Dependant on the size of your organisation and resources available to undertake audits and provide guidance for improvements there are multiple methods an organisation may utilise to assess their accessibility compliance.
The Government Digital Service has published guidance on understanding the regulations and meeting compliance:
- Understanding new accessibility requirements for public sector bodies
- Understanding the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
- Testing for Accessibility
- Making your website or app accessible and publishing an accessibility statement
- Making your service accessible
Online auditing tools such as the WAVE WebAIM Accessibility checker are useful in helping identify common accessibility issues and are very helpful in supporting manual auditing but should not be used as a complete replacement for manual checking by a trained auditor. As good as automated tools are they do not yet offer a satisfactory alternative to humans, particularly in the areas of meaningful navigation and alternative text descriptions for visual elements.
An online tool may recognise the existence of alternate text and decide that the website is meeting its compliance requirements, without knowing whether the alternate text is a suitable description. A human auditor will be able to assess the alternate text and be able to read whether the description is a valuable substitute to the image and still provides the context to the user that would otherwise be lost.
WebAIM have recently released the WebAIM Million which is a project that has run the top 1,000,000 website home pages through the WAVE accessibility checker tool. You may find it helpful to look at where your website hope page has placed in this list and how many issues were identified.
Manual auditing by a human auditor should be your preferred method of accessibility assessment. This obviously can be coupled with online auditing tools to get the best of both worlds but there is no substitute for actual people assessing your systems. Humans can make far better judgement calls in this area when it comes to things like context provided by text alternatives or the perceivability or usability of a system.
By having real people test your services, especially if during development you are also ensuring that some of your user testing is completed with individuals who have additional access needs, you get a far more in depth assessment of your service that will locate more issues for real users and help you in providing a far more accessible service once remedial action has been taken. It may the case that a website could pass all of the relevant checks in WCAG 2.1 AA and and still offer an ultimately underwhelming user experience if it has not been designed to reflect the perspectives of a number of its potential users and their differing user journeys.
The WebAIM WCAG 2.1 Checklist may be a useful place for you to start with your manual auditing.
Comprehensive audits of all digital content utilising both manual auditing and online tools is the most reliable way to pick up accessibility issues and give detailed direction towards compliance. This is also the most time consuming and resource heavy method of auditing.
To make use of this method you will need a dedicated auditing team which should be sized based on your organisation and expected workload. If you struggle with resourcing accessibility auditing this method will cause significant backlog to completing audits.
User Journey Checking
You can take a prioritised approach to individual audits as well as your overall programme. By utilising online tools you can catch basic issues across the site and then manually audit specific sub sections, or high traffic user journeys to ensure that your most commonly used content has had the thorough checks imposed.
Obviously this method means you cannot be as sure that your website is comprehensively compliant but is less resource intensive on your auditors and helps complete audits in a shorter period of time.
To justify this method as more than just an attempt to reduce resource requirements, you should support this with staff training. This will demonstrate that in the areas that you are not manually auditing, you are placing trust in your staff that they understand their responsibilities when it comes to accessibility and will be creating accessible content that should need less checking.
If you do not have the skills or staff available to take on the auditing of your services within your own organisation, you can contract suppliers to deliver accessibility audits on your behalf.
When contracting with a supplier to deliver accessibility audits, you should be absolutely sure that they are delivering what you have asked for. If you are expecting a comprehensive audit of the site, ensure that the supplier quotes for a comprehensive manual audit, and is not just going to scan your site with online tools and then pass you the results back.
From our experiences with suppliers offering these kinds of services, we are not confident that the market is currently offering value for money, because of the wide variance of offers that we have seen. Some suppliers are offering comprehensive audits completed in very short timescales for some of our largest websites, at a low cost, while others are offering comparatively little at great cost. At this time we have no way to reliably confirm that suppliers offering audits are delivering what we expect or understand our requirements properly.
If you plan to outsource your auditing to a supplier, please consider the offer first and ensure that it meets your organisation’s requirements. Alternatively look at how much the supplier is quoting for an audit, if 5-6 audits would get you a full time member of staff for a year, who would be of suitable grade and skill to work as an auditor for you, consider recruiting instead as internal auditors in our experience complete a significant number of audits a year more than you would get for the same cost from a supplier.