Understanding WCAG Compliance Checkers and Their Shortfalls

Designer using a W.C.A.G. compliance checker

If your company has tasked you with making its website conform to the technical requirements of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), one of the first tools you’ll likely turn to is an automated WCAG compliance checker, evaluator or validator.

Many free WCAG compliance checkers are available online. They scan webpages for accessibility issues based on WCAG. While it’s easy and convenient to plug in your URL and get a report of the issues, you should know that these checkers catch only a fraction of a website’s accessibility issues – often less than a third.

You might be thinking, “Well, you get what you pay for.” But using a paid version doesn’t guarantee a more thorough assessment. The reality is that automated testing has its limits, and you’ll need more tools in your arsenal to get the job done right.

Why Check for WCAG Compliance?

WCAG 2.0 is the most commonly accepted guidelines for web accessibility in the world. Several regulations point to these technical requirements as the standard that companies and organizations must achieve, including EN 301549 in Europe, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) in North America.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), a network of accessibility experts around the globe whose goal is to make the internet inclusive for everyone, oversees WCAG. WCAG 2.0, released in 2008, has 12 guidelines, divided into four categories (Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Robust). The guidelines have three levels of accessibility: A (basic), AA (addresses most major issues) and AAA (highest).

Level AA is the one required by Section 508 and other regulations. While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) doesn’t specifically mention WCAG, the Department of Justice, which enforces the law, has indicated numerous times that this is the expectation. Companies and organizations that fail to meet the requirements of WCAG 2.0 are at risk of alienating customers with disabilities (who represent a sizable market – about one in five Americans), as well as inviting complaints from the public, being punished with fines and facing lawsuits.

What Do WCAG Compliance Checkers Look For?

The WCAG 2.0 levels each have a list of testable success criteria. You can view the complete list on the W3C website and filter the view to include just Level A, AA or AAA. You can also download our Must-Have WCAG 2.0 Checklist that lists the levels separately.

Compliance checkers identify elements of a webpage or an entire website that violate WCAG 2.0 requirements – such as images missing text descriptions (alt text) or insufficient colour contrast between text and backgrounds – and group them under their related success criteria. Sometimes, findings are divided into known, likely and potential problems.

Some checkers examine just one feature, such as colour. Checkers may be completely free, or they evaluate a small number of webpages at no charge and require payment for the rest. They all produce lists of issues that a web developer or UX designer must address or look into.

Compliance checkers can give you a general sense of how accessible a website is. You can repair many accessibility issues using the reports generated by accessibility testing tools. However, even if you dutifully follow up on every item, you won’t have the full picture. No automated program can replace human testers.

A More Effective Approach to Accessibility Testing

If you just exclaimed “Human testers! Is that really necessary?” you’re not alone. But the truth is that many website and mobile usability issues can only be uncovered through manual and/or functional testing.

These tests involve having experienced testers, who have disabilities and/or use assistive technologies (such as screen readers, or alternatives to a traditional keyboard and mouse), navigate a website and test various functions, such as filling out forms and using other interactive components (sliders, slide shows, drag-and-drop, etc.). Many website features that users without disabilities tend to take for granted can pose immense challenges to users with physical, vision, hearing or cognitive disabilities.

The bottom line is that you can’t identify all of a site’s accessibility issues yourself, even with multiple automated compliance checkers at your disposal. It’s far more effective and efficient to consult a professional web accessibility specialist who can conduct a thorough accessibility audit or analysis, including manual and functional tests, and help you achieve compliance with WCAG 2.0.

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.

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