Do-It-Yourself Digital Accessibility Auditing

Scope

This page only covers the processes and tools used for auditing digital documents, digital tools, and websites. To assess the accessibility of physical objects and environments, please rely on the appropriate design standards listed on the accessibility laws, policies, and standards page to design your assessment process.

Step 1: Know The Standards

Before conducting an accessibility audit, familiarize yourself with the accessibility laws and standards. You will need to refer back to these laws and standards whenever your assessments need clarification.

Step 2: Look for an ACR (completed VPAT)

When searching for new tools or web services to adopt, be sure to ask or look for the product's Accessibility Conformance Report (ACR) or—as it is perhaps better known—a completed Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT). This report gives the product grades for how well it conforms to each individual accessibility criteria. The grades given are "Supported," "Supported with exceptions," "Not supported," and "Not applicable." You want the product or service you are examining to have mostly "Supported" and "Not applicable" grades. A few "Supported with exceptions" may be allowed, but it depends on the exceptions.

An ACR will not guarantee a product's accessibility, but it can give you great insight into how seriously the company takes accessibility. If the ACR was not constructed from a 2.0 or later VPAT or was based on an evaluation conducted more than a year ago, it could mean that the company cared about accessibility at one time but has not kept up with it recently. If the product comes in a Windows version, Mac version, iOS version, Android version, etc. and there is only one ACR or if the ACR says that the evaluation used only a single screen reader program to test the product, that may suggest that the company does not have a strong or large accessibility team yet. Finally, if the ACR evaluation was completed by a reputable third party or the final ACR reviewed by a reputable third party, then it is more likely that the report is a true depiction of the product's conformance level.

Step 3: Automated Testing

While automated testing is estimated to catch only around 20% to 25% of accessibility issues, it is still a great place to start, especially for beginners. Use the appropriate automated assessment tools listed below to estimate your content's level of accessibility. Each link will take you to a user guide or download page for the respective tool.

Automated Accessibility Auditing Tools
Program Assessed Auditing Tool
Canvas
Microsoft Office Built-in Accessibility Checker (Link opens in new tab.)
OpenOffice/LibreOffice AccessODF add-on (Link opens in new tab.)
Google Suite Grackle Add-ons (Link opens in new tab.)
Adobe Acrobat DC Built-in Checker (Link opens in new tab.)
PDFs P.A.V.E. (Link opens in new tab.)
Web Pages

WAVE (information) (Link opens in new tab.)

Color Contrast for All Programs
(Color Contrast Requirements (Link opens in new tab.))

Additional accessibility auditing tools are available (especially for web pages), so if these do not suit your needs, use your preferred search engine (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.) and/or app store to find one that will.

While not developed specifically for accessibility auditing, the following Web Developer tools can be helpful as well.

Step 4: Manual Testing

To get a more accurate measure of your accessibility, manually test your product using the tips and tools below.

Screen Readers

To identify the majroity of your accessibility issues, try exploring your product with a screen reader program or a screen reader emulator/simulator like Silktide (Link opens in new tab.). For the best results, use an actual screen reader program and choose one that is more commonly used by persons with disabilities. We've listed a number screen reader programs for different operating systems and platforms below and provided links to their documentation. For your convenience, we've also arranged the list from most used at the top to least used at the bottom, according to data from WebAIM's annual survey results for 2019 (Link opens in new tab.).

Automated Accessibility Auditing Tools
Reader Use With User Guides
NVDA (Link opens in new tab.) (free) Windows,
Mozilla Firefox
NVDA Operation (Link opens in new tab.)
JAWS (Link opens in new tab.) (costs $) Windows only,
Internet Explorer (but for Canvas use Mozilla Firefox)
JAWS Commands (Link opens in new tab.)
VoiceOver (Link opens in new tab.) (free) iOS only,
Safari
VoiceOver Commands (Link opens in new tab.)
VoiceOver Gestures (Link opens in new tab.)
Narrator (Link opens in new tab.) (free) Windows only,
Edge
Narrator Commands (Link opens in new tab.)
Chromevox (Link opens in new tab.) (free) Chromebooks, Google Chrome Chromevox Commands (Link opens in new tab.)
Talkback (Link opens in new tab.) (free) Android OS only Talkback Operation (Link opens in new tab.)
Orca (Link opens in new tab.) (free) Linux OS Orca Operation (Link opens in new tab.)

Before starting your screen reader, learn how to turn the screen reader on and off. If you are annoyed by the voice or are startled by how loud the voice is, you will want to be able to quickly turn it off.

Afterward, determine your screen reader's modifier key (a key or combination of keys that are held down while other commands are entered). JAWS and NVDA have Insert as their modifier, although NVDA can be set to use Caps Lock. VoiceOver uses Caps Lock or Ctrl + Option as its modifier.

To begin exploring with a desktop computer or laptop, set your mouse aside or turn it off then start using the Tab key, Shift + Tab keys, and the directional arrow keys to navigate. Depending on your screen reader, some of these navigation commands may require that the modifier key(s) be pressed before the navigations occur. Additionally, some web tools (especially Adobe's tools and a number of web conferencing tools) may also require the use of the F6 key to navigate from panel to panel. To activate links or buttons, you will generally use either the spacebar or the enter key.

To begin exploring with a touchscreen device, swipe left or right and then double-tap to activate.

As you explore, pay attention to reading order; verbalization of graphics; and the ability to access, activate, and/or exit every feature. If you cannot reach, activate, or exit a feature through the screen reader's commands or gestures, check that the product you're exploring doesn't have specific commands for doing so. If it does not, then there is a strong probability that you have discovered an accessibility issue that needs repair. Additionally, if you do not have a visible indication for where you are in the product as you navigate (i.e. a "focus ring") then this too is an accessibility issue.

Simulations

To find additional accessibility issues, run the following simulations. Some of these simulations cannot be applied to documents.

Simulations for Manual Testing
Simulation Description
Mobile Viewing View web content through a smartphone, tablet, or mobile device emulator (Link opens in new tab.) and verify that the content is responsive (i.e. is optimally formatted for a mobile device).
Disable CSS Use your browser's developer tools or Web Developer add-on/toolbar to disable CSS then check the reading order and verify that there is no information conveyed through color, shape, size, or location alone.
Disable Images Use your browser's developer tools or Web Developer add-on/toolbar to disable images then check that all images have alt text and/or text equivalents nearby.
Magnify Use Ctrl or Cmmnd + = (think of it as Ctrl + plus or Ctrl + increase) or your device's built-in magnification software then explore the product, paying close attention to how easy or difficult it is to find and interpret information. When finished, if you used the keyboard commands to magnify, use Ctrl or Cmmnd + 0 to return to normal.
Low Vision:
Colorblindness
and more
Google Chrome has extensions (SEE (Link opens in new tab.), No Coffee (Link opens in new tab.), ChromeLens (Link opens in new tab.), Silktide (Link opens in new tab.)) that can simulate various vision impairments. Using the colorblindness simulators are perhaps the most important of these as most of the other conditions often require the use of a screen reader to compensate. With the colorblindness simulator, you should look for strong contrasts between colored text, their backgrounds, and surrounding text. Additionally, verify that there is no information conveyed through color alone.
Hearing Impairment Mute your computer's speakers and explore the product, paying close attention to whether or not auditory information is also conveyed through text or visual cues.

Step 4: More Tests

If you have completed all of the tests above, then you have likely improved the accessibility of your product significantly. This said, there is still no guarantee that your product is or will remain 100% accessible. Routine check-ups and regular testing by persons with disabilities will best ensure that your product continually meets accessibility requirements.