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set of wrenches - metaphor for web accessibility testing tools

Website Testing Tools for ADA Compliance

ADA Compliance Testing & Auditing Tools

As you're clearly aware by being here, web accessibility is no longer an option. And it’s much more than a checkbox. With an eye to pragmatism, let me lay out the current toolset for testing and auditing websites for ADA and WCAG compliance.

ADA Compliance Standard: The Web Content Accessibility Guideline 

For newcomers, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines were developed by the international standards consortium, W3C. These guidelines have been largely adopted world-wide, and in lieu of specific rule making by the DOJ, they stand as the de facto standard in the US for ADA compliance. The WCAG has three levels of criteria: A, AA, AAA. In practice websites are held to A and AA. The current version of the WCAG is 2.1 although websites are generally held to WCAG 2.0 standards still. WCAG 2.2 is expected later in 2022, however do not hold your breath. And WCAG 3.0 is targeted for 2024 at this point. Again, don’t hold your breath as the W3C spins around and around.

Website Accessibility / WCAG Auditing Tools for ADA/508 Compliance

The first step in how to make your website ADA compliant, is to conduct a WCAG audit. While organizations can use automated WCAG testing tools as an initial test, WCAG testing software can at best only detect 305 of WCAG issues. Pretty surprising right?  Therefore, it’s very important not to rely on automated testing and auditing tools alone, because the Web Content Accessibility Guide is nuanced and interpretive, and requires human testing by qualified accessibility experts. 

The recommended best practice for web accessibility includes the following three steps to establish a complete ADA compliance audit. This is best done by an experienced web accessibility consultant. When hiring such a firm or individual, you'll want to first learn of the experience in WCAG auditing, actual use cases for the myriad of disabilities, as well as the code itself. It's essential that this person understands the code, and rare for one to understand all.

It's 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 cool dashboard may be nice for your executive team, but it’s basically useless to your remediation team. They’ll want standard docs/spreadsheets they can use to manage the project or import into their task management system. 

3 Steps for an ADA Compliance Audit 

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. It's crucial that one does not rely on automated testing alone, because these tools will only capture roughly 30% of issue types. WCAG is interpretive and nuanced. 

Manual Website Auditing

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. 

Assistive Technology Testing

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, it's 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 a few of each.

Automated Full-Website Accessibility Auditing Tools

Accessibility Management Platform (AMP) by Level Access 

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

Axe Tools by Deque (pronounced D-Q)

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

* They do offer a free Chrome plugin for page testing : Accessibility Compliance Auditor 

  • Multi-page audits and reporting 
  • Great for developers
  • API
  • Monthly rates from free up based on use

SortSite OnDemand Suite by Power Mapper

  • They offer Desktop and Cloud versions
  • Checks an entire site and provides Excel and Word reports
  • WCAG 1200 tests at A, AA, and AAA levels
  • Also reports on site errors, compatibility, privacy, search, standards, usability.
  • $49.99/mo


Automated WCAG Page 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 extension - Free

  • For developers

Pa11y - Free

  • For developers

ARC Toolkit : By TPGi - Free 


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 interpretive. Software is not good at interpretation - 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 it's absolutely critical to also run manual testing at the least.


Warning 2: Avoid "Overlay" Widgets or Toolbars. 

If it sounds too good to be true. It is. In the past few years a number of silver bullet "solutions" have overtaken the market to meet the hopeful demand of website owners for a quick cheap fix. Regardless of claims, just don't fall for them. 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, and spacing. 

They claim to utilize AI to "remediate" the website. Really?

All of these solutions fail to meet the needs of actual people with disabilities. 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 their 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. 

More about Overlay "Solutions" and why to avoid.


In closing, you have two choices.  You can either make your current website accessible, or rebuild your website from scratch with a reputable partner. These tools will  help, but to reach compliance and true accessibiity you will need to conduct human testing by web accessibility professionals. Don't shortcut.