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woman bringing two puzzle pieces together with the logo at the union - representing finding the most qualified web accessibility auditing consultants

Choosing The Best WCAG Web Accessibility Auditing Consultants

David Gibson

Finding qualified web accessibility consultants who can deliver in-depth WCAG compliance audits of websites, SaaS or mobile apps is not easy. Yes, there are a great number of new-comers in the space, but in digital accessibility consulting, there is no substitute for experience.

In today's digital-centric world, the importance of web accessibility cannot be overstated. The web is where we commonly go to learn, shop, connect, work, and explore the universe. For businesses, making websites and all digital “places of public accommodation” accessible to people with disabilities is not only a legal mandate but also an ethical obligation. This imperative extends beyond the risk of litigation; it encompasses the opportunity to tap into a broader market and demonstrates a commitment to the principles of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI).

This comprehensive guide aims to equip decision makers with the essential knowledge to select the most qualified web accessibility auditor to properly test your website, SaaS or mobile app, and guide through the entire process from web accessibility audit to remediation and WCAG compliance verification. Our objective is to ensure that your digital platforms are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 508, and various state and international laws, thereby ensuring an accessible and enjoyable experience for every visitor.

For the sake of simplicity, I will often group websites, web applications (SaaS) and mobile app compliance auditing under the umbrella of Web accessibility compliance auditing, etc. 

Understanding Web Accessibility Laws

US Federal and State Accessibility Laws 

In the U.S. the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act lay the groundwork for web accessibility standards at the federal level. 508 applies to .gov websites and the ADA applies to commercial websites, SaaS, mobile apps and content.  Additionally, numerous states have enacted their own laws. California and New York both have laws that include punitive damages, which the ADA lacks. These laws aim to eliminate barriers for individuals with disabilities, ensuring equal access to digital information and services.

International Accessibility Laws

Globally there are 6 countries plus the collective EU with accessibility laws that may apply to US companies. The European Union's European Accessibility Act (EAA) will take effect in Q2 2025. This law has the greatest potential impact - likely the next GDPR. 

What all of these laws have in common is that the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines serves as the international standard for digital accessibility. This is our reference for auditing to ensure legal compliance. 

The Standard for Web Accessibility: The WCAG

The WCAG, developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), are the international standard for web accessibility. The WCAG provides a comprehensive set of recommendations for making digital content more accessible to people with disabilities, including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, language, learning, and neurological disabilities.

3 Step Best Practices Used By Experienced Website Auditors for WCAG Compliance Testing

Automated WCAG Website Testing

While automated testing tools are beneficial for identifying certain accessibility issues across a website, they are inherently limited, detecting only about 30% of potential WCAG issues. Their utility is in scanning an entire website to identify basic, content-related accessibility issues, serving as a preliminary step in the auditing process. Experienced WCAG compliance testers never use software exclusively. 

Manual WCAG Compliance Auditing

The cornerstone of an effective accessibility audit is manual testing conducted by auditors with an in-depth understanding of both the WCAG guidelines and web development code. This approach ensures that once a template or component is fixed, the solution is propagated across the entire website. It is crucial that the auditor has a strong command of front-side code (HTML, CSS, and JavaScript) to provide accurate remediation guidance.

Assistive Technology WCAG Compliance Testing

A comprehensive audit also involves testing the website with various assistive technologies to simulate the user experience of individuals with different disabilities. This step is vital to ensure that the website is not only technically WCAG compliant but also practically accessible. Manual WCAG testing with leading screen readers like JAWS, NVDA, ZoomText, and Dragon NaturallySpeaking, as well as mobile accessibility tools like VoiceOver and TalkBack, provides a holistic view of the site's accessibility.

Selecting the Most Qualified Web Accessibility Auditing Consultant

When choosing a consultant, prioritize:

  • Experience and Credentials: Look for a proven track record and formal qualifications in web accessibility.
  • Emphasis on Manual Testing: Ensure the consultant values human-based testing alongside automated tools.
  • Code Proficiency: The auditor should have a thorough understanding of web development code to offer effective remediation guidance.

Red Flags: Be wary of consultants who promise 100% ADA compliance through their services alone, especially those who rely heavily on automated tools. If any propose an "overlay" solution, walk away immediately. These often fail to address the root of accessibility issues and can lead to false assurances of compliance.

What Are Accessibility Overlay Widgets, Plugins, Toolbars?

Anyone tasked with digital accessibility for their organization needs to be aware of what these are and why they should be avoided. As the term “overlay” implies, it is a thin javascript bandaid that masks the underlying code. It doesn’t correct the underlying code. Despite the claims of many overlay providers, these cannot provide WCAG compliance because for one, as we know, software at best can only detect 30% of WCAG issues. In practice, they often introduce new barriers and inhibit user’s native screen readers. Last year 30% of all lawsuits involved websites using overlays. And the EU has flatly rejected their use. 

How Much Does A Web Accessibility WCAG Audit Cost?

The investment in a web accessibility audit is significant but essential for ensuring inclusivity and compliance. Every accessibility compliance team goes about pricing differently. Many try to push you into a subscription model, which may appear to cost less in the first year, but will cost much more over time and overcharge for “monitoring”. We on the other hand are project-based. You just get what you pay for. We first identify all of the “unique pages” with different templates and components. In addition to global testing of the entire site with automated testing tools, it’s these pages that we conduct human WCAG testing on, and this is our cost factor.

For a typical informational/marketing Wordpress website the cost might range in the $10-$15K zone. For a typical Shopify ecommerce website, the cost for a thorough audit of each unique page may range in the $20-$25K ballpark. Many web applications (SaaS) audits can run well over these numbers. And enterprise ecommerce sites can easily double or triple these figures.

How To Reduce The Cost of WCAG Website Testing

This may not be realistic for some businesses. What we do to reduce the cost of a manual accessibility test is to reduce the number of unique pages we test manually. The majority of issues found in manual accessibility testing are found in the first set of pages tested. So cutting the list and cost even in half will expose a high percentage of issues to be found. 

When it comes to budgeting for a WCAG compliance audit, you can only work with what you have. 

My Web Developer Says He Can Do The Audit and Remediation. Should I believe him?

I’ve been working with web developers for 27 years. I’ve never known a web developer who would admit they can’t do something ;). BUT in this case, experience matters. The WCAG is nuanced and interpretive. There are an endless number of user scenarios from people with different types of challenges with an evolving technology base. You can’t watch a few Youtube videos and get it. You have to live it. 

Benefits of WCAG Compliance

Adhering to WCAG guidelines not only ensures legal compliance but also enhances the overall user experience, broadens your audience reach, and potentially improves SEO performance. It signifies a commitment to inclusivity and can positively impact your brand's perception and success.

  • Legal Compliance: With rising ADA lawsuits and over 96% of websites failing WCAG standards, ensuring web accessibility mitigates legal risks and defends against costly litigation.
  • Demonstrate DEI: Embracing accessibility underscores your commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, enhancing your brand's reputation among customers, employees, and stakeholders. The inverted risk of being labeled as discriminating against people with disabilities is one to avoid.
  • Improved Usability: Making your site accessible benefits everyone, boosting user satisfaction, loyalty, and potentially your bottom line.
  • Market Expansion: Catering to the 61 million Americans with disabilities and 71 million Baby Boomers—with a collective $548 billion in discretionary spending—opens significant market opportunities.
  • SEO Benefits: ADA-compliant websites see improved SEO through optimized headings, alt text, and structured markup, increasing visibility and broadening audience reach.
  • New AIO: Similar to SEO, the shift from search engines towards AI-driven platforms introduces Artificial Intelligence Optimization (AIO). Adhering to WCAG aids these technologies, enhancing your digital marketing strategy and expanding the value of WCAG compliance in the evolving digital landscape.

Wrap Up

Choosing the right web accessibility auditing consultant is a critical step in making your website accessible to all users. By focusing on experienced accessibility consultants who prioritize comprehensive, human-based testing and understand the nuances of assistive technology, you can ensure your digital properties are inclusive, legally compliant, and welcoming to everyone.