Web accessibility or digital accessibility evaluation tools are software programs or online services that help determine if a Web site is accessible. All accessibility tools perform automated checks of web pages for accessibility issues. These automated tools generally have additional features, but each tool targets different audiences.
IMPORTANT: Web accessibility requires more than just accessibility tools; it requires human judgment. It is important to remember that accessibility tools can only partially check accessibility through automation. The real key is to learn and understand the web accessibility standards rather than relying on a tool to determine if a page is accessible or not.
There are many different types of evaluation tools that can be used to determine whether or not web content is accessible.
Standards and Guidelines Used
When deciding which accessibility tool will work best for you it is good to consider the standards and guidelines used by the different accessibility evaluation tools. There are currently two standards and guidelines most commonly used:
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0)
Section 508 of the United States Rehabilitation Act
WCAG 2.0 consists of three priority levels that act as an industry standard. The first level, Level A, covers items on web pages that must be made accessible in order for individuals with disabilities to access the content at all. The second level, Level AA, includes items on web pages that should be made accessible to allow a wider group of users to access the content. Level AAA describes items on web pages that can be made accessible to allow the widest amount of individuals with disabilities to use the site. View the WCAG 2.0 checklistfor the guidelines and for more information.
Section 508 of the United States Rehabilitation Act outlines the requirements for making federally-funded web sites accessible to individuals with disabilities. These standards detail how different components of web sites need to be designed to make the web content accessible. Under Section 508, the U.S. federal government has 16 standards that are used to define web accessibility. View the Section 508 checklistfor the 16 standards and for more information.
Free vs Paid
There are many free evaluation tools available, but perhaps after weighing the specific needs of your organization and the features you need you may decide that a commercially available tool is best. When considering which evaluation tool to use, it will be important to keep in mind:
- Who will be using the tool. The evaluation tool, and its associated cost, will depend on the accessibility knowledge of the one using it. Free tools often assume a greater understanding and spend less time educating users.
- The size of the site being examined. Those tasked with maintaining or creating a very large web site will need accessibility tools that spider through the site so they don’t have to check the site one page at a time. Often times it is the commercially available tools that have this feature. Free tools often limit their scope to checking just one page at a time.
- The information that must be collected. This varies depending on your situation. Some developers may be required to provide detailed reports on the accessibility of many different types of web documents. Commercially available tools often produce more detailed and specific report.
Web accessibility evaluation tools can reduce the time and effort required to carry out evaluations. When used throughout the design, implementation, and maintenance phases of Web development, these tools can assist their users in preventing most accessibility barriers, repairing encountered barriers, and improving the overall quality of Web sites. No automated evaluation tool can tell you if your site is accessible, or even compliant. Human testing is always necessary because accessibility is about the human experience. View a list of free and paid/commercial automated evaluation toolsin WeCo’s free accessibility library.