An accessibility audit, which involves user testing, is the only way to make sure that disabled people can use your website. But it’s also a great tool for raising awareness of accessibility, and the need for action, within your organisation.
Here we explain what’s involved with an accessibility audit and how you can make the most of the outcome.
This article covers:
- what an accessibility audit involves
- different types of accessibility audit
- How to plan and organise an audit
- the pages or user journeys you should prioritise
- what else you need to consider to make the most of your audit results
Types of accessibility audit
Broadly, there are two main types of audit: manual and automated. The difference between them is that one uses humans and the other uses software.
The purpose of both is to highlight existing accessibility issues and offer solutions. But there are distinct differences between manual testing and automated testing.
Manual audits need more time and effort to check the website for issues. The results of manual testing are generally more thorough. Both can help you identify elements that do not meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
Which one is right for you will depend on factors like time, budget and staff resource.
Automated accessibility audits
An automated accessibility audit involves automated testing. They are useful for pointing out quick errors and technical issues with your website that may affect how a disabled person can use it.
Automated testing uses software or a web-based tool to analyse your website. This highlights any technical issues in the code or user interface.
Most of these online auditing tools are free. For example:
- WAVE Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool by WebAIM.
- Google Lighthouse accessibility audit. This is part of tests you can run within Chrome Developer Tools.
The best thing about automated accessibility audits is that they are:
- simple to do
The outcome of an automated audit is usually a generic report. This report should highlight the technical errors with your website. And it normally includes recommendations on how to fix them.
Automated tests only give you a basic analysis of how accessible your site is.
You cannot tell if your website meets Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 criteria with automated testing alone. They can report on technical code-related issues, but cannot tell you about usability.
An automated audit is not as comprehensive as a manual audit. Or testing with disabled users.
Manual accessibility audits
An accessibility expert can help you carry out a manual audit of your website. Most experts test how your site works with various assistive technologies and devices.
Manual accessibility audits go beyond automated accessibility testing tools. This is why the results of a manual audit are considered more reliable and trustworthy.
Experts can help you identify more usability issues, like:
- whether your website is properly coded for keyboard-only access
- whether your link text is helpful for screen reader users
- hidden modals, accordions, carousels and other hidden web page content
For example, automated testing can only assess if an image has alt-text or not. Manual audits can look at the context of the image, and see if alt-text is actually needed. An expert will be able to tell you if your alt-text is accurate or appropriate for the context.
Because manual audits take time and skill to complete, they are more expensive.
The quality of the audit will depend on the professional or consultancy you choose. Some consultancies will have more knowledge about eCommerce accessibility. Others may have more experience with WordPress. It’s important to choose the right accessibility consultant for you.
A manual accessibility audit is not as thorough as having a range of users test your website.
User testing with disabled people
Testing your website with a range of users is the best way to see how accessible and usable your website really is. It’s the only way you can really see how disabled people interact with your websites and services.
Ask people with a range of conditions and impairments to use your website. And listen to their feedback. This is the most effective way to learn about the issues that affect people with access needs.
Some user testing services offer video clips of users explaining their challenges. These help build empathy when you start to put their recommendations into action.
Planning your accessibility audit
Audits usually address a small list of web pages or specific user journeys. Especially for large websites, it can be hard to know which pages you should include. And which user journeys you should prioritise.
Focus on submitting a variety of pages or journeys. Include a representative sample of different page templates and components across your website.
These should be the pages with the highest page views or traffic. This could be your ‘Contact us’ page, for example. Your users will not be able to tell you about their accessibility issues if you do not audit this page.
Other parts to consider:
- interactive tools such as forms
- pages that include login functionality
- navigation pages such as the sitemap
- any images, video and audio content
- any dynamic content like pop-up windows or nudges.
This will help make the results as actionable as possible across the rest of your website.
An accessibility expert or consultant may recommend other services to support the results. This can involve user testing with people with different conditions or impairments.
You may also consider assistance with strategy or training for the workforce. These additional services can help you make the most of your audit results.
Whether this is necessary will depend on your organisation. You should explore whether you have the skills in-house to make these changes.
Once you’ve fixed the errors raised in your audit, you will have a more accessible website. But that’s not to say the job is done. Being more accessible in the future often means strategic, cultural and organisational change.
Ongoing collaboration with the provider after the audit is complete. This gives you the option to check your improvements or updates. It’s a chance to make sure these changes actually improve the experience for disabled users.
Strategic planning involves creating space for accessibility best practice in your current workflows. This can help you prioritise accessibility early on in the process.
The auditing process is useful for highlighting issues which need everyday best practice. Such as allowing enough time for staff to create a transcript for a video. Or adding detailed alt-text to product images. You can use it to create a business culture that includes accessibility at the start of the process.
Making accessibility part of new content creation is essential for long-term change.
Teaching different teams best practice to make sure accessibility becomes embedded.
Audits are a good starting point to assess your situation and raise awareness. But delivering real change requires a coordinated effort across the organisation.
Accessibility is an ongoing process
If you want a formal certification of accessibility, you’ll need to test and retest your content. This means completing an initial audit to:
- discover areas to improve
- help prioritise those tasks
Once you’ve made changes, a second audit will confirm if your changes resolved the issues.
A follow-up retest is often included in the initial cost. The certification will only apply to pages tested in the audit.
Your commitment to creating accessible content does not end once you’ve made the audit suggestions. Accessibility is a continuous process of improvement. You can always improve your website’s accessibility and usability.
More accessibility audit resources
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