When it comes to accessibility compliance, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) version 2.0 AA is the most-used standard worldwide. There are three levels of WCAG compliance; A, AA, and AAA. Though this distinction is important, it can be confusing. In this blog post, we’ll answer some common questions about WCAG compliance levels, including what WCAG A, AA and AAA are, what they mean for your site, and which compliance level you need.
What are the Levels of WCAG compliance?
There are three compliance levels within WCAG 2.0 (and, most recently, WCAG 2.1): A, AA, and AAA. Each level includes guidelines that must be met to consider the website accessible for all users. The distinction between conformance levels gives developers an organized structure for minimal, acceptable, and optimal accessibility. The different WCAG levels also provide more flexibility, so even very complex websites or cutting-edge technologies can maintain a minimum level of compliance.
What do the different WCAG conformance levels A, AA, and AAA mean?
As previously mentioned, WCAG 2.0 A, AA, and AAA all have criteria that must be met. These criteria cover everything from site navigation to text to videos to inputs and more. However, WCAG does not outline specific actions that every website must take, rather it states what accessible websites should do. This means the biggest difference between conformance levels A, AA and AAA are what they actually mean for users.
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WCAG 2.0 Level A: Minimal compliance
These conformance requirements essentially prohibit elements that would make the website inaccessible. Websites that do not at least meet WCAG 2.0 A are impossible or exceedingly difficult for people with disabilities to use. Hopefully, your site already meets at least WCAG 2.0 level A
Some notable WCAG 2.0 Level A requirements include:
- No keyboard traps
- Navigable with a keyboard
- Non-text content alternatives
- Video captions
- Meaning is not conveyed through shape, size, color etc. alone
WCAG 2.0 Level AA: Acceptable compliance
This conformance level is used in most accessibility rules and regulations around the world, including the ADA. To meet WCAG 2.0 Level AA conformance, the website is usable and understandable for the majority of people with or without disabilities. The meaning conveyed and the functionality available is the same. Your site may not be WCAG 2.0 AA compliant yet, but a few simple updates can help you get there. A WCAG checklist can help you go through the requirements in an organized way and take them on one at a time.
Some notable WCAG 2.0 Level AA requirements include:
- Color contrast is, in most instances, at least 4.5:1
- Alt text or a similar solution is used for images that convey meaning
- Navigation elements are consistent throughout the site
- Form fields have accurate labels
- Status updates can be conveyed through a screen reader
- Headings are used in logical order
Accessible Metrics and the Website Accessibility Checklist also use WCAG 2.0 AA to help webmasters improve or start an accessible site. Testing for accessibility problems is a great place to start.
WCAG Level AAA: Optimal compliance
Compliance at this level makes your site accessible to the maximum number of users, and makes this experience easy. While this level of conformance would be ideal to make the web experience truly equal for all users, W3 explains, “It is not recommended that Level AAA conformance be required as a general policy for entire sites because it is not possible to satisfy all Level AAA Success Criteria for some content.”
If your website or application caters to the elderly or people with disabilities, WCAG Level AAA compliance can help to ensure that your audience can use your site easily. This also shows that you are considerate of your audience and their needs. Since many websites are not accessible, your users will notice this extra level of care.
Some notable WCAG 2.0 AAA requirements include:
- Sign language interpretation for audio or video content
- Color contrast is at least 7:1 in most instances
- Timing is not an essential part of any activity
- Context-sensitive help is available
Understanding the different compliance levels of WCAG 2.0 and what they indicate can help you to understand these guidelines as a whole, and why they are important. They can also help you make changes to your website or applications so you can better serve your audience. Even if you do not understand all of these guidelines, taking steps to test for and correct accessibility problems will improve your online presence and can prevent expensive lawsuits.