The Problem with Website Accessibility Audits: They Overwhelm Web Teams and Issues Go Unfixed

A sequence I am all too familiar with is a company that receives a demand letter for a complaint is filed against them in court alleging that their website is inaccessible and therefore, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, that company procures a manual website accessibility audit, their team makes progress in remediating some of the issues found in that audit.

Progress eventually comes to a halt and a second demand letter is received or a second complaint is filed, and that company becomes extremely frustrated with the results. So let’s talk about why audits can be so overwhelming.

So an audit typically consists of 10 to 20 pages of your website. And these pages are usually going to be the primary user flow, the most trafficked website pages, and/or the primary page layouts for the website. So let’s take the example of an e-commerce website.

This could be the home page, the product page, the cart page, the checkout page; it could be the registration page, the account page, etc. And so the audit is going to return optimally. all of the accessibility issues that are found or that exist on these pages, I say optimally, because it really depends on the organization you go with.

You want to choose a reputable organization because we’re going to get the best- what the highest quality audits; some audits are not nearly as high as quality. And so you want to avoid any organizations that recommend or sell an overlay widget or freelancers like those found on Fiverr, etc. And so you’ll have all the accessibility issues.

But what’s important to note is that there are- any number of instances of those issues. So let’s say the accessibility issue is alt text. But then there are 100 instances where you have images that are either missing and a normal alt attribute or are missing alt text.

And so we have, let’s say, 25 accessibility issues of those 25 issues 10 may have 50 instances across your website. And that sounds like more than it is, because keep in mind that when we are making these changes on one-page template that in most cases can be applied site-wide.

So, but this- the point of this is that there are many different accessibility issues to work through, and then you need to account for all of the instances where those issues are found.

And so what is problematic about an audit is there is a disconnect, and that disconnect happens because there is one technical expert which is finding the issues, and then there is someone else who they’re likely not communicating with that is remediating those issues.

So ideally, if this was- if the audit process was truly efficient and effective, it would happen all at once, because then the disconnect wouldn’t exist.

The issue would be found, the issue will be fixed, but as it stands, the issue is found, and then later it is fixed by someone else. Not only that but- there’s a symmetry in experience and knowledge. The technical expert is an expert in accessibility.

But the people remediating it- remediating those issues typically are not experts in accessibility. So they have a learning curve to undergo. Now, audits also, there may be some prioritization of issues around the audits, but it’s usually not as specific as you would like.

So what typically happens is there’s a grouping of severity. So let’s say some issues are labeled critical; some issues are labeled urgent; some issues are labeled important. But there’s typically not a 1/2/3 here’s exactly the order that you should- you should remediate these issues.

And this can be problematic because you need to know which issues are most commonly claimed in litigation so that you can preempt any litigation and take care of those accessibility issues that are most commonly litigated because there’s no reason not to take care of accessibility issues that can give rise to litigation first. And then take care of other existing issues that aren’t nearly as common litigation second.

And then there’s also the matter of delegation. So organization is such a big part of accessibility, and many organizations, many companies are unaware of all of the different things that need to be kept in mind or initiated when accessibility begins. So you can- it could be a matter of who takes care of what and when, what pages are we working on first?

How many people do we have assigned to this? Does the developer have all of the knowledge? Who has permission to work on what? Who has the authority to make the changes live?

There are so many different considerations that I think a lot of companies are unaware of that they need to make when they receive an audit, and they actually start working because I mean, it’s important to keep in mind that the audit itself does not reduce your risk of litigation.

It’s only when remediation occurs that the risk of you receiving a demand letter or having a complaint filed against you begins to go down. So this next column on the whiteboard, I have your team and some other items you have to be aware of is your team is slightly working on other projects, and then you have to decide. Do we stop working on those projects? Are we going to work on this project while we also work on accessibility?

Another consideration is, are we making other changes to the website? Is the website undergoing a redesign? Are we uploading new content? Are we updating different sections of the website?

Because if we are we are making some of the accessibility issues that are found in the audit inapplicable and in effect, we are making- we are reducing how effective the audit will be because some of the issues that are found in the audit will no longer exist on the website and new issues may be introduced.

So these are all important things that can be happening because audits are being performed over time. They are not performed in one day. They happen over time.

So it’s important to keep in mind that you may have your audit and audit may hire someone to perform an audit on the version of the month and you may not get the audit back until the 30th and in the meantime, if changes are being made, it can really affect the results of the audit and create confusion down the line.

So these are all everything I have talked about is why I have created the ADA Compliance Course.

And so I have an arrow drawn down to the items I just listed, that your team needs to take into account and I have another arrow pointing from the three issues; the disconnect, the prioritization, and delegation that make the audit process and remediation process so overwhelming.

All of these considerations are- that have been incorporated into the ADA Compliance Course. And so I will talk about the ADA Compliance Course in the video, but information for ADA Compliance Course can be found in the YouTube description below.