Cost of Website Accessibility WCAG 2.1 AA Audit for ADA Compliance

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

There is some very important information that consumers need to be aware of so here is a guide on what you can expect to pay for a legitimate, manual audit from an agency.

What is an Accessibility (A11Y) Audit?

This is where a specialist manually examines your site against WCAG success criteria and points out all of the potential accessibility issues you’ll want to address or remediate (i.e. fix).

The best audits contain screenshots, WCAG success criterion references, and instructions or examples of how to fix each issue.

What You Need to Know Before You Buy

You can find quotes for very cheap and affordable audits online. I’ve seen numbers of less than $1,000 – $2,800 for full reviews.

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 $500 – $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’s usually happening is a company 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 web design firm who charged him $1,500 to do this.

I had to inform him that the web design company 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 thing happens all the time.  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 about 30% of errors/issues.  I always use them as a supplement to my audits but they by no means tell you the full story.

WCAG 2.1 AA Pricing

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

10 unique page templates/layouts + email support + detailed PDF report – $2,500

20 unique page layouts/templates + email support + detailed PDF report – $4,500

30 unique page layouts/templates + 2 hours consultation + email support + executive summary + detailed PDF report – $10,500

Obviously, this is just a general cost breakdown.  Each price quote has to be customized for every client because everyone has different websites with different components.

Things that are going to change the price are:

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

Note: It’s cheaper to get an audit (or remediation for that matter) for WCAG 2.0 AA.  2.1 adds 12 more success criteria to check for and they’re more difficult to check.

A 2.0 AA audit is still very good but I’ve started recommending 2.1 now.  It does cost more but it takes your website’s accessibility up a notch and you take the proactive approach.  By 2021, 2.1 will be the new defacto standard courts reference if no law or regulation is passed.

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 30-40% the price of the first.

So if your initial audit cost $2,500, your second audit would be about $1,000.

Of course, if you get remediation done through me, this eliminates the need for a follow-up audit because we’ve already inspected and handled the issues ourselves.

It’s something to consider as you decide the best way to approach this.

Reviews vs Testing vs Scans

Reviews

A review is when you hire an expert or agency to quickly look over your website and tell you what they see.

For example, some people hire me for an hour of consulting and we go through their website 1-on-1 over Zoom or Skype.  This is a great deal and far less expensive than doing a full scan.  Of course, there are trade-offs:

  1. Not as thorough (I’m simply browsing a website and announcing what I see)
  2. Not enough time to go through all of the main page layouts
  3. Not enough time to inspect all of the different elements and components and view code
  4. No documentation
  5. No instructions or examples on how to fix
  6. No testing in different environments (e.g. browsers, devices)

User Testing

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

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

Legally, it’s a great preventative measure because you can include this in your accessibility policy to show genuine commitment.  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) or Section 508.  Those laws are if you’re in the United States.  If you’re abroad, you’d likely pass your respective country’s laws as well.

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 as to the state of your website’s accessibility.

Compliance Certification or Seal of Inspection

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 2020 and likely 2021 there is no legal prescription on exactly how to make your website ADA compliant so it’s technically impossible to have your website certified as ADA compliant.

The best 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 or agency 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.

Although this isn’t the official certification/seal of approval you were looking for, it’s damn close and it’s as good as it gets as of 2020 and for the foreseeable future.

Courts commonly reference WCAG 2.0 AA and WCAG 2.1 AA goes even beyond that so you’ll be great shape if you can get to this statement.

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 if you get a very cheap quote
  • prices vary based on website difficulty
  • I recommend a 2.1 AA audit; it will cost about 10-15% more
  • Follow-up audits are usually 30-40% of the price of the first audit
  • there is a big 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.