Website Accessibility Testing

Posted on Tuesday, 21 January 2020 by Marissa Sapega

There are many misconceptions about website accessibility tests. A common one is that you can test for ADA compliance (wrong! – but more on that later). Another is that automated accessibility testing alone is sufficient to catch accessibility failures that pose barriers to people with disabilities trying to access your website. (Again, wrong.) While it’s true, there are different types of website accessibility tests, the most comprehensive ones combine manual accessibility testing with automated accessibility testing for the most robust results.

What is accessibility testing?

Let’s back the cart up for a second here. Maybe you’ve stumbled upon this blog post and aren’t even sure what website accessibility testing is. In simple terms, website accessibility testing is a methodology to evaluate digital content for barriers that may stop someone with a disability from completing an act or transaction online. An “act” can be almost anything: reading an article, ordering food, buying a plane ticket, checking your bank balance, etc.

Visually impaired people use assistive technology (AT) like screen readers to access the internet. Barriers that prevent their screen readers from easily communicating the content are very common accessibility failures. There are other types of disabilities, of course, from cognitive (like an elderly woman who has to get her grandkids to order her an Uber because she’s not quite sure how the app works) to other physical ones, like not having the use of your hands.

The point is, testing for website accessibility involves understanding that people with disabilities may not be able to do things online in the same way as an able-bodied person. Furthermore, it takes into account identifying areas where people with a disabilities are currently not accommodated.

How to check for website accessibility

While you may have read that there are easy ways to check for website accessibility, such as employing an automated accessibility testing tool, that’s not 100% accurate. Most of the “rules” for website accessibility are not cut-and-dry. In fact, “rules” don’t even exist. The closest thing you’ll find to “website accessibility rules” are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These guidelines should be followed to uphold web standards (best practices to ensure that your digital content is accessible to as many people as possible).

So why is this important? An automated accessibility testing tool is only as good as the developer who writes the code that enables it to find accessibility failures. And because the guidelines are up for interpretation by humans, the developer must a) figure out which guidelines have the ability to be properly assessed by a machine, and b) use “if/then” statements tell the tool what to do if it encounters a situation that meets the guideline criteria. Phew. So in reality, an automated testing solution is only one tool in your toolkit for testing website accessibility.

Manual testing for website accessibility is not incredibly difficult, but it does require attention to detail and can be time-consuming. A comprehensive manual website accessibility test, (also referred to as an accessibility audit or accessibility review) involves a series of web page or app screen evaluations using various accessibility testing tools and assistive technology. Accessibility testing tools, like TPG’s ARC Toolkit, are based on WCAG criteria and help testers identify accessibility failures. While no singular manual accessibility testing checklist exists, generally website accessibility testers check if digital content conforms to A/AA WCAG success criteria.

What about ADA website compliance?

Almost forgot about that. As referenced earlier, the reason that no “ADA website test” exists is because the Americans with Disabilities Act does not have a specific set of guidelines for website accessibility. Hence, there is nothing in the actual ADA to comply with beyond the general requirement to be accessible. (Check out our blog post on ADA website compliance for more information.)

Why is a website accessibility evaluation important?

If you need more motivation to conduct website accessibility testing, consider that website accessibility lawsuits have exploded in recent years and show no sign of slowing down. To add to that, people with disabilities have disposable income, and are very loyal customers. Adding to your bottom line and risk mitigation seem like pretty substantial reasons to conduct website accessibility testing to me!

Here’s some good news for you: The Paciello Group offers a free website accessibility scan. While you cannot rely on this scan alone to identify all your accessibility errors, it will give you a good idea of the overall accessibility of your site and some tangible next steps to start remediating. Get your free scan today, and if you find that you need some help from the experts, we’re always here to lend a hand.


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