Website Accessibility Audit Guide: ADA and WCAG Compliance

Ensure ADA and WCAG compliance with our website accessibility audit guide. Discover key insights on website accessibility audit.


June 25, 2024

Website Accessibility Audit

Your website is your online storefront. But if customers can’t open the door, you’re leaving money on the table. That’s what happens when your website isn’t accessible.

Making your website accessible isn’t only the right thing to do, it’s smart business.

This guide is your roadmap to a website accessibility audit. You’ll learn how to make your site welcoming to everyone and attract more customers.

Table of Contents


    This guide is not a substitute for legal advice. Every business is unique, and your specific situation might require a tailored approach. Reach out to your legal counsel for personalized guidance.

    Understanding website accessibility

    The aim of web accessibility is to make sites simple to use for impaired users. Vision problems, such as color-blindness, are common impairments.

    For example, “alt text” for images describes an image to users who can’t see it. Accessibility also addresses other site elements, such as navigation and color contrast.

    The case for an accessibility website audit

    The American Foundation for the Blind estimates that 50 million Americans have a visual impairment. Businesses can’t afford to ignore this vast audience of consumers.

    Yet, there is more to consider. An accessible website is welcoming. Creating a welcoming environment for customers encourages them to stay and come back. They also tell their friends and become raving fans of your brand.

    Serving people with diverse needs also gives you a unique perspective. By doing so, you will revolutionize your business approach and reach more customers. So, it’s time to put the “compliance chore” mindset aside. Investing in website accessibility audit is a decision that benefits people and your business’s future.

    Legal requirements for web accessibility

    Digital accessibility isn’t optional anymore—it’s the law. The ADA and AODA mandate an inclusive online presence in the U.S. and Canada.

    Overview of ADA compliance

    The American Disabilities Act is a powerful U.S. law with a simple message: discrimination against people with disabilities is wrong. That includes discrimination on websites. Courts have decided that if your website doesn’t adapt for disabled users, you’re breaking the law.

    So, what is the solution? The ADA points us to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

    Understanding WCAG standards

    The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is your playbook. It’s a comprehensive framework from the W3C that maps out an inclusive online experience. Follow these rules, and you’ll be complying with the law while establishing the reputation as a company that cares about everyone.

    These guidelines aren’t vague suggestions. WCAG 2.1 standards get into the details, giving you specific success criteria. This includes three levels of conformance (A, AA, and AAA). Here’s a breakdown of each:

    Level A (Minimum)

    Consider this the minimum for accessibility. It covers the basic requirements, like:

    • Using text alternatives for content that is not in text format. Alt text for images is one example.
    • Ensuring keyboard navigation is possible.
    • Make sure the design has sufficient color contrast.

    While Level A is a starting point, it falls short of meeting the legal requirements or needs of users with disabilities.

    Level AA (Target for Most Websites)

    Double-A is the ideal spot for most websites. It includes Level A requirements, plus:

    • Stricter color contrast requirements
    • Clearer focus indicators for keyboard navigation
    • Consistent navigation across pages
    • Captions for video content

    Level AA compliance satisfies legal requirements for most users with disabilities. It’s a solid target for businesses to aim for.

    Level AAA (highest level of compliance):

    The highest level of accessibility compliance includes stringent criteria.

    • Sign language interpretation for video content
    • Contrast ratios with more differentiation
    • Additional navigation mechanisms

    While Level AAA compliance is ideal, technical limitations or content constraints sometimes make it impractical. This is only for websites that target specific audiences or have the means to invest in accessibility measures.

    Which level is right for your company?

    Most businesses need to aim for Level AA compliance. AA is the most accepted standard that meets the needs of a broad range of users with disabilities. Yet, it isn’t so restrictive that it limits creative design and functionality. Level AAA is a commendable goal, but is unnecessary for some websites.

    Talk with legal counsel to determine the accessibility level that is right for your organization.

    Starting a website accessibility audit

    Automated tools are available to help you perform a quick scan and flag obvious issues. But these tools are not perfect. For an in-depth web accessibility audit, you’ll need a human expert to dive deeper and find the more subtle problems.

    The best approach for an audit depends on your situation. Bigger sites, tighter budgets, and the level of detail you need play a role. But often, the best approach is to combine automated checks with human expertise.

    Preparing for a website accessibility audit

    Here is your checklist to get audit-ready:

    1. Know the rules: Get familiar with ADA and WCAG. Don’t forget any local laws that apply.
    2. Do a self-check first: Give your website, apps, and digital assets a once-over. If you find any issues, focus on the biggest offenders. That’s how you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck.
    3. Get a second opinion: Automated testing tools are helpful in the first step of a website accessibility audit. But consult with a professional to make sure you’ve covered the bases.
    4. Practice makes perfect: Incorporate accessibility best practices right now—don’t procrastinate. Accessibility is a serious undertaking. Address any issues as soon as possible.

    The scope of your website accessibility audit

    What is the short-term and long-term plan? Will you audit the entire site, or specific web pages? Do you want to address the mobile version first and deal with other views later?

    Defining the scope of your website accessibility audit is key. The scope helps you focus your resources, avoid surprises, and get the most out of your investment. Here are some things to consider:

    • How big are your digital properties? The more pages, features, and platforms you have, the more complex your project will be.
    • What platforms do your customers use most? Don’t forget about your mobile app or the new web app you launched this year. Accessibility is necessary for every platform.
    • What type of customers do you want to reach? If your target audience has specific needs, focus on the areas of your website that matter most to them.

    Key components of a website accessibility audit

    The core audit components are:

    • Content
    • Navigation
    • Visual design

    Let’s examine each of these further.

    Content accessibility (text, multimedia)

    Your website’s content is its heart and soul. If it’s not accessible, you’re speaking a language that some website visitors won’t understand. Here’s how to make sure your content speaks to everyone:

    • Text: Text is the bread and butter of your site. Make sure it’s easy to read for everyone, even those with visual impairments. That means adequate font sizes, strong contrast, and using HTML the right way.
    • Images: A picture is worth a thousand words, but not if you’re using a screen reader. Descriptive alt text paints the picture for those who can’t see it.
    • Videos and audio: These don’t provide a universal experience for everyone. Include captions, transcripts, and audio descriptions to make sure nobody misses your message.

    Navigation and keyboard accessibility

    Imagine navigating a city with no street signs. That’s what it’s like for users who rely on keyboards to navigate a site that doesn’t follow accessibility guidelines.

    Here are some best practices for navigation:

    • Keyboard-friendly: Every corner of your site should be accessible using a keyboard only. That includes menus, links, and forms.
    • Logical flow: The order of each tab should make sense. Users shouldn’t have to jump around. A well-planned user experience is essential for the site.
    • Clear signage: A clean, intuitive interface is like a helpful tour guide. It shows users their location, desired destinations, and navigation instructions.

    Color contrast and visual design

    Your website might be a visual masterpiece. If colors clash or if the design is too busy, you could turn away potential customers—especially those with visual impairments.

    Make your site visually pleasing for all users.

    • Color contrast: Think bold, not bland. Text should pop against the background. This will help people with low vision or color blindness read it with ease.
    • Clear visuals: Icons, buttons, and graphics should be easy to spot and understand. No hidden surprises or confusing clutter.
    • Responsive design: The site should look sharp on any screen, regardless of screen size. That way, everyone gets the best experience, no matter how they’re viewing your site.

    Technical aspects of a website accessibility audit

    A website accessibility audit is also a technical checkup to ensure that a site performs well. You can analyze the technical components using a few approaches.

    • Automated audits: These execute quick diagnostic scans. Software tools crawl the site, flagging any potential issues. It’s fast and efficient, but some problems can slip through the cracks.
    • Manual audits: Trained professionals can catch the subtleties automated tools might miss. It’s thorough, but can be more time-consuming. The consultant will also charge a fee for performing the audit.
    • Hybrid approach: Combine automated tools with expert analysis for the most comprehensive assessment.

    Tools and technologies for auditing web accessibility (free and paid)

    You don’t have to conduct a website accessibility audit empty-handed. There are tools available to help.

    Automated audit tools:

    These apps crawl a site and flag issues like missing alt text, poor color contrast, or keyboard traps. Some popular options include:

    • accessScan: A free tool for a quick overview of your website's user interface.
    • Web accessibility extension: A browser extension that checks individual pages.
    • WAVE: This tool dives deep into your code, providing detailed reports and guidance.

    Mobile must-haves:

    Don’t forget about your mobile users. See your site as disabled users do with VoiceOver and Android Accessibility Suite.

    For documents:

    Creating accessible PDFs and documents is important too. Adobe Acrobat Pro DC and Microsoft Office have built-in accessibility checkers for documents.

    Free & Paid Accessibility Audit tools (Click to expand)

    Addressing accessibility issues

    Your audit report is in. It’s time to take action based on the findings. Here’s how to get started:

    1. Tackle the big problems first. These barriers cause the most frustration for users.
    2. Use WCAG as a roadmap and you’ll pass with flying colors.
    3. Continue to check your site. Regular testing and monitoring will ensure your site stays inclusive as it evolves.

    Maintaining ongoing compliance

    Technology changes, user needs evolve, and you don’t want your site to fall behind. Thus, regular check-ups are key. Accessibility testing and monitoring helps ensure your site’s compliance. These processes help you catch issues before they become major problems.

    AI and accessibility

    AI can generate alt text for images and captions for videos. It can also improve site navigation with voice commands. Consultants can use AI to scan your content and identify critical issues.

    AI is a tool, not a magic wand. You’ll need to double-check its work. Humans are still the ultimate experts on user experience.

    Need help with your accessibility audit?

    Accessibility is an essential piece of the digital presence puzzle. If you need guidance, we’re here to assist. Book a free consultation and let’s build a more accessible web together.

    Frequently asked questions about web accessibility audits

    How often should companies perform accessibility audits?

    A complex site with frequent updates may need a checkup more often than a simple one. And if you’re in an industry with strict regulations, you may need more audits to stay compliant. One audit each year is a starting point.

    Can small businesses benefit from accessibility audits?

    Small businesses have a huge stake in making their websites welcoming to everyone.

    • Avoid legal headaches: Audits keep you compliant, so you can focus on your business.
    • More customers: People with disabilities are a market you don’t want to miss.
    • Boost your reputation: An inclusive online presence shows you care. That’s a reputation that attracts loyal customers.

    How does web accessibility impact SEO?

    Yes. Search engines, including Google, make the user experience a priority. They want to index websites that are easy to navigate, understand, and interact with. Making your site accessible opens the door to more visitors. It also results in lower bounce rates and a boost in search engine rankings.

    Are there any exemptions to ADA compliance?

    Although some exceptions exist, most businesses must follow the ADA. This is especially true for government websites. They’re required to meet accessibility standards. However, we recommend consulting with your legal advisor to be sure.

    Chris Fulmer PCM-Brand Auditors

    Chris Fulmer, PCM®

    Brand Strategist | Managing Director

    Chris has over 15 years of experience in brand development and marketing. He has designed strategies across various industries, such as technology, B2B services, and healthcare. His expertise includes brand positioning, competitive analysis, content marketing, and web development.

    Click to learn more about Chris

    Are you ready to find out how a brand audit can transform your business?

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    • Increase ROI on lead generation and sales conversions.
    • Reduce marketing expenses.
    • Strengthen brand positioning to become more competitive.

    We guarantee satisfaction or get your money back! Schedule a discovery call with a brand auditor to find out more.

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