What is an Accessibility Audit?
Madhusree Das

The word “accessibility” is not just some buzzword used by government officials when it comes to the Internet. It’s a real and important concept that has been acknowledged even by the world wide web’s inventor, Tim Berners-Lee, who said of it:

“The power of the web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”

It has become a priority of state governments in Australia and other governments across the world to make web access truly universal, especially in areas where it truly matters like things that inform decisions at the ballot box, for instance. One of the most important tools to ensure that we continue to make the web more accessible for those with various disabilities or language barriers, hardware limitations and more is through the running of a digital accessibility audit.

What is an Accessibility Audit? What is it For?

Let’s start with some background on accessibility audits and the function they perform. In short, it is a series of tests that are done on websites to measure the site’s current level of accessibility. There are both simple automated and more detailed manual testing procedures that are done, the latter of which are a lot more comprehensive and instructive to making changes and improvements to accessibility.

There are no fewer than 9 different types of accessibility audit that are commonly carried out. Some examples of how tests are conducted include:

● Level of Effort (LOE) - looks at how much of a website needs to change and how much it would cost, telling site owners how many pages need fixing and how many problems are on each page
● Risk - looks for very serious obstacles that would hinder those with disabilities from accessing the site
● Detailed - Identifies improvements according to the nominated and/or required standards in their local marketplace/jurisdiction
● Screen Reader Acceptance Test - rates user flow for assistive technology
● And many others…

Exact methodology varies between different countries and providers, but the overall goals are the same, which is to create a plan of action for site administrators and owners to upgrade their sites and improve their overall accessibility rating according to local standards. In Australia, WCAG 2.0 is the approved standard.

What Do Auditors Look for During an Accessibility Audit

There are obviously many indicators that an audit looks at, but it can be more simply condensed into images, audio/video, and text.

Images are critical to inspect for images that are missing accompanying alt descriptions. These are used for people who are either blind or vision-impaired, and it allows them to know what the image is as their screen reader describes it to them and they listen. In particular, images of text present a problem unless it’s a well-known or recognizable logo or brand. There may be missing long descriptions for more complex images, too, such as graphs.

Both audio and video content needs to have captions for those who have hearing impairments. Alternatively, they might have subtitles or an accompanying transcript. Some older websites may also have auto playing audio with no auto-mute and/or no way to mute or stop it until it’s finished. There may also be background music. These features need to have a clear and quick way to be paused or stopped, so that blind or vision-impaired visitors can use their screen readers properly.

Text needs to be measured specifically according to em units to allow browsers to scale it properly if it is enlarged by vision-impaired users. Screen readers also struggle with acronyms that are not punctuated correctly, erroneously reading them as full words.

And these are just some of the things that an accessibility audit checks for. The result of an audit, however, is a clear path to improving the accessibility of a platform, which is beneficial to an enterprise or organisation in the long term.