The Importance of Web Accessibility Audits

September 12, 2018
Genevieve Nelson

C2's Web Accessibility Champion Genevieve Nelson shares the importance of regularly performing web accessibility audits and the benefits of pairing automated tools with manual testing while assessing accessibility compliance.


Web accessibility is the practice of making websites inclusive and information accessible for all users. A common misconception of web accessibility is that it’s just one of many boxes to check when building a site or creating new digital experiences. There is also no single role that can be solely responsible for web accessibility. Graphic designers, software developers, and digital marketers each have separate roles to play in ensuring web accessibility.

[Pssst! These web accessibility checklists are a great reference for graphic designers, software developers, and content creators as they assess digital assets for accessibility🙌]

As organizations release new features or publish new content, it’s highly recommended to complete regular testing and auditing to ensure accessible web experiences.

What is an accessibility audit?

An accessibility audit is an evaluation style document that addresses a selection or process of pages or templates on a site. Using a combination of automated tools and manual testing, audits pinpoint issues by type, provide exact links and locations of where issues can be found, and give examples of code and content solutions. Audits are a great way to understand where your site or digital properties are not meeting the needs of users with disabilities. Audits include a combination of human investigation and automated testing to reveal violations of ADA Section 508 or WCAG 2.1 standards for sites and integrated systems. They’re also a great opportunity for knowledge transfer and process improvement, as audits will identify bad habits and suggest best practices when it comes to design, development, or web publishing.  

Incorporating accessibility into your web strategy provides many other underlying benefits:

  • Increasing sales and marketing conversions – providing seamless processes allows for greater user experiences which can mean another sale or lead
  • Improving customer experience globally – following best practices for accessibility enhances UX overall and supports individuals of all abilities and disabilities
  • Improving search ranking – optimizing metadata and alt text brings more context to sites and surfaces it higher for keywords or phrases used in site content
  • Mitigating business risk – avoid costly litigations for having an inaccessible site
  • Avoiding the cost of an expensive retrofit – implementing accessibility now can save organization’s tons (time, money, and resources) in the long run
  • Training – regularly practicing accessibility in digital initiatives yields efficiency

Content is the greatest differentiator for your brand! An audit exposes the issues that keep your content from being accessible to the 1 in 5 users on the web with disabilities. Accessibility audits allow organizations to optimize site content and functionality to achieve the overall benefits of digital accessibility.

Human investigation in an accessibility audit

Automated tools are a great start for making a site more accessible. These tools can be quick, require little intervention, and give immediate results for issues found. These tools, however, are not always the most accurate, thorough, or clear in explaining potential issues. Of the most commonly used automated tools, the best was found to identify only 41% of the total accessibility barriers being tested. Automated reports duplicate issues, call out false positives, and don’t always explain the root problem. It’s important teams do not rely heavily on automated tools as a means of assessing site accessibility.

So, how do you get the best value and results from automated tools? Web accessibility audits bring the best of both worlds together, combining automated testing with human interpretation and investigation. Scans alone can’t thoroughly interpret barriers like screen reading order, logical flow and meaning of content, text alternatives, and keyboard accessibility, to name a few. Manual testing introduces the perspective of a potential end user to an audit.

Web accessibility specialists are experts in inspecting, analyzing, testing, fixing/recommending fixes for accessibility issues, understanding the user experience, and reporting on preferred accessibility compliance in a way that can’t be captured through automated tools. Packaging it all up into one audit analysis documentation, experts identify issues by code or content and provide examples of solutions for the identified issues acting as an implementation plan for teams.

Finally, web accessibility shouldn’t be seen as an obstacle for organizations, rather an opportunity to provide barrier-free, inclusive digital experiences to all audiences. Now, I challenge you to run an automatic audit on your digital assets for an idea of where you can start practicing accessibility compliance! Should you need extra help or expertise, check out our web accessibility services here.