Why is the Website Accessibility Market So Confusing?
ADA website litigation is what drives most buyers into the website accessibility market, but once buyers start researching which products and services to go with, things get tricky.
One reason is because the sellers vary greatly in what they’re offering.
All of the products and services have the common theme of helping with website accessibility (and therefore helping with litigation), but it’s difficult to unpack what each does and how much they help.
Sometimes even the sellers themselves aren’t entirely clear in what they’re offering. And sometimes this is because they truly don’t know and other times it’s because they’re purposefully being ambiguous.
What’s important for buyers to know is that these offerings are different from seller to seller. Also, if they help, the way they help, and how much they help vary greatly.
Let’s unravel the mystery of the marketplace.
What are we attempting to buy?
A product or service(s) that makes our website (more) accessible.
Why are we buying?
Most people are buying because of litigation, whether they’re trying to prevent it or respond to it.
A scant few are genuinely concerned with improving accessibility and their user experience.
And, of course, occasionally it’s truly a combination thereof.
What are the options?
There are literally dozens of sellers in the market, here are the most visible in Google:
- Level Access
- Accessible Metrics
- Hassell Inclusion
And the list goes on and on.
Which option should you choose?
You should go with the seller whose offering (and quality) best matches what your objective is.
If you want to prevent litigation, you need to find (audit) and fix (remediate) the accessibility issues on your website, particularly those that are most commonly claimed by plaintiffs’ lawyers.
If you are responding to litigation, you may also need user testing, interval audits, and documentation as a stipulation of your settlement agreement.
To improve organizational accessibility, training and help with program management may be among your priorities.
Bucket the Offerings
To make sense of the market, it’s best to bucket the different sellers into five categories:
- automated “solutions”
- automated scans & reporting
- mid-tier agency audits
- user testing services
- enterprise level packages that include audits
Of course, not every seller will fit neatly into one of the buckets, but generally you can categorize a seller into one of those five categories.
Let’s now quickly identify the characteristics of each so you can better recognize them.
- automated “solutions”: work under the premise of you can make your website instantly accessible / compliant and prevent litigation through an accessibility widget, commonly referred to as an overlay. They don’t edit your code or remediate your content and they don’t make your website WCAG conformant and they haven’t prevented lawsuits.
- automated scans & reporting: center around the ability to scan a website and produce reports of the results and progress made. Maintenance and monitoring with alerts are a part of the product but manual service work is avoided.
- mid-tier agency audits: primarily offer a manual accessibility audit and consultation. Limited in capacity as they are typically small businesses.
- user testing services: offer actual user testing from professionals with disabilities along with support. Usually small business/agency types or non-profits.
- enterprise level packages: large company with at least 15 employees and a sales team. Primarily deal with larger organizations (e.g., government agencies, well known corporations). They feature a manual audit along with a suite of additional products and services including training and support.
A common reflex to decide whether or not to go with a provider is to search Google for reviews. This approaches works poorly when it comes to accessibility providers.
Nearly all of the review sites that crowd the top two pages of search results cater to overlay vendors.
Review sites you may come across include independent websites and crowd feedback platforms:
While most of these sites may house reviews for companies that fall into all five buckets, they are usually overlay vendor centric and save their best reviews for overlays while gently massaging readers away from organizations that provide for genuine accessibility.
And, of course, this is for the money.
Overlay vendor money may come directly in the form of affiliate commissions, sponsorship, or advertising or indirectly through some other form of compensation such as a premium membership package that allows for more control over their site listing.
Also, overlay vendors may have created the website or purchased the website to serve their own promotional purposes.
Further, if you read through some of the reviews on crowd platforms, you may quickly presume that the reviews are fake because of the overenthusiam and lack of critical reviews.
You can gain a better sense of overlay widgets through Karl Groves’s websites, overlayfactsheet.com and overlayfalseclaims.com, where he demonstrably proves that overlays do not make websites accessible or prevent lawsuits and thus lie about their capability.
Testimonials for overlay widgets suffer a similar fate as the review sites, most have been co-opted through compensation or association and can’t be trusted.
However, testimonials for the four categories outside of automated “solutions” are generally trustworthy; it’s almost always overlay widgets where ethics goes out the window.
How to Find Information
Even though the website accessibility space now has several years of maturation, it’s still difficult to find organic discussion about the various companies — most people don’t discuss their experience online.
That said, there are a few avenues that may provide insight:
- Facebook groups
- Reddit threads
- YouTube channels
- Searching Google for “seller + lawsuit” and “seller + complaint”
Here are a list of insights that are usually unknown to new buyers in the market:
- Avoid agencies that do other stuff (e.g., SEO)
- Pay close attention to how closely a seller details the scope of your audit (it’s a red flag if they don’t specify the scope)
- Remediation is a significant and separate cost
- Services (e.g., audits) can vary greatly in quality
- Don’t worry about indemnification
- Don’t get distracted by salesmanship that clouds your focus with new updates (e.g., WCAG 2.2, new laws, etc.)
- Training your team to be proficient is extremely important
- Certification only matters if the organization issuing the certificate is reputable (and nobody can certify websites as ADA compliant)
The Main Problem with the Market
In Part II of this article, I will continue by laying out the main problem in the market.