of experience in design and user experience. As Director of Design & UX, I lead a team of digital platform experts with strategic thinking, cutting-edge UX practices, and visual design. I am passionate about solving complex business problems by asking smart questions, probing assumptions, and envisioning an entire ecosystem to map ideal future states and the next steps to get there. I love to use psychology, authentic content, and fantastically unique visuals to deliver impact, authority, and trust. I have been a business owner and real-estate developer, so I know what is like to run a business and communicate a value proposition to customers. I find that honest and open communication, a willingness to ask questions, and an empathy towards individual points of view are the keys to successful creative solutions.

I live and work in Providence, RI, and love this post-industrial city so much that I maintain ArtInRuins.com, a documentation project about the history and evolution of the local built environment. I help to raise two amazing girls alongside my equally strong and creative wife and partner.