An accessibility audit uses a combination of automated and manual tests to check content against the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), considered the international standard for digital accessibility.
Meeting WCAG’s Level AA requirements can help your site comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, and a host of international non-discrimination laws. More importantly, an accessible website works for a wider range of people. Whether your visitors have conditions that affect their vision, hearing cognition, or mobility, you’ll know that you’ve taken the necessary steps to provide them with an optimal experience.
Here are a few tips for conducting accessibility audits — and fixing accessibility issues in a way that benefits real-life users.
1. When testing web content for accessibility, don’t rely on a single tool
For an audit to be useful, it should include several distinct tests — not a single automated scan. Running tools like Google Lighthouse should be part of your process, but true accessibility requires diligent testing with an appropriate methodology.
We’re not saying that automation isn’t useful. Automated accessibility tools can help you find missing alt text, keyboard accessibility issues, and various other WCAG failures without spending time digging through your website’s markup. At the Bureau of Internet Accessibility, we use automation regularly (read about our A11Y® Compliance Platform), which can identify many WCAG 2.1 conformance issues in seconds.
However, every automated tool has limitations. Ideally, your audits will include manual testing performed by people with disabilities who use screen readers or other assistive technologies (AT) regularly. A hybrid approach that uses both manual and automated tests will provide the best long-term results.
2. Keep the “what, how, and why" in focus
If you don’t understand why an accessibility issue creates barriers for people with disabilities, you may make mistakes during remediation. Remember, your ultimate goal isn’t to conform with WCAG Level AA or to show compliance with a certain accessibility law — your goal is to create better web content for real-life users.
To that end, you should ask questions when reviewing the results of your audit:
- Which accessibility barrier has the largest impact on real users?
- Why does our website have this accessibility issue?
- How will fixing this issue improve the user experience?
- What is the best way to fix the issue?
If you simply collect a list of accessibility issues and assign remediation to your team, you’ll miss an opportunity to make long-term improvements in your approach. You might also “fix" the issue in a way that causes additional problems for people with accessibilities.
For example, you might address missing image alternative text (also called alt text) by asking your designers to write descriptions. If your designers don’t understand the best practices of writing alt text, they may write unhelpful content that makes your website confusing for screen reader users.
Once again, the simplest way to avoid mistakes is to involve experts who have disabilities and use AT regularly.
3. Make sure your entire team’s involved in the effort
Inclusive design isn’t an afterthought. Every individual in your organization has a responsibility to consider users with disabilities when doing their jobs:
- Designers need to understand color contrast ratios and the principles of color accessibility.
- Developers need to understand the importance of form labels, consistent navigation, and semantic HTML.
- Content writers need to understand the importance of descriptive titles and subheadings.
- Customer service representatives need to understand how to use respectful language and what to do when a person experiences an accessibility issue.
Don’t think of accessibility as a “project,” and don’t assign the work to a single person or team. At minimum, every individual in your organization should be able to review the results of accessibility audits and provide feedback.
4. Stay focused on goals and achievements, not your mistakes
Website accessibility shouldn’t feel like a burden. The best practices of WCAG are aligned with the best practices of web design, coding, and search engine optimization (SEO), and businesses that prioritize accessibility see enormous benefits over time.
With that said, if you’re spending hours testing your content and remediating issues, you’ll need to keep a positive mindset. Take time to appreciate and promote your achievements, even if you’re still working towards full compliance.
Recognizing the hard work of your team can help you establish inclusivity as an organizational value. When everyone is committed to providing the best possible user experience, you’ll spend less time on remediations (and in many cases, less time on web development overall).