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set of wrenches - metaphor for web accessibility testing tools

Guide to Website Accessibility ADA Testing Tools & Software

David Gibson

ADA Compliance Automated Testing & Auditing Tools

In recent years the focus on website accessibility by activists, plaintiffs, and a public that expects brands with a DEI mission to uphold their responsibility to provide digital inclusion to all has only grown. What tools can website managers use to test and monitor their WCAG conformity for 508, ADA and a growing number of state laws governing website accessibility.

Assume Your Website Is Not Accessible

According to the WebAIM team at Utah State (makers of the popular WAVE web page accessibility tester) 96.8% of the top million homepages had significant accessibility barriers. And not just one or two missing alt tags either. Each had an average of 51.4 violations.  

Fact is, unless your website has been properly audited and remediated to conform to the Web Content Accessibility Guideline (WCAG 2.1 A, AA), you should assume that your website is not ADA compliant.

Benefits of Website Accessibility and ADA Compliance

There are many reasons why you should care about web accessibility and ADA compliance, both from an ethical and a business perspective. Here are some of the most important ones:

It's the right thing to do.
Web accessibility is a human right, and by making your website or app accessible, you are respecting the dignity, equality, and inclusion of people with disabilities - as well as Seniors. You are also demonstrating your commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), which is increasingly important for customers, employees, and stakeholders.

It's good for SEO.
Web accessibility and SEO (search engine optimization) go hand in hand, because many of the best practices for making your website ADA compliant will also improve its ranking on search engines. For example, using clear headings, alt text, captions, labels, and semantic markup helps both people with disabilities and search engines understand your content better. By following the WCAG you can boost your SEO performance and reach more potential customers.

It's good for usability for all.
Web accessibility enhances the user experience for everyone, not just people with disabilities. By making your website or app easy to use, navigate, understand, and interact with, you can increase customer satisfaction and loyalty. 

It’s good for expanding sales
Not only are there 61M people with a disability in the US, there are also 71M Baby Boomers who carry $548B in discretionary spending. Whether they declare themselves as such or not, anyone who lives long enough will experience the same challenges with vision, hearing, cognition and fine motor skills. This is the big opportunity.

Boomers are our first digital seniors. And as a son of two, I can tell you that today’s website and apps are very difficult for seniors to navigate. 

By ensuring that seniors and people with disabilities can use your website, not only will you ensure that all visitors get the best experience and enable them to buy what you offer, but you’ll be showing your commitment to your entire community.

ADA Compliance Standard: The Web Content Accessibility Guideline (WCAG) 

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 2023, however do not hold your breath. And WCAG 3.0 is still over the horizon. Don’t hold your breath as the W3C spins around and around.

How to Reach ADA Website 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 WCAG 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 WCAG 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 the WCAG and website code to 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 & Screen Reader Testing

For those seeking the most thorough accessibility, the tester uses the most common screen readers (JAWS, ZOOM test, NVDA, Dragon Natural Speaking, etc) used by those with vision 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 & WCAG Monitoring Tools

Arc Domain Monitoring by TPGi

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

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 

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 accessibility you will need to conduct human testing by web accessibility professionals. Don't shortcut.