Complete Guide to Digital Accessibility Audits

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Complete Guide to Digital Accessibility Audits

Posted June 20, 2023


Posted June 20, 2023

A website being scanned with a magnifying glass, given a score of 87
A website being scanned with a magnifying glass, given a score of 87

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Learn the steps to conduct a thorough digital accessibility audit and ensure your website is inclusive for all users. Start improving access today.

Done right, a digital accessibility audit can help you identify accessibility barriers and understand how well your digital content conforms with legal frameworks like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), accessibility standards like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), and other international accessibility laws. More importantly, an audit provides a path towards more inclusive digital experiences. This results in an increase in your bottom line, better brand reputation, higher SEO rankings, and more.

In this post, we’ll discuss the importance of digital accessibility and provide tips on how to run a successful accessibility audit.

Understanding Digital Accessibility

Digital accessibility is designed to improve accessibility and usability for individuals with disabilities and is comprised of:

  • Accessibility testing: Accessibility testing is a type of usability testing that focuses on ensuring digital environments are operable for everyone and function well with assistive technologies like screen readers. For context, screen readers convert text displayed on a computer into a usable format for people with visual impairments. 
  • Website accessibility: Similar to digital accessibility, web accessibility means that websites, mobile apps, and other digital elements are designed and developed so individuals with disabilities can use them. Website accessibility caters to individuals with all disabilities, including auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech, and visual.
  • Accessibility compliance: Compliance refers to adhering to legal regulations and guidelines that ensure digital environments are accessible to people with disabilities.

Why is Digital Accessibility Important?

Digital accessibility is important for a number of reasons — from compliance with different accessibility laws to supporting internal programs around Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI).

Below are two reasons to prioritize inclusive experiences for everyone who engages with your digital content:

Digital Accessibility Is the Law

In recent years, the number of accessibility-related lawsuits has skyrocketed — and many accessibility laws point to standards like WCAG 2.2 as a means to demonstrate compliance. 

Some examples of accessibility legislation include:

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life. The ADA gives millions of individuals with disabilities equal access to all public and private places, including employment, government, telecommunications, and businesses. Although the ADA does not specifically mention web accessibility, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has regularly stated that websites qualify as “places of public accommodation”. 
  • Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires federal agencies in the United States (as well as state, county, or municipal authorities that receive federal funding and any contractor that wants to work with the U.S. government) to make their information and communications technology (ICT) accessible to people with disabilities.
  • The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) requires all public organizations and any private organizations in Canada with more than 49 employees to ensure their digital offerings are accessible to all.
  • The European Accessibility Act (EAA) requires all EU Member States to provide equal access to everyday digital products, including smartphones and mobile applications. Additionally, the EAA requires EU countries to follow the accessibility standards included in WCAG 2.1 Level AA to ensure individuals with disabilities can access digital content.

Enhancing accessibility across your website and mobile apps helps ensure you’re complying with accessibility legislation. This decreases the chances of legal ramifications that can be costly and damage your reputation.

Digital Accessibility is Good for Business

One of the biggest misconceptions about digital accessibility is that it’s some sort of edge case — a rare occurrence found on just a few webpages. The reality is, the majority of the web (83% according to Web Accessibility in Mind) is inaccessible to individuals with disabilities. This leaves roughly 61 million adults in the U.S. alone unable to use the internet. 

Prioritizing accessibility opens the door to a huge market — one with a lot of spending power. According to the Global Economics of Disability 2020 report, people with disabilities control $1.9 trillion in disposable income globally. That number grows to $10 trillion when their friends and family are included. Tapping into this market can help you increase revenue, further business growth, and expand your customer base.

What is a Digital Accessibility Audit?

A digital accessibility audit is a detailed, expert-driven analysis of how well people with disabilities can access your digital content — from websites and mobile apps to PDFs. During the audit, your digital content is reviewed against WCAG 2.2 and ADA standards to see whether or not you’re compliant with requirements. The evaluation also determines whether there are existing accessibility issues on your site and provides recommendations on how to fix them.

Types of Accessibility Audits

There are a few different types of accessibility audits: full audits, risk audits, manual testing, and automated testing.

A full accessibility audit (also known as a detailed audit) identifies accessibility issues based on WCAG 2.2, ADA, Section 508, or international accessibility law standards and provides remediation recommendations. For example, AudioEye looks at your most-used pages, including content behind login screens or paywalls, and scans them for accessibility via automated and expert testing. When done, AudioEye shares a report that breaks down the results of each performed test and recommends fixes for your developers. If you’ve never tested your site for accessibility, you’ll want to conduct a full accessibility audit.

A risk audit is less comprehensive than a full audit. It only looks for the most severe accessibility issues that users with disabilities would encounter. These reports do not provide guidance on how to resolve issues. These audits are frequently used to get a fast, high-level overview of accessibility. 

Automated testing relies on software to conduct accessibility testing. Solutions like AudioEye automatically detect and fix common accessibility issues, helping you get closer to accessibility and compliance. However, automated accessibility testing can’t identify and fix all accessibility issues. That’s where expert testing and ADA compliance audit services by accessibility experts comes in.

While most accessibility audits rely on automated testing, top-performing platforms use a combination of both automated and manual testing. Automated testing is fast, cost-effective, and ideal for quick fixes; manual testing bridges the gap by fixing more complex issues. Together, automated and manual testing enhance accessibility and create a more usable platform for users.

How to Conduct an Accessibility Audit

Organizations that are new to accessibility might find the process of auditing all their digital content daunting. In reality, it is doable — especially with the right guidance and technology.

Depending on the size of an organization and the scope of its digital assets, there are several options for conducting an audit. For some, a basic risk audit — which only tests for the most significant barriers to accessibility with the goal of reducing the threat of litigation — might be sufficient. For others, it might be appropriate to run a full audit to identify their current level of accessibility and the targeted standard.

With that in mind, let’s review the basic steps of conducting an accessibility audit.

1. Determine the Required Standard

Typically, the first step in an audit will be to determine the required standard. For many organizations in the United States and beyond, that will be Level AA of WCAG 2.2. For others, an older version of WCAG standards like WCAG 2.0 or 2.1 might be sufficient

If your organization receives federal funding or works with federal agencies, you may also need to demonstrate conformance with Section 508 standards by completing a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) as part of your audit reporting.

You’ll want to ensure the platform you’re checking for accessibility testing on can be tailored to specific requirements. For example, AudioEye enables users to specify which accessibility guidelines they want to test against.

2. Determine Your Audit’s Scope

Many organizations focus solely on the HTML pages of their website, but it’s important not to overlook digital content like emails, PDFs, videos, desktop, or mobile. 

Although the goal is always to aim for the highest degree of accessibility possible, it’s best to start by analyzing the most common user journeys through your content — like booking an appointment or adding a product to a shopping cart. Not only is this more cost-effective than a blanket approach, but it’s also more in line with the goal of practical accessibility rather than box checking.

At AudioEye, our team of expert testers start by testing your most-visited pages and applying fixes before moving on to custom fixes for PDFs, videos, and mobile applications. This helps ensure that your top pages are accessible while you address accessibility issues on less-visited pages.

3. Partner With an Accessibility Expert

Accessibility standards like WCAG are thorough and detailed. They are also composed of both requirements and recommendations. Without an expert who can explain the difference between the two, the time and cost of digital accessibility efforts can become exorbitantly high.

If your organization doesn’t have significant in-house resources when it comes to digital accessibility or WCAG, you should consider engaging an external partner with the appropriate accreditations, such as an International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) certification.

Take AudioEye for example. We provide ongoing support throughout your accessibility journey. From custom legal support to accessibility training, we ensure you have the guidance and resources necessary to maximize accessibility.

4. Test Your Digital Content

With the right software, automated testing can identify about 70% of common accessibility issues. For a full audit, however, you will also need expert-led manual testing of your content.

Consider conducting testing in a supervised setting, using your chosen standard as a guide and reporting your findings in detail. You will also need to determine the criticality of each accessibility barrier by measuring its impact on the user experience. This is when it becomes particularly important to have human testers using the most common types of assistive technology.

AudioEye’s website accessibility checker provides all of this — from a supervised setting to conduct testing to in-depth reports about identified issues.  Our team of experts will also help you create a remediation plan designed around your specific goals.

5. Report Accessibility Issues

The most basic output of an accessibility audit might be a report listing the identified issues and the associated costs of fixing them. But given the time and resources required to conduct a thorough audit, it makes sense not to skimp on reporting. An audit report can help demonstrate ongoing commitment to meeting accessibility standards, which could be vital in defending an accessibility lawsuit.

Your audit report should provide detailed supporting documentation on the scope, definitions, methodologies, tools, and processes employed, and an explanation of how it will be used to improve accessibility.

For example, AudioEye’s reports include both high-level information for executives and detailed information on identified problems and their fixes for web developers and designers. It not only shows where your content failed to meet the chosen standard, but also what practical impact this has on the user experience. This information helps you take more proactive steps to fix accessibility issues.

Don’t Wait to Start Your Accessibility Journey

AudioEye’s hybrid platform combines automated testing and remediation with the industry’s leading accessibility experts and testers, enabling us to offer automated and expert testing, accessibility reporting, ongoing maintenance and monitoring, web personalization tools, training, and resources.

Learn how we can help you build a clear, actionable plan for accessibility — whether you want to fix the issues yourself or have us do it for you.

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