Accessibility & Inclusion

The First Look At WCAG 3.0 Is Here

June 23, 2021 7 minute read
Dive into the new WCAG 3.0! Understand the shift from WCAG 2 with easier, outcome-based guidelines and how it impacts your digital presence.

The World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) has now published the first public working draft of their long-awaited WCAG 3.0 Accessibility Guidelines. While the document is far from finished and is not expected to advance to WC3 recommendation for a few years, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is the most significant digital accessibility standard, so a new version is big news.

This new set of guidelines is intended to be easier to understand than WCAG 2, and more flexible, meaning it will address many different types of content, apps, and tools, as well as organizations and disabilities.

It is important to note that WCAG 3.0 does not supersede WCAG 2.2 or previous versions, but rather it is an entirely new and alternative set of guidelines. It will be a while until the new guidelines are reflected in international law, and it will be very interesting to see how the WAI positions them in order to make their purpose clear and encourage their adoption.

WCAG 3.0 vs. WCAG 2: The proposed changes

Some of the differences between WCAG 3.0 and WCAG 2 are:


In WCAG 3.0, “Outcomes” replaces “Success Criteria.” Outcomes are worded in plain language, and are easy to understand for people that don’t have a tech background. These guidelines focus on the user instead of the technology and offer more flexibility than the “true/false” statements in WCAG 2. Outcomes also outnumber Success Criteria, because they apply to specific use cases.


“Methods” are equivalent to WCAG 2 “Techniques.” These are the steps required to achieve specific outcomes.

WCAG 3.0 defines the three types of methods as:

  • All: Applicable to all technologies
  • Technology-specific: Applicable to one technology (HTML or PDF, for example)
  • Fallback: Applicable to emerging or proprietary technology and for technology that does not have a corresponding method in WCAG 3.0

Methods include instructions about how to achieve an outcome, code samples, examples, resources, and how to conduct testing and scoring.

Critical errors

A critical error is any accessibility error that prevents a user from completing a process. Errors of this type include:

  • Any item or element in view, such as a low-contrast call-to-action, or an audio file with no pause button
  • Errors within a process, such as a submit button that’s not in tab order
  • Aggregated errors within a view or across processes, such as confusing navigation or complex language

Conformance claims

WCAG 3.0 does not require conformance claims, but does specify how to make one, if a user chooses to do so. Claims must include:

  • The date
  • Guidelines title, version, and URI
  • Conformance level met (bronze, silver, or gold)
  • A brief description of the views and processes
  • The technology, hardware, software, and assistive technology used in testing the claim

Conformance levels

WCAG 3.0’s conformance levels are:

  • Bronze: Minimum conformance level, as established by atomic tests (explained in the next section)
  • Silver: Higher conformance level, as determined by holistic testing (explained in the next section)
  • Gold: Highest conformance level

Types of testing

The new guidelines establish two types of testing: atomic and holistic (and as of June 2021, the W3C was still seeking input on how to describe these tests). Preliminary definitions are as follows:

  • Atomic: Atomic tests include the WCAG 2 tests for A, AA, and AAA success criteria, but in WCAG 3.0, they test both processes and views. These tests may involve automated evaluation, semi-automated evaluation, and human evaluation of content accessibility
  • Holistic: Holistic tests include assistive technology, user-centered design, and expert usability testing to evaluate the declared scope


Scoring methodology for atomic tests can be either binary (pass/fail) or on a rating scale, depending on method, outcome, and technology involved. Binary testing is best for testing units with clearly defined criteria.

The thresholds for scale-scoring are still in testing, but the preliminary model incorporates the number of critical errors and overall testing to arrive at an “adjectival rating,” such as: “Fair — No critical errors, approximating 80% to 89% of related tests pass.”

Holistic testing is a measure of higher quality that does not affect atomic test scores. These tests establish parameters that must be met to achieve a silver or gold rating.

Views and processes

Views are determined by the tester and may include “state permutations” such as alerts and dialogs. Processes describe the sequence of steps to follow to accomplish a task.

Why WCAG 3.0?

So why does the world need WCAG 3.0 and what might be the impact be of having two separate standards? Let's take a look at its stated goals and see what they can tell us about the direction accessibility guidelines are headed.

The stated goals of WCAG 3.0 are as follows:

Goal 1: Update guidelines to better address user needs and accommodate new technologies
The overarching goal is to make the web more accessible to all users on all possible technologies. New technologies are constantly emerging, such as augmented/virtual reality(AR/VR) and voice assistants, and the new guidelines recognize the need to accommodate them where possible.

Goal 2: Incorporate tool guidance with authoring guidance to avoid the ‘’accessibility support’’ challenge of WCAG 2
One of the perceived shortcomings of WCAG 2.0 and 2.1 was a lack of practical support to accompany and augment the guidelines and help users implement them. WCAG 3.0 will provide practical tool guidance and authoring guidance that will be especially helpful for non-experts looking to comply with accessibility requirements.

Goal 3: Define clearer testing procedures and allow for multiple approaches
There’s not much point in telling people to improve the accessibility of their website if you can’t also give them concrete testing procedures that allow for multiple approaches. WCAG 3.0, therefore, aims to define clearer procedures that support automated testing where appropriate and provide a procedure for repeatable tests when manual testing is appropriate.

Goal 4: Meet the needs of policy-makers while being updated more frequently than WCAG 2
The new guidelines will help people develop policies for creating and managing accessible websites and will be updated regularly to ensure they account for the evolution of technologies and accessibility issues. 

Goal 5: Define conformance standards for units other than "web page(s)’’
Part of what makes the new guidelines so ambitious is their broader scope, which takes into account the fact that not all web units are traditional web pages, and can be fully interactive and immersive environments. The new guidelines establish parameters for validating such units as being compliant in instances where conformance claims are made.

Goal 6: Reduce reading complexity where possible
It is in everyone’s interest to make web accessibility guidelines more understandable, so WCAG 3.0 uses simpler language than preceding guidelines. 

Goal 7: Base guidance on research where feasible and emphasize the importance of future research
Because of the ever-changing nature of the web and the tools used to access it, improving accessibility is an ongoing task. The guidance presented in WCAG 3.0 reflects the most current research and supports ongoing research to ensure the guidelines are based on a solid, scientifically grounded foundation.

Why These Goals?

All of the above goals fit in with the central aim of making WCAG 3.0 a broad set of guidelines that reflect more accurately the real experience of people with disabilities.

The new guidelines will define testing, conformance, and scoring models different from those established in WCAG 2.0 and 2.1. 

Acquia is committed to staying at the forefront of accessibility testing and will provide more information on WCAG 3.0 and what it means for web accessibility as the draft develops further. We recommend anyone with any interest or investment in web accessibility to check out the full working draft of the WCAG 3.0 document.


When does WCAG 3 go into effect?

Guidelines are still being finalized, so WCAG 3.0 likely will not be finalized until 2023.

Who is creating the WCAG 3 guidelines?

The guidelines are a collaborative effort that includes the Accessibility Guidelines Working Group (AG WG), the AG WG Silver Task Force, and the Silver Community Group, all of which are part of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI).

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