A Quick Guide to Digital Accessibility Audits
What is a digital accessibility audit, why does your organization need one, and how can an audit help you deliver a more inclusive experience to everyone?
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.
Done right, an 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) and accessibility standards like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) — all while providing a path toward more inclusive digital experiences.
In this post, we discuss the importance of digital accessibility and share tips for running a successful audit.
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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).
Here 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 as a means to demonstrate compliance.
Some examples of accessibility legislation include:
- The Americans with Disabilities Act, which 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, from employment to 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, which 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), which requires all public organizations and any private organization with more than 49 employees to meet the Level AA standards of WCAG.
Digital Accessibility Is Good for Business
One of the biggest misconceptions about digital accessibility is that it’s some sort of edge case. In fact, people with disabilities are the largest minority in the United States.
One in four American adults lives with a disability, and prioritizing accessibility can help your business reach more potential customers.
According to the Global Economics of Disability 2020 report, people with disabilities control $1.9 trillion in disposable income, globally. That number reaches over $10 trillion when their friends and family are included.
What Does an Accessibility Audit Involve?
Although there are no mandatory standards for accessibility audits, there are clear best practices that every organization can adapt to its specific needs.
Accessibility audits can include both manual and automated testing of digital assets, conducted by people with the appropriate expertise (including lived experience) and using a broad range of tools. Auditors will typically use automated site scans, code reviews, browser extensions, and assistive technology (AT) to identify accessibility issues.
For most organizations, the path to digital accessibility starts with an audit — measuring the current level of accessibility and highlighting areas for improvement. Beyond that, the best practice is to evaluate new content for accessibility and conduct annual reviews of all software, websites, documents, and apps.
A Step-by-Step Guide to Accessibility Audits
For organizations that are new to accessibility, auditing all of their digital content can seem like a daunting task. In reality, it is attainable — 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 potential barriers to accessibility, with the goal of reducing the threat of litigation — might be sufficient. For others, it might be appropriate to run a fill audit to highlight the variance between its current level of accessibility and the targeted standard.
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.
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, or VPAT, as part of your audit reporting.
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.
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.
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.
You should conduct 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.
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 to not 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, as well as an explanation of how it will be used to improve accessibility.
As a best practice, your report should include both high-level information for executives and detailed information on identified problems and their fixes for web developers and designers. The report should not only show where your content failed to meet the chosen standard, but also what practical impact this has on the user experience.
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 manual testing, accessibility reporting, ongoing maintenance and monitoring, web personalization tools, training, and resources.
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