WCAG 3.0 - a first look

Dennis Westphal's picture
Blogpost by: Dennis Westphal

This blog post is about the W3C Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) in version number 3.0. At the time of writing these are released in a draft version. Until there is a final version much will change and be specified. Nevertheless, it is useful to take a look where the journey goes. In this article I want to provide a first overview.

Current State

At this stage the WCAG in version 2.0 are in effect - although they have been expanded by version 2.1 and 2.2. In Germany they form the basis of BITV (Barrierefreie Informationstechnik Verordnung). The WCAG describe three levels of conformity: A, AA and AAA. The BITV is based on the intermediate level AA.

What will change?

In WCAG 3.0 the requirements (“success criteria”) are newly structured and reworded. Upon taking effect there will be the categories bronze, silver and gold. Bronze corresponds to the current level AA. This shows that the requirements for accessibility are potentially increasing. The new conformity levels should provide an incentive for more accessibility. After all, who be content with a bronze medal?

A further change is that the ATAG (Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines) and the UAAG (User Agent Accessiblity Guidelines) will be integrated into the WCAG. This includes for example the tools to create blog posts such as this one in accessibility testing.


It is not yet clear what future testing will look like. But the working document suggests a few conclusions: there will be two testing procedures. Atomic Testing and Holistic Testing. Simply put, Atomic Testing encompasses what WCAG 2 tests for. Fundamentally, there will be a difference in testing between views and processes. A view can be a single page or a graphic. The views are presumably to be defined during the test depending on the requirement. Processes on the other hand are specific tasks that are tested for their compliance. A process for example could include searching an article in an online shop, add it to the shopping cart and finalize the order. Within this process there are different views:

  • search form
  • search results
  • article page
  • shopping basket
  • form for entering address and payment data

Or summarized briefly: Typical actions are tested that are performed on the platform. And success as well as failure are tested and the intermediate steps as well.

Holistic Testing

One could assume that everything has been covered by the above mentioned. Why would one need another testing procedure? Atomic testing is increasingly automated which proves to have weaknesses. Also, it will only meet the bronze level. But we all want more, don’t we?

While atomic testing tests if implementation has been sufficient enough so that on a technical level there are no grave flaws, holistic testing is testing not only for formal accessibility but also for usability.

This takes into consideration aspects such as:

  • Can the text be easily understood?
  • Is the user interface logical?
  • Is the structure easily understood?
  • Is it clear which interaction accomplishes the desired task?

The testing focuses specifically on assistive technologies such as screen readers. Evaluation by experts as well as the assessment by “ordinary users” is being applied.In addition, it should be possible to test significantly more technologies. Examples are smart home devices and virtual reality. During these tests different kinds of processes are needed that have to have an accessible design.

Personal Note

The WCAG 3.0 will provide a much broader basis that will be capable of keeping pace with prospective technological developments. In theory, this also means that there will be no more excuses to design non-accessible products. At the same time it will be differentiated whether there is an error that affects the main task of a platform or if for example it is an image in the footer that is missing alternative text. The latter will not affect usability the same way a link with unhelpful link text would. From my point of view as a usability tester and as someone affected myself I very much welcome this change of approach.


Do not panic. The WCAG 3.0 are set to be finalized only in 2023. Until then a lot will be specified. The time can also be used to make the backend accessible and to integrate accessibility in new projects right from the start. Furthermore until 26 February 2021 you can submit feedback. The W3C blog post provides a good introduction if you want to find out more.

About the author

Dennis Westphal is blogging about topics related to accessibility and quality controller at the Gesellschaft zur Entwicklung von Dingen. Helpful for his work: he is blind and can judge by experience.

English translation by Aline Skibitzki who is a screen designer and web project manager, a Germanwoman in New York.


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