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Automated web accessibility audit tools comparison

Pros and Cons of 5 Web Accessibility Tools

While the need for web accessibility was not envisioned when the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law 30 years ago this summer, ADA web accessibility has emerged as a top-of-mind topic and a fundamental necessity.

This has prompted a proliferation of new tools to evaluate the accessibility of websites. While a majority of these tools were designed to support current Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1) they vary in the number and types of errors they detect and the degree to which they can help ensure ADA Accessibility compliance. 

So how can a developer, content editor or even sole proprietor business owner sort through the available tools and determine the options that best suit their needs? There are many websites and tools out there that can offer a great start. Here’s a list of five of the most popular tools or extensions, and what we consider to be the key advantages and drawbacks to each. 

Keep in mind that these are all automated tools, meaning that their use does not require actual interaction with a web page or website. In order to accurately and thoroughly audit a website for accessibility, manual testing and intervention is also required. Automated tools, however, provide a step in the right direction and an essential starting point. 

 

WAVE

WAVE is a tool developed by WebAIM for evaluating the accessibility of web contents. The tool is available for WAVE Firefox and Chrome extension (https://wave.webaim.org/extension/) or by entering the web page address (URL) on (https://wave.webaim.org/). 

Pros

  • The WAVE Chrome and Firefox extensions allow you to review the accessibility of your site directly within the Chrome and Firefox browsers. 

  • No information is sent to the WAVE server. 

  • WAVE will show what errors are indicated and make some recommendations on how to correct these issues. 

Cons

  • WAVE provides an overlay of icons to indicate any potential accessibility issues however it gets confused by absolute positioning and doesn’t show any other information about the element. 

  • The overlay overlay of icons becomes further problematic when you are managing an element that is not visible on the page. It will take a bit of work with dev tools to determine which element is causing the issue. 

 

2. axe

 

axe  is developed by Deque Systems for Chrome (https://www.deque.com/axe/).  axe analyzes a page for accessibility defects in just a few moments from a Chrome browser. The final output will show a list of accessibility issues with a link that provides the code that caused the issues and recommendations for fixing the issue. 

Pros

  • axe rates the impact of accessibility issues differently than WAVE. It does not use the “alerts” category, rather all errors are given a severity level. Using this system prompts more errors to be fixed than if some errors are labeled as alerts implying they are not important. 

  • axe will list elements that are not necessarily accessibility errors but warrant review based on the context of the element.

Cons

  • axe will point out some color contrast issues that still need to be tested manually. 

  • While not overtly a drawback with this tool, it does require a bit more knowledge by the user to understand the process for testing. 

 

3. Siteimprove

Siteimprove is an extremely popular tool especially within the areas of government and higher-education. Siteimprove is available as a Chrome extension. It provides visual feedback concerning web content and highlights non compliance issues visually on the page. 
 

Pros

  • Siteimprove analysis is done entirely within the Chrome browser, allowing secure evaluation of password-protected or non-public pages, multi-step forms, and dynamic content.
  • Siteimprove identifies accessibility noncompliance issues within the framework of WCAG, and points out instances where more than one guideline is being being violated. 
     

Cons

  • The format in which the errors are listed can be confusing for those not familiar with WCAG standards for accessibility. 

  • Several areas indicate manual testing is needed. As with aXe, while not overtly a drawback for this tool, it does require a bit more knowledge by the user to understand the process for testing. 

 

4. Lighthouse

Lighthouse is developed by Google. If you are running an up to date version of Chrome, you most likely already have Lighthouse since it is built into devtools. Open devtools and go to the ‘Audits’ tab, then the ‘Perform an Audit’ button and you will be given a list of the audits Lighthouse can perform. 

Pros

  • Built into Chrome devtools. 
  • Can analyze more than just accessibility. Also analyzes factors such as SEO, performance and best practices. 

Cons

  • Not as robust as some of the other tools listed. Lighthouse does use axe-core for accessibility audit, but it does not run the full set of about 70 tests that the aXe extension does. 

  • It is possible to get a 100% accessibility rating on Lighthouse and still have a site which is largely not accessible. 

 

5. Tenon.io

Tenon.io differs from the other tools listed here since it is a web service and not an extension. Use of Tenon.io simply requires a link or paste in the markup of the UI and it will generate a report for.. There are also many ways to integrate Tenon but this is a paid service. 
 

Pros

  • Does not require anything to be downloaded or installed on your computer. 

Cons

  • Since Tenon works by passing the URL to a browser, your site/UI need to be publicly available. 

  • Can be slower than the other tools covered here. 

Automated tools can serve to significantly streamline the evaluation of a website for ADA accessibility and detect important instances of non compliance. Manual followup is always recommended, however, for an accurate analysis and assurance of WCAG compliance. Just as one, small example of the limitation of automated accessibility tools:  automated tools check to ensure the presence of alt text, but if the alt tag is inaccurate such as alt=”cow” for a picture of a chicken, the automated tool will not detect it -- although some will point an issue that needs to be verified.  

Looking for help in determining the automated tool that’s appropriate for your needs, and consultation concerning the process of ensuring WCAG compliance for your website? Contact us today.