The Accessibility Guidelines Working Group, with primary development by the Silver Task Force and Silver Community Group, has released a First Public Working Draft of the W3C Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 3 and is ready for community feedback.

This draft introduces a suite of changes to the guidelines, structure, scoring, conformance model, overall goals as well as the name. Keeping in mind that these current changes are alternatives to be tested for community feedback and are not yet superseding the current guidelines of WCAG 2.2. It is a draft and will remain a working drat for the foreseeable future.

The Importance Of A Name

WCAG is taking a different direction, encompassing a broader focus, and with that direction, the name has been changed from Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2) to W3C Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 3.

New Goals of WCAG 3

  • Be for easier website owners and auditors to understand.
  • Be more flexible to address different types of technologies, content, apps, tools and organisations.
  • Cover more user needs, including people with cognitive disabilities. Whilst current and previous guidelines did consider this, WCAG 3 looks to cater to this more effectively.

Changes To WCAG Structure

To try to accomplish the new set of goals implemented in WCAG 3, the proposed guideline in the draft follows a different structure to the one applied in WCAG 2. To break it down simply, the new guide is based around the following structure: Guidelines -> Outcomes -> Methods.


Guidelines are solutions to accessibility problems that are more granular than the previous guidelines. Granular meaning that they will be more specific, instead of broad, making them simpler but this also means there’ll be more of them. Each guideline has outcomes.


Outcomes are testable statements with specific benefits to the user. This is essentially WCAG 3’s version of the ‘Success Criteria’ found in WCAG 2. Outcomes will now include critical errors and an improved rating scale. Outcomes, like Guidelines, will be more granular. Guidelines and Outcomes are supported by ‘how-tos’. ‘How-tos’ are equivalent to ‘Understanding’ pages for WCAG 2 but are more action-focused.


Methods are technology-specific ways to achieve an outcome and will be used as tests for the Outcomes. Methods are similar to ‘Techniques’ in WCAG 2 but cover more technologies and a wider range of scenarios.

Draft WCAG 3 Conformance Model 

This Draft Conformance Model is the way in which auditors will determine and communicate how well a website, application or tool meets WCAG 3. The level A, AA and AAA level model has been replaced with a tiered Bronze, Silver and Gold system. Whilst the tiers are similar, especially Bronze, they are not fully equivalent.

The Bronze level will be the level for recommended regulations. Silver and Gold tiers have not been properly defined, although it is likely that Silver will include various types of usability testing and user research and Gold might include elements of Maturity Modelling.

The tiers will be better defined once enough feedback has been given on the Bronze tier and its implementation.

There are several other changes to the WCAG 3 Draft Conformance Model and they include:

  • The model is more focussed on auditing processes (on-page tasks such as ordering an item or registering for an activity) rather than auditing individual web-pages.
  • Outcomes can be rated beyond a pass or fail, on a scale of 0-4 (provided they are not ‘Critical Errors’).
  • The ratings are averaged for a total score. There is also a score for each functional category (vision, hearing, memory etc.).

To be able to pass Bronze Conformance, according to WCAG 3’s new scaling, there must be no ‘Critical Errors’, a total score of 3.5 or higher and a score of 3.5 or higher in each functional category.

Improvements In WCAG 3 Scoring 

Changes to scoring will mean that website owners will have access to a more nuanced way of identifying whether or not their website is accessible rather than the pass/fail metric that is utilised in WCAG 2. This flexibility in scoring will mean website owners will now receive an overall score on their accessibility rather than failing if a perfect score of 100% isn’t met.

However, there are still metrics that website owners need to be aware of that, if not met, will lead to failure – these are called ‘Critical Errors’. There are currently three and are:

  1. Errors that wherever they occur are a serious problem for the users. E.g. Keyboard traps.
  2. Errors ‘in the process’. For example, missing alternate text missing from a navigation icon will lead to a failure, whereas the alternative text in a non-essential image will not fail.
  3. Errors that when aggregate cause failure. For example, a large portion of text that is ambiguous and or confusing.

5 Initial Guidelines Of WCAG 3

There are currently only five guidelines in WCAG 3. Each guideline was chosen to highlight a feature of the new structure.

  1. Text Alternatives

    Text alternatives were chosen as the first guideline to show that relevant and important guidelines from WCAG 2 can be ported into WCAG 3. It currently only applies to HTML images. However, with the new scoring guidelines, not having alt text will not necessarily result in a fail.

  2. Clear Words

    Originally offered as feedback for the 2.1 update, the Clear Words guideline highlights how a new type of test can use a different type of scoring system to come up with a single % score instead of true/false test.

  3. Captions

    Captions are included to demonstrate guidance for new and emerging technologies, such as virtual and augmented reality. Captions will be used to experiment with scoring flexibility. For example, videos used that are essential to completing a task that does not have captions will be flagged as a ‘Critical Error’ and automatically fails.
    This might include, educational videos, entertainment previews and or guides to using a product. Videos that are not essential, such as marketing materials, will not automatically fail but lack of captioning across multiple non-essential videos will reduce the overall score.

  4. Structured Content

    A prototype guideline that highlights how several success criteria could be merged together. This meant merging success criteria from AA and AAA.

  5. Visual Contrast

    Visual Contrast sees updates to the colour contrast guidance from WCAG 2 with a new algorithm and support for different solutions. It is also an example of merging AA and AAA success criteria from WCAG 2. The aim is to provide a wider colour palette whilst improving clarity of text for people with low vision. To help explain, a Silver Member has created a proof of concept visual contrasting testing tool.

To Wrap Things Up

WCAG 3 looks to improve on WCAG 2 in almost every way, making the process more flexible owners and convenient for both website owners and auditors. As Web Accessibility enthusiasts, we are excited to see how it evolves over the years into the final version of WCAG 3.