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WCAG 2.2 Detective Skills

An illustrated magnifying glass hovers over bolded text that reads ‘WCAG 2.2’, greatly magnifying the ‘2.2’ portion of the text

Whispers of a new ‘WCAG 2.2’ web accessibility standard flutter between coworkers, within and across the UK government. For teams working on services, the message carries an element of mystery. In any given service, how can areas that need Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.2 improvements be identified?

Accessibility is a serious topic, but it doesn’t need to be daunting. It’s possible to sharpen accessible design skills and have some fun at the same time.

So, welcome to the WCAG 2.2 Detective Agency! Let’s get you trained up.

This article – or rather, this detective training course – includes a series of ‘if statement’ clues, a handy magnifying glass and a nifty deerstalker hat (hat and magnifying glass sold separately). The clues can help pinpoint areas of a service that deserve a closer look when making changes to meet WCAG 2.2.

What WCAG 2.2 brings overall

Officially released in October 2023, version 2.2 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) adds 9 new ‘success criteria’ for improving web accessibility. 6 of the new WCAG 2.2 criteria are graded at the A and AA level, meaning that they’re considered a requirement for websites and mobile apps in UK government. You can learn more about WCAG 2.2 from the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI).

Each criterion also comes with an ‘understanding’ document, which offers helpful information on how to understand and interpret the criterion.

A standard like WCAG should not be used as a replacement for exploring the lived experiences of disabled people, but WCAG can be a great tool to nudge teams towards building more accessible web services.

Ready to begin the training?

Helpful clues for WCAG sleuths

There are 7 types of new guidance in WCAG 2.2, spread across 9 new criteria. Pretty much every website and service will benefit from exploring and applying these 7 guidance types.

The challenge lies in identifying where each criterion applies, especially across vast web journeys, sites and services.

Let’s gather 7 ‘clues’ which together form a detective toolkit. These ‘component-level’ and ‘service-level’ clues can help pinpoint areas that deserve attention, allowing teams to more efficiently target effort when working to improve a service.

Component-level clues

Let’s start by examining the individual elements that make up a service, often called components and patterns.

4 of the new WCAG 2.2 criteria can be explored by examining how individual elements behave and interact with each other.

Target size

Target size example.
Illustration of small target sizes. A large white rectangle area contains 4 interactive purple squares. The squares are quite small, and placed close together in a vertical line. A hand-shaped mouse cursor hovers over the last purple square, revealing the square’s target area as a grey outline. The outlined target area bumps against the adjacent purple square, without any extra space.

If an element on the page is:

  • interactive
  • smaller than 24 pixels by 24 pixels
  • in an area crowded with other interactive elements

…That’s a clue! It’s worth examining further.

You can continue the investigation by using the WCAG ‘understanding’ document for WCAG 2.5.8: Target size (minimum).

Dragging movements

Dragging movements example
Illustration of elements being reordered by activating and dragging. A set of 3 vertically stacked rectangles represent interactive elements that can be re-ordered. One blue rectangle is currently selected by a hand-shaped mouse cursor and dragged up, which re-orders the rectangles. The rectangle's previous location is indicated by a dotted outline.

If an element on the page:

  • includes a way to interact by activating and dragging
  • requires either a mouse or touch gesture to interact
  • has no alternative interaction method

…That’s a clue! It may be worth taking a closer look.

You can continue the investigation by using the WCAG ‘understanding’ document for WCAG 2.5.7: Dragging movements.

Focus appearance

Focus appearance example
Illustration of a peculiar focus indicator. A text input rectangle that’s receiving focus is shown. The focus indicator includes a thin light blue outline on the right, bottom and left sides of the input, along with 3 blue hibiscus flower illustrations placed around the input.

If an element on the page has a focus indicator that:

  • doesn’t include a portion that completely surrounds the element
  • looks very ‘thin’ for the most part
  • has a contrast / luminance that is fairly similar to the pixels it replaced or the background around it

…That’s a clue! It may be worth taking a closer look.

You can continue the investigation by using the WCAG ‘understanding’ document for WCAG 2.4.13 Focus appearance.

Focus not obscured

Illustration of a partially obscured focus indicator. A teal cookie consent modal pops-over and mostly covers up a focussed grey input area. A hand-shaped mouse cursor hovers over the visible edge of the input area, but there isn't much space to interact with the input.

If an element on the page either:

  • covers up focussed content
  • is ‘sticky’ (for example, unmoving) when scrolling

…Those are clues! It may be worth taking a closer look.

You can continue the investigation by using the WCAG ‘understanding’ document for WCAG 2.4.11: Focus not obscured (minimum).

Service-level clues

Now, let’s step back from individual elements and examine the service as a whole. Not all WCAG 2.2 criteria can be investigated by looking at individual components. Sometimes it requires looking at the bigger picture.

These next 3 clues cover new WCAG 2.2 criteria that relate to how the service is designed.

Accessible authentication

Accessible authentication example
Illustration of a CAPTCHA tool which relies on an image test. The CAPTCHA tool includes a grid of 9 small green images of distorted raccoon character art. To the right of the grid there’s an example image of the correct, un-distorted raccoon character.

If there’s a login process with any of the following:

  • a ‘test’
  • something that a user needs to ‘remember’
  • no autofill options for inputs

…Those are clues! It may be worth taking a closer look.

You can continue the investigation by using the WCAG ‘understanding’ document for WCAG 3.3.8: Accessible authentication (minimum).

Consistent help

Consistent help example
Illustration of 6 simple web pages. A yellow question mark symbol is shown in a different place on each web page. In order, the yellow question marks are placed to the right of the content, in a pop-over message, nowhere, in the header, inline with the page content and in the footer.

If there’s a series of pages across a service that all include some form of:

  • tool for getting ‘help’
  • widget for ‘help’
  • link to ‘help’ info

…That’s a clue! It may be worth taking a closer look.

You can continue the investigation by using the WCAG ‘understanding’ document for WCAG 3.2.6: Consistent help.

Redundant entry

Redundant entry example
Illustration of a question being repeated 3 times across 2 pages within service. Each unique question in the service is represented as a different coloured rectangle. The first page has 2 red rectangles and a ‘repeat’ symbol, meaning that the same question is asked twice. The second page has another red rectangle and a ‘repeat’ symbol between the 2 pages, meaning the same question was asked a third time.

If a single online journey requires a user to enter the same info more than once…

…That’s a clue! It may be worth taking a closer look.

You can continue the investigation by using the WCAG ‘understanding’ document for WCAG 3.3.7: Redundant entry.

A more forensic approach to WCAG 2.2

Hot on the trail of a WCAG 2.2 mystery and looking for more info?

The GOV.UK Design System team ran 3 workshops, to inspect specific WCAG 2.2 criteria where testing is more complex.

Check out the resources from those workshops, if you’re looking to take a deeper dive:

Inspecting ‘Focus not obscured’

Inspecting ‘Target size’

Inspecting ‘Accessible authentication’

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