There are several hidden and non-hidden layers to buying digital accessibility services.
In this article, I’ll provide you all of the key elements to be aware of when researching a company to help you with your website’s (or app’s) accessibility.
First, you need to be aware that overlay widgets are a waste of money — they do nothing and can actually make the experience worse for your audience.
You probably had the notion of “too good to be true” when you were being sold instant accessibility and compliance for $0–$99/month but now I’m verifying it.
Overlays that are sold as a solution for accessibility are like the magic tonic that was sold as a cure to [fill in the blank] in the 1800s.
An automated scan like WAVE or Axe is very helpful in quickly identifying accessibility issues but they’re only a starting point — they only successfully flag ~25% of WCAG 2.1 AA issues.
You can scan single pages for free with a number of online scans (they’re mostly the same in what they detect).
Premium services will sell full website scans with the ability to customize the scan along with reporting and maintenance but these are still just scans.
You will need a manual audit. A manual audit identifies all of the accessibility issues for the primary page layouts / screens on your website.
However, a manual audit itself doesn’t do anything — rather, it just lays out what needs to be done to make your website accessible.
Download my free WCAG 2.1 AA checklist (no subscription) to find out the 50 issues manual auditors look for.
Next, you will need to remediate or fix your website. Most of remediation requires a developer (and maybe a designer) to update your website’s code.
The other side of remediation involves updating your content to be accessible (e.g., add closed captions to video).
Re-Audit / Progression
This phase is where you ensure that your website is clear of issues after remediation has taken place.
User testing isn’t mandatory but it is quite beneficial to have a screen reader user test your website.
That’s it for the actual accessibility work to be done.
There may be other things to do for compliance and best practices such as posting an accessibility statement or creating an internal accessibility policy but audit + remediation is the big 1–2 combination.
Now all that’s left is to maintain.
But there’s more to think about.
Genuine accessibility for most websites costs multiple thousands of dollars. This is because it takes considerable time, knowledge, and skill for both an experienced auditor and developer to perform the work.
A good, trustworthy freelance developer with expertise in accessibility will cost $110-$150/hour.
And auditors usually don’t charge by the hour, they charge by the project.
Whether you hire a company, a small agency, or freelancers, they’ll price your website out by 1) complexity, 2) current state of accessibility, and 3) number of screens / pages to go through.
When it comes to manual audits and remediation, the turnaround times are usually similar.
For your “average” website, a two week turnaround time is really fast.
3–4 weeks is good. The closer to three, the better.
4–5 weeks is mediocre.
5+ is slow.
Of course, this is for an “average” website. Adjust the timelines depending on how complex, inaccessible, and/or large your website is.
Quality of Work
This is the hidden risk buried in every service because you don’t know how good a service provider is.
Both Company X and Company Y will tell you they’ll produce a manual audit report but how good is the report?
I guarantee you the reports won’t be the same.
This is one reason why it’s so important to not choose someone only based on price.
Of course price is an important factor but you would much, much, much prefer to pay more and get quality work done than pay less and get poor quality work.
Think of it in terms of letter grades.
One company might give you an audit that scores an A-.
Another company might give you a C+ audit.
Most audits aren’t 100% perfect but the ones that are excellent catch all of the major issues and almost all of the medium and minor issues.
Similarly, developers come to the table with a variety of experience and skill levels. Many now claim to have expertise in accessibility or “WCAG” because it increases their pay but it’s important to keep in mind that they too will range in quality of work.
The Right Fit
There are different fits for accessibility services.
For small businesses, big accessibility companies don’t make sense because their services cost too much.
For larger organizations / enterprises, smaller accessibility agencies don’t make sense because they don’t have the infrastructure to support teams, tickets, volume, complexity, integration, etc.
And medium-sized organizations flow wherever the cost and services best intersect with their needs.
Quick tip: If they also do SEO, social media, PPC, etc., skip them.
Accessibility requires focus and commitment and it doesn’t just blend together with marketing services; it’s serious and definitely not an endeavor marketing companies should be tacking on as an upsell.
Beating The System
There is no way to beat the system when it comes to remediating your current website.
There’s a law firm that claims to have a full proof way to cheaply remediate your website for compliance (they don’t).
As I’ve already told you, overlay widgets are worthless.
If you want to do this right, you’ll need to spend a few thousand dollars, at least, and/or lots of your time.
If you’re starting fresh with a brand new website, a truly accessible, out-of-the-box WCAG conformant Wordpress (or XYZ) theme is a potential way to beat the system.
Beware that many themes say they’re accessible when they’re not. Also beware that you can instantly take your website out of conformance when you customize or upload content to it.
Worst Case Scenario
Overlays are scams but they’re an upfront scam, if that makes sense. The scam is right in your face, so to speak.
The worst thing I’ve come across is someone told me they had their website audited for $1,500 and they showed me the report and it was a PDF with single page WAVE (and one other free scan) results transposed onto the scan.
That “audit” report literally took a few minutes to create.
It was created by a marketing agency, by the way.
All this is to say, there is significant downside to procuring accessibility services so spending a few hours to research the different companies and agencies is a worthwhile investment.
It’s not just your money at stake but your audience’s experience as well as your time, effort, and energy.
If you get bad services, you’ll have to start the process all over again.
If you get A- or better grade services at a fair price, you’ve played your cards right.