Four things to know when getting an accessibility audit

Web accessibility is a growing concern for many site owners and managers. It’s an increasingly common practice to get an accessibility audit that tests your site and reports what issues need fixing (“remediation”) to improve usability for people with disabilities and accessibility compliance.

But because accessibility is a new concern for many, not everyone knows what to look for when getting an accessibility audit. Here are four things to know:

1 – Look for human testing

Automated and online tools for accessibility testing are readily available, and they should certainly be used in an audit to quickly identify as many issues as possible. But these tools are best suited to checking content-related items (for example, checking semantic heading tag structures) and things like color contrast. Automated tools will only be able to identify about 30% of overall accessibility issues.

A lot of accessibility issues and practices are contextual, more technical or just not able to be tested with automated tools. For instance, an automated checker can tell you whether you are missing alt text descriptions on images, but not whether specific alt text is a good compliant description in a particular context. Automated checkers usually will not be able to test keyboard navigation at all either.

Note: AI can probably guess what an alt text should look like, but its reliability isn’t that great and it can make stuff up or misunderstand the image completely. Use AI tools to generate alt text with great caution. 

Additionally, it’s not uncommon for automated tools to flag “false positives” (that is, to flag an issue that is not really an issue) or issues that should be verified by manual testing.

All of this means that it’s really important when choosing a vendor for an audit to make sure that they are including extensive human manual testing. Especially if conducting an audit of a site with a checkout or signup process, human testing will be able to identify potential barriers for users with a variety of types of disabilities, whereas automated tests simply can’t cover it all. This need for human manual testing is part of what makes audits somewhat expensive, and why you should be skeptical about cheap or even free audits, as these are likely using only automated tools and will only go a short way towards what you actually need.

2 – Clarify whether the audit includes any remediation

Some vendors may package an accessibility audit and the remediation needed to fix the identified issues under one price. However, the audit vendor doesn’t yet know the extent of the work required for remediation until the audit is completed, so this is not common. Do clarify whether any remediation is included in your audit, to what extent the vendor offers remediation themselves, and whether a discount will be offered on remediation work after an audit.

If you have an in-house team who will be able to implement remediations, you may not need to have them included in your audit project. For these types of teams, ongoing services like the assistance and prioritization from our Accessibility Maintenance Plans may be a better fit than outsourced remediation.

3 – Look for consulting to answer questions

Accessibility audit reports usually identify issues that are barriers for people with disabilities, but do not necessarily include recommendations about how to fix those issues or even steps needed to replicate or demonstrate the issue. Site owners or managers may have questions about best strategies for how to fix and subsequently test those remediations. This in itself might leave you with more questions than answers!

Since there may be a lot of issues that require clarification or discussion, look for accessibility audit vendors that include some time for consulting after the report is delivered and/or do it on an ongoing basis, guiding you through the implementation work. 

Also look for vendors who are willing to include extra consulting for additional fees. This ensures that you have access to follow up with the team that spent a good deal of time with your site and knows it well, and you can get clarity about what those costs will be at the start of your partnership.

4 – Have a post-audit plan

While you might hope for an audit with no problems, the WebAIM organization reports that 93% of websites have issues. You should therefore assume that your audit will have some things you need to fix! Since the audit is a snapshot at a specific point in time, the longer you wait to act upon its findings, the less relevant your audit report will become. Even before the audit is completed, start making plans for following up and continuing the work. Your site changes with every update, so there’s no such thing as a one-time fix!

Your post-audit plan should include:

  • Reviewing the audit findings with the vendor and your team, including developers and content managers.
  • Developing a plan for addressing the issues found, including prioritizing work on the most critical barriers.
  • Implementing the remediations, some of which may be completed by non-technical team members (like adding alt text), but other remediations may require technical skills.
  • Testing and verifying the remediations.
  • Documenting all the changes that are being made. This may be needed for future reference or be valuable for compliance evidence.
  • Providing any training needed to developers, designers or content creators so that new accessibility issues are not introduced.
  • Planning for monitoring and maintaining accessibility, including further regular testing.

An audit is part of the longer journey

Accessibility is not a destination, but a journey that requires care and planning. Getting an audit done is only one part of that journey! While automated tools can play a role in identifying certain issues, human testing remains indispensable for uncovering contextual, technical, and nuanced accessibility barriers. Clarifying the scope of the audit and remediation, seeking consulting for guidance, and formulating a comprehensive post-audit plan are vital steps to ensure that the audit’s findings translate into tangible improvements.

Remember that accessibility is an ongoing commitment, and proactive measures are key to maintaining inclusivity and compliance while also opening up your site to a significantly wider audience than a non-accessible site ever would.

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