Accessibility in higher education is not a new or novel concept. But as its needs evolve, ongoing education about its requirements has to become an essential part of your institution’s digital strategy.
The United Nations estimates that about 15% of the global population, or 1 billion people, live with some type of disability. Higher education institutions have a duty to provide equal access to everyone. This includes building online experiences that users with disabilities can experience and enjoy as much as anyone else.
To get there, you must familiarize yourself with the web content accessibility guidelines of WCAG. Published by the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium, they are considered the international standards for making your online properties accessible.
Here’s why that matters: May 2023 will see the release of WCAG 2.2. Familiarizing yourself with the new WCAG 2.2 requirements will help you prepare for that release. Also, it will ensure that your online presence, from your website to your interactive map, will remain above board and in compliance.
The WCAG Guidelines and Digital Accessibility in Higher Education
Making your online presence accessible should be a given for any college or university looking to maximize its audience opportunities and avoid legal issues. At its foundation, that means ensuring all parts of your online presence are perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.
These principles matter regardless of industry. But they take on a special importance in higher education, especially considering the obligation to provide equal educational opportunities without barriers to all students.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or WCAG, look to standardize that process across the internet. They’re designed as a set of principles that comprise every part of your online presence. Follow WCAG guidelines, and you can feel confident about the accessibility of your website and everything around it.
WCAG 2.1 vs. WCAG 2.2 for Higher Education
First introduced in 1999, WCAG has continued to evolve ever since. The most recent published standards, WCAG 2.1, establish the above-mentioned POUR principles:
- Perceivable: This is about ensuring that all your digital information and interfaces are presented to users in a way they can perceive.
- Operable: Here, you ensure that students and other users with or without disabilities can navigate through your website, with a special focus on keyword navigation.
- Understandable: This principle is about making your content as easy to understand for users with a disability as for those without one. Examples include clear and simple language and high contrast between visuals.
- Robust: Maximize compatibility with all types of technologies users might need, including accessibility tools like screen readers.
WCAG 2.2 requirements expand on these guidelines. Crucially, they are not designed to replace WCAG 2.1 but instead meant to add to the existing POUR principles.
The Nuances of WCAG 2.2 Requirements
Understanding WCAG 2.2 for higher education means at least a basic understanding of what new guidelines we can expect in May 2023. Its guidelines and principles focus on three major groups of users: those with cognitive or learning disabilities, those with low vision, and those with disabilities on mobile devices.
WCAG 2.2 requirements are categorized into three levels:
- A, which is essential for basic accessibility and required for all websites.
- AA, which makes your website reasonably accessible for the majority of users; all higher education institutions should implement this.
- AAA, a difficult-to-reach level that is aspirational rather than essential to meet guidelines.
6 Improvements Under WCAG 2.2
With those three levels in mind, the current draft of WCAG 2.2 requirements introduces six new improvements when compared to WCAG 2.1:
- Focus Appearance (Level AA) is designed to ensure that any focus elements in keyword navigation are not obscured or hidden because of content created by the website author.
- Dragging Movements (Level AA) is designed to ensure that any functionality using a dragging movement can also be achieved without dragging when using alternative input methods.
- Target Size (Level AA) specifies that inputs for the target pointer should be at least 24×24 pixels wide and spaced out sufficiently from the surrounding content.
- Consistent Help (Level A) ensures that users can always and consistently ask for help. It includes a requirement for help like contact details, self-help options, or automated mechanisms to always appear on the same relative spot and in the same relative order across the website.
- Accessible Authentication (Level A) specifies that no test of whether the user is a robot should be part of the authentication unless an alternative means of authentication is in place.
- Redundant Entry (Level A) requires the auto-population or available selection of information that the user has previously entered as part of the same process. The only exceptions are when re-entry is essential for the security of the information or the information is no longer valid.
These success criteria, at each level, fit seamlessly into the previously established POUR principles. Read our blog on POURing the Foundation for Digital Accessibility in Higher Ed. Their goals are to help the three above user groups more specifically and build on the foundation already established as part of the WCAG 2.1 guidelines.
Concept3D has a long history of prioritizing accessibility, ensuring that all potential users can benefit equally from these online tools. Ready to learn more about our own accessibility priorities and how we are preparing our platforms for the new WCAG 2.2 requirements? Get in touch today.
Read Making the Accessibility Grade Part 2: How Higher Education Institutions Can Meet WCAG 2.2 Requirements