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ADA Compliance

Navigating the Shift from WCAG 2.0 to WCAG 2.1 in Web Accessibility

Rich Emanuel photo
Richard Emanuel
Post Published:
January 3, 2024
Post Updated:
January 3, 2024

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1, released by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) in September 2023, set the standard for making web content accessible to a diverse range of people with disabilities. These guidelines are critical for brands and web developers seeking to create inclusive digital experiences.

What is WCAG 2.1?

WCAG 2.1 builds upon the earlier WCAG 2.0, extending its reach to cover more disabilities and providing guidance on making web content accessible on various devices like desktops, laptops, tablets, and mobiles. It focuses on inclusivity for blindness, low vision, deafness, hearing loss, limited movement, speech disabilities, photosensitivity, and cognitive limitations.

Key Features of WCAG 2.1:

  1. Non-Technology Specific: The success criteria are testable statements that are not tied to any specific technology.
  2. Extended Coverage: WCAG 2.1 includes additional guidelines to cater to mobile devices and users with low vision and cognitive disabilities.
  3. Backward Compatibility: Content conforming to WCAG 2.1 also conforms to WCAG 2.0. This ensures continuity and ease of adaptation.
  4. Three Levels of Conformance: The guidelines categorize conformance into three levels - A (lowest), AA, and AAA (highest).

Key Differences Between WCAG 2.0 and 2.1:

Inclusion of Additional Disabilities:

  • WCAG 2.0 focused primarily on providing guidelines for visual, auditory, physical, and speech disabilities.
  • WCAG 2.1 extends this to include more specific guidance for users with cognitive and learning disabilities, users with low vision, and users with disabilities on mobile devices.

Mobile Accessibility:

  • WCAG 2.0 was designed before the widespread adoption of mobile devices, hence it lacked specific guidelines for mobile accessibility.
  • WCAG 2.1 introduces new success criteria that address challenges faced by mobile users, such as screen orientation, text spacing, and touch accessibility.

Success Criteria for Low Vision:

  • WCAG 2.0 provided a general framework for visual accessibility but did not specifically address low vision needs in detail.
  • WCAG 2.1 adds criteria such as text spacing, contrast of non-text elements, and reflow to improve accessibility for users with low vision.

Cognitive and Learning Disabilities:

  • WCAG 2.0 had limited guidelines for cognitive and learning disabilities.
  • WCAG 2.1 makes strides in this area with criteria aimed at readability and predictability of web content, helping those with cognitive, language, and learning disabilities.

Backward Compatibility:

  • Both WCAG 2.0 and 2.1 ensure backward compatibility. Websites conforming to WCAG 2.1 also conform to WCAG 2.0. This backward compatibility is crucial for gradual adoption and transition.

Conformance Levels:

  • Both versions maintain the three levels of conformance (A, AA, AAA), but WCAG 2.1 adds new requirements at each level.

Focus on User Needs:

  • WCAG 2.1 places a greater emphasis on the user needs, rather than just technical specifications. This shift ensures that the guidelines are more about the experience of the user rather than just checking technical boxes.

For Brands and Web Developers:

  • Update Existing Content: Review and update web content to meet the new success criteria introduced in WCAG 2.1.
  • Mobile Optimization: Ensure that your website is not only responsive but also accessible on mobile devices.
  • Incorporate a Broader Range of Accessibility Features: Consider the wider range of disabilities covered in WCAG 2.1 in your design and development process.
  • Training and Awareness: Educate your team about the new elements in WCAG 2.1, especially the aspects related to cognitive disabilities and mobile accessibility.


The upgrade from WCAG 2.0 to 2.1 reflects a significant step towards greater inclusivity, acknowledging the evolving digital landscape and the diverse needs of users with disabilities. For brands and web developers, adapting to WCAG 2.1 is not only a move towards compliance but also a commitment to a more inclusive and accessible digital world.

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