What is WCAG?

By the end of this post, you’ll have a good understanding of what it is, the four principles of WCAG, and actionable tips to get started.

As leading experts in web content accessibility, it’s not uncommon people ask us “what is WCAG?”. If you found yourself wondering the same question or wondering how to improve your web content accessibility, this blog post is for you. 

What is WCAG?

At its core, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is dedicated to inclusivity. Essentially, WCAG is a set of global guidelines for making digital spaces accessible to everyone. Making websites and web content accessible to all ensures everyone can enjoy online knowledge and experiences. Plus, it can help organisations reach a more diverse audience.

A common misconception is when accessibility is prioritised, it might compromise design. However, the opposite is true - it enhances user experience (UX). We’ll cover more on this shortly.

Why does WCAG exist?

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines were first released in 1999(external link). Since then, it's received a few updates to keep pace with technology and address new challenges.

Essentially WCAG serves as a worldwide tool in narrowing the digital gap for people with disabilities. The purpose is to ensure websites and digital platforms accommodate a range of impairments. For example, visual, auditory, cognitive, and motor limitations. When website owners, developers, and content creators meet the guideline standards, they create an inclusive online experience. However, it's important to recognise accessibility extends beyond the end-user experience. Additionally, platform backends should ensure they support a diverse workforce.

Who Does WCAG Apply To?

The main point is that accessibility shouldn't be done just to check a box or only for business growth. In fact, being able to access content regardless of ability level is a human right.(external link)

The Four Principles of WCAG

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are based on four key principles(external link) covering important aspects of digital accessibility. The four principles of WCAG are:

  1. Perceivable: Information and user interface components must be presented in a way that users can understand. This should cater to different sensory abilities.
  2. Operable: The user interface and navigation should be easy to use and navigate. This will help people interact with and move around in the digital space.
  3. Understandable: The user interface should be easy to understand, promoting clarity and ease of use.
  4. Robust: The content needs to work well with different devices and tools that help people. It should also keep up with new technology.

Which WCAG version is currently in place?

At the time of writing, WGAC 2.2 is the current version of guidance. However, WCAG 3(external link) is in draft stage with goals to:

  • Make the guidance easier to understand.
  • Cover more user needs.
  • Address different types of web content, apps, tools and organisations.

First steps to improving your web content accessibility

  1. Familiarise yourself with the WCAG 2.2 guidelines(external link).
  2. Consider how people with different disabilities view web content. For example, people with visual impairments may use a screen reader.
  3. Next, set a standard: any new content created should ‘do better’ and support these user groups. Although there may be many challenges to address, there's no need to make them worse.
  4. Also, ensure you have accessibility advocates in your arsenal. The advocates could be employees, external experts like our team at Catalyst, charities, or user groups. Leverage their personal experiences or skilled expertise to carve a path forward.
  5. Completing an audit of your existing web content is a good step too. Think of it as a gap analysis. What criteria do you need to meet? How well does your website and content compare now? Once you have a list of the ‘gaps’, prioritise fixing the issues. Remember, nobody is expecting you to fix things overnight. Improving accessibility is a thoughtful task. How you prioritise depends on your business goals, resources, cost, and timing. You can find more information on how to audit your website against the four principles of WCAG on the NZ government website.(external link)
  6. Your organisation could also attend training sessions to learn more about accessibility, or even have your design and code peer reviewed ahead of going live.

Questions about web accessibility?

There’s a lot to consider when it comes to web content accessibility. But, it doesn’t have to be hard or drain your internal resources. We can assist you with a simple web accessibility health check and improve internal capabilities through introductory or custom training courses. Additionally, we can be a trusted partner in fixing your web content.

Catalyst’s DIA Marketplace approved accessibility team can support you with:

  • Organisation accessibility health checks.
  • Website audits against the four principles of WCAG.
  • WCAG training courses.
  • Design and code reviews.
  • Accessibility strategy and consulting.

Need support with WCAG for industry leading experts?


Contact us for more information or to request a free consultation.