Maintaining an accessible website ensures that all users, including people with disabilities, can benefit from your organization’s products and services. It’s also essential for complying with laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. But even for teams familiar with web accessibility requirements and best practices, building and maintaining an accessible website without support can be tricky. Web accessibility software solutions help organizations navigate this challenge by providing tools for easily creating, updating, and managing sites that work for everyone.

Types of web accessibility software

A variety of web accessibility software solutions are available to organizations today, each with a different set of capabilities. Commonly used types of web accessibility software include:

Free web accessibility scanners

Organizations can use free automated scanning tools, like WebAccessibility.com, to check the accessibility of their websites at no cost. Web accessibility scanners can quickly surface many of the most common web accessibility issues, including problems with color contrast and missing alternative text (alt text) for images.

However, more comprehensive testing is required to identify less common and more complex barriers for users. Additionally, free scanners may not provide all the context that website owners need to prioritize and resolve the issues identified.

Web accessibility overlays

A web accessibility overlay is a software tool that an organization adds to their website in an effort to improve accessibility without altering existing code. Some overlays give site visitors the option to activate a separate “accessibility mode” experience. Overlays are typically low-cost and require little time or effort to implement. However, these “quick fix” solutions only identify an estimated 30% of potential accessibility issues, and fix a mere subset of that 30%. Additionally, overlays can interfere with assistive technologies used by people with disabilities to access websites, introducing even more challenges for these visitors.

Digital accessibility platforms

Digital accessibility platforms offer a suite of tools for managing web accessibility on an ongoing basis. While these specific tools vary based on software provider, the right platform should continually monitor your website for new accessibility issues and provide guidance for prioritizing and remediating those issues. It will also allow you to track and report on the accessibility of your entire website (or multiple websites) and individual web pages over time.

Some platforms, including the Level Access Platform, come with additional tools and integrations that designers and developers can use to proactively catch and fix accessibility issues while creating new digital experiences.

How does web accessibility software work?

Of course, different types of web accessibility software work differently.

Web accessibility scanners typically work by testing the HTML code of websites for conformance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG): the Worldwide Web Consortium’s (W3C) established standards for digital accessibility. Based on this test, accessibility scanners then provide a list of accessibility issues.

Overlays go one step further by identifying common accessibility errors in code and automatically applying new JavaScript code over the existing code to correct these issues on-the-fly. The challenge is that this code is added without human oversight or documentation, and it cannot be overridden by a website owner.

Finally, digital accessibility platforms generally perform multiple functions to streamline web accessibility while allowing web managers to maintain full control over digital experiences. A platform may have any of the following web accessibility software tools:

  • Monitoring tools keep a pulse on web accessibility by conducting recurring automated scans of a site and compiling these findings in a dashboard. Some monitoring tools also simplify prioritization by providing details about a finding’s specific location and severity.
  • Reporting solutions provide analytics—such as issue volume and overall accessibility health— for individual web pages, websites, and even entire digital portfolios. These data points may be based on automated scanning, manual testing (more on this in the next section), or both.
  • Workflow management integrations sync testing and monitoring findings withproject management tools, such as Jira or Azure DevOps. This allows web teams to collaborate on remediation work without having to import and export test results between two sources of truth.
  • Developer tools, including accessibility software development kits (SDKs) and browser extensions, allow developers to perform individual spot-checks on their code for accessibility barriers while it is still in a pre-production environment. SDKs may also include accessibility code libraries, which can be embedded into a development team’s automated testing framework to catch common accessibility issues prior to quality assurance (QA).
  • Designer tools, including Figma plug-ins, can be used by designers to check new designs for accessibility issues, like insufficient color contrast, before they’re handed off to developers. When activated, an effective Figma plug-in will automatically identify accessibility problems with a design and should provide enough specific detail about each issue that a designer can quickly fix it.

Combining web accessibility software and manual evaluation

It’s important to note that automated scanning and software tools can only identify a defined set of the most common web accessibility issues—and overlay solutions are generally understood to catch and correct for an even smaller number of common accessibility barriers.

Because of the limitations of software-only solutions, it’s best practice for organizations to combine automated scanning with manual evaluation by an accessibility expert organization to identify issues that only a human can detect.

Some digital accessibility platforms, including Level Access’s, provide a system of record for both monitoring results and manual testing results. This helps organizations gain a more comprehensive understanding of their websites’ accessibility, and conveniently access all findings in one place.

Choosing a web accessibility software solution

As you’ve likely gathered by now, not all web accessibility software is created equal. To determine what type of digital accessibility solution is right for your organization, you’ll want to consider the following factors:

Where you are on your accessibility journey

If you’re brand new to digital accessibility, starting with a free scan is an easy way to get a general sense of how accessible your website is to all users. However, you’ll likely want a more comprehensive web accessibility software solution—like a platform—to help you prioritize remediation work, and track and manage your progress once remediation efforts are underway.

If your program is more mature, you’ll benefit from design and development tools for integrating accessibility into the creation of new digital experiences, and workflow management solutions for streamlining web accessibility across teams.

The resources you can devote to web accessibility

Without the right set of tools, managing web accessibility can be time intensive. If you have limited internal resources to devote to accessibility, you’ll want a software solution that helps you work efficiently by identifying high-priority fixes and integrating with your existing project management tools.

Your level of internal accessibility expertise

When getting started with digital accessibility, most organizations don’t have the internal expertise to address every issue alone. Choosing a web accessibility software provider that offers technical and strategic support alongside tooling can help bridge this knowledge gap. You may also want to prioritize providers that can help your team build knowledge and skills through role-specific training.

Your compliance obligations

Depending on your organization’s location and sector, you may be legally required to meet specific web accessibility standards. It’s important to consider these obligations when selecting a web accessibility software solution. For example, the European Disability Forum has explicitly stated that overlay solutions do not meet compliance requirements for the European Accessibility Act, which applies to businesses that are based in, or conduct business in, the European Union.

Additionally, because overlays only identify and fix a limited percentage of WCAG success criteria, they do not ensure compliance with other global laws—including Section 508 in the U.S., and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) in Canada—that use WCAG as a standard.

To make a more informed decision about the right web accessibility software solution for your organization, access the 2023 Gartner® Market Guide for Digital Accessibility.