How Manual Audits for Website Accessibility (ADA Compliance) Work

Kris Rivenburgh
Jul 16 · 4 min read
Man in long sleeve shirt, Kris Rivenburgh, closely studies the screen on a Microsoft surface in a conference room.
Man in long sleeve shirt, Kris Rivenburgh, closely studies the screen on a Microsoft surface in a conference room.
As an independent consultant, it’s important to be thorough. (source: Kris Rivenburgh)

If you’re going to pay for a website accessibility audit (sometimes referred to as ADA Website Compliance audit), you may as well have an expert look over your site manually.

Right now, there are a handful of companies that offer automated accessibility scans for a few thousand dollars. The elephant-sized problem is these only cover about 1/3 of potential accessibility issues.

If you’re wondering, “Then why would I pay for an automated scan?”, then we’re on the same page.

With a manual audit, you want to hire an independent expert that specializes in web accessibility and most likely NOT someone in-house (auditing your own website is especially problematic were you to play defense in a lawsuit).

Of course, there’s still benefit in a self-audit but optimally your audit comes from a third party.

Once you hire the expert, here’s what they’ll do:

  1. Ask you for the URL of every page you want audited

Websites can easily have hundreds of pages (especially e-commerce sites) and it doesn’t make financial sense to go over each one. The best solution is to examine each of the primary layout templates of your site and then apply the audit results for each template sitewide, to all identical templates.

For example, say you own an e-commerce sporting goods website. Rather than examining each individual product page, an auditor can look at one product page and identified the issues that would potentially need to be addressed on every other one.

2. Check each page (as well as the overall site structure) against WCAG 2.0 AA

This is the most important, time-consuming part of a manual accessibility audit that nobody sees because it doesn’t show up in the final reports.

What’s happening here is the expert is diligently checking your website against the 38 success criteria of WCAG 2.0 AA (or, if they’re checking against 2.1, even more success criteria).

Some of this involves examining code (e.g. are forms properly labeled).

Another part is simply looking through the different pages of a website (e.g. is the layout consistent and predictable).

And then there’s actually testing the website to make sure everything works as it should (e.g. are the content and functions of a website fully accessible without a mouse).

The areas where you’re in good standing (and don’t need to change anything) won’t show up in the final report but it’s important that each one is accounted for.

3. List the issues for each page template/layout in chronological order

Every page you request to be examined will have a specific list of accessibility issues from that page. The issues should be written out in chronological order so that they’re in sync with the page and easy to spot.

4. Provide clear remediation instructions and/or examples

For every unique issue listed, instructions or examples of code will be provided. This is so you or your developer know precisely how to make your website accessible from the audit.

5. Supplement the manual audit with automated scans

Automated scans have their place — as a supplemental guide to a manual audit.

I like to use a combination of three manual scans (two free, one premium) to make sure my audits are as rock solid as possible and I have caught everything that an automated scan might catch.

(PSA: Never pay thousands of dollars for an automated scan of your website. NEVER.)

6. Provide a clean, concise, easy to understand PDF report

Audits should be actionable for clients. If they’re too fluffy, jumbled, technical, or long, it’s defeating.

The best auditors will make sure their reports get right to the point and don’t need a translation or a long weekend to trudge through.

How much does a manual audit cost?

$1,200 to $12,000 is a good price range that’s going to capture most websites.

If you start in the middle at $6,600, you can toggle up or down based on the following factors:

  • Number of pages audited
  • Complexity of pages (forms, media, and dynamic elements all make a page more complex)
  • Current, general state of accessibility (are you in really bad shape, okay shape, or decent shape?)

Typically an audit will take 2–4 weeks for delivery.

Note 1: Only the simplest of websites would cost $1,200.

Note 2: Many agencies specializing in web accessibility start at $4,000 to $5,000 as a minimum baseline.

Note 3: Some of you may want a post-remediation audit (once the original issues have been addressed). These audits are easier to do since the site will naturally have far fewer inaccessible elements and there is a familiarity with the site. For a post-remediation audit, the price should be significantly lower (about 1/3 of the original quote) — if performed by the same company.

Kris Rivenburgh

Written by

ADA Website Compliance & web accessibility consultant. Author. Founder. Creator. Attorney

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