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Why Human WCAG Testing Is Essential For ADA Compliance

In an a time when most web developers can rely on plugins or widgets or other automated solutions to fix many website problems, that is not the case for auditing websites for WCAG and ADA compliance. 

The Web Content Accessibility Guideline (WCAG) - De Facto Standard for ADA Compliance

First, it’s important to understand what we’re testing against. The WCAG was developed and is maintained by the W3C - an independent global standards consortium. And as it’s titled, its a set of guidelines and parts of it are nuanced and interpretive. So is not a black and white list of checkboxes for compliance. And this makes it very difficult for automated testing solutions.


Automated WCAG Auditing Solutions Are Limited

Software is good for binary testing, yet people with disabilities are not binary. In addition, automated testing tools cannot even detect many issues. A good example is keyboard only testing, which automated testers cannot emulate.  And there is quite a wide range in the quality and depth of such tools. Even the best cannot detect more than ~30% of WCAG issues. Therefore, manual testing is required to address the balance.


Human WCAG Website Auditing Overview for ADA Compliance

Websites are built using templates. Global elements such as headers and footers are shared. Widgets for specific functions such as calendars, photo galleries, and lead capture are shared throughout the content areas of websites. Therefore, each page and each instance of shared elements do not need to be manually audited. Just the unique pages and each individual element once. So the first step is to identify those. Your web accessibility partner along with your development team can do that together. Inventory the site and identify all of the templates and unique pages, and then weed those that are essentially the same. Make sure your list includes instances of all elements, and widgets. The manual auditor then reviews the code and tests use-cases using actual assistive technologies such as screen readers and keyboard-only for those who cannot use a mouse. 


Best Practices for WCAG Website Auditing

To ensure you get a complete view of your website’s level of accessibility, you first start with automated testing. This captures most of the low-hanging fruit, such as missing labels/tags, and serves as the base of the audit report. Then, your accessibility consultant will layer in his/her findings using human testing that includes code review, UX review, and assistive technology testing. Findings are presented in an audit report that documents all WCAG violations to then address, and ideally provides guidance for remediation.

What’s really important is that your web accessibility partner has a strong understanding of the front-side code of the website. That’s the “presentation layer” of what you see on your screen - the html, css, and javascript. With a strong understanding of the code, your partner will be qualified to not only show where and what each issue is, but also how to fix each. That’s where our team really shines.


How Much Does A Proper WCAG Audit with Human Testers Cost?

The cost for a full audit that includes automated plus human testing is not cheap. It’s very time consuming to examine each page, test using various assistive technology devices, and then to document findings and add remediation guidance. The way we price such an audit is by the number of unique pages we need to manually test. Typically, these average in the $10K-$30K range. 


Reducing the Cost of ADA Auditing

In most cases this is a cost that was not budgeted for. You may not have $10K or more in the current budget cycle. In such a case, you can take a phased approach and begin with just an automated audit. Or, you can reduce the number of pages that get human testing. We call this a keypage audit, and it allows you to get the most for the budget you have.


508 & ADA Testing & Remediation: Avoid Overlay “Solutions”

There is a growing breed of too-good-to-be-true “overlay” solution providers who claim that by adding a plugin or javascript snippet they can automagically make any website WCAG compliant. Without naming names, these rely on automated tools which we know can only detect ~30% of issues in the first place. As the term “overlay” suggests, these methods fail to fix the underlying code. These are bandaids that fail to heal the wound or fully contain the bleeding. Worse, trolling law firms are now targeting websites with these overlay widgets. That little round blue accessibility icon used to turn on the overlay, now serves as a flag that says “sue me, my website isn’t accessible”. More reading 


Final Thought

If you only remember one thing from this post…  automated solutions can only detect 30% of WCAG issues. To protect yourself from endless legal actions and to ensure all can use your website, you must also use human experts in WCAG and font-side code conduct a manual audit as well.