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Testing Tools for ADA WCAG Website Compliance

ADA Compliance Testing & Auditing Tools & Tips

As you're likely aware, its become established that most websites are considered "places of public accommodation" and subject to the American Disabilities Act. Plus institutions receiving federal funding must ensure their website complies with Sect 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. In practice, the Web Content Accessibility Guideline (WCAG) is the standard against which compliance is currently measured in both cases.

Website Accessibility / WCAG Auditing Tools for ADA/508 Compliance

The first step in how to make your website Sect 508 or ADA compliant, is to conduct a WCAG 2.0 audit. While organizations can use automated WCAG testing tools as an initial test, WCAG testing software will catch less that a quarter of issues.  Its very important not to rely on automated testing and auditing tools alone, because the Web Content Accessibility Guide, is just that - its a guide. It is nuanced and interpretive, and requires human assessment. 

The recommended best practice includes the following three steps to establish a complete ADA compliance audit. This is best done by an experience web accessibility consultant. When hiring such a firm or individual, you'll want to first learn of the experience in WCAG auditing as well as programming. Its essential that this person understands the code. Its also important to see what reporting you get from the audit. Simply getting a list of issues doesn't help you that much. Someone who knows what they're doing will provide actionable reporting that doesn't just point out issues, but also provides remediation guidance that your developer can use. Also, the format of the documentation is important. A Word doc may be nice for your executive team, but its basically useless to your remediation team, who would rather receive the item by item report in a spreadsheet that can then be used in the workflow. 

3 steps for a complete web accessibility audit 

  1. Automated Testing
    Automated testing tools for ADA or Sect 508 compliance (WCAG 2.1 AA) come in many levels and prices. What's first important is to differentiate between page testers and site auditors. Wave, for instance is a page tester and will not audit your website. Its crucial that one does not rely on automated testing alone, because these tools will only capture roughly 25% of issue types. WCAG is interpretive and nuanced. 
  2. Manual Code Review
    Here someone with an understanding of both WCAG 2.1 and website code can catch all that is missed by automated testing. Typically this person will identify the unique pages and templates of a site and only manually audit these. It would be cost prohibitive to manually review every page of a site. 
  3. Assistive Technology Review
    For those seeking the most thorough accessibility, the tester uses the actual tools (JAWS, ZOOM test, NVDA, Dragon Natural Speaking, etc) used by those with disabilities to use the website. 

WCAG Compliance Testing Tools

There are an enormous number of automated tools for testing websites and individual pages/modals. Here, its important not to confuse these two toolsets, because if you're a developer working on a specific template, you need a page tester - not a full site auditor. Inversely, if you're in charge of compliance, you need a full site auditor. Here are few of each.

Automated Full-Website Accessibility Auditing Tools

Accessibility Management Platform (AMP) by Level Access (formerly SSB Bart)

  • Enterprise level
  • Very thorough and used by remediation experts
  • Very expensive

WorldSpace by Deque (pronounced D-Q)

  • Enterprise level
  • Very thorough and used by remediation experts
  • Very expensive

They also offer a free in-line testing extension for Firefox and Chrome for developers called aXe (replaced FireEyes)

(AMP and WordSpace tend to go back and forth between 1st and 2nd place) : Accessibility Compliance Auditor 

  • Multi-page audits and reporting 
  • Great for developers
  • API
  • Monthly rates as low as $82/mo

SortSite Accessibility Validator by Power Mapper

  • They offer two versions: Desktop ($149-$849/user) and OnDemand Cloud ($49/mo/user)
  • Checks an entire site and provides Excel and Word reports
  • WCAG 1200 tests at A, AA, and AAA levels
  • Also reports on site errors, compatabilty, privacy, search, standards, usability.


Automated Page Code Accessbilitly Testers

Wave : Accessibility Compliance Validator - Free

  • Issues are overlaid on page
  • Good for non technical people (good for showing the boss for buy-in)

Axe : by Deque - Chrome and Firefox dev tools browser extentions

  • For developers


  • For developers


Warning 1: Do not rely only on Automated WCAG testing tools

This is the most common mistake, and this path has put so many website managers in hot water. The WCAG is both nuanced and intrepretive. Software is not good at iterpration - no matter what dreamy AI claims are made. Software can only detect - at best - 30% of WCAG issues. They cannot even see 70% of issues. This is why its absolutely critical to also run manual testing at the least.


Warning 2: Too good to be true? Avoid javascript "layered" or "overlay" toolbar and AI remediation solutions. 

If it sounds too good to be true. It is. In the past year a number of silver bullet "solutions" have flooded the market to meet the hopeful demand of website owners for a quick cheap fix. While some may serve as a temporary bandaid, others are pure snake oil. There are a few variations of these, but most take the form of an embedded snippet of javascript that adds an accessibility toolbar to a site and/or injects a fresh layer that addresses some, but not all accessibility issues. Using this toolbar, and user can then adjust things like color contrast, typeface size, spacing. 

There are also a few now that claim to utilize AI to "remediate" the website - again using similar javascript overlay methods.

All of these solutions fail to meet the needs of actual people with disabilites. Such people have their own browser settings and assistive technology tools - such as screen readers. Toolbars have absolutely no use. And overlays most often do not enable screen readers or other ATs to actually work. They can even make thier use more challenging. 

Since we know that automated tools can only detect ~30% of WCAG issues, extrapolate and understand that such layered and AI solutions can't be expected to do any better. Thus leaving 70% of barriers on the table. 

Especially problematic are Alternate Accessibile Website providers.
These "solutions" don't even try to improve the accessibility of the primary site. Instead they add a little accessibility icon to the page that links to a separate website "accessible" version of the site. However, in reality, such sites are not even duplicates of the primary. They are reduced and most often have different IA, different content, and lack the same functionality as the primary website. This fails the "full and equal enjoyment" clause of the ADA and in and of itself is discriminatory. Read more on this.

So. Simply focus on either making your current website accessible, or rebuild your website from scratch with a reputable partner.


Be smart.

Good luck.