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What Is WCAG and Why Is It Important?

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In today’s digital age, a well-designed website is a cornerstone of any organization’s communication strategy. But what does “well-designed” truly mean? It goes beyond aesthetics and functionality; it encompasses the vital concept of web accessibility. Enter the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), a set of internationally recognized standards that outline how to make web content accessible to people with disabilities.

However, WCAG’s impact reaches far beyond making websites accessible to individuals with specific needs. These guidelines have profound implications for user experience, legal compliance, and even an organization’s bottom line. For government agencies and economic development organizations understanding and implementing WCAG is not just a best practice – it’s a strategic imperative.

What is WCAG?

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are a set of technical standards developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the main international standards organization for the World Wide Web. WCAG provides a framework for making web content accessible to people with disabilities, including those with visual, auditory, cognitive, and motor impairments.

WCAG Principles

WCAG is built on four core principles, often summarized by the acronym POUR:

  1. Perceivable: Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive. This means providing text alternatives for non-text content (e.g., images, videos), ensuring sufficient contrast between text and background, and using clear and understandable language.
  2. Operable: User interface components and navigation must be operable. This includes making all functionality available from a keyboard, providing enough time for users to read and use content, and avoiding design elements that can trigger seizures.
  3. Understandable: Information and the operation of the user interface must be understandable. This involves making text content readable and understandable, making web pages appear and operate in predictable ways, and helping users avoid and correct mistakes.
  4. Robust: Content must be robust enough to be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies. This ensures that the content can be accessed and used by people with disabilities using different devices and software.

WCAG Levels

WCAG guidelines are organized into three levels of conformance:

  • A (Minimum): The most basic level of accessibility. Websites must meet all Level A success criteria to be considered minimally accessible.
  • AA (Mid-Range): This level addresses the most common barriers for people with disabilities. It is generally considered the target level of conformance for most websites.
  • AAA (Highest): This level provides the highest degree of accessibility but may not be achievable for all types of content.

WCAG 2.2

The latest version of WCAG, WCAG 2.2, was published in October 2023. It builds on WCAG 2.0 and introduces additional success criteria that address mobile accessibility, low vision, and cognitive disabilities.

Who Benefits from WCAG?

While WCAG guidelines were initially created with people with disabilities in mind, their benefits extend far beyond this core audience. In fact, everyone who uses the web can benefit from accessible design. Here’s how:

People with Disabilities:

  • Visual Impairments: People with low vision or blindness rely on screen readers, which convert text to speech, and other assistive technologies. WCAG ensures websites are compatible with these tools.
  • Hearing Impairments: Individuals with hearing loss benefit from captions or transcripts for videos and audio content.
  • Motor Disabilities: People with limited motor skills may use keyboard navigation or voice commands instead of a mouse. WCAG ensures websites can be operated in these ways.
  • Cognitive Disabilities: WCAG addresses cognitive barriers by ensuring clear language, consistent layout, and predictable navigation.

All Web Users:

  • Situational Limitations: Even users without disabilities can benefit from WCAG features. For example, someone in a noisy environment might use captions to watch a video, or someone with a slow internet connection might appreciate a website’s simplified layout.
  • Aging Population: As people age, they may experience changes in vision, hearing, or dexterity. Accessible websites ensure they can continue to access information and services online.
  • Mobile Users: Many WCAG principles align with best practices for mobile design, making websites easier to use on smaller screens and touch devices.
  • Everyone Else: Clear navigation, concise text, and consistent layout benefit all users, regardless of ability.

By understanding that accessibility benefits everyone, organizations can move away from the misconception that WCAG compliance is solely about accommodating a minority. Instead, it’s about creating a better user experience for all.

Why WCAG Matters for Your Organization

WCAG compliance isn’t just a matter of social responsibility—it’s a strategic advantage for organizations in the government, economic development, and nonprofit sectors. Here’s why:

Government Agencies

  • Legal Compliance: In the United States, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. State and local governments often have similar requirements. Non-compliance can lead to legal action and damage to your agency’s reputation.
  • Serving All Constituents: Government websites provide essential information and services to the public. WCAG compliance ensures that everyone in your community can access these resources, regardless of ability.
  • Transparency and Accountability: Accessible websites promote transparency by making information readily available to all citizens. This fosters trust and accountability between government agencies and the communities they serve.

Economic Development Organizations

  • Attracting Businesses and Investment: An accessible online presence demonstrates that your community values inclusivity. This can be a key factor for businesses considering relocation or expansion.
  • Promoting Tourism: Accessible websites make it easier for people with disabilities to plan trips and access information about local attractions, increasing tourism revenue.
  • Workforce Development: By prioritizing accessibility, you signal to potential employees that your community is welcoming and inclusive, which can help attract a diverse and talented workforce.

By embracing WCAG, organizations can create a more inclusive online environment, strengthen their reputation, and tap into new opportunities for growth and impact.

Legal Considerations

While the ethical and practical benefits of WCAG compliance are compelling, it’s crucial to understand that accessibility is not just a matter of good practice; it’s also a legal obligation for many organizations.

In the United States, several key laws address web accessibility:

  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): While the ADA doesn’t explicitly mention websites, courts have consistently interpreted it to include digital spaces as “places of public accommodation.” This means that websites of government agencies, businesses, and nonprofits must be accessible to people with disabilities.
  • Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act: This law requires federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible. This applies to websites, software, and other digital resources.
  • State Laws: Many states have their own laws that mirror or expand upon federal accessibility requirements.

Failure to comply with these laws can result in lawsuits, financial penalties, and damage to your organization’s reputation. For example, in recent years, there has been a surge in ADA lawsuits targeting websites that are not WCAG compliant.

By understanding the legal landscape and proactively addressing accessibility issues, organizations can mitigate legal risk and ensure they are meeting their obligations to serve all members of the community.

Getting Started with WCAG

Achieving WCAG compliance might seem daunting, but it’s a journey worth taking. Here’s a roadmap to guide your organization toward a more accessible web presence:

  1. Conduct a WCAG Audit: Start by assessing your current website’s accessibility. Several online tools and services can help you identify areas of non-compliance. You can also engage a web accessibility specialist to conduct a thorough audit.
  2. Prioritize Issues: Based on the audit findings, prioritize the most critical accessibility issues. Focus on fixes that will have the biggest impact on users with disabilities.
  3. Develop an Accessibility Policy: Create a formal policy that outlines your organization’s commitment to web accessibility and how you plan to achieve and maintain WCAG compliance.
  4. Train Your Team: Educate your web development, content creation, and marketing teams on WCAG guidelines and best practices for accessible design.
  5. Implement Fixes: Work with your web development team to implement the necessary changes to your website. This may involve updating code, redesigning elements, and adding alternative text for images.
  6. Test and Monitor: Regularly test your website for accessibility issues using both automated tools and manual testing with users with disabilities.
  7. Stay Up-to-Date: WCAG guidelines evolve over time. Stay informed about updates and new technologies to ensure your website remains accessible.


  • Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI): The W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative provides a wealth of resources on WCAG, including guidelines, techniques, and educational materials.
  • WCAG Checklist: Use a WCAG checklist to track your progress and ensure you’re addressing all the relevant success criteria.
  • Accessibility Consultants: Consider partnering with an accessibility consultant or agency to help you navigate the complexities of WCAG compliance and implement best practices.


WCAG guidelines are more than just a set of technical standards. They are a roadmap to a more inclusive, user-friendly, and legally compliant web presence. By embracing WCAG, your organization can unlock a world of benefits, from improved user experience and SEO to enhanced brand reputation and legal protection. It’s an investment in your community and your future.

Remember, WCAG compliance is an ongoing process. It’s not just about fixing existing issues but about building a culture of accessibility within your organization. By prioritizing accessibility, you can ensure that your website serves everyone in your community, regardless of ability.

If you’re ready to embark on your WCAG journey, our agency is here to help. We specialize in web accessibility audits, website redesign, and training to empower your team to create and maintain accessible web content. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you achieve WCAG compliance and create a more inclusive online experience for all.

Meet Jordan


What Is WCAG and Why Is It Important?

by | Jun 27, 2024 | Economic Development, Government, Learning, Web Design

Jordan is the Content Marketer and Designer at Starry Eyes, helping with creative projects as well as social media planning, market research, and SEO. He is obsessed with books, soccer, pottery, and various nerdy things. Jordan is a bit of a hipster and is still coming to terms with that. Big fan of trees.