Which set of Web accessibility standards or guidelines should I comply with?

There are two main sets of standards and guidelines for developing websites that are as accessible as possible to the majority of users. These are Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG).

Many states and organizations have adopted one or both of these standards or guidelines and, in some cases, have developed their own standards or guidelines. Check to see if your organization is covered by a law, policy, or set of Web accessibility standards or guidelines. If not, determine which set of standards best meets your needs and the needs of your organization. Setting the bar as high as possible may reduce the likelihood that you will have to retrofit your site later in response to an individual's need for improved access.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act

Web sites created or used by United States federal agencies are required by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended in 1998, to meet sixteen Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards for Web pages. These standards are intended to be minimum standards.

For more information on current Section 508 standards, please see the article on this site: Where can I find a guide to Section 508 resource documents?

In 2006 an advisory committee was established to review Section 508 standards, recognizing that many agencies had several years of experience working within those regulations, years in which technology has evolved on many fronts, additional accessibility standards have arisen, and the technology of accessibility has been transformed.

The committee’s final report was presented to the Access Board for review in April, 2008, and is currently awaiting the results of that review process. The final report is available on the Access Board website. The review process is expected to continue until at least 2010 before any change in legislation is likely to be seen. Progress can be followed via the 508 update page on the Access Board website.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0)

Web accessibility is more comprehensively covered by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C®) in their Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0), which replaced Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0, in December 2008. These guidelines are not legally binding but were developed to create a set of standards for developers wishing to make their products and services accessible.

WCAG 2.0 includes four design principles, 12 guidelines and a range of techniques for ensuring compliance. Each guideline has success criteria which determine which of three levels of conformance are met, namely A (lowest), AA and AAA (highest).

The four design principles are described below, including the guidelines associated with each: