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7 min read Tips for Conducting an Accessibility Audit on Your Website

Tips for Conducting an Accessibility Audit on Your Website

Key Takeaways

  • When conducting an accessibility audit, you should use a blend of manual and automated techniques.
  • Audits must be conducted at least once every 6-12 months, especially if you’re continually adding new content to your site.
  • Don’t forget to invite people with disabilities to test your website. Their experience is the most accurate data to inform your changes.

Why accessibility matters

Web­site acces­si­bil­i­ty is essen­tial for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties to access and use the inter­net with ease. It means peo­ple with cer­tain motor, visu­al, hear­ing, or cog­ni­tive impair­ments can have equal access to online ser­vices and information.

Despite its obvi­ous eth­i­cal neces­si­ty, web acces­si­bil­i­ty is a legal issue too. To learn more about cre­at­ing an acces­si­ble website,check out our arti­cle here.

This arti­cle will dis­cuss web­site acces­si­bil­i­ty audits, which involve a series of tests you can con­duct to under­stand what you need to do to improve the acces­si­bil­i­ty of your web­site in accor­dance with cer­tain guidelines.

Keep read­ing to learn how these audits are con­duct­ed and what you can do to get the most from them.

Striving for WCAG compliance

The Web Con­tent Acces­si­bil­i­ty Guide­lines (WCAG) were first cre­at­ed by the World Wide Web Con­sor­tium (W3C) in the 1990s and have since been eval­u­at­ed, refined, updat­ed, extend­ed, and rede­vel­oped mul­ti­ple times. The cur­rent ver­sion of the WCAG is num­ber 2.2, though ver­sion 3.0 is under development.

It’s impor­tant to note that the WCAG is not a legal require­ment in itself, but it is the most renowned stan­dard to strive for to com­ply with the var­i­ous reg­u­la­tions in dif­fer­ent coun­tries (the UK’s being the 2010 Equal­i­ty Act).

Web­site own­ers need only to famil­iarise them­selves with the basic ele­ments of the WCAG, as it is a tech­ni­cal and rather com­plex stan­dard intend­ed to be used by web developers.

In sim­ple terms, the guide­lines make up three lev­els of con­for­mance: Lev­el A, Lev­el AA, and Lev­el AAA. Suc­cess at Lev­el A can be obtained with the most basic acces­si­bil­i­ty fea­tures, with the fol­low­ing two increas­ing in their demands.

It’s wide­ly accept­ed that Lev­el A and AA should be a pri­or­i­ty for web­site own­ers, as AAA isn’t entire­ly nec­es­sary or achiev­able in every case.

What is an accessibility audit?

An acces­si­bil­i­ty audit is a series of tests that deter­mine how acces­si­ble your web­site (or oth­er dig­i­tal prod­uct) is. ‘Acces­si­ble’ in this case refers to the usabil­i­ty of a dig­i­tal prod­uct by every­one, includ­ing peo­ple with dif­fer­ent disabilities.

Auditing ‘a representative sample’

For most sites, it’s not typ­i­cal to audit every sin­gle page as it would take far too long.

The more effi­cient way is to audit ‘a rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ple.’ This means audit­ing every sin­gle dif­fer­ent web­page tem­plate (e.g., your prod­uct page tem­plate). That way, any prob­lems regard­ing that sin­gle tem­plate can be high­light­ed by the audit with­out going through every sin­gle prod­uct page (which could total thou­sands of pages!).

Your rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ple should include the following:

  • Your web­site’s homepage
  • Images, video, and audio content
  • Con­tent pages that are pre­dom­i­nant­ly text
  • Pages with inter­ac­tive ele­ments, such as forms and login functionalities
  • PDFs and oth­er types of documents
  • Pages with dynam­ic con­tent, such as pop-ups
  • Web­pages with nav­i­ga­tion­al and search ele­ments, includ­ing your sitemap
  • Pages con­tain­ing infor­ma­tion about how to con­tact you, how to use your site, legal infor­ma­tion, and accessibility

Who does the audit?

Can I do the audit myself?

If you have a good under­stand­ing of acces­si­bil­i­ty guide­lines and are famil­iar with the tools and tech­niques used to test for acces­si­bil­i­ty issues, you may be able to con­duct an acces­si­bil­i­ty audit yourself.

How­ev­er, acces­si­bil­i­ty is a com­plex and nuanced issue, and it’s easy to miss impor­tant details if you’re not expe­ri­enced in con­duct­ing acces­si­bil­i­ty audits.

If you’re keen on doing your audit by your­self, you’ll need to find a good tool.

There are numer­ous tools avail­able that can help you iden­ti­fy com­mon acces­si­bil­i­ty issues on your web­site, such as:

  • WAVE Web Acces­si­bil­i­ty Eval­u­a­tion Tool and Con­trast Check­er accessScan
  • Com­pli­anceSh­er­iff
  • Tenon
  • ACTF aDe­sign­er forApp
  • a11y Col­or Con­trast Acces­si­bil­i­ty Validator
  • HTML_CodeSniffer

… and many more!

It’s impor­tant to note that some of these tools can only iden­ti­fy cer­tain types of issues, so you won’t catch every prob­lem on your web­site unless you use a range of exten­sive tools.

If you do decide to con­duct an acces­si­bil­i­ty audit by your­self, a reli­able test­ing tool is essen­tial. When look­ing around at dif­fer­ent tools, look for one that:

  • Can cope with audit­ing large web­sites with thou­sands of pages and sev­er­al sub­do­mains (if applicable)
  • Can organ­ise its find­ings in a way that cor­re­sponds with the WCAG’s three com­pli­ance levels.
  • Can per­form audits on every type of web con­tent, includ­ing HTML, PDFs, and oth­er files.
  • Can explain each issue that it identifies.
  • Offers rec­om­men­da­tions for fix­ing the prob­lems it finds.

When con­duct­ing the audit your­self, make sure your approach is method­i­cal and thor­ough (using the up-to-date WCAG will give you a good guide to work from).

What if I get someone to do it for me?

If you’re unsure about your abil­i­ty to con­duct an acces­si­bil­i­ty audit by your­self or you want to ensure that your web­site is ful­ly com­pli­ant with guide­lines, it’s always a good idea to con­tract a pro­fes­sion­al to do it for you.

These con­trac­tors have spe­cialised knowl­edge and expe­ri­ence in con­duct­ing acces­si­bil­i­ty audits and are able to pro­vide detailed feed­back for resolv­ing your site’s acces­si­bil­i­ty problems.

If you decide to hire some­one to do the audit, you’ll need to pro­vide them with the right infor­ma­tion to ensure their work can be com­plet­ed effi­cient­ly. Make sure you tell them the following:

  • Your pre­ferred timescale for the audit (allow­ing for bug fix­es and user test­ing phases).
  • The WCAG lev­el of com­pli­ance you’d like to aim for (A, AA, or AAA).
  • Whether you’ll need sup­port imple­ment­ing the prob­lems identified.
  • The name of your web­site and a descrip­tion of its function.
  • The demo­graph­ic of your web­site users and customers.
  • The most com­mon user jour­neys, pat­terns, and tasks your web­site vis­i­tors take.
  • The assis­tive tech­nol­o­gy and brows­er com­bi­na­tions you want your web­site com­pat­i­bil­i­ty-test­ed for.
  • How old your web­site is (is it still in devel­op­men­tal stages?).
  • Which parts of your web­site were built by a third party.

Addi­tion­al­ly, you’ll want to make sure the audi­tors you hire will not be rely­ing on auto­mat­ed tools exclu­sive­ly. As the next sec­tion explains, it’s cru­cial that part of your audit is manual.

Whether you decide to do your audit your­self or get out­side help, it’s essen­tial that you leave no stone unturned.

Two different types of accessibility audit

Auto­mat­ed: an auto­mat­ed audit (often offered by online tools) is less cost­ly and much quick­er than the man­u­al route. How­ev­er, these typ­i­cal­ly only catch 30–40% of acces­si­bil­i­ty issues.

Man­u­al: a man­u­al audit is the most thor­ough type but is very labour-inten­sive. With this type, you can test your web­site’s com­pat­i­bil­i­ty with assis­tive devices, but they do require spe­cial­ist help and can there­fore cost more.

Since both types of audits have their mer­its, we rec­om­mend using a hybrid approach that com­bines the two. By being flex­i­ble, you can adapt your approach depend­ing on your busi­ness’s needs, funds, and abil­i­ties. For exam­ple, you could invest in one large man­u­al audit ini­tial­ly and then use auto­mat­ed tools for reg­u­lar maintenance.

When should I conduct an accessibility audit?

In gen­er­al, web­site own­ers should con­duct audits at least once a year, prefer­ably every six months.

If your web­site is under­go­ing major changes or updates, it would be a good idea to con­duct an acces­si­bil­i­ty audit both before and after the changes are made to ensure the web­site remains acces­si­ble through­out the process.

Sim­i­lar­ly, if your web­site has a high lev­el of user inter­ac­tion or is par­tic­u­lar­ly com­plex, it may be nec­es­sary to con­duct acces­si­bil­i­ty audits a few times a year to ensure that all ele­ments of the web­site are acces­si­ble to everyone.

Remem­ber that acces­si­bil­i­ty is an ongo­ing process, and web­site own­ers should mon­i­tor their web­sites for acces­si­bil­i­ty issues reg­u­lar­ly and address them as they arise. Con­duct­ing acces­si­bil­i­ty audits is some­thing that typ­i­cal­ly ris­es in cost when done less fre­quent­ly, so web­site own­ers should­n’t for­get its importance.

Some web­sites might not have to con­duct audits very often, espe­cial­ly if their design is sta­ble and unchang­ing. If they’ve been audit­ed in the past and no major changes were made to the

design or con­tent since then, it won’t be nec­es­sary to audit the site until WCAGs change or the web­site is redesigned in some way.

How to get the most from your audit

Once your audit is com­plete, you’ll first need to resolve any issues that were found. These steps could be numer­ous and dif­fi­cult or quite sim­ple, depend­ing on what the audit dis­cov­ers. Ide­al­ly, your audi­tor or web devel­op­er can help you with imple­ment­ing changes. If not, you may be able to address the issues your­self if you have the nec­es­sary tech­ni­cal exper­tise and resources.

Make sure you pri­ori­tise the acces­si­bil­i­ty issues that were iden­ti­fied based on their sever­i­ty and impact on users. This will help focus your efforts on the most crit­i­cal issues first and get a well-func­tion­ing web­site out to cus­tomers as soon as possible.

Don’t for­get to reau­dit your site once more after mak­ing your changes to ensure every­thing has been rec­ti­fied prop­er­ly (this may involve con­duct­ing anoth­er acces­si­bil­i­ty audit or using auto­mat­ed test­ing tools).

In addi­tion to address­ing the acces­si­bil­i­ty issues iden­ti­fied dur­ing the audit, web­site own­ers should also take steps to ensure that their web­site remains acces­si­ble over time. This may involve train­ing staff mem­bers on acces­si­bil­i­ty best prac­tices, imple­ment­ing acces­si­bil­i­ty poli­cies and pro­ce­dures, and con­duct­ing reg­u­lar acces­si­bil­i­ty test­ing to catch any issues that arise.

It’s a good idea, ‘post-audit’, to pub­lish an acces­si­bil­i­ty state­ment on your web­site. This should demon­strate a com­mit­ment to acces­si­bil­i­ty for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, iden­ti­fy the acces­si­bil­i­ty stan­dard you’ve applied (e.g., WCAG 2.2), pro­vide con­tact infor­ma­tion in case vis­i­tors have prob­lems, and dis­claim any known lim­i­ta­tions to mit­i­gate frus­tra­tion in users.

Top tips for conducting your accessibility audit

Now that you know the fun­da­men­tals of con­duct­ing a web­site acces­si­bil­i­ty audit, it’s time to run through some top tips and best prac­tices to ensure your audit reaps the best results. Bear in mind the fol­low­ing ideas when plan­ning and con­duct­ing your audit:

1. Make sure you test your web­site on sev­er­al dif­fer­ent devices and browsers so that you catch all poten­tial issues.

2. Con­duct test­ing with users with dis­abil­i­ties to get accu­rate and real-time feedback.

3. Cre­ate a check­list of every­thing you need to audit so you don’t for­get. This can be a lengthy and mul­ti-faceted process, so a check­list can­not be underestimated!

4. Test with dif­fer­ent assis­tive tech­nolo­gies such as:

  • JAWS and NVDA (desk­top screen readers)
  • VoiceOver and Talk­Back (mobile screen readers)
  • Super­No­va (screen mag­ni­fi­er) and native brows­er magnification
  • Drag­on Nat­u­ral­ly Speak­ing (text-to-speech)

5. Con­sult pur­ple­plan­et’s guide to web­site acces­si­bil­i­ty to cre­ate a high­ly inclu­sive dig­i­tal expe­ri­ence for your users

Final thoughts

You’ve prob­a­bly noticed from vis­it­ing our web­site that we offer a wide range of acces­si­bil­i­ty fea­tures via the icon in the bot­tom right. This is some­thing we take pride in and that we can offer you too!

If you’d like help improv­ing the acces­si­bil­i­ty of your web­site, our team of experts will be hap­py to help you! Get in touch via the link below.

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