ADA Web Site Testing & Auditing Best Practices
Whether reacting to a web-related ADA (or Sect 508 or California’s Unruh Act) legal action, trying to avoid one, or hoping to ensure that all visitors can access and use your website regardless of ability, then the first step is a WCAG website compliance test / audit.
Regardless of whether it’s ADA, 508 or Unruh the de facto standard for each is the Web Content Accessibility Guideline. The WCAG was established by the W3C - an international standards body, and the current version is WCAG 2.1. In practice, most websites are required to adhere to WCAG 2.0 A, AA levels.
The best practice for ADA website compliance testing / auditing is a three step process.
Automated ADA Website Testing
Whether an online bot or installed software, this solution scans the website. Prices range from free to 5 figures per year. They are helpful to get quick results for low-hanging fruit items. Often these solutions cannot access beyond logins however. Most importantly, automated ADA auditing solutions can only detect ~30% of WCAG issues. The WCAG is nuanced and interpretive. Therefore the next two steps are required.
It’s also important to distinguish between ADA page testers and full site auditing solutions. Tools like AXE (Chrome developer plugin) or Web AIM’s WAVE are great at testing an individual page, but they cannot spider and report on an entire site. What you really want is a complete WCAG website audit of the entire website with reporting that records all issues.
Manual Code Testing for ADA Compliance Audits
This is key. You want to have an experienced auditor who knows both the WCAG and code. Websites are built on templates, so an ADA auditor reviews the code of each and adds findings to the base report generated by the automated audit. Here’s it’s key that this person “speak geek” and is able to write proper remediation guidance for designers, content teams, and developers who will next be executing the remediation.
Assistive Technology ADA Compliance Testing
Did you know that your keyboard is an assistive technology? In addition to screen readers, magnifiers, pointing devices, etc; the keyboard enables users that cannot use a mouse to navigate a website using the tab, enter, and arrow keys. In this final step an accessibility website auditor puts him/herself into the shoes of user profiles to test through use cases and templates using these alternative tools for navigating a website.
How To Reduce Cost of WCAG Compliance Audits
The challenge is that the final two steps take considerable time. One method we use to reduce that cost is to identify “key” templates vs all templates. This can cut 30%-50% of scope and cost. The difference between many of these templates is minimal or may only appear different. What’s important is that the set of key templates cover all the elements found on the site. From this, the development team will be able to extrapolate and apply globally.
The most common mistake is to think that you can get away with only automated auditing to save money. It’s so common, and understandable. Especially when this is suddenly thrust upon the marketing team, without the money budgeted for this. It’s also not sexy. It’s more like being told that you need a new roof.
Are We Close to Peak in Web-Related Lawsuits?
Even though headlines speak of ADA related lawsuit surges, this hasn’t even gotten started.
When I say "this hasn't even started", and then warn of impending tsunami for digital cases, my opinion stems from comparing phsysical barrier ADA cases to digital. Consider that its been 30 years since the ADA was inacted, and look at the volume of physical barrier cases still hitting. Physical barrier cases require so much more labor to initiate versus web barrier cases. Someone needs to visit the site and take measurements, photos, etc to build a case. With digital, its simply cut and paste. Sooner or later lawyers will catch on and we’re going to see that tsunami. So get ahead of this now.