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Should I Outsource WCAG Website Remediation?

David Gibson

As the growth in web-related ADA compliance lawsuits for web accessibility continues, web site owners face important decisions regarding paths for WCAG auditing and subsequent website remediation to ensure people with disabilities can access web content, and to comply with the American Disabilities Act. 

Overview of Website ADA Compliance Requirements

We have passed the tipping point where websites are now considered “places of public accommodation” and thus subject to title iii of the ADA. The DOJ and most courts have largely agreed and a rapidly growing number of law firms are actively trolling. Trolling lawyers do not have to look far. The WebAIM project at the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State, for the past two years has run accessibility tests on homepages of the top million websites. The 2019 report revealed that 98.1% of homepages had detectable WCAG 2.0 failures. Unless a website is specifically designed and then built for accessibility, you should assume it is in violation of the ADA.

The Web Content Accessibility Guideline (WCAG) is the defacto standard for digital accessibility.  The guidelines come in three degrees (A, AA, AAA). The commonly acceptable level of conformity has been WCAG 2.0 A, AA, however WCAG version 2.1, published June 2018, is current.

Website owners must now balance the risk of a lawsuit against cost during a very tough economic time. And not only a tough economic time, but also a tough societal time when the values of companies are scrutinized. So now, if a website is not accessible, the company also risks appearing to discriminate against people with disabilities.


The Path to WCAG Remediation for ADA Compliance

Step One : 3 Factor WCAG Website Audit

Regardless of who does the work, it is very important to begin with a WCAG audit conducted by qualified accessibility experts who understand the WCAG, the code, and the many disabilities. The best practice is a 3-factor website audit that combines the results of automated, manual, and assistive technology into one comprehensive audit. Do not even consider relying solely on an automated audit. Even the best can only detect ~30% of WCAG issues, because these issues are nuanced and interpretive. To do this right you must add manual and assistive technology testing (screen readers, etc) of unique pages/templates to capture the other 70% of issues. Further, you want to be sure that the consultant you use, provides remediation guidance for each and every item. This is what we do, and we even include relevant screen-shots. Quality reporting at this level will greatly reduce the number of false positives, and well written remediation guidance will greatly reduce the time/cost impact on the remediation team.


Step Two : WCAG Website Remediation

The first step is to segment the audit results based first on task category and then severity or priority. In our reporting, we indicate severity of each item and then assign a priority level to guide project management. Issues then fall into three category buckets: design, content, development. 

Design issues will include items such as color, contrast, size, spacing, and page structure. 

Content issues will include items that can be addressed through the Content Management System (CMS). These would include items such as image labels (alt tags), or the structure of headings (H1, H2, H3, etc). The content team would also handle captioning video content. Content remediation is not technical but tedious and makes good work for interns. 

Development issues will include the bulk of issues found in the front-side code : the CSS/HTML/Javascript layer. The good news is that websites are built using templates, shared modules, global libraries, etc... so one issue found on every page in a header element for example can potentially be eliminated with one fix. If the audit reporting is thorough and provides strong remediation guidance, a team of decent developers should be able to address most issues on their own. Otherwise you may want to consider bringing in a team of WCAG web site remediation consultants to help.


Should You Outsource Website Accessibility Remediation?

If you already have a stable in-house team who has the bandwidth to take on such a project, then by conducting the remediation in-house will allow that team to learn from the process. With thorough reporting such as ours - designed as a step-by-step remediation guide, then you can effectively train your team and thus avoid future WCAG violations. 

However, if you rely on an external third party for website development, it may make less sense to essentially train their team on your dime. Instead, it may make more sense to hire a team with the experience and expertise to effectively remediate your website faster and with greater confidence.

Often, these settlements require the work be done by a qualified third party and within a specific time frame. And regardless you may simply want the assurance that it is done right, so then again, you should consider finding a contractor or firm that specializes in accessibility.


Choosing an ADA Website Remediation Team

You can start by asking for references from attorneys specializing in web accessibility or a respected digital accessibility consultant. What you’re ultimately looking for is an individual or team that gets both the code and how people with disabilities using assistive technologies navigate websites. Someone who understands the use-cases of actual people with disabilities, the nuances of the WCAG, and pragmatism to reach the most cost effective path? That’s not your average developer. 


Buyer Beware: WCAG Remediation "Solutions" to Avoid

There is a growing breed of too-good-to-be-true “overlay” solution providers who make very bold claims that they can make your website ADA compliant overnight inexpensively. Buyer beware. These rely on automated tools that can only detect ~30% of issues in the first place. They address the light easy items, and may be able to fool the automated testing tools that trolling plaintiffs may use, but they do not provide the accessibility needed by people with actual disabilities, and thus fail to satisfy the ADA or Sect 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. [ more about what to avoid ]


Take the time now to audit and remediate your website following best practices. Not only will this save you time, money and aggravation from the legal side, but will also open the door to millions of Americans with disabilities and demonstrate inclusive values for your brand.