1.5: How much does a website accessibility audit cost?
David: So how much does a website audit actually cost?
Sandi: Well, David, that’s a big question, and it’s like most questions around the Internet, it all depends. So you can do a basic audit for a few hundred dollars and that’s going to be just a very high level, cursory overview of big issues on a site. If you are requiring an audit to comply with some piece of legislation, like the AODA, The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, you may need a complete WCAG Audit and those can be extremely expensive. But that doesn’t solve any accessibility issues? It just is the starting point for identifying where the issues may be.
So if you’re looking to have your site audited because of compliance requirements, it’s probably going to cost you a lot less money if you thought about accessibility before you even started. The worse a site is usually the more complicated it is to audit and the more expensive that it becomes.
There are lots of tools out there that let you analyze one page at a time. There are tools built into modern web browsers that let you see where the accessibility issues are on a site. So really the cost is just somebody’s time to review page by page by page. Automated testing tools can run into hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars a year, again, depending on how complex your site is and your requirements, but that only gets you so far. Automated testing is only going to catch, you know it varies between 30 and 50% of the issues. And 30 to 50% does not make your site accessible. You still need to include users in your testing.
There has to be manual testing it. You can’t audit a site without having users involved. There’s only so much that an automated tool can pick up. And the other benefit of including users in your testing is not only are you looking for any accessibility issues, you’re also going to probably find out some usability issues with your digital products. You may think that the flow works perfectly, but when you start getting users involved and they can’t figure out how to do something, then you can find out other issues that might need to be addressed that makes it easier for everybody to use. But you really have to get people involved. There’s no way that you can give yourself a green check mark for having an accessible website if all you’re doing is using automated testing tools. And in fact, there are people who have gone to the trouble of creating a website that is perfectly compliant with WCAG which is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, and yet it is still not a usable website. So those checklists and those automated tools don’t guarantee anything unless you’ve got real people involved.
David: So would you say then it’s a two-step process? The automated tools should be used to test the functionality of your website to make sure that the structure is right, in the elements are interactive properly. And the second step is for user testing, so they’re actually testing the response? They’re not testing the … troubleshooting design or bug issues.
Sandi: Yeah, that’s right. The automated testing tools really pinpoint the low hanging fruit, the quick fixes. So you’ve got your heading structure is all messed up. Well, you can go and fix that before you turn over your site to somebody to do testing. Or an automated testing tool can identify color contrast issues and those usually are pretty easy to, well not always easy to fix, but you know we can go back to a designer and say, ok, we need to pick different color combinations. And you implement those and you can get those done before it goes to a user. So yes, it’s kind of the first kick at the can if you will, of accessibility and usability is running it through these testing tools. And when you’ve cleaned up all the issues that are identified there, then your site is going to be ready for users to go in and actually do some real testing in real life scenarios.
David: Can you talk a little bit about the cost of handing it over to a cloud based audit that’s going to cost me just a very small amount because I don’t have to worry about accessibility, as opposed to me possibly downloading an automated tool. And yes, making the business expense to actually install an accessibility tool that I can use.
Sandi: So that’s an interesting question because I think it is a small business, unless you have somebody within your organization that understands accessibility, those tools are probably not going to be of much help. You’re probably better off as a smaller organization to hire somebody who actually understands accessibility, understands how the tools work, understand what the error messages mean. Because sometimes those errors are false positives and that’s why you need manual human intervention. So those tools might be good for a business that has a fully compliant website. They’ve hired somebody to build it properly for them, and it just becomes more of a maintenance issue for them. So if they’re publishing new content, those tools may help them make sure that they’re structuring that new content properly and using appropriate alternative text for images.That sort of thing. But to fix a site or to see what’s wrong with a site that’s not fully compliant to start with, I’m not sure it’s the best strategy for a small business to take on.
David: So would you say then that my business strategy should include the cost of hiring an accessibility specialist that can help us integrate all of our design and development features into our product? And not depend on 3rd party services?
Sandi: I would say yes, I would say that if you are committed to accessibility, think of your accessibility specialist as another professional that you would outsource to.
You outsource your legal requirements to a lawyer. You outsource your financial maintenance to your accountant. So an accessibility specialist really is no different to that. They’re another professional. They’re skilled, they’re specialized in the very particular area of the web, and they’re worth every penny, you pay them.