Skip to 0 minutes and 0 secondsMIKE PACIELLO: So the web access building content guidelines are the result really of a number of individuals who are involved in the early to mid 90s that were talking about the importance of making the web accessible, even when the web was newly launched, especially when we saw the creation of the Mosaic browser, the add of graphics. We realised how much this would be a hindrance to individuals who are blind and low vision. In 1997, we launched the Web Accessibility Initiative through the World Wide Web Consortium.

Skip to 0 minutes and 32 secondsAnd through the Web Accessibility initiative programme, the development of the first web content accessibility guidelines, so WCAG 1 was created as a result of a lot of efforts, including myself, Gregg Vanderheiden, Julia Brewer, and some of the individuals who are well-known in the international community of people with disabilities. About 10 years later, or in 2008, I believe it was, the second version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which is currently the international standard for web accessibility and in all websites, whether here in Europe or, of course, in the United States and outside. Fundamentally, it has become the de facto standard for ensuring that websites, and web applications, and web services, are accessible to all people with disabilities.

A Overview of Web Accessibility Guidelines

The topic of web accessibility is nearly as old as the web itself. In 1994 Tim Berners-Lee had already mentioned web accessibility at the second World Wide Web conference.

Just a few months later, in January 1995, Gregg Vanderheiden compiled and released the first guidelines on web accessibility.

In subsequent years, countless other guidelines on web accessibility have followed, released by many different authors and institutions. The University of Madison, Wisconsin, unified and recompiled many of them in the ‘Unified Web Site Accessibility Guidelines and version 8 of these guidelines can be seen as a starting point of the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

In 2012, WCAG 2.0 became an ISO International Standard, ISO/IEC 40500:2012 and in 2016 the European Union introduced the EU web accessibility directive for websites and mobile accessibility of public sector bodies. These updates have become part of legislation in many countries around the world.

As technologies change so too do the digital accessibility requirements and in 2018 WCAG was updated to WCAG 2.1, adding 17 new Success Criteria. Documentation, tools and resources referring to WCAG 2.0 still remain valid as these guidelines remain part of WCAG 2.1. The standard used by the European Union for the web accessibility directive has also been updated ETSI EN 301 549 v2 as it is aligned to WCAG.

Web accessibility guidelines and standards have become part of legislation in many countries around the world. Usually this forms part of public sector procurement and equality laws. For example, in the USA Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (1973) requires all Federal information in electronic format to meet accessibility standards. The Revised 508 standards are based on WCAG 2.0 Level AA and government agencies are required to regularly report their effectiveness of their Section 508 programs.

From 2018 public sector bodies within EU countries will need to ensure that their websites, digital documents and mobile apps meet ETSI EN 301 549 v2 and a helpful ‘Accessible ICT Procurement Toolkit’ has been provided by the organisation. The UK government blog on the regulations also points out that public sector sites will have to publish an accessibility statement detailing:

  • compliance with accessibility standards, including whether the website, application or documents are fully, partially or not complaint;
  • where websites and apps do not meet accessibility standards (i.e. they partially comply) then provide an explanation about aspects of the functionality and materials that do not reach the standards, why this is the case and what accessible alternatives are available;
  • when the statement was prepared and how the assessment of compliance was undertaken;
  • who to contact in the organisation if accessibility issues are encountered, so that they may be addressed; and
  • who is responsible at a national level for enforcing these regulations and how to contact them if the website owner does not resolve accessibility issues.

While both these examples have applied their own standards and processes, they are both based on the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and best practice. Hence a good understanding of WCAG is important in order to understand the legal obligations related to web accessibility.


In this video, one of the pioneers of web accessibility, Mike Paciello of the Paciellogroup, provides us with an overview of the history of WCAG.


There are links related to this topic available from the bottom of this page.


© This video is created by Johannes Kepler Universität Linz and licensed under CC-BY BY 4.0 International Licence. Erasmus + MOOCs for Accessibility Partnership.

© This text is a derivative of a work created by Johannes Kepler Universität Linz, and licensed under CC-BY BY 4.0 International Licence adapted and used by the University of Southampton. Erasmus + MOOCs for Accessibility Partnership.


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This video is from the free online course:

Digital Accessibility: Enabling Participation in the Information Society

University of Southampton