Manual Accessibility Audit: Here’s What You Should Look For

  • 3.08.2021

There are two main ways to conduct a digital accessibility audit:

Automated audit – An automated audit involves using a tool to scan your website to ensure it meets the WCAG success criteria. 

Manual audit – A manual audit includes a similar process as an automated audit with the difference being human observation by a trained professional(s) who then creates an audit based on their findings of non-compliant issues. 

Typically both of these methods are used in conjunction with one another to effectively review the accessibility of a website that just one method alone could not accomplish. While automated accessibility scans are functional and convenient, they are only about 30% accurate, which leaves a lot of exposure for a lawsuit. 

This article addresses some of the most common questions and concerns that businesses have when considering a manual accessibility audit. We’ll cover:

  • When a Manual Accessibility Audit is Needed 
  • Accessibility Features that Manual Audits Can Test for That Automatic Can’t 
  • Components That Make Up a Good Audit Report 
  • The Pros and Cons of a Manual Accessibility Audit 
  • What You Should Look for in an Accessibility Partner
  • How ADA Compliance Pros Client’s Have Been Protected from Accessibility Lawsuits 

If you think your website may be at risk for a lawsuit due to not meeting the WCAG ( 2.1 AA), don’t wait any longer and risk having to face legal trouble and potentially paying thousands of dollars in settlement expenses, schedule a free accessibility consultation

When a Manual Accessibility Audit is Needed 

A manual audit needs to be conducted on a website as opposed to just an automated scan because audits can’t put human consciousness into context. It is required that all users have the same experience regardless of their disability and because people with disabilities navigating online is such a personalized and delicate process, so should the auditing process.

Under more serious circumstances, if you’re facing a lawsuit, you are required to fix any issues that were cited in the complaint. The biggest issue with these complaints is that they’re  vague and this is usually done on purpose for two reasons:

  • It’s easier to justify the lawsuit 
  • Allows enough wiggle room to come back and sue a site a second time for different issues, claiming that the issues were never fixed

So getting a manual audit and taking your website through some digital remediation is significantly less than the cost of a lawsuit because not only do you have to pay for the  lawsuit, but you’ll also be paying legal fees and your chances of actually getting out of a lawsuit are slim to none as 95% of them are settled. 

Accessibility Features that Manual Audits Can Test for That Automatic Can’t 

Not all users have the same disability, so with that in mind, manual accessibility audits are key to ensuring that you’re providing accessibility solutions for visitors with a variety of disabilities. Here are a couple of issues that may not be caught through automated testing solely:

Screen Reader Testing 

Screen readers are assistive tools that check if the content is logical when read aloud. This tool is most commonly utilized by users with low vision and is difficult to replicate through automated testing because of the different scenarios like reading alternative text, testing all menus, determining if correct form fields are highlighted and verifying where links lead to. 

Contrast Ratio 

Automated scans help when it comes to general color contrasting issues but most don’t go much deeper than that. When it comes to detecting contrast ratio images, a manual audit can effectively do this and make sure your content is accessible to a wide range of users. 

Page Heading and Titles

It’s not difficult for an automated scanner to detect if pages have missing titles and headings but it can’t detect if they are used in the correct context and makes sense for the user. Utilizing a manual audit will ensure that titles are readable and makes sense not just for the user but for search engines as well, which can directly lead to more business opportunities for a company

Keyboard Navigation 

Some disabilities require for users to effectively navigate a website via keyboard navigation only but automated audits are not able to test for these keyboard functionalities:

  • highlighting form fields 
  • navigating header menus and links 
  • navigating through one and or multiple pages 

Components That Make Up a Good Audit Report 

All audits are not created equal but a good audit report will be very detailed and thorough. It starts with the scope that the audit was conducted with in conjunction with the detail and clarity in which it is conveyed to you and your web developer. 

Of course, there are other attributes that could make up a good audit report but the reason we mention clarity and detail specifically is that your audit serves as a blueprint that needs to be followed step-by-step in order to fix the problems on your website and make it accessible. 

So having a report that is too broad can cause you to miss important details in your audit and even if your audit has sufficient detail, if they’re not explanatory enough, you could still be missing vital information. After hearing from multiple clients their concern and frustration about the lack of clarity in reporting, we developed an audit report that gives you the broadest scope of what we tested and extreme detail so you know exactly what you need to fix.

In every report that we conduct, we include the steps needed to recreate non-compliant issues including:

  • Site-wide accessibility issues
  • URL of each page audited
  • Specific findings of ADA defects on each page
  • A detailed explanation of what needs to be done to remediate each non-compliant issue
  • Code snippets of where each type of ADA violation can be found
  • All on-site PDFs

along with the suggestions on how to go about remediating that issue, the urgency to fix it, and the link to exact WCAG guidelines that are not meant for further context. 

Also included is our very own test matrix, which is a cover sheet we include with every audit that gives you an overview of how many different types of issues there are, how many passed and how many didn’t. We use an Excel Spreadsheet with multiple tabs that has these issues detailed and thorough to ensure that you or a developer has clarity and can methodically go through the audit and implement the changes required. 

The Pros and Cons of a Manual Accessibility Audit 

Although manual website audits are the way to go when it comes to ensuring you have a compliant website, there are also some pros and cons that you’ll want to weigh out to decide if a manual audit is worth it to you:


  • Catches compliance issues that an automated audit would miss
  • Protects your website from lawsuits 
  • Access to trained technicians that help you navigate through complex process using the element of human discernment 
  • Allows you the time to handle the other challenges of running a business 
  • Personalized solutions and a hands-on experience 


  • Takes longer to run than an automated audit because everything is manually done 
  • More costly due to the fact you’re paying for actual man hours vs an automated software
  • The usefulness of an audit depends on the knowledge and experience of the expert who it is conducted by. Less experienced professionals won’t be able to identify more complex issues while an experienced expert can offer more detailed advice on how to fix complicated issues

So while there are a few downsides to a manual audit in terms of time and costs, both of these negatives can be combated by choosing the right professionals to conduct your audit and by making sure their services are inclusive so you’re not paying extra for services that should otherwise be included. 

What You Should Look for in an Accessibility Partner 

When choosing an accessibility partner you should first look for expertise and experience. Website accessibility is both a confusing and highly litigious process that requires experts to guide clients through and resolve these problems. 

A good measurement on whether you have a qualified accessibility partner is by finding out:

  • How many audits have they done?
  • What are the professional credentials?
  • How many years have they been in business? 
  • What their process is from beginning to end to find non-compliant issues

Every client is different, and facing a number of different compliance issues, so having professionals that are thorough and will check every non-compliant finding is critical in ensuring that your digital presence is protected. 

Asking the above questions and then using them as a guideline for your particular needs will put you on the right path to finding your perfect partner. 

How ADA Compliance Pros Clients Have Been Protected from Accessibility Lawsuits 

Our team makes sure we put a lot of time into crafting the ultimate scope that covers all your website accessibility issues and minimizes your exposure for a lawsuit as much as possible. The more you can minimize your exposure the better the chances are of your company not getting sued. 

What we’ve learned from our experience is that serial litigators are not looking to have to work hard to justify a lawsuit, they focus on low-hanging fruit because all they need are two or three complaints to completely justify the lawsuit. Once the lawsuit is justified, they’re well on their way to getting a settlement from you for thousands and thousands of dollars. 

Having a manual accessibility audit minimizes your exposure to these complaints to the point where your website may be completely skipped over and another site would be targeted for these complaints because serial litigants are looking for such egregious examples of non-accessibility. 

In order to best serve our clients, we’ve come up with both a broad and inclusive scope in both our processes and what we’re testing. One key feature that separates us from other competitors is that there’s no à la carte for our services, so when the accessibility of your website is being tested we’re not going to charge you extra for mobile testing like other companies would because we know 40% of the United States interacts with digital websites on their mobile devices.

Being that we wanted our service to be as inclusive as possible, we test every page of your website for every type of accessibility requirement on multiple platforms and browsers on both mobile and desktop for iOS and Android devices. 

We put so much time and thoroughness into our auditing process because all it takes is one person trying to access your website from any browser and if you aren’t aware of the issue due to it not being included in your testing, you’re at risk for being sued. 

Understanding the full scope of website accessibility is complicated and confusing, so we try to give as much coverage as possible while making it very simple for our clients to understand exactly what it’s going to take for their website to be fully accessible. 

Final Thoughts: Choosing ADA Compliance Pros As Your Manual Accessibility Partner 

Website accessibility lawsuits can start at around $4,000 with chances of reaching in the tens of thousands if the non-compliant issues on your website are not addressed in a timely manner. 

Protecting yourself from litigation means choosing the right accessibility partner, one with an in-depth knowledge of the highly litigious process of resolving non-compliant website issues and that uses a hands-on approach to ensure that your website is accessible to everyone. 

Ready to protect your website from a costly lawsuit? Schedule a free accessibility consultation to see what non compliant issues your website has and the next steps on how to fix them.