Do I need an ADA website audit?

Kimberly Springs

Jeff Rodgers

October 15 5 min read

Website ADA audits are typically the initial offering from the accessibility industry; they promise to find all of the accessibility issues on your site and provide a roadmap for you to fix them. As you learn more about your legal responsibilities, you may be wondering: “Do I need an audit?”

In one sense, the answer is almost certainly along the lines of “if you have to ask…”. Most website owners still have little understanding of what web accessibility means, how to achieve it, and how to figure out what what steps to take. It’s not surprising that a small industry has developed around providing these audits to help website owners understand their exposure and document what their developers will need to fix.

Who is the audience for an audit?

You’ll notice above that this audit’s main intended audience is your web developer. While an audit will usually have a summary that is legible to a layman, it is still primarily a technical document exchanged between professionals. As the site owner, you are placing your trust in the auditor and will have to rely on its conclusions whether or not you fully understand it.

If, like many small and medium businesses, you don’t have an in-house development team, the auditor may be bidding on the resulting remediation work as well. Either way, your audit may not a one-time exercise; you may want to hire someone to validate that your fixes solved all issues. For companies that are especially concerned about their legal exposure, audits are often conducted on a recurring basis to ensure that they remain in compliance. As you can imagine, this model has largely been built around the needs of large, well-known companies that have low tolerance for risk and a lot to lose if they are targeted with an accessibility suit.

So I shouldn’t do an audit?

We don’t mean to suggest that audits have no value. Particularly for businesses that have a probability of being lawsuit targets or highly complex websites, auditing can be an important step to becoming accessible (though in the long term the most cost effective solution is to bake accessibility testing fully into your development processes). But in most cases, an expensive audit probably should not be your first step.

We’d recommend starting with a free accessibility scan tool to review your site and get a sense of the type of accessibility issues you may need to address. This can’t serve as proof of compliance and you may not understand it, but it will give you a very good sense of the scope of your problem. If you can score 95/100 on a Lighthouse audit, for example, it means that your developers clearly considered accessibility from the start and that you need just minor tweaks to get where you need to be. You might also learn that your problems aren’t really technical, but relate more closely to your content (such as a lack of alt tags for images). Either way, you should have a better sense at this point of whether you would benefit from a (manual) professional audit.

Close but not perfect is the best use case for an audit

If you can pass an automated accessibility audit without even trying, you’re already really close. In that case, a one-time audit is a great investment. With a reduced scope to review, Accessiblu can offer competitive pricing to help pinpoint what needs to happen structurally to perfect your “good bones”. We can also provide detailed instructions for you can maintain the content portion yourself and can even issue you a certification at the end of the process that your site is accessible.

In this scenario, our recommendations are usually relatively inexpensive for your developer to maintain. And given your strong starting point, you can probably treat these implemented recommendations as a more-or-less permanent fix.

More problems? Do less

Let’s say your automated check comes up with dozens of issues. In that case, it is likely that a professional manual audit will almost certainly come up with a similarly long list. If you follow these recommendations, you will end the process with a much more accessible website. But if your site requires that many changes to become accessible, it’s likely that it probably wasn’t built in the first place with accessibility in mind. If you are building off this base, there is a good chance that future changes to your site’s codebase will introduce new accessibility issues (or reintroduce old ones).

In the worst case scenario, at least you’ll know that accessibility is a must-have requirement when hiring a digital agency for your next site rebuild.

Need help?

We are happy to review these results with you in a free “pre-audit” consultation and can make recommendations as to whether it is worthwhile to audit your site for remediation.

You can take advantage of a free consultation to understand why we think you may or may not benefit from an audit and what your other options are to minimize your risk in the meantime.