What Are the WCAG 2.1 Guidelines and Why Do They Matter?

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As the accessibility arm of the NCBI, Ireland’s national sight loss agency, IA Labs is committed to ensuring that accessibility and inclusion are not something reserved for a lucky few. Access and inclusion are fundamental rights, yet many companies and organisations fall short of guaranteeing these rights to people with disabilities.

What makes the exclusivity of our new technological world so unjust is the fact that, to us, technology is actually the biggest enabler for someone with a disability. It enables them to lead an independent life and offers them the opportunity to participate fully in society.

At IA Labs, we come from a culture of doing the right thing. We want to help companies achieve website inclusivity because it is the right thing to do. Through our website and app audits, we measure your accessibility against the Web Accessibility Directive and support you to meet the WCAG 2.1 guidelines.


But what are the WCAG 2.1 guidelines? Why do they matter?

Simply put, the WCAG 2.1 guidelines are a series of recommendations on how to make web content more accessible to people with a disability. This ranges from making accommodations for blindness and low vision to making accommodations for cognitive limitations and learning disabilities. The range of disabilities that the WCAG 2.1 seeks to address is broad, however, it does not address every disability. Nevertheless, it is a positive step towards making web content more accessible to users in general.

As a series of recommendations, the WCAG 2.1 does not legally bind any state, company or private individual. In other words, no obligations stem from the WCAG 2.1. It is simply a document containing a series of recommendations that the Web Accessibility Initiative – who publishes it – would like to see implemented.

However, it is worth noting that while the WCAG 2.1 itself is not binding, it does form part of the Web Accessibility Directive which is binding on EU Member States.


What is the Web Accessibility Directive? Does it apply to me?

The Web Accessibility Directive is a piece of EU legislation that requires all websites and mobile applications of public sector bodies to conform with WCAG 2.1 Level AA. However, before we go into detail on the impact that this directive has, we have to take a look at what a directive actually is.

EU law supersedes all other laws that exist in EU Member States – even their constitutions. When the EU wants to enact a piece of legislation, there are multiple ways that they can go about doing so. One such way is through the use of directives.

A directive is a binding piece of EU law that sets out a goal that Member States must achieve. However, directives don’t give a step-by-step process on how the goal should be achieved. Rather, it is at Member States’ own discretion. They simply need to enact the relevant laws, regulations and administrative provisions to ensure that the goal is met.

Nevertheless, it is vital that Member States actually meet the goal. Regardless of how they do so, one thing is clear: all website and mobile applications of public sector bodies must conform with WCAG 2.1 Level AA.

To ensure that Member States stay on track, the EU sets deadlines by which they must have achieved certain things. There are three key deadlines associated with the Web Accessibility Directive:

  1. New websites must conform with WCAG 2.1 from September 2019.
  2. Old websites must conform with WCAG 2.1 from September 2020.
  3. Mobile applications must conform with WCAG 2.1 from June 2021.

It is worth noting that this directive only applies to public sector bodies, who must, by now, have made their content – if not wholly accessible – as accessible as possible. Member States are also encouraged to extend the application of the Directive to private organisations or entities that offer services and facilities that are open or provided to the public. Thus, while public sector bodies, under the Web Accessibility Directive, are the only ones actually compelled to meet WCAG 2.1 Level AA, private entities are strongly encouraged by the EU to follow suit.



At IA Labs, we believe that access to technology is not something that should be reserved for a lucky minority. The WCAG 2.1, and its inclusion in the Web Accessibility Directive, is a positive step in the right direction and IA Labs is proud to help companies achieve this standard. Technology can be a tool for inclusion and, at IA Labs, we are determined to make it one.