About this blog post: WeCo periodically addresses questions we receive from clients in our Accessibility Blog. This question, about WCAG Global Accessibility, came from the legal counsel of one of our clients. We hope you find the answer helpful.
WECO CLIENT QUESTION: Are the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) 2.0 standards global in nature? In other words, if we are compliant in the US does that translate to global compliance?
Let’s start first by clarifying that WCAG 2.0 is a “standard” developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (or W3C). It is not a law. A standard is different from a law in that it is not a legal requirement. Instead, it is a list of suggestions, or good ideas, that might be called a “best practice.” The WCAG in and of itself cannot be used in a court of law as a means to compel website accessibility, or what some people might term as “compliance.”
To address your question more directly, WCAG is not being applied universally across the globe at this time. However, it is becoming a widely accepted standard of measurement. A growing number of governments and international groups are adopting them as a best practice. The W3C has a pretty good grasp on which countries have used WCAG to write and improve their laws. You’ll find their chart on this page helpful, although they claim that it may not be comprehensive.
Formal adoption appears to be the first step when WCAG is integrated into law, for a given country or group of countries. Currently the United States Access Board, (which is appointed by the President and contains members who live with disabilities) and the European Union have both adopted WCAG 2.0 AA formally. in 2017, upon the recommendation of the US Access Board, WCAG 2.0 AA was applied to the refresh of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (508 or Section 508.) It has also been reported that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) web rules, which were withdrawn by the DOJ on December 27, 2017, would have also included an application of WCAG 2.0 AA. (SEE WECO’S BLOG ARTICLE ON THE IMPACTS.)
IMPORTANT: The chart mentioned above from the WCAG actually lists the ADA currently as one of the laws that contains the standards. This is not quite accurate as the web rules were withdrawn. In late June 2018 a bi-partisan group of Congressional lawmakers began to formally request that the DOJ release the ADA web rules. The requests is based upon a 16% increase in the number of lawsuits filed in 2017 over 2016. Some are basing this increase on lack of clarity the ADA provides regarding website accessibility. The argument is that more clarity would help determine who can sue, what they can sue for, etc.
Further reading about the WCAG and global accessibility, can be found in our blog articles listed next: