A manual website accessibility audit is the most reliable way to find out how accessible your website currently is. It is a key player in the process in identifying accessibility issues and getting your website into compliance with Section 508 or ADA laws.
What Is a Manual Website Accessibility Audit
A manual website audit is a manual assessment of your website to look for accessibility issues. It is much more comprehensive than running automated web checkers and finding issues. It uses a variety of methods and goes far beyond automated checks, which can only detect about 25% to 30% of potential accessibility issues on a website.
A manual website accessibility audit is the most reliable way to find out the accessibility of your website.
Why You Need a Website Accessibility Audit
Your organization may want to find out how accessible your website is because of a legal requirement to comply, such as Section 508 or the ADA. Since 2017, the number of website accessibility lawsuits has increased each year. 2022 had the highest number of website accessibility lawsuits yet.
You may want to simply be more inclusive of your website visitors instead of potentially alienating 20% of them who have a disability. Maybe you want to do it because accessibility is good for business.
In addition to identifying accessibility issues, it will help your organization prioritize which ones to fix first, based on your budget, timeframe and/or audience.
Requirements for a Website Accessibility Audit
Before having a website accessibility audit done, you’ll need to share which laws, if any, your organization needs to comply with. The laws currently call for WCAG 2.0 AA, but the current standard is 2.1.
If you’ve had a legal claim filed against you, you’ll want to mention that. The lawsuit references the standard that is needed.
If you’re looking to go beyond just ”compliance,” it’s also good to share a bit about the people you serve. The auditor can take all this into consideration during the audit and make suggestions to ensure a good user experience for your audience which may go beyond WCAG requirements, depending on their needs. This is especially important if you specifically serve people with a disability.
Providing this information is important because the requirement or desired level of user experience is what the audit will be done against.
Cost of a Website Accessibility Audit
The price for the audit is dictated by several factors.
One factor is the number of pages that need to be audited. The auditor can recommend a sampling of pages that includes the home page and other pages that contain unique elements. This ensures that all types of elements on the site are included in the audit.
If budget is an issue, the audit could include only the top few pages that get the most traffic or that are crucial on a path to action, such as signing up, hiring your organization for a service or buying something.
It is possible to have an audit done of every page of a website. It is just usually cost prohibitive if there are a lot of pages on the site.
On a website, most pages use a template, and there are usually only so many of those. For example, the home page may be unique, regular pages may use the same template, all blog posts use the same template, and landing pages may use a different template.
Other than that, the page content is unique to each page, which is why an audit could potentially include every single page.
The complexity of the page content can play a role in the cost too. Certain elements such as forms, videos, maps and calendars require more testing than other elements.
Having both a desktop and a mobile audit done will cost more than a desktop or mobile audit. However, having them both done at one time is more cost effective than having them audited separately, at different times.
How accessible the site currently is can also play a factor.
When to Get a Website Accessibility Audit
Accessibility Audit Prior to Launch
It’s good to get a website accessibility audit done before a new website is launched, so that errors can be addressed before it goes live.
That gives you the opportunity to check if any functionality or integrations that were added to the website are accessible. If they aren’t, it may take some time to find accessible alternatives, if they exist. You may need to reassess which plugins or integrations you use as part of your accessibility efforts.
This is one reason why it’s good to address accessibility early on in the process.
Accessibility Audit of an Existing Website
It’s also important to check the accessibility of an existing website. You can have an audit done and then fix the issues over time if you cannot do them all at once due to budget constraints.
Ongoing Accessibility Audits
Even if you have an audit done once, it’s important to have accessibility audits done on an ongoing basis—quarterly, semi-annually or annually, for example. How frequently you have one done will depend on certain factors such as:
- any legal requirement for accessibility,
- the level of risk you’re comfortable with,
- any accessibility training your staff or developer may have had,
- how frequently the website is updated,
- how many people update the website, etc.
What’s Included in the Scope of a Website Accessibility Audit/What to Look For
What is included in a website accessibility audit may differ among providers. However, an audit should involve a combination of:
- manual checks,
- automated checks,
- code inspection,
- screen reader testing and
- keyboard testing.
The auditor will check things such as the:
- text content;
- images, audio and video;
- hyperlinks and forms.
The audit report should provide a list of the pages audited, the testing methods used and the standard used for testing.
Issues are usually categorized by type or page.
For each issue, it typically includes:
- Explanation of the issue in plain English,
- Location of the issue,
- Which individuals are affected by the issue,
- WCAG reference(s),
- How to fix.
Prioritizing accessibility issues is helpful because:
- Fixing high-priority issues addresses accessibility barriers for many individuals and reduces the likelihood of complaints.
- It allows you the flexibility in your budget to fix high-priority issues first and low- and medium-priority issues later, instead of doing everything at once, especially after investing in the audit.
Not all reports include how to fix the issues. This is vital information to obtain because your developer may not know how to fix the issues or may fix them in an inaccessible way. If the issues are not fixed properly, it could introduce additional errors into the site.
The auditor may or may not provide any follow-up support via e-mail or a call in case your developer has any questions.
In case anything in the report is unclear, it gives you peace of mind if some type of support is included.
What to Do After an Accessibility Audit
After the audit is done and the report provided, a developer will need to address the found issues (remediate the website).
If the audit was done on a set of pages, as opposed to every page of the website, then the developer needs to look elsewhere on the website for the issues in the report and address them.
After the website has been remediated, it’s important to have the site re-audited to ensure that the modifications were done correctly and that no new errors were introduced in the process. This will give you clarity and peace of mind too.
The cost of a follow-up audit is typically less than the initial audit.
Ongoing Accessibility Efforts
It’s important to note that just because a website gets remediated doesn’t mean it will stay that way. Many people are usually involved in updating your website, and they probably haven’t been trained in accessibility practices.
Staff may update existing pages and add new blog posts and not take accessibility into consideration. For example, they may change the color of something, resulting in insufficient contrast. They may style body text as a heading, so that it’s bold and large and stands out. They may omit Alt-text on an image or add insufficient Alt-text.
Your developer may update the theme or add a plugin. The theme update could change how something functioned. What may have previously not been an accessibility issue may become one. A plugin could add functionality to the site that isn’t accessible.
Accessibility is not set it and forget it. At any given moment, with any type of update, the accessibility of the website can change.
Ongoing Accessibility Audits
This is why website accessibility audits should be done periodically.
Accessibility training is also a good investment for your staff and/or developer. Training increases the chances of the site being updated in an accessible manner, whether that’s page content or a technical update.
A developer who’s been trained in website accessibility will be able to monitor and periodically check the site, which may preclude the need for more formal audits.
After you have had the site audited and remediated, it’s a good idea to add this information to your accessibility statement on the website. Include the level of conformance the audit was done against, the date the audit was done and any lingering issues that you haven’t addressed yet, especially if you’re addressing high-priority items first and fixing lower-priority issues over time.
A manual website accessibility audit is a good investment that gives you insight into how accessible your website truly is. You will also learn quite a bit in the process.