You’ve tested your website for barriers that might affect people with disabilities. After remediating a few issues, you’re confident that you’re providing your users with a better experience — but if you’re not testing your content regularly, that confidence might be misplaced.
Put simply, accessibility isn’t a one-time project. A single audit can give you valuable insights about your website’s current level of accessibility, but if you update your content regularly, you need a long-term strategy for testing and remediation. Here’s why.
Accessibility audits provide a snapshot of your website’s performance
Reputable accessibility audits test content for conformance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which are widely considered to be the international standards for accessibility.
WCAG contains dozens of success criteria, which are written as pass-or-fail statements. Websites and mobile apps that follow all WCAG Level AA success criteria are considered accessible for most users with disabilities (read more about the differences between WCAG conformance levels).
Ideally, your digital accessibility audit should include both manual and automated tests (we’ll explain the differences between those tests in a moment). Regardless of how you test, your results can only show your website’s accessibility at a particular point in time.
You’ll need to perform additional testing when content changes. Otherwise, you may introduce new accessibility barriers. For example:
If you update your website’s theme, your new look might not conform with WCAG’s requirements for color contrast. Your content may be unreadable for users with certain vision disabilities.
If you add a new web form without testing it, you may introduce keyboard accessibility issues, which can impact people who use screen readers (software that converts text to audio or braille) and other users who don’t use a mouse.
If you add a video without accurate captions and transcripts, that content may be unusable for people with hearing disabilities.
So, do you need to audit your website after every single update?
Not necessarily. If you’re following WCAG when creating your content, you can avoid new barriers. It’s still a good idea to perform a detailed web accessibility analysis several times per year (and potentially more often, depending on the size and complexity of your website).
But by taking an accessibility-first mindset, you can build a self-sufficient strategy for long-term digital compliance.
Related: How Often Should You Test Your Website for Accessibility?
Make sure you’re testing your content with appropriate methods
While an audit is only a snapshot, it’s a necessary first step. If you don’t test your content, you can’t create a plan for remediation — or a long-term strategy for building accessibility into your organization’s processes.
To make the most of an accessibility audit, you’ll need to understand its methodology. Audits fall into two general categories: Manual tests, which are performed by humans, and automated tests, which are performed by software.
Automated tests are useful for identifying issues like missing alternative text for images. However, some WCAG criteria require human judgment — for example, title tags and subheadings must accurately describe the content.
Because of this, automated audits aren’t enough for compliance. Manual testing can provide additional insights, provided that human testers have sufficient experience. With that said, manual testing is more expensive and less capable of identifying issues at scale.
At the Bureau of Internet Accessibility, we use a hybrid methodology that balances the capabilities of automation with guidance from human experts. We believe that this approach provides organizations with the tools they need for long-term results. Read more about our four-point hybrid testing methodology.
Accessibility is an investment that pays off
Whether you want to expand your audience, improve your search engine positioning, or improve your compliance with digital accessibility laws, an accessibility audit can help you meet your goals.
But you can’t stop after a single audit — even if you work with an experienced accessibility partner. For sustainable results, you need to make an organizational commitment to accessibility.
Remember, when you consistently follow the best practices of inclusive design, every user enjoys a better experience, regardless of their abilities. The Bureau of Internet Accessibility can help you take the first steps. To learn more, send us a message to connect with a subject matter expert.