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Let’s face it: there are a lot of articles about what an ADA audit is, its importance and its benefits for web users and businesses. Many articles also provide an overview of the steps you should take to check your website for ADA compliance.
In this article, however, I’ve taken it a step further by exploring the two main auditing methods and which ones work best for testing against several critical Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) success criteria for meeting ADA compliance. Let’s dive right in.
Types of ADA audits for websites
In general, there are two ways to test your website’s accessibility to make sure it’s ADA compliant: automated audits and manual audits.
Automated audits use software to automatically scan your web pages for accessibility barriers based on WCAG standards. These audits are useful for scanning websites with a large number of pages and can provide you with instant results to help you assess your level of accessibility compliance. Examples of automated audit tools are Google Lighthouse and the WAVE Evaluation Tool.
Automated audit tools are quite popular as they are fast, easy to use and cost effective. However, I have found that they are not enough on their own to test whether your website is fully ADA compliant as they cannot find all accessibility errors on your website. While an automated audit can identify access barriers, it cannot explain in detail how these barriers affect real users’ browsing experiences.
A manual audit requires a human expert to test pages on your website for barriers to entry across devices, browsers, and platforms. The expert often simulates accessibility issues that a person with a disability may experience while using your website. For example, they would use only the keyboard to navigate the website to see if a user with only a keyboard can access and interact with content in the same way as someone using the mouse.
Manual audits can produce more thorough results than automated audits because you can more effectively test the website’s compatibility with keyboards and assistive technologies. Human testers can also provide insightful feedback to help website developers and designers build websites with accessibility in mind and fix any errors found.
However, manual audits are not without drawbacks: they are time consuming and require the human tester to have accessibility expertise. In addition, manual audits are usually more expensive than automated audits, especially if the tester is an outside consultant.
Testing through automated audits
Automated audits are useful as a starting point on your journey to achieving accessibility and ADA compliance. Some of the WCAG 2.1 success criteria that are best tested using automated audits include the following.
• 1.1.1 Non-text content: An automated audit tool can easily check if an image has alternative text.
• 1.4.3 Contrast minimum: An automated audit is sufficient to test whether text and images of text have the recommended contrast ratio (minimum 4:5:1) to allow readability.
• 1.4.11 Non-Text Contrast: An automated audit can verify that the colors of non-text content, such as infographics, charts, states, etc., have a contrast ratio of at least 3:1 to adjacent colors.
• 2.4.4 Link Purpose (in context): Automated tools can validate if links contain text, if they are redundant, or if linked images do not contain alt text.
• 2.4.6 Headings and Labels: Automated tools can detect whether a web page has the primary heading level
is missing or that the headings are not arranged properly.
• 3.1.1 Language of the page: Automated tools can identify if the language of the page is HTML
Testing through manual audits
On the other hand, manual testing can provide the best answers to some accessibility questions.
• Does audio and video content have accurate captions, subtitles, transcripts, and audio descriptions?
• Does the website offer textual alternatives to instructions or information conveyed through sensory features such as color, shape, size or sound?
• Are there keyboard traps on overlays and interactive elements on the web page?
• Is it always clear which page element has keyboard focus so that users can see/know where they are when scrolling through the page?
• Do navigation links that are repeated on the web page appear in a consistent order?
• Are form validation errors presented to all users in an efficient, intuitive, and accessible way?
• When an input error is detected, are timely and accessible suggestions for correcting the error provided to the user?
In my opinion, the best way to check your website for ADA compliance is the hybrid method: a combination of automated and manual audits. This allows you to tailor your website accessibility testing to the needs of your organization and take advantage of both approaches.
Remember that accessibility is an ongoing process, not a one-time project. Take a proactive approach to ensure your website remains ADA compliant and accessible to all users. Always design website content with accessibility in mind, check your website regularly and fix any new accessibility issues immediately.