29 Why You Need to Run Website Accessibility Audits Regularly

You might be familiar with physical accessibility audits, where engineers look at your physical infrastructure and spot potential problems for individuals with disabilities. However, did you know that your websites should also go through regular website audits too? This article will discuss the nature of an accessibility audit, the importance of conducting these audits, and the consequences of not performing them regularly.

What is a website accessibility audit?

A website accessibility audit is an assessment of your website’s compliance with accessibility best practices and regulations. It uses the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as a benchmark for accessibility. The WCAG is widely considered the most comprehensive set of accessibility standards and includes success criteria such as color contrast ratios, support for keyboard navigation and screen readers, and the presence of alt text and captions for visual content. 

Most audits consist of a hybrid of manual and automated methodologies. Manual audit testing methods primarily focus on the user experience and as such feature a live tester simulating different scenarios typically encountered by an individual with disabilities. For example, a manual audit scenario might involve trying to fill out an online form by using only a keyboard or speech recognition. On the other hand, automated testing involves an accessibility scanner that combs through the website’s HTML code to identify potential accessibility violations, such as missing image alt text, incorrect color contrast ratios, or the lack of text headings and subheadings. 

The importance of accessibility audits

Website accessibility is fast becoming the norm across the globe. In the US, website accessibility is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, and many states have enacted their own accessibility laws. One good example is the state of Colorado, which has passed HB 21-1110, requiring websites operated by state entities (including public colleges and universities) to be fully accessible by July 1, 2024. The law also requires these entities to regularly test and audit their websites to ensure compliance with accessibility standards, such as the WCAG. 

Aside from being a legal requirement, accessibility audits contribute to an overall improvement in a website’s user experience. Many features that were originally developed for users with disabilities, such as captions and transcripts, are also useful for users without disabilities. For instance, users can watch and understand videos in quiet environments thanks to captions. 

Finally, accessibility auditing results in improved website performance. Many users with disabilities prefer websites that have the necessary features for them to perform transactions or obtain the information they need. Inserting headings and subheadings also contributes to better search rankings as they help search engines index your content and make it available as featured answers to user questions. 

The consequences of not running accessibility audits

Since we’ve discussed the benefits of performing accessibility audits, we also need to look at the consequences of not running them. 

First, individual states have become increasingly stringent with their accessibility legislation, and the number of website accessibility lawsuits has steadily increased since 2013. Plaintiffs have filed lawsuits against websites across different jurisdictions and industries, including higher education. In 2015, the National Association of the Deaf filed separate lawsuits against Harvard and MIT, alleging that their video content was not accessible to those with hearing impairments. Both institutions were forced to settle after a long struggle, drafting new video content captioning policies and implementing more robust accessibility standards.

Second, a poor user experience (which also includes a low level of accessibility) will result in high bounce rates, low conversion rates, and reduced traffic. Disorganized content also leads to a website being penalized by Google and other search engines, affecting its ability to reach its target audience. 

Finally, many states require compliance with WCAG 2.0. Many entities make the mistake of performing one accessibility audit and calling it a day. However, WCAG 2.0 was released in 2008, which means that an accessibility audit based on that version will not be up to date with shifting user preferences and technologies. It will also fail to check any new pages or content that has been released since then. In contrast, WCAG 2.2, which was announced in 2023, contains updated success criteria for mobile users, among other new items. Regularly performing accessibility audits using WCAG 2.2 will ensure that your website, including new pages or content, is up to par with the latest standards.

Accessibility audits: The path to full compliance

An accessibility audit can help you find potential issues, providing valuable insight for your organization as it works toward full compliance with accessibility standards. However, performing one audit is not enough. As your website grows, you need to ensure that new content is also accessible. Performing accessibility audits based on a mix of automated and manual techniques regularly will help you avoid costly lawsuits, maintain a positive user experience, and improve your website performance.

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