Automated Web Accessibility Scans: They’re Helpful, They’re Fast, But They Can Only Take You So Far

There are many types of automated web accessibility scanning tools available. You can think of them as “auto-checkers” that systematically track down machine-identifiable accessibility issues on your website. Using a scanning checker or scanning tool is a great place to start when you want to understand your overall level of accessibility. But they can only take you so far.

Most scanning checkers return an accessibility score, which gives you a baseline idea of your website’s level of accessibility. However, because there are only so many issues that can be flagged by automation, scans can only validate against about 30-percent, or 10-15 of the 50 Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 AA success criteria. So while a score is nice to have, it’s important to remember there are many more accessibility issues that automation cannot detect. That score does not reflect your overall website accessibility health. 

Further, automated scans can only give yes/no, all-or-nothing type answers. You either “meet” the criteria or you don’t. There’s no analysis. A scanning toolcan let you know, for example, if you have images on your website that are missing alt text. But what it can’t do is evaluate the alt text to let you know if it’s effectively conveying the meaning of the image. The same is true of things like labels, buttons and links. While a scan can identify if these elements are empty, if content is provided, they aren’t able to evaluate if that content is descriptive or meaningful.

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The upside of automated scanning is that these tools can flag some of the more common accessibility issues quickly. They’ll flag things like missing alt text and problems with color contrast, which are relatively easy barriers to fix. 

So, if scanning checkers serve a purpose on your path to digital accessibility, albeit an incomplete one, how do you get to where you want to be? Enter the audit.

The Human Connection: Audits Provide the Complete Assessment

The automated nature of a scanning tool simply can’t replace the value of a comprehensive technical audit performed manually by human testers. A comprehensive accessibility audit is a remediation roadmap that builds on the results of an automated scan. Combining manual and functional testing, an audit is a thorough, professional evaluation of how well your website meets the needs of people with disabilities. Testers evaluate your asset against every applicable WCAG success criteria, including things like your navigation, color contrast, alt text, access through keyboard use only, logical flow of content, and more. In this process, testers can also evaluate whether content is meaningful and logical. 

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A comprehensive audit may also include what’s called user testing — testing by individuals with a variety of disabilities utilizing a variety of assistive technologies. This testing will ensure your visitors can navigate your critical user paths, like a checkout process, without experiencing a barrier. 

A comprehensive audit should not only list all identified issues, it should detail guidance to fix those issues and rank them in terms of their severity. This ranking will help you prioritize your remediation work. 

The Accessibility Audit—One of Many Solutions You’ll Get from Your Subscription to eSSENTIAL Accessibility’s Suite of Services

In subscribing to eSSENTIAL Accessibility’s full suite of services, you’ll benefit from both automated scanning and manual audits performed by accessibility experts. Your digital assets will also be evaluated by individuals with disabilities who are actual users of a variety of assistive technologies, ensuring they do not experience barriers in your critical user flows.

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eSSENTIAL Accessibility’s team of experts will also work with you on an on-going basis to ensure all issues are identified and help you fix them, even as your website content and design evolve. A subscription to eSSENTIAL Accessibility’s innovative platform and services and the resulting comprehensive audit of your digital assets will also show your commitment and conformance to WCAG standards and to digital assets that are usable and accessible to all.

Connect with us today to learn more about our Accessibility-as-a-Service solution.