An accessibility audit is a thorough, professional evaluation of how well your digital properties meet the needs of people with disabilities. This isn’t something anyone can know just by glancing at your website, or spending a few minutes using your app. When an audit is carried out properly, every component is examined and tested by experts, so that when it’s complete, you can be confident that the report has identified any and all barriers.
A website, app or document is considered accessible if it can be perceived, understood, navigated and interacted with by everyone, whether or not they happen to have disabilities. It doesn’t discriminate, with sections of information that can only be understood by someone who can hear, or certain app features that can only be used by someone who can click a mouse. Rather, it is barrier free for everyone. That includes people who are using assistive technologies (AT) such as a screen reader.
Why Sign Up for an Accessibility Audit?
The real question is: why make a commitment to removing barriers from your website?
The easy answer is that there are laws that compel you to do so. (There are also numerous business benefits, a few of which are outlined by the Web Accessibility Initiative.)1
One example of legislation is the Americans with Disabilities Act, which bans discrimination against any person with a disability, and means that communications technology, apps and websites must be fully accessible if they are available to the public. Other laws are specific to industries: The Rehabilitation Act requires all federal government-funded programs and activities, including the information technologies they use, to be accessible. The Air Carrier Access Act prohibits discrimination against air travellers with disabilities, and requires the websites of airlines to meet accessibility guidelines.
Chances are, if you’re reading this, one or more of these laws applies to your organization.
The best way to guarantee that you are not discriminating against clients and customers online is to ensure that your web presence is welcoming and fully accessible. For some companies, that may mean a complete rebuild of all their digital properties. Others who prefer a more efficient or timely solution may choose remediation of their existing website, with ongoing monitoring at regular intervals.
An accessibility audit is the first step to remediation. Before you can move forward, you need to know which parts of your website currently contain barriers, what those barriers are, and what needs to be done to remove them. An accessibility audit by experts will answer these questions. It will identify the problems and indicate where they exist, and evaluate your level of compliance with legal requirements and universally accepted technical requirements such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The audit will also help establish what needs to be done to fix the accessibility problems, and thus is a road map to your goal of a fully usable website or app.
The Multiple Testing Methods of an Accessibility Audit
Don’t worry, this won’t hurt a bit! Several types of accessibility testing are involved in an accessibility audit, and they’re all important in order to get a complete picture.
First, automated testing can check for some specific features, reporting an automatic “pass” or “fail” as to whether a certain condition is met on a web page, such as a set standard for color contrast, or the presence of alternative text (“alt-text”) to describe an image. Automated testing doesn’t find everything, but often it’s a helpful tool, especially when it comes to very repetitive tasks.
Manual testing is also very important, because automated tests don’t check for every possible barrier, and they also tend to churn out false positives where no barriers exist – those must be confirmed by a human consultant. Judgment is also required to further evaluate certain features. For instance, an automated checker can tell you that alt-text has been included for an image, but it can’t tell you whether the text accurately conveys what’s in the image or explains what the image is for. It can’t tell you whether the tabbing order is in a sequence that makes sense. It takes a person to do that.
Functional testing is also critical, because a website that appears accessible might be impossible to use for some people with disabilities, and sometimes the only way to discover this is by actually trying to use it. Can forms be submitted or products selected by individuals who type slowly, or who use a keyboard or voice commands in place of a computer mouse? Functional testing, which typically involves users with disabilities and/or users of assistive technologies, will allow them to be evaluated properly.
The Downside of DIY
It may be tempting to do your own accessibility audit – especially when you hear about tools like automated checkers, and find out that the experts use those, too. The difference, of course, is that the experts know what to do with the findings. They know how to fix the errors, when to ignore certain reports as false positives, and so on.
And they certainly don’t rely on automated testing alone. The manual and functional testing we’ve described above are indispensable components of a complete, professional accessibility audit that you can rely on. If your own DIY audit skips these steps, the testing can be a complete waste of your time and resources.
When you hire qualified experts to conduct an accessibility audit of your digital properties, you can be assured that the audit will be thorough, and that all barriers will be identified. With the report in hand, you can then move on to the next stage in the process of making your technologies accessible to everyone – whether or not they have disabilities.
An Innovative Solution
eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY has developed a comprehensive accessibility solution to help organizations follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and achieve and maintain compliance with standards and regulations. This includes integrating web compliance evaluation services with assistive technology to deliver a transformative experience for people with disabilities. Learn more about eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY’s innovative solution.