An accessibility audit is a thorough evaluation of your website using recognised guidelines and metrics. There are a lot of different approaches to doing an accessibility audit; this article gives you the low-down on exactly what you need to know.
When should I do an accessibility audit?
On your current website
You might want to know how accessible your current website is. This could be because you’d like to make some updates to your website to make it more accessible. Or perhaps you’re looking ahead to a time when you’ll redevelop and you’d like to avoid the same accessibility issues.
On a brand new website
Alternatively, you could be building a whole new website. Accessibility audits can be carried out at key stages through the web development lifecycle and can help build accessibility efficiently into your site. You may like to check your creative designs for accessibility and your coded templates. As your website functionality takes shape, another audit can identify any potential accessibility problems with the underlying structure. A final pre-live audit captures any issues introduced during content loading, making sure the site is fit for launch.
That’s quite a few audits isn’t it?
It might seem that way, but the trick is to test often and fix quickly. A series of smaller accessibility audits can help you identify accessibility issues earlier and resolve them more easily. Retro-fitting a website for accessibility works up to a point, but it has its challenges. Building accessibility in from the start of a project will usually work out cheaper and will give you better results.
Ok, so how is an audit done?
You’ll hear a lot of people tell you that automated testing is the answer. It’s a useful tool, but it should never be relied upon to give you the full picture. Accessibility is about people and automated tools just don’t look at things in the same way people do. To give you an example, you might have an image on your homepage with an alternative text description for blind and partially sighted people. An automated tool will tell you if the alternative text description is there, but it takes a real person to distinguish whether the description makes sense or not. A good quality audit will always use manual testing to build on the results of automated testing.
Will an audit evaluate the whole website?
It often will do. Despite the fact that automated tools only check a few things, they can cover a large number of pages. An accessibility audit will often use this approach to give a broad understanding of how accessible a website might be. Although it isn’t possible to manually evaluate every single page of a large website, a representative sample of pages is chosen for manual testing. The sample should include at least one example of each unique page type found throughout the site, plus a selection of other types of content. The homepage, section landing pages and standard content pages are obvious choices. You might also include pages with multimedia content, complex data tables, web forms, or pages that use third party applications.
So what do I get from an audit?
You should get a detailed report, rich in information and advice. You should expect to find explanations that can be understood by everyone in your team, no matter whether they have technical experience or not. In addition, the report should also provide specific solutions, recommendations and code examples for your web team to use. People often prefer their information in different formats depending on their task. A full report is a useful reference document, but a simple table of results can act as a lighter weight companion. An accessibility audit should also include a results matrix that you can use to track your progress as you work through any issues identified in the report.
Should I be worried about getting an accessibility audit done?
Absolutely not. We all know that accessibility is an essential part of any web strategy, but we also recognise that it’s sometimes difficult to meet and maintain accessibility targets. Getting an accessibility audit done is just the first step on a journey. Your destination might be an existing website with improved accessibility, or a shiny new site with accessibility built in from the ground up. Either way, an accessibility audit will give you a helping hand along the way.