There are countless websites on the Internet that cannot be read or used by members of the world’s largest minority: people with disabilities. According to the National Business & Disability Council at The Viscardi Center in Albertson, New York, at least 90 percent of government and e-commerce websites in the U.S. have barriers that prevent people with disabilities from using them.1 This is despite the fact that barrier-free websites are fully achievable with the right expertise.
This is problematic for two reasons. One, the companies behind inaccessible websites are violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by failing to make sure people with disabilities can use their products and services. Two, these companies are pushing a significant group of potential customers towards competitors who may offer disability-friendlier service.
According to Pew Research, more than three-quarters of Americans with disabilities are using the Internet.2 When a person with a disability encounters a website that isn’t accessible, these barriers can have a negative impact on their online experience, depending on the nature of both their disability and the website barriers. For example, if the person is blind, their screen-reading software won’t be able to interpret any images that haven’t had text alternatives added to them. If the person has a physical disability and is using something other than a mouse to control their computer, they won’t be able to switch between fields if they aren’t tabbed properly.
You couldn’t blame these consumers for leaving the website and finding a less frustrating way to get the information or buy the product they were looking for.
An ADA-compliant website, on the other hand, has these and other barriers removed. It meets specific technical requirements that ensure it will be accessible to a wide range of people with various kinds of disabilities.
It’s fair to say that the average business owner isn’t exceedingly familiar with these technical requirements. However, there are tests out there that claim to check whether or not your website is ADA-compliant. They’re automated – they test for the presence or absence of specific features and display the results or automatically generate a report for you.
But there are a lot to pick from. In fact, there are probably hundreds of different tests that will check whether or not a website complies with accessibility requirements. You certainly can’t run them all, so how do you choose the right one – and how do you know you can rely on it? Here are seven questions to help you make the right choice.
1. Is it recommended by an independent firm?
A company that makes money from the sales of a particular website testing tool is going to promote it over other options. Look for independent experts or firms that have listed the evaluation tools they consider to be useful, or have written positive reviews, without something to gain from endorsing particular products.
2. Was it developed by a reliable organization?
Who’s behind the testing software? Has it been developed by a reputable group or consortium in the industry? Or is it from a company nobody’s ever heard of that seems only interested in your credit card number?
3. Is it on W3C’s Web Accessibility Evaluation Tools List?
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) maintains a list of Web Accessibility Evaluations Tools.3 It includes almost 100 different kinds of website audit tools and is often a good place to start. The tools are searchable by type of tool, accessibility guidelines it tests against, etc.
4. What standards or guidelines does it use?
There are all kinds of accessibility guidelines out there, from Section 508 requirements to the Irish National IT Accessibility Guidelines! If you specifically want to test whether your website is ADA compliant, the audit tools you use should be referring to the technical requirements of WCAG 2.0, which are the most universally accepted when it comes to online accessibility.
5. Does it test for various levels of WCAG 2.0 conformance?
WCAG 2.0 describes three levels of accessibility, from minimum to highest: A, AA and AAA. Level AA is usually the target level, since it’s more serviceable than level A, and not as difficult to achieve as level AAA. The website test you choose should make distinctions between these three levels.
6. Does it check for multiple types of barriers?
Some audit tools look for many different kinds of accessibility problems. Others only check for one type of barrier, such as use of color. If you want to know whether your website is ADA compliant, testing just one or two features won’t be much help.
7. What kind of report does it produce?
All ADA-compliant website tests will generate a report when you run them, but some reports will be more useful to you than others. How detailed is the report? Do you have the option to choose different kinds of reports, depending on your needs? Does it provide step-by-step, code-level examples of how the accessibility problems can be solved? And can you understand the report, or is it filled with too much jargon?
Remember that an automated test only checks for some things, and it has its limitations. It is widely accepted within the industry that automated testing only captures 25 – 30% of issues. Even one that looks for multiple kinds of barriers at once is not exhaustive. It may also give false positives and false negatives. Plus, there are many additional areas of a website to check that require human judgment – an automated test won’t be applicable for these areas.
The right ADA-compliant website tests can certainly be useful. They can give you a sense of how accessible your website is for customers with disabilities, and what kinds of barriers might be preventing them from being able to browse or fill out forms. But in order to be confident your website is in compliance with the ADA, it’s best to have a thorough accessibility evaluation done by experts. They will perform a variety of checks, not just automated testing. They can also provide remediation services and routine audits. Why wonder whether you’re violating the law, when you can take concrete steps to make sure that you’re not?
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 and remediation services with assistive technology to deliver a transformative experience for people with disabilities. Learn more about eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY’s innovative solution.