WCAG Audits: What Higher Ed Marketers Need to Know

Your website is an important marketing tool for your college or university brand. But what if people within your target audience can’t see your website, can’t hear your informational videos, or can’t navigate to the information they need on your website? Reaching those people could potentially increase your recruitment of new students, faculty, donors, and industry partners and help you nurture relationships with your existing college or university community. A WCAG audit could help you do that.

In this article, we’ll help you better understand what WCAG is, the benefits of a WCAG audit, and the types of audits that can be conducted. We’ll also explain why a WCAG audit is not a DIY project.


The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are an internationally recognized set of standards you can use to assess your website’s accessibility to people with disabilities. Conforming to WCAG will make your website welcoming to all visitors, combining practical marketing techniques with your institution’s inclusive values.

WCAG standards are based on these four principles:

Perceivable: Can all users perceive the information and interface with components on your website? Can they adjust color contrast or font size to suit their needs? Are they able to view captions for videos or alt text that describes images?

Operable: Regardless of their limitations, can all users navigate your website? Can they use their preferred method of interaction, regardless of whether it is voice commands, keystrokes, or mouse manipulations?

Understandable: Can all users understand the information and instructions presented on your website? Are instructions clear and navigation methods intuitive?

Robust: Is your website content robust enough for users who rely on assistive technologies? Is the code and content accessible to common devices and tools users might employ to consume your content?

Not all websites can meet the highest level of conformance to WCAG standards. Large government websites that present information for the general public are usually expected to meet the highest accessibility standards, but most others reach full conformance only on certain pages. WCAG conformance is measured on a three-step scale, in which Level A is the lowest level of conformance and Level AAA is the highest.

Level A-conforming websites include text alternatives for non-text content, offer substitutes for audio- or video-only content, and provide captions for all audio/video tracks. To raise a Level A website to Level AA, you’d also have to use text that can be enlarged to 200% without losing function or content, avoid using images of text, and set the contrast ratio between text and background to 4.5:1. To achieve Level AAA conformance, that contrast ratio would have to be 7:1, and you would have to offer sign language translations, extended audio descriptions, and text substitutes for all videos on the site.


You made an investment in your website because it is an important tool for building your college’s or university’s brand. A WCAG audit can show you how to add value to that website, increasing your reach with prospective students, faculty, partners, and donors and improving your relationship with your current college or university community.

The more your website conforms to WCAG, the more likely it is to be accessible to all users through an enhanced user experience. Website usability is an important factor in communicating your brand and the credibility of your institution. Improved accessibility can also enhance your website’s SEO metrics to drive more traffic to your website. More web traffic can have a positive effect on recruitment, fundraising, and other strategic higher ed goals.


Website accessibility is a broad concept that can be applied to every aspect of your website. To keep it from becoming overwhelming, WCAG audits are broken down into different types depending on your specific goals.

Evaluation Audit: If you want to understand how accessible your website is, an evaluation audit will identify the high-level issues a user with disabilities might have in navigating it. The results of an evaluation audit can help you plan your next steps toward WCAG conformance.

Design Audit: If you are designing a new website or tuning up your current site, a design audit can test the new user interface and user experience for accessibility at the wireframe stage. This can help you avoid the need for major design changes after the website is developed.

Validation Audit: Once you have made some changes to your website for enhanced accessibility, you can have a validation audit performed on your entire site, some of your web pages, or even just one web page. You’ll learn if the changes effectively enhanced accessibility, and you could earn a Statement of Conformance.

In-Depth Audit: If you know what WCAG level you want your website to conform to, you can undergo an in-depth audit. This extensive audit will identify all the areas of potential improvement in accessibility on your website and result in a detailed report about what changes you should make to achieve the level of conformance you desire.

Usability Audit: Often the most time-consuming type of audit, a usability audit involves people with various disabilities using the website and reporting on issues or barriers to access they experience.


When it comes to the accessibility of your college or university website, a lot is at stake. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not specifically cover website accessibility, but inaccessible websites can be considered discriminatory. When legal issues are raised, the courts frequently use the WCAG Level AA as a standard measure to determine whether a website presents significant barriers to access for people with disabilities.

In many organizations, ensuring website accessibility is a full-time job. Depending on the size of your institution and the extent of your website, managing a WCAG audit may be too much to take on as a side project. And it is too important to put it off. A professional WCAG audit should be conducted right away, and the accessibility of your website monitored as you build dynamic content.

Although automated audit tools are available, the important part of the WCAG audit is how you interpret the data. You want an accessibility expert to perform the manual parts of the audit, interpret the data, and make recommendations for improvements to bring you into conformance with WCAG.

Feeling overwhelmed by the results of your WCAG audit? Contact LIGHTSTREAM to develop a plan to implement the changes necessary to bring your website into conformance with WCAG and continue growing your higher ed brand.