It never ceases to amaze me how much technology has transformed the world in recent years, making information and services more accessible than ever before and within an instant in most cases. However, this advancement comes with the responsibility to ensure that the digital realm is inclusive and welcoming to all individuals, regardless of their abilities.
This is especially critical considering that 27% of U.S. adults live with a disability, and 16% of the world population has a disability. Additionally, anyone can acquire a disability anytime, so the number of individuals requiring digital access through accessible websites and applications increases daily.
This is where a web accessibility audit comes into play as a critical process to determine the usability and accessibility barriers of a digital property in its current state.
With that said, a successful web accessibility audit contains a few key elements to ensure your organization is truly driving inclusion forward and mapping out a remediation process that will lead to an equitable experience.
This article discusses several common questions about creating a successful web accessibility audit project plan.
Purpose of a Web Accessibility Audit
At its core, a web accessibility audit comprehensively evaluates a website or application’s accessibility features or conformance with the WCAG Guidelines.
The primary purpose is to identify elements that might hinder the user experience for people with disabilities. This includes individuals with a broad range of disabilities, including visual impairments such as blindness or color blindness, hearing impairments, motor disabilities such as ALS or Cerebral Palsy, and cognitive disabilities such as Autism or ADHD– among many others.
The overarching goal of such an audit is to effectively remove the accessibility gaps existing on a digital property and create an inclusive space where all users can access information, services, and opportunities equally.
Ultimately, providing a usable and equitable experience is a human right. However, a solid accessibility plan starting with a website audit can also act as an insurance policy for brands operating in high-risk verticals from a legal perspective.
Checklist of a good web accessibility audit: What do you look for in an accessibility audit?
A robust web accessibility audit dives deep into the code level of a digital property’s core functions and user paths – ensuring that any key and critical components, elements, and templates with accessibility barriers that could prohibit access to critical functionality or purchase paths are assessed.
A robust audit performed by a reputable vendor should encompass (at least) a few key elements that include:
- A compliance assessment to a recognized standard: The audit should thoroughly assess adherence to established accessibility standards, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). It examines the website’s HTML structure, CSS styles, and scripting to ensure compatibility with assistive technologies such as screen readers. The current most widely recognized legal standard in the U.S. and globally is WCAG 2.1 AA, with WCAG 2.2’s release scheduled to launch this month. If your team is engaging with a vendor for a web accessibility audit, you should ensure the vendor will be testing (at minimum) to WCAG 2.1 AA.
- Functional User Testing: This involves live-user accessibility testing, which should be the benchmark of any thorough audit. This includes people with disabilities using various assistive technologies, such as native screen readers, interacting with your website to ensure any/all WCAG violations are identified, and the website’s core usability is strongly considered, creating a genuinely great experience for users with disabilities.
- A design examination: The audit should review the visual design, color contrast, and layout to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable experience for all users, including those with low vision or color blindness (Key Stat: Over 300 million people in the world are colorblind, including 1 in 12 men!)
- Keyboard Accessibility: Organizations often ask about screen reader access for blind or low-vision users. However, any thorough audit will include experienced accessibility auditors assessing whether all interactive elements, such as buttons and forms, can be operated solely through a keyboard, ensuring users who cannot use a mouse due to a physical or motor disability can access the website. (Fun Exercise: Attempt to go through your website using ONLY your keyboard – hitting the Tab + Enter key mainly. Can you learn about your services or effectively make a purchase?)
- Document Accessibility: If you are looking to drive holistic compliance of your website through an audit, this should include engaging with a vendor who can extend the audit to the accessibility of downloadable documents, like PDFs, by verifying proper tagging and compliance to WCAG 2.1 AA (among other standards).
How is a web accessibility audit conducted?
A reputable vendor will map out a clearly defined approach to conducting a web accessibility audit that is clear to your team from a scope, process, and delivery perspective. This should (at minimum) involve the following key steps and processes:
- Scope and Audit Preparation: The vendor should work closely with your team to understand the website’s structure, platform, third-party components, and critical functionalities. This knowledge lays the foundation for a customized audit plan and scope for the project that encompasses all of your crucial web components and templates a user may engage with that could create an access barrier.
- Manual Testing is a MUST: If a live user does not lead a website audit, you will miss many accessibility barriers – plain and simple. This should be done by experienced, highly trained accessibility experts conducting hands-on, manual testing, which includes screen reader testing, keyboard navigation, and other assistive technology evaluations. This step allows auditors to uncover nuanced issues that automated tools will undoubtedly miss within complex and critical website components.
- Live-User Testing by People with Disabilities: To achieve a genuinely inclusive assessment, people with disabilities must be actively involved in manual testing. Their feedback informs the remediation process and highlights real-world user perspectives regarding usability and best practices for individuals visiting your website leveraging assistive technology.
- Automated Scanning: To identify potential accessibility issues that would be time-consuming or easily missed by manual testing due to redundancy, an automated testing tool should be used to assess the website in tandem with live-user testing. While these tools are valuable for checks of low-hanging fruits such as heading levels or redundant elements, they are insufficient. They must be supplemented with manual evaluations as outlined above since automated testing will, at best, find 25%-30% of accessibility violations.
- Comprehensive Reporting is Critical to Success: As an output from your web accessibility audit, the vendor should include access barriers created from non-compliance to the WCAG success criteria. However, and this may be the most critical piece, each of these issues should consist of a recommended fix with clear and concise examples of sample code to ensure your design, development, and content management teams can successfully and efficiently remove these access barriers. Additionally, this report should serve as a roadmap for making the website accessible and prioritizing issues that can be built into your upcoming sprint plans and release cycles.
How much time and money does a web accessibility audit take?
The time required for a web accessibility audit varies based on the complexity and size of the website or application.
A comprehensive audit generally takes two to four weeks to complete if you are working with a reputable vendor that will meticulously review the code, outline strong recommendations to fix the issues, and go through internal reviews to ensure consistency through manual testing. This can fall into a broad range based on the size and complexity of the audit but should be a known part of your overall project plan and roadmap in collaboration with the vendor.
The cost of a robust website audit is one of the most common questions our team receives. In full transparency, the cost depends on several factors, such as the extent of the audit and the digital properties included in the scope of the audit. This includes factors such as the size of the website, the number of unique templates, the complexity of said pages, and the number of unique elements that can take time for auditors to assess manually – such as dynamic content that includes quizzes, complex models or even the use of a camera to engage with a product.
While the initial costs of an audit from a reputable vendor may seem high, the investment in web accessibility is undeniably worthwhile.
It can pay for itself many times over by opening up your products and services to a much larger audience, compared to waiting to solve the access barriers until after receiving legal action against your website for non-compliance. The path to compliance is still the same in the latter, only with additional external legal fees and requirements included on top of the website audit costs!
Do you need help conducting a web accessibility audit?
With the guidance of a reputable vendor like Allyant, your organization can embark on a journey of inclusion that empowers visitors to your website with the independence and access they deserve.
Additionally, this process with our team will inject unrivaled legal compliance and risk mitigation – an essential factor to any digital accessibility project plan.
We would be happy to help map out our a recommended project plan and provide a free Scope of Work for a web accessibility audit for your team at any time; simply contact us on the form below!