Pros and Cons of Manual Website Accessibility Audits

Sharing the split screen with me, I have a document headlined by audit pros and cons. So in this video, we will go through the pros and the cons of manual website accessibility audits, which there are no automated audits, but just for clarification, this is for a full manual audit, and we will go through and we’re going to talk about both the pros, the good side and the bad side, the cons of audits.

So let’s start with the pros. First of all, a website accessibility audit is going to be thorough. It’s necessary for full WCAG conformance. So if your objective is to make your website fully WCAG 2.1 AA conformance, you need to have an audit because with that audit, in theory, you will know all of the accessibility issues that exist on your website, or at least the primary page layouts for your website, because an audit is going to cover whatever is in scope.

So another pro of an audit is conducted manually by a technical expert. So this is much better than having, let’s just say someone on your web team go through and look for accessibility issues. Having a technical accessibility expert audit your website is the best way to find accessibility issues because they know exactly what to look for and they have experience in it. An audit is also formal. So it is official documentation that you can use however you would like.

And the other bullet point I have as a pro for a website accessibility audit is it should be a one-time cost. Now, I recommend that you audit your website annually or perhaps biannually. That’s a good practice, but you shouldn’t have to audit every year. It should be something that you are doing under your accessibility policy, but it’s not necessary for you to have a subscription, an audit on subscription. So an audit should be a one-time cost and then you get subsequent audits at your discretion.

Now under cons, the first thing I have is cost and that is because it’s typically $3,500 to get an audit to start with. So $3,500 is like the opening price and it just goes up from there depending on the complexity and the number of issues, et cetera. So it is a significant cost. And by the way, I offer audits through So that is $3,500 is usually the minimum I will charge for an audit. It may be less if the website is extremely simple, but usually it’s $3,500 to start for most websites and no support is included in that.

And so the reason why is because the audit price is based on the time and experience needed to conduct that audit, but that doesn’t contemplate any additional support or any additional consulting or any other deliverables.

And so what you’re paying for with an audit is just that it’s just the report. Now with, if you get an audit returned, I will make sure that you understand that audit. So if anything in the audit is unclear, then I invite any questions on that, but there’s nothing additional beyond me explaining what the audit is. I always want to make sure that any audits I return are clear and easy to understand and easy to take action on, but there’s no additional support beyond that because the cost of the audit is based on what all the work that has gone into it, not any work that is subsequent.

An audit typically will take three to four weeks to complete and return. Sometimes you can get a quicker audit, particularly if your website is more simple, but usually most websites are going to fall within three to four weeks, depending on the provider and depending on the amount of work and the complexity of the work and so on.

Audits are conducted manually. They are conducted by humans. There are issues that are missed. The quality is going to vary by service provider. So depending on who you hire, your quality of your audit can vary greatly. I recommend that you stay away from anyone who is pushing automation as a way of making a website accessible or conducting an audit. An audit is performed completely manually. Accessibility scans will be used to support that work, but the audit should not rely upon the scan results.

Scans can often result in false negatives, very rarely false positives, but usually need to be concerned with false negatives with scans. So there should never be any emphasis on scans. An audit should be performed fully manually. Not every accessibility vendor thinks that way and they might return incomplete results or poor results or unhelpful audits. And you need to be aware of that variance in quality.

Audits are typically technical reports. They can be quite long. And what I’ve seen happen over and over again is they overwhelm the web teams that are to take action upon that audit. And so what inevitably comes from that is there are questions, support is needed, confusion is introduced. And really the web teams, I’ve seen web teams where they give up or they procrastinate or they put it off. It can easily overwhelm web teams.

Remediation is separate and takes months. So if you have a difficult report and if it’s very long, and let’s say there are five issues, and then for each of those five issues, there are dozens of incidences of those issues. It can become very overwhelming. It can take a long time to complete remediation. There may be many questions in the interim. More support will be needed.

And keep this in mind. And here’s my other bullet point.

The web asset should be static throughout this process because if you are, let’s say you are changing your website as you are auditing or remediating it, if you are making other changes, if there’s another department that is making changes, it will affect the ability to implement, to either find issues and or implement those issues because your web asset, typically your website needs to be static throughout. If you are making changes, you’re going to disrupt the process of finding issues. And so you may introduce issues and the audit won’t include those. Or if you are changing things, it will be difficult to know exactly what needs to be changed or there may not be an audit result for something where an accessibility issue is introduced. So it’s important to be mindful of that.

And I know that especially for larger organizations, their websites are constantly changing and turning over. So if that is happening, you want to make sure that you’re not introducing any accessibility issues. So that’s something else that needs to be taken in mind. And because the audit process and remediation process is so lengthy, this can be a con of having an audit performed. And that’s my next bullet point. Remediation is separate and takes months.

So many people start with an accessibility audit because of litigation, to either prevent litigation or in response to litigation. But what is problematic is that an audit in and of itself does nothing to make your website accessible. It’s simply the first phase of what you need to do to start making it accessible. You find the issues, so this is the audit, and then you fix the issues. So that’s remediation. But an audit, like I said, can take three to four weeks, maybe even longer. Remediation is completely separate and usually takes months. So ideally, you want to combine the audit and remediation because if you can find issues and fix them as you go, that’s really the best case scenario.

And that leads to my last bullet point under cons, is that there is a disconnect between the auditor and the remediator, which results in friction and loss. So just imagine the disconnect in communication there, right? Because you have one person who is finding an issue. They are putting that issue, typically audits are returned in an Excel spreadsheet. So they put that issue in a spreadsheet. There may be different information associated with the issue. So sometimes audits will have steps to reproduce. They will have the WCAG success criterion associated with the issue. They will provide the code snippet for that issue and then potentially other information. But the person remediating that might need help in any number of ways in either understanding what the issue is, understanding how to reproduce that issue. They might not know how to use a screen reader. So there’s all sorts of disconnect between the initial audit and then the subsequent remediation that really ends up resulting in a lot of friction and loss. If you were to do those at the same time, it would be much, much better.

But of course, there is a reason that audits are being done is because as I mentioned under the pros, these audits are being conducted manually by a technical accessibility expert, which is very key to not only being thorough, but being accurate in the finding of issues and the fixing of issues. So this is a good rundown of the audit pros and cons.

I think for many small businesses, audits really aren’t something that’s affordable, so they end up going without. It’s understandable that you don’t get the audit because the cost is significant, but at the same time, it’s difficult because if you’re concerned with litigation, litigation is currently ever present, the risk of litigation.

And then there’s the accessibility side to this, which you need to genuinely make your website accessible, particularly for some issues that are absolutely crucial. You really have to incorporate them because otherwise, if you don’t have some measures in place, there are some users that will genuinely not be able to access the content or engage with the functionality of the website.

So there’s two sides of this and ultimately, whether it’s, you know, whatever the impetus is, you need to make sure your website is accessible. So you need to get this done and figure out a way that works for your budget.

I have created the ADA compliance course, which I believe is the perfect answer in all of this because it provides for genuine, it’s going to make your website genuinely accessible. There won’t be a disconnect between the auditor and the remediator because that will be the same team. It will be your web team as they are being trained on accessibility.

They are able to go through your website and not only find the issues, but take action and fix them. Now, obviously, this is not perfect because your web team is learning accessibility as they are taking action, but the key is not perfection here, it’s progress. And so if you can progress with your web team as they’re going through these instructions, you’re going to not only significantly reduce your risk of litigation, but you’re also going to significantly improve the accessibility of your website.

And then as they go through this training, they’re going to be more knowledgeable, introduce fewer accessibility issues. And then once you go through the course, then at that point, you can go back and look over what you’ve done and start to review and improve accessibility and work towards WCAG conformance.

And so many people get caught up in making sure they have every last issue right and fixing all, let’s say all of the incidences of alt text issues, whether it’s no alt attributes or missing alt text or insufficient descriptions. And they get so caught up in one success criterion that they don’t look broadly and understand that images are only one aspect of accessibility. We need to do the best we can, move through these and then work through them again once we have improved accessibility and lowered the risk of litigation.

Because to me, the worst-case scenario is that you are paying money to a plaintiff’s law firm unnecessarily. And then you still have to do, you still have to take care of accessibility anyway. So my approach is to reduce the risk of litigation and then improve accessibility and divert all of the resources into accessibility rather than settling with a plaintiff’s law firm.