Accessibility Testing is defined as a type of website testing performed to ensure that the application being examined is usable by people with additional requirements, such as hearing loss, colour blindness and cognitive difficulties. Web accessibility testing is a subset of usability testing where the users under consideration have requirements that affect how they interact with the web. The end goal, in both usability and accessibility testing, is to discover how easily people can use a website and to feed that information back subsequently improving future designs and implementations.
When should accessibility testing be performed?
“Test early, test often” is an old software engineering saying and is ever relevant for website development. Testing at the end of the development process has two risks:
- Projects tend to run over-time and over-budget. Resulting in testing that is often rushed, omitted, or ignored due to pressure.
- It is more work to fix issues discovered later in the development process and can cost up to 30 times more at each stage.
To ensure quality and save time and money, accessibility evaluations should start right at the beginning of product design and be included in subsequent development iterations through to final delivery.
Accessibility is important for individuals, businesses, society
The web is an increasingly important resource in many aspects of life: education, employment, government, commerce, health care, recreation, and more. It is essential that the web be accessible in order to provide equal access and equal opportunity to people with diverse abilities. Access to information and communications technologies, including the web, is defined as a basic human right in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD).
The web offers the possibility of unprecedented access to information and interaction for many people with additional requirements. That is, the accessibility barriers to print, audio, and visual media can be much more easily overcome through web technologies.
Accessible design improves overall user experience and satisfaction, especially in a variety of situations, across different devices, and for older users. Accessibility can enhance your brand, drive innovation, and extend your market reach.
Making the web accessible
Web accessibility depends on several components working together, including web technologies, web browsers and other "user agents", authoring tools, and websites.
The W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) develops technical specifications, guidelines, techniques, and supporting resources that describe accessibility solutions. These are considered international standards for web accessibility; for example, WCAG 2.0 is also an ISO standard: ISO/IEC 40500.
How to do accessibility testing?
Accessibility Testing can be performed in 2 ways, and they are:
Automated accessibility testing is a process where you use a series of scripts to test for the presence or lack of certain conditions in code. These conditions are dictated by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), a standard by the W3C that outlines how to make digital experiences accessible. These automated programs are incredible resources.
Modern websites and web apps are complicated things that involve hundreds of states, thousands of lines of code, and complicated multi-screen interactions. It’d be absurd to expect a human (or a team of humans) to mind all the code controlling every possible permutation of the site, to say nothing of things like regressions, software rot, and A/B tests. Automation really shines here. It can repeatedly and tirelessly pour over these details with perfect memory, at a rate far faster than any human is capable of.
However, there are many accessibility issues that currently can’t be replicated by a machine or computer program, which makes manual accessibility testing essential for ensuring that your solutions are useable for visitors with specific needs. This often includes things like keyboard-only commands, compatibility with various assistive technologies, and coordination with colour-adjustment plugins for web browsers.
Let’s look at a few areas where manual testing is especially useful:
1. Keyboard-only navigation
Being able to navigate and operate all of a website’s functions without the use of a mouse is essential for many users with disabilities, especially those who use certain assistive tools. Manual accessibility testing can help you determine if your site is optimized for keyboard-only functionality such as:
- Moving between sections of a web page
- Accessing all menus
- Top-of-page links that allow users to skip directly to each page’s vital content
- Links and form fields that can be highlighted using keyboard commands
2. Screen reader compatibility
Screen readers are among the most commonly used assistive tools for users with low vision, and there are key differences between each of the leading models. Manual testing is useful to determine how readable the content is for various assistive technologies, as many assistive situations—navigating menus, determining where links lead or understanding the context of alternative text – for instance:
- Colour adjustments - While automated scans and browser plugins can be helpful in catching problematic colour-contrast issues that make comprehension difficult for some users, most of these scans can’t detect contrast ratio images related to background images. Manually testing each area of your website against established standards can help make sure your content is understandable to a broader range of users.
- Page titles - The proper use of page titles can be a tricky prospect. While an automated scan can usually identify pages that are missing titles, it can’t determine their context or usefulness. A manual tester can help ensure that titles provide the meaning of the page in a clear, concise way that’s compatible with both assistive technology and search engine crawlers.
- Proper coding - Some elements of accessibility are not evident on the consumer side. Ensuring that HTML5 and WAI-ARIA elements are properly employed for maximal accessibility will often require a manual check by someone familiar with coding best practices.
The bottom line for most websites is that the surest path to accessibility is a combination of automated and manual testing. There are just some areas that are handled more efficiently by humans than machines, and vice versa. Automated accessibility checking is ideal for getting a comprehensive overview of accessibility issues across your entire digital presence, while manual testing is needed in cases where issues require human assessment.
As always, it’s important to remember that maintaining an accessible website is an ongoing project. Just as automated scans should be run at scheduled intervals, manual accessibility testing should be a regular part of your website maintenance.
This article was written by Manali Mehta. One of our expert community members.