If the recent influx of accessibility lawsuits has taught us anything, it’s that businesses are legally vulnerable if they do not meet accessibility requirements. Time and time again, businesses shell out thousands in legal fees for not adhering to the guidelines outlined by WCAG and mandated by the ADA.
However, federal laws and mandates are not as clearly written as they could be. Many businesses are explicitly told that they should be accessible, but the guidance on how to achieve and maintain accessibility is lackluster.
So, what’s a company to do? Embarking on a journey of making your infrastructure accessible can be a daunting task. Luckily, your business can protect itself by investing in an accessibility audit.
What is an accessibility audit?
Accessibility audits are the best way for a business to protect itself and assess its current accessibility measures. An audit is essentially an evaluation of a website or platform. The goal of the accessibility audit is to determine how well said site or platform meets the requirements laid out by industry-standard guidelines for digital accessibility.
How is an accessibility audit conducted?
Accessibility audits measure a website's or platform's compliance against current accessibility standards, such as those outlined in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and Section 508 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act.
According to Deque, quality audits involve “… a combination of automated and manual testing done by accessibility experts using assistive technologies in various testing states.”
In other words, professional audits go beyond automated testing and provide a first-hand look at a site’s user experience.
What are the different types of accessibility audits?
According to Advanced Bytez, there are several kinds of accessibility audits:
- Evaluation audit – This is the most basic type of audit. An evaluation audit highlights critical issues in a platform that would contribute to its inaccessibility. This type of audit does not include fixes or recommendations for fixes.
- In-depth audit – As the name suggests, this type of audit is more extensive than the evaluation audit. In-depth audits highlight all areas of a platform that need improvement based on WCAG and Section 508 standards. In-depth audits conclude with an accessibility report. The report documents all observed accessibility violations through screenshots, videos, and written reproduction steps. Most importantly, the report includes recommended actions to correct the documented problems.
- Validation audit – This is an extension of the in-depth audit. Having made the changes recommended by the in-depth audit report, platform developers must then utilize a validation audit to confirm that those changes have been made.
- Design audit – The design audit evaluates visual design elements to ensure they comply with accessibility guidelines. According to a blog post by Adobe, common issues found in a design audit include missing alt text, inconsistent font sizes, and colors that don’t meet accessibility requirements.
- Usability audit – In a usability audit, people with disabilities test a platform’s usability and give first-hand feedback about how accessible it is. This is the most valuable type of audit, but it’s also the most expensive and time-consuming.
Who conducts an accessibility audit?
Typically, third-party accessibility experts conduct accessibility audits. Their job is to ensure that their clients can adapt their practices to accessibility standards as efficiently as possible. One such company is Deque. Deque offers solutions to help ensure the ADA compliance of their clients.
Hassell Inclusion, another company, offers live audits. During these audits, experts will conduct their evaluation while members of the client company watch over Zoom. Rather than just providing a dense report, this service gives a company perspective on what it’s like to use their product.
Utilizing a third-party accessibility company can be expensive. Fortunately, recent developments have allowed smaller businesses to perform in-house audits. In the spring of 2022, ABILITY unveiled an auditing software called A11y Toolbox.
A11y Toolbox provides businesses with tools to independently identify, report, and remediate accessibility issues on a platform.
Why would you need an accessibility audit?
There are several reasons why a business would perform an accessibility audit. If nothing else, maintaining accessibility is both the ethical thing to do and good for business, and audits are required to verify digital accessibility.
About 26% of the US population has a disability, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Many people in this demographic find themselves deterred from engaging in a business simply because the website or platform was incompatible with their needs. By not prioritizing accessibility, businesses limit their reach to a substantial number of potential clients and customers.
Another reason businesses would want to verify their accessibility is because not doing so leaves them vulnerable to legal consequences. In 2022, over 4,000 lawsuits were filed in the United States. Even those that win their suits have to pay legal fees. And for those that lose, the financial ramifications can be dire. It’s a risk that no business of any size can afford to take.
Accessibility audits are essential for a company or business to maintain and prove digital accessibility. Several types of audits can be used to evaluate and remedy accessibility issues on a website or platform, and they all come with benefits. Failing to audit leaves businesses vulnerable to legal ramifications and isolates a significant percentage of the population.