Understanding digital accessibility audits: a comprehensive guide
A digital accessibility audit is a comprehensive evaluation of how effectively a website or other digital properties meet the needs of people with disabilities, adhere to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) technical standards, and other standards like Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 508, European Accessibility Act (EAA) or the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).
It involves performing a detailed assessment of the current status of accessibility for a website or application.
Experts often scan and test important functionalities and processes to detect accessibility barriers during the audit. It is essential to keep in mind that a professional accessibility audit involves human and functional testing in addition to automated testing. A digital agile accessibility audit’s purpose is to ensure that digital products and services are as accessible to everyone as feasible, including those who have disabilities.
Determining the right time for an accessibility audit
Performing an accessibility audit is an important step in ensuring that your website is inclusive and accessible to all users. Here’s some information to help you determine when to conduct an accessibility audit:
- The earlier, the better: It is recommended to run an accessibility audit as early as possible in the website development process. By integrating accessibility practices right from the start, you can prevent accessibility issues and save time and effort in the long run.
- Website redesign or migration: If your organization is preparing for a website redesign or migration, it is an ideal time to perform an accessibility audit. This allows you to assess the accessibility of your existing assets and incorporate accessibility improvements into the new design or migration process.
- Compliance with accessibility laws: If your organization needs to comply with accessibility laws like Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 508, European Accessibility Act (EAA) or the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), it is crucial not to delay the accessibility audit. Conducting an audit will help you assess the level of compliance of your existing assets and plan how to address accessibility going forward.
- Regular audits: It is recommended to perform a full web accessibility audit at least once a year, depending on how often you update your website. Regular audits help ensure that your website remains accessible as new content and features are added. SiteLint also offers real-time web audits on the client-side, allowing you to monitor and track the accessibility status of your website continuously without crawling. By using SiteLint platform, you can ensure that your website remains accessible and inclusive for all users.
- Search engine optimization (SEO) impact: Search engine crawlers rely on clear and well-structured content to understand and index web pages effectively. By following accessibility guidelines, such as providing alternative text for images and using semantic HTML , you make it easier for search engines to crawl and interpret your content. This can positively impact your website’s visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs).
Accessibility audits can be performed by accessibility experts within your organization or by third-party accessibility auditors. The audit process may involve a combination of manual and automated techniques. It is also important to consider the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) during the audit process.
An accessibility audit shows a commitment to diversity and creates a more compassion and diverse digital environment for all.
Steps to evaluate website accessibility compliance
There are several ways to test your website for accessibility compliance, including:
- Using automated tools such as SiteLint platform, WAVE, or Lighthouse to identify accessibility issues.
- Conducting manual testing with assistive technologies such as screen readers or keyboard navigation to identify issues that may not be detected by automated tools.
- Using accessibility evaluation tools such as IBM Equal Access to evaluate your website’s accessibility.
- Hiring an accessibility consultant to conduct a comprehensive accessibility audit of your website.
- Using the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.2 to evaluate your website’s accessibility.
It’s important to note that accessibility compliance is an ongoing process, and it’s recommended to test your website regularly to ensure it remains accessible to all users.
Worth mentioning that SiteLint platform instantly checks the compliance level of your website and generates a report of all deficiencies. It also provides a score for each test and elaborate explanations. All tests are working with a real user, network and devices.
Automated testing: Choosing the best approach
There are two ways of performing automated testing: crawling your site on the server or performing an accessibility page audit directly on the client side.
Crawling a website for an audit refers to the process of systematically scanning and analyzing the website’s pages and content. This type of audit is performed on the server by simulating user behavior. The browser is launched, the page is loaded and then the audit is performed. It is worth mentioning that this type of audit examines the website only after it is loaded and does not track any changes that are automatically generated by the website or the user. A significant limitation is the inability to audit Single Page Applications.
The fundamental difference between server-side crawling and client-side auditing is that crawling provides reports from all pages scanned, while in the client-side version you receive reports only from those places that the user has visited.
Manual testing: A detailed look at key aspects
Not all tests can be done automatically. The reason for this is technological limitations. For instance, while they can detect missing an
alt text for an image, they cannot judge the quality or relevance of the alt text present. Manual audits, on the other hand, are a human-driven process that provides context, insight, and a user-centric perspective that automated technologies cannot.
Manual testing key points
Testing with assistive technologies: A crucial step
Test the website with assistive technologies such as screen readers and screen magnifiers.
Screen reader testing determines if a website or application is completely accessible to screen reader users. A screen reader is an application that reads aloud text on a computer screen or converts it to braille output for blind or visually impaired people.
Screen magnifiers work by zooming in on the device or displaying selections in a bigger font. They may also have features to increase cursor size or change color contrasts. They help people with visual impairments who still have some vision. People with degenerating vision may use both screen readers and screen magnifiers.
Contrast ratio: Ensuring readability
Contrast ratio is the difference between the maximum and minimum brightness of a device’s display. It relates to text and important graphics and controls. Some situations cannot be automatically tested. Elements can be positioned absolutely and overlap completely randomly. Or text on an image, where the position of the text is also dynamic. This can only be tested manually.
Navigating with keyboard: A must-have feature
Keyboard navigation is a crucial aspect of web accessibility since it allows users who are unable to use a mouse to navigate a website only using their keyboard. To determine whether a website is keyboard navigable and fulfills the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.2 criteria, use keyboard-only navigation to determine whether all interactive elements are accessible and operable with a keyboard.
Assessing images and multimedia for accessibility: Best practices
Check that all images and multimedia content, including audio and video, have appropriate alternative text that describes the content. Closed captions or transcripts are required for all videos, and all multimedia material must avoid repetitive flashing.
Managing your accessibility audit report: A practical guide
Now that you have received your accessibility audit report that highlights discovered issues, the next step is to review the findings and prioritize the recommended improvements.
It’s important to address the most critical issues first, such as those that affect the user’s ability to access the content or functionality of the website. From there, you can work on resolving the other issues, either by fixing them in-house or by hiring a developer or accessibility specialist to assist with the repairs. Additionally, it’s a good idea to schedule regular accessibility audits or use a tool like SiteLint platform to monitor your accessibility in real time and on the client side to ensure that your website remains compliant and accessible to all users over time.
Essential assistive technologies for accessibility audits
- JAWS (desktop screen reader)
- ZoomText (screen magnifier)
- Dragon Naturally Speaking (speech recognition)
- NVDA (desktop screen reader)
- VoiceOver for MacOS (screen reader)
- TalkBack (mobile screen reader)
- ChromeVox (browser screen reader)
How can SiteLint help with the digital accessibility audit?
We help identify accessibility issues and provide recommendations needed to fix and improve your products and services, as well as meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) standard (2.0 and above).
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