Manual vs. Automated Accessibility Testing: Which One Should You Choose?

  • 3.08.2021

So you’re not sure whether your website is accessible or not, or maybe you know your site isn’t accessible but now you’re trying to decide whether you need a manual or an automated accessibility audit. 

Regardless of exactly why you’re considering an audit, the important thing to note is that you need one to ensure the accessibility of your website and, if you’ve landed on this article, you’re probably aware that you could face a pretty hefty lawsuit if you have a non-accessible website. 

ADA related lawsuits in 2020 increased 23% over 2019, this means almost ten new businesses were receiving lawsuits everyday. For example, if someone with impaired vision visits your website and your site is not using the required JAWS (Job Access With Speech) or NVDA (NonVisual Desktop Access) screen reader that could leave you open to a lawsuit. 

There are dozens of different nuances surrounding accessibility that could put your website at risk, with quite a few of them being ones that business owners aren’t aware of. 

In this post, we’re going to look at the difference between a manual and automated accessibility audit and take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of both so you can know which solution is best for the protection of your business. 

Note: After 12 years of working with various companies, all with different levels of accessibility issues, we’ve come up with an all inclusive process that strategically involves the use of an automated and manual audit to catch all accessibility issues and keeps your website protected from litigation. You can click here to run a free automated accessibility test or schedule a free consultation to have your website reviewed by ADA compliance professionals. 

What Is A Manual Audit? 

A manual accessibility audit is the process of having a qualified and trained technician testing every page on your website for every type of accessibility requirement for a multiple range of platforms, browsers and devices. 

This process involves the technician re-creating issues that someone with a disability may face when navigating around your site. Ffor example, identifying correct alt tags on photos or using keyboard navigation to see how effectively someone with a disability can navigate around your site if they don’t have the normal tools someone without a disability would use. 

The reason that manual audits are so important is because computers and software programs that scan websites for issues are not 100% accurate when it comes to accessibility testing. Why? Because they don’t have the nuance of understanding the accessibility process the way a human does.

A knowledgeable technician has the full capability to look beyond website code to determine the level of accessibility. An automated audit can detect if your website has correct headings and page titles, but it can’t tell if the titles are used in the correct context and worded in a way that makes sense for the reader — a human can.

What Is An Automated Audit? 

An automated audit is the process of scanning a URL through a computer program and letting it automatically run through a website based on the parameters that have been set for it. 

Automated audits are great at detecting accessibility issues in the code of your website, but are not capable of looking at issues with the nuance of a human driving the process, which is why automated audits are only about 30% to 40% accurate.  

When it comes to issues such as missing links, document language errors, page titles, color contrast, and form labels, an automated audit can successfully detect these issues, but there are quite a few issues that an automated audit can’t fully detect. 


Pros and Cons of a Manual Audit 

Having an accessibility expert evaluate your website against the WCAG 2.1 criteria can offer protection and insights that an automated audit wouldn’t be able to achieve, with that being said, there are still upsides and downsides to manual audits. 

Some pros of a manual audit are:

  • A trained technician has the ability to catch issues that an automated tool would miss 
  • Solutions offered by a professional are more tailored to your specific needs vs a generic automated solution 
  • Can ask questions and get clarity on specific issues 
  • There are no monthly or yearly recurring fees unlike using a software solution

Some cons of a manual audit are:

  • Takes longer to perform because each page is viewed manually 
  • It’s more expensive due to the manual labor 

Pros and Cons of an Automated Audit 

There are softwares that use AI and will scan an entire site and display accessibility issues that do not involve any extra work on your end besides fixing the accessibility issues which sometimes can be corrected by the software itself or by you via the software’s interface. But despite the ease of use of an automated audit, there are still some good and bad to them.

Some pros of an automated audit are:

  • Easy to use 
  • Allows you to quickly see a birds-eye-view of your website accessibility issues 
  • Cheaper than manual audits 

Some cons of an automated are:

  • Automated tests can produce false positives, making you think certain aspects of your website are accessible when they’re not
  • Only run at a 30 – 40% accuracy rate
  • No specific advice on how to fix the issues, answers are generic and cater to the mass majority and not your unique situation 

When Should You Use An Automated Audit?

If you’re just starting your journey towards digital accessibility and you suspect that your website is not accessible it’s best to run an automated audit so you can get a baseline understanding of if your website is even close to meeting the level of required accessibility. 

Being that digital accessibility is so complicated and nuanced, having an automated audit helps with giving you a lay of the land and a path forward which is important because as more businesses transition online. Accessibility requirements are going to get more stringent and companies are going to be receiving more lawsuits as a result. 

When Should You Use A Manual Audit?

Once you have a general idea of what accessibility issues your website is facing, you can then move forward with an actual game plan of how you’re going to address those issues. Before moving forward with any changes on your website, you should make sure you have a collaborative partner that is knowledgeable in digital accessibility laws that can put you on the right path to remediation. 

How ADA Compliance Pros Uses a Hybrid Model 

The best way to gain a complete understanding of how accessible your website is and make sure that all of the accessibility issues are addressed is to use both automated and manual accessibility testing. 

We offer free automated testing to give our clients a macro view of their level of accessibility, which is worth noting some other companies charge for comparable scans we offer for free.  Once we have conducted a free automated test, one of our trained experts will provide a complimentary consultation to go through the website and review the findings and possible next steps. Digital accessibility is complicated, highly litigious and since 56 million Americans have some sort of disability it is crucial to ensuring a business does not miss out on sales opportunities.   

Our process of using both an automated and manual audit allows us to quickly identify compliance issues while offering a tailored solution specific to your needs. 

If you think your website may have accessibility issues and you want your digital asset reviewed by professionals who utilize the power of both automated and manual audits to catch some of the most complicated compliance issues, click here to start your free accessibility test or schedule a free consultation with one of our experts to put you on the right path toward digital accessibility.