Web Accessibility Evaluation Tools Always Need a Human Review

Illustration of a cumputer issuing website accessibility errors will a woman reviews and categorizes those errors.

Web accessibility evaluation tools are online software programs that check websites against accessibility standards. These tools help flag and itemize a list of issues a website owner needs to make so that everyone can surf the website, no matter their abilities.

However, that being said, these tools are only useful in providing a baseline report for a website. Because these tools are software, they get things wrong sometimes or misread the website code, flagging an issue that isn’t really an issue. No web accessibility evaluation tool on the market right now is foolproof, period.

It’s best to use a few different evaluation tools on your website to get a good idea of items you need to work on. Then, turn that report over to your web accessibility expert for the expertise it takes to review these reports.

Using Accessibility Evaluation Tools

There are three ways of using web accessibility evaluation tools. The first is by visiting the online software via your website browser. Second, is downloading software that runs on your computer. And third, some tools operate as a browser plugin.

However, when using browser plugins, be sure to check the date for the most recent update to the plugin. Some of these plugins haven’t been updated in several years, making them outdated and risky to use in evaluating websites.

At Design Positive, we use two accessibility evaluation tools that allow us to view a website from many angles. We use evaluation tools such as Axe throughout the development process to ensure the code we’re creating is accessible. That way we can avoid surprises that could take longer to correct after the code has been completed. We also like to cross-reference Axe with WAVE to confirm nothing was missed.

Three Mistakes Accessibility Evaluation Tools Make

Web accessibility evaluation tools go right to the source and look at your website’s code to flag areas of your website that might present challenges for visitors with disabilities. But the tools aren’t perfect. For the most part, mistakes that these online tools make fall into three main categories.

1. The tool misreads the website code or misunderstands how the information will be presented. For example, it might think that color ratios are too low for someone who is vision impaired. The tool might read white text on a yellow background when in reality, these elements are next to one another instead of layered on top of one another.

2. It flags third-party software that provides a specific service for which there is not an accessible option. An example of this is Google Maps. Websites with an integrated Google Map are often flagged for accessibility errors because the map lacks alt tags for every image the map shows. And while this might be challenging for a vision-impaired website visitor to read, there is nothing on the market that is accessible to fix the problem.

3. Evaluation tools lack the ability to understand meaning. This can lead to the tool mistakenly indicating there are no accessibility issues when in fact there may be some. For example, an image with its alt text set to “null” won’t get flagged but hurts accessibility. Similarly, a link that reads “click here” may not get flagged even though the lack of meaningful text in the link degrades the website’s accessibility.

Reasons You Need to Check Your Accessibility Regularly

Evaluating your website’s accessibility is not a one and done scenario. While it might seem like the only way you could have accessibility errors is through major changes to your website, that isn’t the case.

Something as simple as changing out a photo on your website and forgetting to add alt text will flag an error in your accessibility evaluation. Updates to plugins on your website can also create accessibility errors or third-party services that no longer play well together once updated.

At Design Positive, we run quarterly accessibility reviews for our clients’ websites. We address any new errors that have arisen and provide a full report to the client. That way, the client has a paper trail for showing their attention to accessibility in case of a lawsuit or disagreement.

We always put our best foot forward in ensuring that websites are accessible for all. Attention to detail is important in web accessibility because anyone can get sued for just about anything — even when an evaluation report is incorrect.

Design Positive is a strategic branding and accessibility agency.