For those who have undergone a comprehensive accessibility audit, you are already aware of the process, and you also know that adequately conducting such an audit can add up to some high budget numbers. The fact is, to properly audit a website or application, you can’t rely on automation. You need to employ manual testing techniques, and those tests result in the comprehensive audits and eventual remediation and certification that you need to be fully compliant.
The bad news is that the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) that govern digital accessibility rules consider a site with even a single accessibility issue as not in compliance; the upshot is that you really need comprehensive audits plus remediation to truly claim compliance. The good news is, though, is that it is possible to make your site far more accessible than it currently is while spending far less, albeit at the cost of a bit of legal risk. In this post, we will introduce some techniques you can utilize to save time and money on an accessibility audit if that is the route you choose to go down. But first, when we talk of “risk,” let’s define what really can happen to you.
The past few years have brought a tremendous increase in the number of lawsuits filed against digital service providers because of a lack of accessibility for users who require assistive devices to browse or operate websites or applications. By some measures, there were over 10,000 federal lawsuits in 2020 alone. While some are frivolous suits brought by serial plaintiffs looking for a quick payday, many are filed by legitimate users harmed by a website’s lack of accessibility. Among the companies who have faced significant judgments were well-known companies and organizations such as Dominos Pizza, H&R Block, Miami University, and Carnival Cruise Line, just to name a few.
Your ability to defend yourself against these actions bears a direct relationship to how serious you are in addressing accessibility standards before the suit is filed. This is where the cycle of audits, remediation, and re-audits with certification comes in. Only via this process can you indeed be rendered 100% accessible.
However, as you well know, that is not necessarily an expense that every company can bear. So, how can you save on this process? As we said, there are ways to balance your costs and the volume of accessibility errors you can find and fix against the risk of a possible lawsuit. This is best done by looking at some efficiencies in the process, which we have outlined below.
Consider Which Standard
The most recently published accessibility standard is the WCAG version 2.1, which was released in 2018. (There is also a working draft for version 2.2 that is in progress and even a new version 3.0 that is in the early drafting stages.) Nonetheless, the most recent federal court rulings on the matter have referred to the older WCAG 2.0 (at the AA level) as the authoritative standard that websites must meet to remain in compliance with the ADA. In practice, we recommend bringing your site into compliance with WCAG 2.1 (which is backward compatible, ensuring that you are also in compliance with WCAG 2.0) as it objectively makes a site more accessible and because nothing is preventing the courts from choosing to treat WCAG 2.1 as a new minimum standard.
Nonetheless, if you choose to audit and remediate based on the WCAG 2.0 AA standard, you are on reasonably solid ground. We are confident that doing so will improve the accessibility of your website or mobile app (and will lay the groundwork for you to later upgrade to the higher 2.1 standards). This relatively small risk tradeoff can save time (and therefore money) in reducing the testing and documentation time and generating a more manageable to-do list of fixes.
Test a Sample
Unless your website or app has only a handful of pages, any audit will by necessity focus on a representative sample. Our accessibility audits are conducted on a list of templates, screens, or interfaces that we determine through a manual inspection of an application or website. The most comprehensive option is to audit these identified interfaces (while applying content accessibility testing even more widely – potentially to every single page on the site). This entirely manual process constitutes the bulk of the expense related to these audits. One opportunity for savings is to lower the census of interfaces and instead test a smaller sample.
By default, our accessibility audits review each template (or screen) on all of the most common browsers (such as Chrome, Firefox, and Safari) and screen readers (e.g., JAWS, NVDA, and Voiceover). Site owners may be familiar with the phenomenon of browser-specific bugs where a site can work perfectly in one browser but has a visible defect on another browser. The same concept applies to accessibility bugs. While testing on all major browsers (in combination with all of the screen reader options) is the only way to find every issue, you can reduce the number of browsers or screen readers (or creatively mix and match on different templates) to significantly cut down on the testing time. This approach to savings will find most accessibility issues but almost certainly will miss at least a few.
The positive of this approach is that you can save on the price of the entire audit. If templates or screens are relatively similar to one another, you will likely find most potential issues and be in a position to make a relatively thorough remediation of your property undergoing this method. However, the lack of comprehensiveness makes it impossible for any third party (including us) to certify you as fully accessible, which is only achievable when testing all identified interfaces on all browser and screen reader combinations.
This strategy is worthwhile if you are willing to take on a bit more risk in terms of legal liability and have in-house resources capable of extrapolating from the report provided by auditors. They could then use those suggestions in other areas and take some initiative to learn how accessibility works all at the same time.
Run Automated Scans First
Rather than start with an accessibility audit, we suggest that you first run whatever automated scans you can; at the very least, this may give you a decent idea of whether a manual audit will find a large number of issues. You can also begin addressing some of these issues even before starting an audit; while automated scans can only detect 25% (at most) of accessibility issues, it’s obviously a good thing to be 25% more accessible. This isn’t as easy on apps as it is on websites, but you can do something to achieve a baseline. Because the nature of audits is that each screen must be identified and then manually tested, it isn’t a guarantee that doing automated testing and remediation will save a tremendous amount of budget, but it is possible. We appraise each project before auditing ourselves, and sites with some level of accessibility compliance will be easier to audit and thus save a few dollars on the final proposed budget.
One last area, which is somewhat similar to the point I just made, is that if you design in a more straightforward, accessible way, audits will always be easier, as will remediation. If you are undergoing a rebuild and/or redesign project now, ensure that accessibility is a major focus (and if you are hiring a design agency, you should include it as a requirement). If you make accessibility a primary factor in your redevelopment, then audits and certification will become much more straightforward.
I’ve seen many times where websites are finalized, built, and deployed only to undergo audits where the color schemes simply don’t work, and the site functionally has a long way to go to be remediated. What a waste of time and effort! Consider accessibility from day one, which will make things much easier in the long run.
Publish an Accessibility Statement
All of this work is well and good and needs to be done... However, it would be a good idea to have a Statement of Accessibility on your site, which is publicly accessible and speaks to your organization's commitment to improving your accessibility conformance and your ongoing efforts in achieving the highest levels of compliance possible. This statement should include at a minimum your commitment to serving those with disabilities, the standards you are applying (such as WCAG 2.1), and who to contact in case there are issues with experiencing your site.
This is a simple, quick step you can take to alert the public about your concern and efforts - and it may help you avoid contentious legal conflicts as well.
Retain Professional Assistance
Accessibility is sadly not often on the minds of executives who are setting budgets and planning how to utilize those budgets. However, you should consider having a professional team in place, at least on a small retainer, to assist in any ongoing questions, and to conduct some training. In many cases, having a small engagement in place will be enough to fend off a lawsuit and show that you are taking measures to achieve conformance. The law states you must be compliant - and that process takes time. Having a team in place before you get targeted for legal demands is a solid defense and indicates your awareness and commitment to improving your site's accessibility.
It’s All About Risk Profile
In wrapping up this post, choosing how to save on an accessibility audit is entirely dependent on your penchant for risk. If you are extremely risk-averse or work in a sector that is especially vulnerable to accessibility lawsuits and have reason to seek comprehensive compliance, most definitely conduct a thorough audit and remediation. Seek a re-audit to verify and get your compliance certificate. This is the most expensive route but by far the most certain to avoid trouble down the road.
If accessibility has been an after-thought until now, and you are just hoping to avoid a lawsuit for now, then you can determine how deep your risk aversion really runs and make some choices in terms of depth of audit, remediation boundaries, and whether or not you seek certification