Most agencies lack accessibility know-how
Web agencies are the unsung heroes of the internet. Most companies and organizations, even those that operate in web-related fields, tend to use agencies to assist in the design and development of their web presence. This makes agencies the natural destination for companies looking to take big steps towards ADA and WCAG compliance.
However, there is good reason to be skeptical of most web agencies’ abilities when it comes to accessibility. WebAIM’s most recent WebAim Million annual report found that over 97% of the top million sites on the web had automatically detectable accessibility violations; the homepages had an average of 51.4 errors each. This suggests that the agencies responsible for some of the most prominent and popular sites in the world were unable to prevent or remediate the most easily detectable accessibility issues on the most trafficked page (the homepage). Or even worse, they couldn’t be bothered to do so.
Undoubtedly, web designers and developers (and the agencies that they work for) bear much of the responsibility for the overall lack of accessibility on the web. Many web professionals are largely ignorant of the need to prioritize accessibility. Even those that are aware of the legal requirements may not know enough to successfully build accessibility into their processes. Not to mention agencies that view accessibility as an extra that must be requested (and paid for) by the client.
Of course, there are also a growing number of agencies that center accessibility when designing and developing sites as well. The question is: how can you tell what kind of agency you are dealing with and whether you can rely on them to remediate your site.
Don’t hire the original agency
It is very common for sites to suffer some accessibility decay if the site owners and editors do not take extra care to monitor for net-new accessibility issues as pages are updated. But if you did not ensure that your site was accessible when it first launched, you should strongly consider whether you can trust that your original agency has the skills to find and fix their own original accessibility violations a year later.
The growing number of ADA website lawsuits has started to raise awareness in the agency world. In response, many have added ADA-related audit and remediation services to their portfolio. In many cases, these agencies have actually partnered with ineffective automated overlay services like Accessibe and are reselling widgets on their behalf (instead of building their own expertise in the area to properly serve their clients). But even those that may have developed legitimate domain knowledge should not be entrusted or hired to fix their own mistakes.
When hiring a new agency (for remediation or a brand-new site), how can you tell if they are the real deal?
Thought leadership and content
Much of the available content on web accessibility is highly technical or covers the same basic points that can be found on every other article. There is a huge need for educational content and thought leadership that is accessible to laymen, and agencies that are serious about ADA compliance help fill that gap. You can learn a lot about how an agency approaches accessibility by reading blog posts, viewing webinars, and downloading white papers that they have produced on the topic.
While it is possible for an agency to be proficient in accessibility without producing thought leadership, you run the risk that their accessibility services may not be up to par. Agencies that are writing frequently about accessibility are far more likely to know what they are talking about.
Ask for examples
Any accessibility-focused web agency should be able to describe their approach and methodology for bringing a website into compliance with the ADA. Try to ask detailed questions about their process and how it would apply to your own site. Most importantly, you should ask them to provide concrete examples.
Ideally, the agency should be able to provide you samples of audits or remediation plans that they have produced for other clients. In some cases, agencies are asked to keep the results of their audits confidential; in that case, you should request that they show you a redacted version. It can also be useful to speak with references that have previously hired the agency to audit and/or remediate their sites. Some other deliverables that agencies can demonstrate for you include:
- Case studies
- Accessible websites that they have built correctly the first time
How accessible is the agency site?
In some ways, the best proof of a web agency’s commitment to and mastery of web accessibility is their own website. Try running a few pages from the agency’s site through the WAVE web accessibility evaluation tool. WAVE can only test a small portion of the possible set of accessibility violations, but the issues that it can find tend to be some of the easier issues to remediate. If you find that the homepage and other high-level pages on the agency site have accessibility violations, that is strong evidence that the agency does not take accessibility seriously (or that it lacks the ability to do so).
In particular, you should be especially wary of these types of accessibility issues:
- Images missing alternative text
- Empty links
- Missing form labels
- Language missing or invalid
- Any color contrast errors
- Lack of page regions
- Videos without closed captions
If an agency is unable or unwilling to prioritize fixing the most easily found issues on their own site, they should not be relied upon to (re)build yours properly.
If your generalist digital agency does not meet the criteria above, you should look into a dedicated accessibility agency. Access Armada combines deep expertise and commitment to accessibility with the understanding that most businesses and organizations do not have the budgets to spend tens of thousands of dollars merely to audit their site (not to mention the costs of remediation). We offer all customers a free strategy session and tailor our recommendations to the unique circumstances of each business; our goal is to find a targeted set of solutions that can deliver the highest impact accessibility improvements to fit any budget.