To create accessible digital content, you’ll need to track your progress — and in many cases, that’s easier said than done. Since the goal of accessibility is to improve content for all people with disabilities, standard user experience (UX) metrics don’t always provide a clear picture.
Fortunately, there are ways to track your accessibility initiative. To begin, you’ll need to audit your website for conformance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the consensus standard for digital accessibility. WCAG 2.1 contains 78 success criteria, and by determining which pages successfully conform with these criteria — and which don’t conform — your organization can create a strategy for long-term success.
Common Accessibility Benchmarks for Measuring Progress
Below, we’ll explore how several accessibility metrics can help brands prioritize improvements, measure progress, and meet conformance goals. To find out whether your website conforms with WCAG 2.1 Level A/AA, start with a free automated report.
Total Number of Level A/Level AA WCAG Conformance Failures
WCAG is organized into three levels of conformance: Level A (least strict), Level AA, and Level AAA (most strict). Most organizations aim for Level AA conformance, which ensures that content is accessible for the majority of users with disabilities.
By auditing your website, you can create a list of conformance failures and begin remediation. The total number of conformance failures can be a crucial metric for demonstrating success and identifying areas for improvement.
Related: What's The Difference Between WCAG Level A, Level AA, and Level AAA?
Number of Pages with WCAG Conformance Failures
Some types of content require more work than others, and measuring the total number of conformance failures on a large site can present a misleading picture. For example, if your site contains a web app or other dynamic content, some pages may have hundreds of WCAG conformance issues — but the rest of your site might be fully conformant.
Under the current version of WCAG, there’s no middle ground: Pages are either conformant or non-conformant. Failing a single Level A success criteria prevents a page from being declared “accessible,” regardless of whether it fulfills other criteria.
That may change in WCAG 3.0, but the current grading system makes sense from a user experience perspective: If a person encounters a major barrier on a webpage, they probably don’t care whether the page follows other WCAG rules. With that in mind, measuring the ratio of conformant pages to non-conformant pages can provide an accurate idea of how real people experience your site.
When reviewing the data, consider what makes certain content more or less accessible. Does a section of your website rely on complex features? Do you use more images on certain types of pages? Answering these questions can help to guide your remediation project.
Related: Claiming Conformance with WCAG? Make Sure You Follow These Steps
Time Required for Remediation
Some accessibility issues can be resolved in minutes; others, not so much. For example, adding accurate alternative text (also called alt text) to images won’t take much time, but rewriting code for your eStore will require more work.
Create an organized list of WCAG conformance issues and determine the resources required for each fix. Your accessibility partner can help you create a strategy that limits the time (and expense) of each remediation. As you improve your site, track the actual time spent by developers, designers, and other team members — the data can be helpful for building a maintenance plan.
Another important note: While both Level A and Level AA failures are serious accessibility concerns, Level A success criteria are absolutely essential. If pages contain Level A failures, some users with disabilities may be completely unable to use the site. Always prioritize Level A fixes over Level AA fixes.
Related: Web Accessibility Isn't Always Expensive or Time Consuming
Don’t rely on benchmarks alone to track your success
Benchmark metrics can help your organization meet its conformance goals, but accessibility isn’t just about following the rules of WCAG. Focus on the experience of your users; while metrics are helpful, the qualitative experiences of real people are much more important.
In addition to accessibility metrics, take the following steps:
- Publish an accessibility statement detailing your organization’s goals, accomplishments (such as WCAG conformance level), and known issues.
- Give users the opportunity to submit feedback about your site’s accessibility.
- Add accessibility items to your organization’s training documents and process outlines.
- Discuss the importance of accessibility with your team. Make sure that your employees share in the responsibility of providing accessible content.
Finally, remember that accessibility is a long-term goal. A single remediation project may bring your website in line with WCAG Level AA guidelines, but the internet changes constantly — you’ll need to keep testing your content in order to enjoy the full benefits of accessibility.