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September 5, 2022
3 minutes

Manual vs Automatic Web Accessibility Audits: Which Option Is Right for You?

Government agencies and business owners are both responsible for creating a more inclusive online experience for all customers and users, and it all starts with an accessibility audit.

If you’re new to web accessibility, you will know that there are automatic and manual audit options. Deciding which option is right for you will depend on several factors.

Let’s take a closer look at the difference between manual and automatic accessibility audits so that you can begin the compliance process.

Also read: ADA Compliance guide for websites

What Is an Automatic Audit?

Auditing Your Website for ADA Compliance

An automatic audit uses specialized technology to automatically scan a website based on a specific set of parameters. 

Automatic scans are ideal for detecting on-page and technical accessibility issues without the need for human intervention. 

Some of the issues that can be detected with an automatic web accessibility scan include page title errors, poor color contrast, and missing links and form labels. 

Testing for screen reader compatibility and keyboard-only navigation are sometimes where automatic audits can fall short. 

What is a Manual Audit

Audit

A manual audit requires a qualified and trained accessibility expert to complete the process. 

During a manual audit, a professional will evaluate each individual page on your site across multiple browsers and devices to test for accessibility issues.  

Basically, a manual audit is designed to recreate common issues that a disabled user would potentially experience while engaging with a site – it goes beyond just the technical aspects of your site. 

Not being able to understand images because there are no alt tags for a screen reader to relay is one example of a potential issue. Not being able to engage with a website without a mouse is another. 

The Pros and Cons of Manual and Automatic Accessibility Audits

To help you decide which type of audit is right for you, let’s look at the pros and cons of each option.

Manual Audit Pros & Cons

Pros:

  • Because a manual audit is more thorough and in-depth, it can potentially detect issues that an automatic scan might miss.
  • A manual audit can be tailored to the specific needs of your organization.
  • You can interact with a person and ask questions where needed when you choose a manual audit. 
  • Only a once-off fee is generally required for a manual audit.

Cons:

  • A manual audit takes much longer to complete.
  • It can be more costly because of the manual processes that are involved. 
Automatic Audit Pros & Cons

Pros:

  • Quick and easy to perform.
  • Reports provide you with an overview of exactly where your site stands.
  • An automatic audit is far more affordable and in some instances, free. 

Cons

  • An automatic audit might miss important issues, leaving your site vulnerable to accessibility lawsuits. For example, an automatic audit can’t tell you whether your image alt tags are providing accurate descriptions or if your site structure is logical and practical. 
  • Automatic scans can have lower accuracy rates, depending on the tools you choose to use.
  • You cannot interact with a person to find out more about how to fix specific issues. 

Deciding on the Best Type of Audit for Your Business Website

Now that you have a better understanding of the pros and cons associated with each type of audit, it’s time to decide which route to take.

If you are just starting your web accessibility journey and want a general idea of the issues you might be dealing with, start with an automatic audit. The report that you get will provide you with a good starting point, helping you to lay the foundation for a more accessible and compliant website. 

Automatic audits are ideal for agencies and other entities that need to scan multiple websites and would like a basic overview of accessibility issues on a site’s page.

Should you find that your site has more issues than you anticipated, it might be best to enlist the help of a seasoned accessibility expert. This way, you can be sure that you’re covering all your bases. It will also give you the chance to ask questions and gain a deeper understanding of accessibility requirements. 

In the end, if you have a smaller, basic site, an automatic audit will give you everything you need to comply and avoid costly and unnecessary lawsuits. However, if you are a larger organization and service an international audience, a manual audit could be a worthwhile investment. 

You could even choose to invest in a tool that automatically scans your website on a regular basis, helping you stay on top of accessibility errors before they become major concerns.

The Way Forward

The good news is that there are multiple tools and accessibility solutions to choose from regardless of your requirements or budget.

What’s most important is that you don’t leave web accessibility at the bottom of your to-do list and only take action once your brand’s reputation and financial status are at risk.

We all have a role to play in creating a more inclusive world for all and it starts with taking small, but significant steps. 

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