It is estimated that 98 percent of websites don’t offer full accessibility to users. Most websites even fail to provide basic accessibility features, like high-contrast colors and readable fonts. Given that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is over 30 years old and only 13% of government entities have even developed transition plans to be accessible (one of the most basic requirements of the ADA), it should be no surprise that many Title III entities are still struggling to comply with accessibility standards.
How accessible is your website?
It’s okay if your website isn’t in the top two percent of performers – for now. Accessibility is a journey, not a destination. As long as you continuously improve, you will ultimately reach more people who appreciate your efforts.
An audit process can help your team set concrete goals for improvement while developing a roadmap to success.
What are accessibility audits and accessibility tests?
An accessibility audit is a series of tests performed by an independent organization or team of experts. Audits provide a broader scope of information to companies looking to improve their online experiences.
Accessibility tests, by contrast, are considered small-scale. For example, running a website through a quality assurance process with accessibility criteria baked in to ensure technology performs as expected.
An audit, however, considers the needs of diverse groups of people, beyond specific tools, technologies, and techniques, and captures the user experience from a diverse collection of perspectives.
For example, a test may focus on how a website performs on a specific browser. But these tests do not take into consideration that not all users will have the ability to use the preferred browser and may face accessibility challenges that prevent them from utilizing the service at all.
An accessibility audit brings these barriers to light.
Why are accessibility audits necessary for your organization?
Technology is rapidly evolving and the tools considered modern or exciting today might be dated in a few years. Not to mention the fact that only 10 years ago web accessibility was viewed as more of a concept by regulators, with flexible solutions to reduce barriers rather than a defined set of criteria that achieves accessibility for all.
A few key benefits that accessibility audits offer include:
- Legal compliance. The ADA protects persons with disabilities from discrimination in the public and private sectors. Similar laws in other countries offer the same protections, and they all include digital accessibility. While the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are not yet legally mandated as a standard for Title III entities, they are certainly seen as the best practice and most effective path to digital accessibility. WCAG 2.1 is regularly referenced in federal settlement agreements in response to enforcement activity.
- Growth. According to the CDC, one in four Americans has a disability. Part of your customer base likely needs to access your website with some form of digital assistance. Improving the usability and accessibility of your site provides a path to expanding your customer base.
- Improving culture. If your company has developed a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) program over the past few years, you may need assistance turning these ideas into actions. An accessibility audit can provide concrete steps to reach more people.
Even intangible benefits of accessibility audits can provide tangible improvements for your business. Improved DEI can lead to better hiring practices and lower turnover, increasing productivity and sales.
What should your audit check for?
The quality of the accessibility audit will determine how much it can benefit your organization. Many companies offer audits, but you'll want to ensure the results include actionable and clear solutions with resources to achieve essential action items. A few key elements that your auditors will check include:
- How your digital interface functions with assistive technologies like screen readers.
- Which automated tools are accessible, and which tools you have that provide accessibility.
- How your website and accessible features function in different browsers.
- Which accessibility plugins your organization uses and whether they are effective or necessary.
- How your website’s accessibility functions work across all devices, including smartphones and tablets.
A detailed audit looks at every aspect of the user experience. It’s not enough for companies to download an accessibility plugin. It’s not enough for a website to be accessible on Google Chrome or through a desktop interface. All browsers and devices should provide a usable experience.
Why are audit processes critical?
Frequently auditing your website for accessibility is helpful, but it’s also important to have an audit process within your organization. A process establishes exactly what is audited, who does what, and how frequently. Processes allow you to benchmark your progress from one period to the next while setting goals for growth.
Regular audits also create a sense of accountability within organizations. Too often, technology departments receive the results of an accessibility audit, and the recommendations are put on the back burner. If the organization knows there will be a follow-up audit, staff can work to turn the recommendations into realities.