Acronym Monday: WCAG

What does WCAG mean in plain English?

By: Erich Maas

Proposal Coordinator

Today’s Acronym Monday is brought to you by the acronym WCAG.


What is Web Accessibility

When most people think of “accessing” a website, it simply means opening a web browser and going to that website with a few clicks of a button or a few keys on your keyboard. In a perfect world, once you’re there you can see everything that’s on it, and go wherever you want to go. It’s easy to get the information you’re looking for.

But there are a lot of us for whom exploring the internet can be a challenging endeavor. If you have anything from partial to total blindness, color blindness, hearing impairment, dyslexia, or a handful of physical disabilities, websites can get really tricky, really fast. There are a lot of tools out there to help people that have trouble getting around the web. For instance, there are screen readers that read the content of a webpage to you, voice to text programs that can translate your speech into written words, special keyboards with ergonomic layouts to help relieve stress on your hands, and many others.

Unfortunately, many of these tools are useless without one thing: website accessibility compliance. If a website isn’t set up to be compatible with these tools, they don’t work properly, and the website becomes inaccessible to people who rely on these tools. Thus, it falls on web developers to make sure their web content isn’t barricaded against people with disabilities. Luckily there are instructions to follow when making websites accessible.



WCAG (often pronounced wick-AG) stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. These are instructions created by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), which is part of the World Wide Web Consortium (WC3), a major maintainer of international web standards. WCAG is just one of many sets of guidelines for web accessibility, but it’s one of the most commonly seen.

Some websites are required by law to meet WCAG’s standards. For example, the guidelines are very important for government websites since the information on their sites needs to be available for everyone equally.

WCAG is updated as the uses of websites continue to change. The most recent edition of the WCAG standards is WCAG 2.0, which has been out since 2008. To determine how well your website meets the guidelines, there are a number of tests you can run which look at what’s called “success criteria.” There are three levels of success criteria a website can meet: A, AA, and AAA. The first level consists of the most basic guidelines like providing captions for prerecorded audio content or having the site fully navigable by keyboard only. Level A is the easiest level to meet.

Level AA consists of more complex guidelines such as providing captions for live audio, or consistently identified web components. This level requires a bit more effort to meet, but it’s certainly not out of reach.

Level AAA is the most complex with guidelines such as providing sign language interpretation for prerecorded audio content, and making the purpose of all links identifiable by the link text alone. This level requires the most extensive testing and careful attention to detail to comply with, but complying at this level makes it easiest for all people to access the information on your site, and removes as many barriers as possible.

The thing with accessibility, though, is that it’s not just useful for those users with disabilities. It can help make websites easier to navigate for all users regardless of ability. Many of WCAG’s guidelines involve making colors less stressful on the eyes, link’s easier to see, and site structures more intuitive to follow. Following the guidelines can simply help clean your website up and make it easier for everyone to use.

If you’re thinking of building a new website, or if someone is helping you with one, make sure to keep accessibility in mind. It can make a world of difference for a lot of your site visitors, and it could even help boost business.