Every organization has a responsibility to offer accessible digital content.
In many nations, that responsibility is also a legal obligation — but apart from compliance considerations, digital accessibility has numerous practical benefits that ensure an excellent return on investment. Over 1 billion people worldwide live with some form of disability, and the best practices of accessibility are aligned with the best practices of development, design, and search engine optimization.
Of course, deciding to prioritize accessibility is fairly simple; adopting accessible design practices can be considerably more difficult, particularly if you’re not sure where to start. To improve accessibility, you’ll need to compare your content to objective standards.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are a set of principles and success criteria published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Widely considered the standard for digital accessibility, WCAG is a crucial framework for building better content.
By auditing your website or mobile app for WCAG conformance, you can offer a better experience for users. Below, we’ll identify some factors that can influence the success of a WCAG audit — and explain some of the benefits of an accessible approach.
Why is WCAG conformance important?
No content is 100% accessible for every person, but by using a principle-based framework, WCAG offers the best available resource for accommodating as many people as possible. WCAG requires content to be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.
By incorporating these principles, your organization can reach a larger audience. Because WCAG is widely recognized, organizations that demonstrate conformance benefit from enhanced brand reputation. Sites that conform with WCAG also enjoy improved user retention rates, more visitor-to-customer conversions, and enhanced search engine positioning.
WCAG helps ensure compliance with international accessibility laws
Of course, many organizations seek WCAG conformance for another reason: compliance. In the United States, a reasonable level of digital accessibility is required for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Ignoring this requirement can expose your brand.
According to a report published by Accessibility.com, about 265,000 businesses received website accessibility demand letters in 2020. If the estimate is accurate, companies may have spent billions of dollars in legal fees. WCAG conformance demonstrates that you’re making a reasonable effort to accommodate your users — and while the ADA doesn’t specifically cite the guidelines, many international laws are based on WCAG.
In short, accessibility is a crucial consideration, and you need to evaluate your content with widely recognized standards. WCAG recognizes the full scope of how disabilities affect user behaviors and preferences, and by providing straightforward success criteria, it gives developers and designers a roadmap for success.
Understanding the goals of a WCAG audit
WCAG outlines three levels of conformance: Level A (least strict), Level AA, and Level AAA (most strict). One goal of an accessibility audit is to demonstrate conformance with the organization’s target goal. For most websites, Level AA conformance is a reasonable goal that ensures accessibility for most users.
At a basic level, a WCAG audit identifies accessibility barriers and outlines a remediation process. Depending on your organization’s goals, your WCAG audit may have several objectives:
- Set an appropriate and achievable WCAG conformance goal
- Identify WCAG failures
- Identify accessibility issues that might not prevent WCAG conformance, but negatively impact users
- Provide remediation tactics that follow best practices and improve the user experience
- Provide relevant accessibility training for developers and designers
- Demonstrate WCAG conformance by writing an accessibility statement
In order to demonstrate conformance with WCAG, audits should include both manual and automated testing. Your accessibility partner should also work closely with your team to explain the proposed accessibility improvements.
When to audit your content for WCAG conformance
Many organizations begin considering WCAG conformance towards the end of product development. While accessibility audits can be performed at any time in the development cycle, audits will be more effective (and often, much less expensive) when performed as early as possible.
Remember, accessibility isn’t an “extra;” it’s an ongoing set of priorities, and WCAG conformance begins at day one. Building for accessibility can remove accessibility barriers before they affect your audience, and accessible code is often cleaner, more efficient, and easier to update.
In short, remediating issues is more expensive than building content with the best practices of accessibility in mind. Your digital products might require several audits during development, but by starting the process early, you’ll get the best possible return on investment.
Finding an accessibility partner for WCAG auditing
WCAG auditing requires a detailed understanding of the W3C’s requirements and extensive experience with real-world applications of WCAG principles. Your partner should provide extensive support — not just a simple report with a list of proposed fixes.
Some factors to consider when choosing an accessibility partner:
- Testing Methodology - Ensure that your partner uses both manual and automatic testing.
- Technical Capabilities - Mobile app accessibility audits have different requirements than website audits. Look for established auditors who can accurately assess every digital product offered by your organization.
- Legal and Compliance Assistance - Make sure your partner can provide evidence of compliance with local laws and regulations.
- Ongoing Support - Your accessibility partner should coordinate with your team to establish the goals of the audit and to ensure successful remediation. Look for experienced accessibility firms and ask for references.
The Bureau of Internet Accessibility offers WCAG conformance audits for websites, mobile apps, and other types of digital content. For over two decades, we’ve worked with brands to help them incorporate accessibility into their organizational cultures. We believe that our approach ensures the best long-term results, both for our clients and their users.