Preparing For Your First Accessibility Audit

Ashley Dzick • June 10, 2019

Legal compliance is traditionally the first entry point to accessibility for many companies. Permanent visible disabilities (like blindness or missing an arm) are very easy to imagine, but far more disabilities are temporary or not visible — and it is essential to account for them as well. 1 in 5 people has a legally officially recognized permanent disability, like Alzheimer’s or a missing limb. However, anyone can have a temporary impairment, like a broken arm or a concussion. When we expand the entire audience to situational awareness, the number grows even more.

The easiest way to map the entire audience is to design for the most common disabilities (accomplished simply by following the legal guidelines) and to conduct field research or interviews to determine what situations we should consider in designs.

At SafeNet, we like to use the discovery model for auditing. Discovery allows us to understand the depth of compliance needs before committing to a more comprehensive audit. Many companies choose to conduct discovery and then develop standards and training; once they’ve got the info, they can audit the rest of the website on their own.

When auditing, we consider the following:
1. Audit Size: The recommendation is to start with discovery, but that might not work for you. A full audit covers everything so you know your company is safe. The downside is that you’re looking at a much larger initial investment.
2. Critical Path: Even with a full audit, it is likely we will not encompass every single page. When deciding what to audit, look at your business’s critical path. What components of your product or service are essential for you to make money?
3. Triage: After the audit is conducted, prioritize fixes that are going to be the easiest to implement and the most impactful.

Getting Started

When conducting your own audit, you’ll need to decide a few things.

1. Choose a Legal Standard

There are two common legal standards proposed by the Web Consortium Group — Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 and 2.1.

WCAG 2.0: This is the level of standards most frequently used in lawsuits and one the Department of Justice relies heavily upon. It was developed based on relatively non-responsive websites and did not account for mobile. We recommend WCAG 2.0 for websites that are relatively static without a need for responsive or dynamic content.

WCAG 2.1: This is the newest standard, proposed in 2018. No further changes are included. WCAG 2.1 further refines ideas around mobile, gestures, responsiveness, hover, tap, and touch states. We recommend WCAG 2.1 for mobile, as it includes many best practices you should consider, and will eventually be the new lawsuit standard. When in doubt — aim for 2.1.

2. Choose a Level

There are three levels in both WCAG 2.0 and 2.1 — Level A, AA and AAA.

  • Level A: Lowest level. These are easier to implement, have a high impact on the overall population. Any company should be able to reasonably accomplish anything in Level A. Some standards in Level A include: text alternatives for all images, provide captions with audio, avoid overly verbose marketing jargon, label form fields and no major code errors.
  • Level AA: High impact, but a lower portion of the population. Most lawsuits require Level AA compliance. Parts of Level AA can be attained very easily, especially as the team learns and creates standards. Some standards in Level AA include all of Level A, text can be resized to 200%, minimum color contrasts of 4.5:1 and no keyboard traps.
  • Level AAA: Focused improvements for specific users. Most people will not attain all of level AAA, but will instead focus on specific improvements that their own users have requested. Some standards included in Level AAA include: all of Level AA, videos have a sign language alternative, no images of text, the website does not time out, and provide detailed instructions and help for all users.

For most companies new to accessibility, I recommend the following:

  • Get everything done you can reasonably accomplish in your budget and timeframe
  • You should be able to meet all Level A criteria at a minimum
  • Parts of Level AA can be accomplished fairly easily as your team learns and grows
  • Look for Level AA compliance over time and aspects of Level AAA that are easier for your team to implement

There are a few exceptions in which I recommend shooting for Level AAA as soon as possible:

  • You or your direct competitors are facing a lawsuit
  • You’re about to undertake a large redesign or refactoring and can include compliance
  • Your company is willing to make a larger investment now to save some time later on

3. Decide if You Need a Partner

If you’ve never done an audit before, find a partner to help. The company you work with should also be willing to train your team on accessibility best practices, inclusive design and tools like screenreaders and contrast analyzers. Doing it yourself is also possible — just be prepared to spend more time researching and learning on your own.

Once you’ve answered those questions, you’re ready to start auditing!

Other Common Questions

I’m not in danger of getting sued about accessibility, why should I care?
Getting sued because of accessibility compliance is only one small facet of maintaining accessibility compliance. Inclusive design and accessibility make your product more usable to more people and in more situations. To quote Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think, “The one argument for accessibility that doesn’t get made nearly often enough is how extraordinarily better it makes some people’s lives. How many opportunities do we have to dramatically improve people’s lives just by doing our jobs a little better?”

Who is suing all these websites anyway?
It’s a combination of access groups, like the National Federation for the Blind, and individuals who have experienced some sort of difficulty with the website. As of 2018, there’s also been a sharp rise in class action lawsuits. Class action lawsuits are significantly more expensive for companies but can help mitigate risk against future lawsuits.

I want to be more inclusive but none of my users have these problems. Does this even apply to me?
1 in 5 individuals have a disability; chances are it applies to some of yours. Even if none of your current users have any disabilities, there’s always the potential that future users will. Don’t eliminate your future market share.

Should development or marketing be in charge of our accessibility?
Accessibility has to be a joint effort across multiple departments to be truly successful. Development needs to implement responsible code practices that don’t break accessibility. Marketing and branding need to maintain consistency, color contrasts and use plain language.

Click here to contact us today about how we can help with your accessibility audit!

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