The Perfect ADA Website Compliance Audit

This guide for purchasing a website accessibility audit – and having everything go according to plan – will help both private entities seeking relief from lawsuits and state and local working towards compliance deadlines, but I wrote it with public entities in mind (because of Title II and HB21-1110).

The first part of this guide is dedicated to understanding the audit process and ,in the second part, I answer more practical questions on procuring accessibility audit services.

Use the table of contents to skip directly to any section.

Terminology

Many people refer to a website accessibility audit as an ADA website compliance audit and there is no harm in this since everyone understands both terms to mean essentially the same thing.

What is an ADA Website Compliance Audit?

An audit is the formal, manual evaluation of a website’s accessibility conducted by one or more technical accessibility experts.

What is the Purpose of an Audit?

An audit identifies all accessibility issues (instances of nonconformance with WCAG 2.1 AA success criteria) of the website or other digital asset being evaluated.

The only purpose of an audit is to define the accessibility issues that exist. No remediation or fixes take place during an audit.

What Happens During the Audit?

During an audit, your website is graded against the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) by technical accessibility experts.

During the audit, experts will:

  • visually inspect your website and its content
  • inspect the code
  • keyboard test your website
  • test your website with a screen reader

In each evaluation method, technical experts will grade your website and all of its content against every WCAG success criteria for a given version and conformance level.

As of 2024, audits should use WCAG version 2.1 or 2.2 conformance level AA. This is because WCAG 2.1 AA has now been incorporated as a legal standard into multiple laws.

Read my updated ADA website compliance guide for more information on new updates to the law, legal landscape, and how to stop lawsuits.

Environment Combinations

Furthermore, note that audits can be expanded to include more environment combinations. For example, technical experts can include:

  • Different screen readers (VoiceOver, NVDA, JAWs, Narrator, etc.)
  • Other assistive technology (Dragon NaturallySpeaking, Read&Write, etc.)
  • More browsers (Chrome, FireFox, Safari, Edge, etc.)
  • More devices (smart phone, tablet, laptop, etc.)
  • More operating systems (Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android)

Although auditing using more environment combinations will make an audit much more robust (because we’ve looked for accessibility issues when using many different technologies), more environments will significantly increase both the time necessary to complete the audit and the cost.

What is WCAG?

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are a set of technical standards for web accessibility. WCAG sets out success criteria or requirements that are essentially things to do or account for for accessibility.

WCAG 2.1 AA has 50 success criteria so your website or other digital asset will be graded against all 50 success criteria.

If you’re new to WCAG, my WCAG 2.1 AA checklist can help you quickly become more familiar with the requirements.

Can Audits be Automated?

No. There is no such thing as an automated accessibility audit. While automated scans can instantly flag several accessibility issues, the scan results are limited and the results must still be manually reviewed.

Think of scans, sometimes called checkers, as flagging approximately 25% of WCAG 2.1 AA success criteria.

And remember that scans are using automation which means they only use “if this, then that” rule sets to flag issues based on the code. This means that false negatives are frequent.

False negatives are where a scan does not return an error or alert, but one still exists.

Popular scans include WAVE by WebAIM, AXE by Deque, and Google Lighthouse.

What is the Result of an Audit?

After the audit is completed, it will be delivered as a report to the client. The report will usually be in Excel spreadsheet format.

What Details are in the Audit?

A website accessibility audit will include:

  • what the issue is
  • steps to reproduce the issue
  • URL where issue is found
  • location of the issue
  • associated WCAG success criterion
  • issue conformance level (A or AA)
  • screenshot or clip of issue
  • recommendations on how to fix
  • notes

Note that some audit reports will include more or less details, but what is most important is that the report is clear, easy to understand, and actionable.

Some details merely provide additional context or reference to help the client better understand the issue.

How Long Does an Audit Take?

Most digital accessibility service providers can turnaround an audit in 3-5 weeks. Accessible.org audit timelines can be as quick as 2 weeks.

If you’re a beginner to accessibility, learning how to audit and gaining the experience necessary to proficiently auditing your website can literally take 6 months to over a year, assuming you have a web development background.

To learn more on auditing, read my guide on how to conduct a website accessibility audit.

When Should I Get an Audit?

Right after you prioritize what digital assets (e.g., websites and mobile apps) and content needs to be worked on first.

This means first you will take inventory and then you will prioritize what websites, etc. to work on first.

How Soon Should I Research Accessibility Companies?

Public entities seeking to be compliant with the new web accessibility rule under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and, in Colorado, HB21-1110, will begin evaluating digital accessibility vendors early in their project life cycle.

Before researching sellers, your team should have a budget allocated for accessibility.

And as soon as your team understands exactly what it needs (WCAG 2.1 AA conformance) and how to become conformant (manual services), then research should begin.

It is crucial that you understand website accessibility first so that you are not sold on unnecessary software, widgets, apps, platforms, etc. that you do not want or need.

How Much Does a Website Accessibility Audit Cost?

An ADA website compliance audit costs between $2,500 – $7,500 for most websites. To get a general estimate, multiple $300 by the number of pages in scope.

Of course, $7,500 is not the ceiling on an audit price as an accessibility project for a large website (e.g., a university’s website) can be quite involved, but most of our clients fall below $7,500.

What Factors Into the Cost?

Of course, the $300 per page calculator estimate is just a quick heuristic. When we provide a quote for audit services, we conduct a preliminary assessment of each website.

Costs vary based on:

  • Number of pages in scope
  • Complexity of the website
  • State of accessibility (good or bad)

There are other factors that can affect the price, but these are the factors that most often come into play.

What is the Scope?

The scope is all URLs or pages included in the audit. Scope may also include screens, views, roles, and other dynamic aspects, depending on the digital asset.

For example, with a mobile app, we evaluate screens or views, not pages or URLs.

To determine the scope for an audit, it’s best to include:

  • primary page layouts
  • most visited pages
  • pages with unique or dynamic content

Most websites usually have 10-20 pages within scope.

Many pages are left out of the scope of an ADA website compliance audit because they’re redundant and the remediators working on the website’s fixes can apply the issues found to the rest of the website and content.

What Determines Complexity?

Simple websites are easier to audit so they cost less. Just imagine an informational website that consists of only text and images – this will take less effort to audit.

Contrast this to a website with many dynamic or interactive elements such as:

  • Forms
  • Search
  • Buttons
  • Check boxes
  • Selectors
  • Mega menus
  • Sliders
  • Status messages
  • Pop-ups

These elements take more time to inspect and test so the complexity will affect the audit cost.

What Does the State of Accessibility Mean?

Websites loaded with accessibility issues – particularly unique issues – simply take longer to get through.

If a website’s homepage has dozens of accessibility issues, many of which are unique or non-repeated, this means more work is involved.

What Should I Look For When Procuring Audit Services?

When deciding on what digital accessibility company or agency to hire for your ADA website compliance audit, here are good signs:

  • emphasis on manual services
  • covers / asks about specific audit details
  • does not sell overlays
  • does not conflate audits and user testing
  • good reputation
  • solid reviews

Here are red flags:

  • Emphasis on automation
  • Insinuates “automated testing” can be combined with a manual audit
  • Packages audit with software
  • Sells custom overlay or overlay widget
  • Poor reputation
  • Numerous complaints

What Should I Do After an Audit?

The next step after receiving an audit report is to begin work on remediation or fixing the issues named in the audit.

Optimally, the same accessibility company who conducted the audit will also remediate your website.

This means there will be one seamless, continuous service that flows from finding accessibility issues to remediating those issues. This is highly recommended for multiple reasons:

  • It’s faster. Rather than having a disjointed process of hiring two different agencies to audit and remediate, the auditing company takes care of everything. Additionally, this is much faster than trying to have non-experts remediate in-house. Having one agency do everything can easily save 2-5 months.
  • It’s more cost effective. There are both time and money costs to hiring two different agencies for an audit and remediation. Working with one agency for both services will bring your costs down.
  • Certification. If one agency is able to audit and remediate your website, this means they can issue certification of your accessibility – because they found and fixed all of the issues themselves.

What’s the Difference Between Audit and Remediation?

An audit finds accessibility issues and remediation fixes those issues.

Optimally, both an audit and remediation are conducted by technical accessibility experts. However, sometimes remediation is conducted by developers, designers, and content editors (usually in-house) who must learn about accessibility as they remediate.

Typically, remediators new to accessibility will have support in making fixes. For example, at Accessible.org, technical consulting hours are available for purchase to help clients who prefer to remediate in-house.

However, one option for clients is to have remediation performed in a staging environment so the client can review and approve all fixes before publishing live.

What’s the Difference Between Audit and User Testing?

An audit and user testing are two separate but related services; both are concerned with finding accessibility issues. Whereas an audit is a highly technical, meticulous evaluation of a website based on WCAG, user testing is a practical assessment of a website conducted by a professional with a disability.

Although audits include screen reader and keyboard testing and may be conducted by professionals with one or more disabilities, audits are not user testing.

Think of audits as very clinical and regimented and user testing as more experiential. User testing relates the accessibility professional’s use of the website, typically using assistive technology such as a screen reader.

It’s best practice to follow up remediation with user testing because this creates a two tier filter in which any outstanding accessibility issues can potentially be caught.

Accessible.org user testing includes a video recording of the user testing session along with documentation of the session for our client’s records.

Summary

The only way to reach WCAG 2.1 AA conformance and make your website ADA compliant (under Title II) is through manual services. The two absolutely essential services are an audit and remediation and best practice is to include user testing as well.

If you need help with ADA website compliance services, feel free to reach out to us at Accessible.org.

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