Cost Website Accessibility WCAG 2.1 AA Audit – ADA Compliance

I regularly get asked for the prices of website accessibility audits from organizations who want to make their website fully accessible / ADA compliant.

Below is my 2021 guide for procurement managers.

What is an Accessibility Audit?

A digital accessibility audit is performed by an accessibility expert / specialist / consultant.  The expert will manually examine your digital asset (e.g., website, mobile app, software, kiosk, etc.) against a version and conformance level of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

The audit report will contain all accessibility issues that do not meet the WCAG success criteria for that version / level of WCAG.

The best manual audits include referenceable WCAG success criteria, screenshots of issues, instructions on how to remediate (i.e., fix) the issue, and indicate the severity of the issue (e.g., high, medium, low) so your development team can prioritize what issues to address first.

WCAG

There are three WCAG versions that are in play:

  • WCAG 2.0
  • WCAG 2.1
  • WCAG 2.2

AA is the conformance level almost every entity must be concerned with.  Implementing AAA success criteria is wonderful – and demonstrates a desire and commitment for accessibility – but it isn’t always possible to be fully AAA conformant.

WCAG 2.0 AA has been cited as an acceptable standard by U.S. state and federal courts and the Department of Justice (DOJ) but as of 2021, it’s dated.  Originally published in 2008, WCAG 2.0 AA doesn’t address a handful of accessibility issues on mobile devices.

2.0 AA conformance truly establishes a great baseline.  I refer to it as the classic standard.

However, 2.1 AA conformance is the current best practice as it includes 12 additional success criteria that do address mobile issues.

Looking ahead, WCAG 2.2 is expected to be officially released in mid 2021.  For forward looking organizations, I recommend auditing under the WCAG 2.2 AA draft success criteria.

Although still not officially published, there’s no downside to being proactive with a WCAG 2.2 AA audit.

What You Need to Know Before You Buy

You can find quotes for very cheap and inexpensive audits online. I’ve seen prices for $1,500.

However, an affordable audit can easily become very expensive if the company you hire doesn’t deliver a genuine, manual audit.

For a simple website (e.g. a 5 page web presence type site with contact page), lower prices are absolutely called for; it doesn’t take much time to audit these so a fair quote could be in the $750 – $1,500 range.

But, you can’t expect to pay 3-figures or low 4-figures for more complex, more dynamic, larger websites with more page layouts.

When you do get a “too good to be true” quote, what may be happening is a seller is running one or more free automated scans using tools like WebAIM’s WAVE tool, Google Lighthouse, Axe Accessibility Checker and compiling the results into a nice looking PDF report and presenting it to you as a thorough check.

I had a client hire me for consulting and he had hired a SEO / web design firm who charged him $1,500 to do this.

I had to inform him that the marketing agency had run a few free automated checks and repackaged them as an audit report; it was something he could have hired a freelancer to do for $40.

This is type of occurrence is not uncommon.  A lot of small businesses understandably try to cut their costs but ultimately end up paying for it.

Remember, you can install the different accessibility checker browser extensions in FireFox or Google Chrome and get these results yourself.

It’s important to remember that automated scans can only catch roughly 25% of accessibility errors / issues under WCAG 2.1 AA.  I use scans to assist my audits (increase issue identification, prevent human error) but scans are not remotely close to offering what an audit does.

Moreover, all scan results need to be manually reviewed.

WCAG 2.1 AA Pricing

Here’s a general guideline of what I charge for a WCAG 2.1 AA audit through Accessible.org:

10 unique URLs / screens + detailed PDF report – $3,500

15 unique URLs / screens + detailed PDF report – $5,000

20 unique URLs / screens detailed PDF report – $6,500

Obviously, this is just a general cost breakdown.  Each price quote has to be customized for every client because everyone has different digital assets (e.g., websites, apps, software, etc.) with different components.

Things that are going to change the price are:

  • page / screen complexity
  • dynamic components
  • number of unique layouts (including user dashboards)
  • state of current accessibility

Re-Audits

Many times clients will want a second audit after their developer team performs remediation based on the issues (or recommendations) made in the first audit.

As a general rule of thumb, you can expect this audit to cost less; it will be about 40-50% the price of the first.

Reviews vs Testing vs Scans

Reviews

An audit is sometimes referred to as a review or assessment or even testing but the correct term is an audit.  An audit connotes an official / formal evaluation by an independent, third party.

User Testing

User testing is when one or more persons with disabilities examine your digital asset and flag potential issues based on their experience with the asset.

This is highly beneficial for a number of reasons, both practical and legal.

Legally, it’s a great preventative measure because you can demonstrate that you’ve invested in testing to ensure no barriers exist.

Also, if you’ve had a thorough audit and remediation performed and then had your website testing afterward, I can’t see any scenario where you wouldn’t be considered accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 508, or Section 504 in the United States.

This also applies to compliance with international laws as well such as the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) and EN 301 549.

Practically, passing a user test indicates your website is very robust, particularly if you have it examined by people with varying disabilities (e.g. blind or visually impaired, limited mobility, etc.).

Scans

We talked about automated scans above.  You can find scans online that will instantly check your website for accessibility issues under WCAG 2.0 AA and 2.1 AA.  A great paid tool is tenon.io by Karl Groves.

And, of course, AXE from Deque and WAVE from WebAIM are free browser extensions you can install and get a good idea on the state of your website’s accessibility.

Certification

One of the most common requests I get is for certification.

Understandably people want assurance that their website is 100% accessible and therefore ADA and 508 compliant and therefore they cannot get sued.

First, you can’t stop plaintiffs’ lawyers from sending demand letters or filing lawsuits.

If they want to file a lawsuit, you could certified by god himself and you’re still going to receive that dreaded notice.

Second, as of January 2021 there is no formal legal prescription on exactly how private entities should their website compliant so it’s technically impossible to have your website certified as ADA compliant.

What you can do is to have a statement of conformance with WCAG 2.0 AA or WCAG 2.1 AA issued by an independent company that has audited and/or remediated your website.  A statement of conformance is going to list out all of the individual success criteria and check each check box that your website (or app, software, documents, etc.) has been found to conform with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

You can also have a reputable accessibility provider issue a certificate of accessibility (i.e., certification).  This amounts to that accessibility company extension of the statement of conformance; they’re putting their name behind your accessibility.

eSSENTIAL Accessibility provides accessibility certification as of 2021.

In a Nutshell

If I had to condense this guide into the most important bullet points, here they are:

  • hire a reputable company
  • be extremely leery of cheap quotes
  • prices vary based on website difficulty
  • 2.1 AA audits are recommended
  • follow-up audits cost significantly less
  • there is a difference between testing, reviews, and audits
  • statements of conformance are like certificates of compliance

If you have any questions, you’re welcome to contact me at kris@accessible.org.