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I’ve received the results of my accessibility audit – now what?

So, you’re just getting started on your accessibility journey and you’re wondering what your first few steps should be. Great! Know that most organizations typically start with an accessibility audit, which provides a benchmark for their digital content.

While an accessibility audit is a great first step, it can be difficult to interpret audit results and prioritize audit issues. If your organization has recently received the results of an accessibility audit and needs guidance on what to do next, this blog post might prove helpful to you.

What is an accessibility audit report?

An accessibility audit report provides detailed results on the state of accessibility for a digital asset. This will include full coverage of automated and manual testing, performed by accessibility experts using assistive technologies and various other tools.

For detailed information on what makes for a comprehensive accessibility audit report, the types of accessibility audits that exist, and how to determine what accessibility standard is right for you, refer to our blog post What to look for in an accessibility audit. Glenda Sims, our Chief Information Accessibility Officer (CIAO), does a fantastic job at walking us through what a good accessibility audit should look like.

Now that you know what a comprehensive accessibility audit is all about, it’s time to take a closer look at what you can get from those results. This article will take you through the next step, which is identifying what to do with the results of your accessibility audit report.

Riding the rollercoaster of accessibility emotions

At first, you may feel a little overwhelmed, or maybe even shocked by the findings. You may be thinking, “How could our digital content possibly be so inaccessible to people who have disabilities?!” That’s to be expected because as we have found through years of experience, accessible online content is not something that happens just by accident.

Accessibility is a thoughtful process that needs to be planned carefully. It requires a sizable amount of time, energy, focus, and commitment from every stakeholder. Failing to keep accessibility on our digital radar inevitably leads to consequences that can induce feelings of grief, similar to those developed by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, in her famous stages of grief theory.

Kübler-Ross’ theory suggests that we go through five distinct stages after the loss of a loved one: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. Through years of supporting hundreds of organizations through their accessibility journeys, we know for a fact that many of them will often go through a roller coaster of feelings when embarking on this adventure.

The first stage of grief that many clients experience is typically related to denial. “How could a brand as well-known and well-respected as ours possibly do so poorly from a digital accessibility standpoint? That can’t be!” Sadly, designing, developing, and maintaining a web presence that is inaccessible to people who have disabilities is easy enough. As we already mentioned, accessibility is a demanding practice that requires thoughtful planning, implementation, testing, and above all else, maintenance.

After clients get over the initial shock of their current state of accessibility, many will find that their leadership becomes understandably angry that their organization had no idea that they had these issues, to begin with.

Having discovered these problems, they might be tempted to pass blame from role to role, since no one really knows what to do to get started, or even how to approach this new, unexpected challenge. Acceptance of the situation eventually sinks in, and this leads us to the final stage, in which we are finally able to begin the journey towards accessibility.

The final stage of grief is when the client realizes that no matter how they got to this point, they are here nonetheless, and accept the reality that they have a lot of work to do. Now, we are able to begin the process of “Okay, I’ve received the results of my accessibility audit, now what?”

Quick Aside: Don’t I just need a VPAT?

Many clients will request to have a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) created, to provide a high-level overview of a product’s current state of accessibility.

A VPAT is just a tool to demonstrate the conformance level of a particular product against the industry standards for accessibility. The VPAT report format was initially created to enable U.S. government agencies to review the accessibility of digital products they were considering for purchase and make informed buying decisions based on accessibility requirements defined in Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Today, the VPAT report format has expanded far beyond just U.S. Section 508 to include all the key international accessibility standards including WCAG 2.1 A/AA and Europe’s standard EN 301 549. In other words, a VPAT is a useful tool to document the accessibility of digital technology for any organization trying to sell software or buy that technology.

Customers often refer to VPATs to make informed decisions and benchmark the level of compliance of seemingly similar products. Needless to say, VPATs should be created by qualified individuals who understand the requirements at hand. In order to remain relevant, such documents are expected to be updated regularly.

While VPATs are a great tool used by customers to determine if a product meets their accessibility needs, they are by no means the end of an organization’s accessibility journey. Once your brand has received its accessibility audit and has its VPAT created, it’s time to identify and prioritize the potential risks to the organization.

Prioritize remediation based on risk and impact

Risk identification and prioritization is a very important step in organizing the remediation work necessary to address the issues discovered in the accessibility audit. My colleagues at Deque and I follow a reliable process for identifying and prioritizing those risks, based on the impact accessibility issues can present to people who have disabilities.

To determine the level of impact of any given accessibility issue found in the audit, we refer to five impact levels: Blocker, Critical, Serious, Moderate, and Minor. Building a good understanding of how each level impacts the experience of end users is capital when it comes to prioritizing your brand’s next course of action.

  • Blocker: this type of accessibility issue will prevent some users with disabilities from using your core content – period.
  • Critical: this type of accessibility issue will prevent some users with disabilities from accessing certain parts of your content, potentially rendering it unusable.
  • Serious: this type of accessibility issue will present serious barriers for some users with disabilities and will partially prevent them from using portions of your content.
  • Moderate: this type of accessibility issue will present some barriers for users with disabilities that will reduce their overall experience with your content.
  • Minor: this type of accessibility issue will cause some nuisance, or can be annoying, but will not present significant barriers for users with disabilities.

Many critical issues that prevent a user from completing a critical flow will often find themselves upgraded to a Blocker status. Blockers should be addressed with the utmost priority as they prevent key experiences on core functionality from being completed.

For example, if a customer’s key experience is to order a product from an online shopping site, the customer must be able to go through the entire workflow including placing the actual order.

If a particular issue is blocking a user from entering payment information, then they are unable to complete the transaction. Therefore, nothing else matters until they are able to do so, hence, a blocker, or critical issue.

In comparison, moderate or minor issues are considered a nuisance; it is still a violation of an accessibility requirement and therefore, also needs to be addressed, but the situation it creates is not as problematic.

For example, imagine you are on a web page with an informative image with important visual information that is only conveyed through that image. If that informative image is missing alternative text, this would be at least a serious accessibility barrier to a person who could not see it.

In contrast, imagine you are on a web page with a purely decorative image that conveys zero information. If that decorative image has an alternative text of “a curved image forming part of the menu background.” This would technically be an accessibility issue. The alternative text should be null (alt=””) so that a screen reader simply ignores the image. This type of issue would be at most “moderate” in impact.

Sometimes, we will suggest that our clients begin by fixing the “low-hanging fruits.” These are typically a series of quick fixes that will have a one-to-many relationship throughout the product.

For example, if a common component is fixed, such as by making a change to a color scheme to address poor contrast, then this fix can be applied globally to the color scheme throughout the entire product, ensuring a project-wide improvement that will yield positive results across the entire product.

Verify the accessibility fixes

Once issues are remediated, they must be retested to verify that they now conform to accessibility standards, so the product, therefore, becomes independently usable by people who have disabilities.

Deque offers a variety of tools to assist in the retesting phases, during and after the development process. It’s also important to keep documenting the results of the retest and update the VPAT conformance statement as necessary.

Deque’s tool suite assists with accessible coding and promotes independence.

axe DevTools Browser Extension – Get Started for Free!

Our free browser extension, axe DevTools, is an automated accessibility testing tool that empowers developers and testers with the ability to identify the majority of issues that are typically found on websites. As an added bonus, this free tool provides a framework to learn about accessibility as you use it, so issues are not repeated in the future.

The Pro version of axe DevTools provides a series of Intelligent Guided Tests (IGT)™ that support the developers and testers even more. In addition to automation, there are simple guided questions and artificial intelligence to help developers and testers find even more accessibility issues without requiring in-depth knowledge or subject matter expertise.

axe Auditor – Full Coverage Enterprise Solution

Axe Auditor is a comprehensive accessibility audit tool that helps quality assurance testers and other stakeholders reliably find accessibility issues with accuracy, consistency, and high quality. Axe Auditor guides you using Deque’s tried and true testing methodology.

Through the use of axe Auditor, testers can confidently follow a guided process to efficiently find all the issues that exist, using automated and manual testing techniques. Issues and remediation recommendations are recorded in a format that can then be exported to a bug-tracking platform. Axe Auditor test results empower your teams with a prioritized list of issues, and how to fix them, so they can resolve accessibility problems effectively, during focused sprints.

axe Linter – predictive, accessible coding

Think of this next tool as an accessibility spell checker for your code. Thanks to axe Linter, developers can be notified as soon as they introduce accessibility problems into their codebase, and then have the option to remediate their code before the issue finds its way into production. Another fantastic way for developers to learn about accessibility in real-time, and learn how to best avoid these issues in the future.

axe Monitor – Continuous Monitoring Enterprise Solution

Finally, axe Monitor is a tool that empowers your organization to run automated scans across an entire website or set of websites, as opposed to a single page, in the way that axe DevTools does. Thanks to periodic monitoring, entire teams can stay on top of most accessibility issues, and maintain a much cleaner bill of accessibility health.

Through automation, axe Monitor identifies the same majority of issues that DevTools does, but does so through a single scan over the entire web properties, which creates opportunities to proactively maintain a more accessible experience for everyone.

Through the use of Deque’s powerful suite of accessibility tools, and as your organization addresses the identified issues, you will begin to realize the importance of accessibility and start to integrate this important practice into your company culture.

Integrate accessibility into your company culture

To be successful, accessibility must be embraced at an organizational level, and find its way into the DNA of the organization. The only way for this effort to truly bear fruit is for it to start with leadership. Your audit results can be used to drive important conversations internally.

We’ve found that while all employees within an organization play a vital role in the accessibility journey, without clear executive leadership buy-in, accessibility is just too hard to maintain, and often becomes volatile. To deliver the best, most accessible experiences to employees and customers alike, everyone must do their part. In this sense, accessibility really is a team effort, and everyone has a crucial role to play.

As your trusted accessibility partner, Deque offers various awareness-building, coaching, and training services to assist in this accessibility adventure.

Accessibility Awareness Building

The best way to get teams excited about practicing accessibility is to make sure they understand how people with disabilities use computers and navigate websites. Deque offers Accessibility Awareness Labs to help build this foundational understanding, teams will have the momentum to learn more and proactively design, build and test for accessibility.

Accessibility Coaching

If you feel like your organization needs help getting everything on track, our embedded coaches can work with your teams within your ecosystem in order to guide them as they get started with a goal of self-sufficiency and independence in mind.

Instructor-Led Accessibility Training

Training your team on how to remediate these issues is also very important! It is an essential part of becoming accessible and staying accessible. Deque has courses for beginners and experts, teams and individuals, developers, designers, content creators, and everything in between. With a vast curriculum of courses and topics to choose from, our training team can support the growth of your workforce when it comes to subject matter expertise, whether they prefer to learn through a live, in-person, or virtual setting.

Online, Self-Paced Accessibility Learning

While instructor-led training can be great, your team members will often run into situations where they need a trusted source of reference. This is where a self-paced, comprehensive online training offering can make all the difference! Offered through individual subscriptions, corporate subscriptions, and options for embedding into your learning management system, Deque University might be the solution your organization needs to get the answers they’re looking for when they need them.

In Summary

As you can see through this post, there’s a lot that happens once you receive the results of your accessibility audit: evaluating the amount of work, planning, prioritizing, getting started, remediating, reassessing, learning, etc.

The most successful clients use their audit results as an opportunity to help their teams learn and grow with accessibility, as opposed to constantly fighting against the requirements or the obligations.

If you keep your eyes on the end goal– a better, more inclusive product or service that will be more usable by a much broader range of people–then it helps to look at these audit results not as a source of frustration and discouragement, but as an opportunity to embark on a new journey that will ultimately allow your brand to perform even more, reach a wider audience, and better serve your clients and prospects.

All great benefits will certainly help move away from these initial feelings of denial or even anger, to a much more positive feeling of acceptance, and dare we say, excitement, where inclusion becomes possible.

If you believe that my colleagues and I can help you turn those audit results into positive outcomes for your customers or prospects who have disabilities, then feel free to contact us for more information on the products and services we provide.

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Free audit consultation

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About Tracey Long

Tracey Long is a Senior Manager of Professional Services at Deque. She leads a team of Accessibility Consultants and Accessibility Coaches that help our clients evaluate digital assets and provide digital accessibility transformation guidance. Tracey serves as executive sponsor for one of our high-touch clients as an added layer of support to ensure satisfaction and a successful digital accessibility transformation.

She has recently joined the board of directors for the Tampa Bay Technology Leadership Association (TBTLA) an organization focused on mentoring our youth, future technologists, and emerging technology leaders in the Tampa Bay, FL area. She is passionate about digital accessibility and enjoys speaking engagements where she introduces companies to share the who, what, when, why, and how to implement digital accessibility into their organization. Tracey has mentored youth in her community since 2014 through various non-profit organizations and led her former company's community engagement program, Purpose for Life.
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