What's The Difference Between An Accessibility Test and an Accessibility Audit?

December 24, 2021

To build an accessible website or mobile application, you’ll need to determine whether your content conforms with the established standards of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). That means testing and auditing to find barriers, remediate issues, and track your results.

However, individual accessibility tests serve a different function than accessibility audits. An accessibility audit is a series of manual and automated tests performed by an independent team of experts. The goal of the audit is to measure your content’s current level of conformance accurately. When performed by an experienced team, an audit can provide you with actionable steps for optimizing your website or mobile app. Accessibility experts can also help your team improve their work processes and adopt a pro-accessibility mindset. 

In this article, we’ll discuss some of the advantages of using accessibility audits — and how expert guidance can help you improve experiences for users with disabilities.

Accessibility tests have a limited scope 

Individual accessibility tests can be manual or automated. On this blog, we’ve outlined a few useful manual tests that can be performed for free:

  • Don’t Use a Mouse - Many users navigate with a keyboard (no mouse). By testing your site with basic keyboard commands, you can learn about the importance of keyboard accessibility.
  • Zoom Your Page to 200% - Users with low vision may use software screen magnifiers when browsing. This test helps to highlight issues with text and image scaling.
  • Turn On High Contrast - High-contrast settings can be useful for people with vision and neurocognitive conditions. If your content doesn’t display properly in high contrast, you may be excluding part of your audience.

These tests can give you a better idea of how real users interact with your content. However, it’s important to consider the full scope of your real-world users, not just people with specific vision- or hearing-related disabilities. Remember, the goal of digital accessibility is to accommodate as many people as possible.

Likewise, automated scanners can be used to analyze content to find WCAG conformance failures, but their capabilities are limited. Automated tools can’t identify many common accessibility barriers or provide useful feedback for fixing those issues.

An individual test might give you perspective on how certain users access your content — and they’re worthwhile for that reason — but they don’t ensure WCAG conformance. WCAG is the consensus standard for digital accessibility because it uses a principle-oriented approach: Content should be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. Realistically, a single accessibility test can’t ensure that your content is in line with those principles.

Accessibility audits can help you demonstrate WCAG conformance

An accessibility audit provides a full-scale analysis of how your website or mobile app stacks up to WCAG standards. By combining automated and manual tests with expert insights, the audit report establishes the steps that your team needs to take — along with key concepts that will limit future accessibility issues.

If your goal is to reach a certain level of WCAG conformance, independent analysis can be enormously helpful. WCAG is frequently cited in accessibility demand letters, and while the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) doesn’t include technical specifications, numerous court decisions and structured settlements have recognized WCAG as a reasonable standard for digital accessibility.

As we’ve noted frequently in other blogs, WCAG conformance has substantial benefits outside of legal compliance including improved user retention, lower long-term development costs, and better search engine positioning. An accessibility audit can help you enjoy those benefits, resulting in an excellent return on investment.

Digital accessibility audits provide a full-scale analysis of a website or app

The Bureau of Internet Accessibility provides WCAG 2.1 Level A/AA audits, which utilize our four-point hybrid testing methodology. We perform automated testing on our powerful a11y® analysis platform. Manual assessments are performed by experienced testers who have disabilities. Accessibility experts analyze the results and validate the outcomes, then work with clients to develop remediation tactics and sustainable long-term practices.

Ultimately, if your organization is establishing an accessibility initiative, it’s important to measure your success against independent standards; a WCAG audit provides the best path to creating better content for all users. To learn more about our audit process, contact our team to schedule a free 30-minute consultation. 

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