Getting Started with Web Accessibility Testing

Posted Sep 2nd, 2021

Digital accessibility testing is important to ensure everyone can access web content regardless of disability.

Making your websites and apps accessible to everyone matters. Here's a helpful guide on how to plan for web accessibility testing and select the best tools for your organization.

What is web accessibility testing?

Web accessibility testing, also known as digital accessibility testing, is a subset of usability testing that ensures anyone can access and use your digital content (website, apps, etc.) at any time. This includes people with disabilities such as vision, hearing, literacy, physical, and cognitive disabilities.

With around (or over 1 billion people) living with a disability, the calls for inclusion are growing louder by the day. You’ve probably heard that some big-name airlines were called out for losing or breaking passengers’ wheelchairs. As a result, both people with and without disabilities have called on airlines to implement better procedures for storing mobility devices during travel.

This is just one high-profile example — people with disabilities face discriminatory challenges every day, and most go unseen or unheard. 

Unfortunately, discrimination exists in the digital world, too. But it shouldn’t, and it doesn’t have to. That’s where comes into play.

What makes digital content accessible?

Features like captions, alt-text for screen readers, zoom functions, simple presentation layouts, and others are crucial to helping people with disabilities access and use your content. Testing that they’re implemented and functioning properly is critical to ensuring your content is accessible. 

The standards and criteria for web accessibility are set by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which are based on a foundation of four principles:

  • Perceivable – all users can perceive the information being presented.

  • Operable – all users can operate the interface.

  • Understandable – all users can understand both the information being presented and how to operate the interface.

  • Robust – the content can be accessed and interpreted reliably even as technologies and user agents (such as assistive technologies) evolve. 

For example, maybe your user interface incorporates accessible colors, but the site isn’t coded to integrate with assistive technologies like screen readers. This means your site would fail to meet WCAG’s success criteria for accessibility.

Why does web accessibility matter?

Accessibility helps every person live their best life

With so many everyday (and sometimes critical) life functions now relying on technology — medical care, meetings, banking, and schooling, just to name a few — the need for digital inclusion and accessibility can no longer be ignored. If people with disabilities can’t successfully and consistently access these technologies, then they can’t be fully functioning, thriving members of society. 

Accessibility is good for business

Maybe you’re wondering why you should invest in accessibility testing. We know you care about inclusion, but we also get that money talks. Here are a few ways accessibility is good for business: 

  • You’ll build better relationships with all of your customers because your site meets their needs. They’ll love you for it, and they’ll tell their friends to buy your product.

  • You’ll build loyalty with your employees because they’ll see that you stand for something good. They’ll love being a part of it, and they’ll tell their friends to work for you.

  • You’ll boost your company’s risk management profile by keeping your business out of legal, financial, and reputational trouble. 

Accessibility is subject to international regulations and legislation

Yes, you could face litigation and hefty fines if your website or apps aren’t accessible. In fact, the number of federal lawsuits concerning web accessibility in 2020 compared to 2019 — even taking into account a pandemic-related lull in mid-2020.

The European Union, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Japan, Israel, and the Philippines all have some type of digital accessibility regulations or legislation. In the U.S., the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is widely interpreted by the courts as extending to digital services and content. This all means that your company could be the subject of a lawsuit or fine if your digital content is found to be non-compliant or discriminatory based on disability.

Accessibility testing has improved with modern technology

We know some of you have had experiences with traditional accessibility testing that are maybe...not so great. Perhaps you’ve racked up countless hours and buckets of sweat due to slow and tedious manual testing processes. Maybe you’ve spent lots of hard-earned dollars on testing resources but didn’t get the results you wanted. Maybe you don’t have the necessary skills or expertise in-house to tackle accessibility testing at all. Or maybe you simply don’t have the scalable development environment or testing tools you need to support accessibility projects. 

The good news is that modern accessibility testing has come a long way, so let’s clear up some of the confusion.

Accessibility testing can be automated

Yes, it’s true! Much of your accessibility testing can now be automated, or run automatically. There are new tester-friendly tools that can fit seamlessly into modern development environments, shift accessibility testing left in the software development lifecycle (SDLC), and align accessibility closer with design.These tools can take some of the load off your testing team while boosting the speed of testing and the quality of results.

Automated accessibility testing is meant to supplement — not replace — manual testing

A common myth is that manual accessibility testing — where humans conduct step-by-step tests on your product — is sufficient on its own. The truth is that both manual and automated tests are critical to ensuring your website or app is accessible. Many tests that are currently run manually can be converted to automatic tests, leaving you with a testing plan that is more robust, comprehensive, and accurate as well as efficient.

Creating an accessible website doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming

With some thoughtful planning alongside the right tool and testing strategy, you can increase efficiencies, reduce costs, and build an accessible website that serves and delights all customers.

How to select the right web accessibility testing tool

When evaluating web accessibility testing tools, you’ll want to look for a single platform that ticks the following boxes:

  • Tests both web and mobile apps.

  • Shifts automated testing left so you can catch errors and issues early on.

  • Provides clear step-by-step tests for your in-house testing team.

  • Spots compliance issues with WCAG success criteria and other relevant requirements.

  • Performs continuous, dynamic scans to monitor your site’s accessibility status in the long term.

  • Consolidates all results for easy access, reporting, and analysis.

Ideally you want a tool that integrates seamlessly with your development environment and SDLC. Your overall goal should be to make testing faster, cheaper, and more effective.

One such tool is Deque Systems’ axe™ tool suite, which we recently incorporated into the Sauce Labs Continuous Testing Cloud. Our goal with this new solution is to help our customers easily integrate accessibility testing into their quality processes, giving both testers and developers increased awareness and visibility into accessibility signals at every level of the software development process.

Conclusion

Web accessibility testing has come a long way with new tools that can integrate seamlessly with modern software development environments while shifting testing left in the SDLC. Gone are the days when accessibility testing was a tedious and time-consuming manual process that happened in production. But with these new innovations come increased expectations and demands that all digital content be accessible. We’re out of excuses and we’re out of time. So cue up your most energetic productivity playlist, because it’s time to get to work and make inaccessible websites a thing of the past.

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Erin Conrad has spent her entire career working for software companies in roles spanning technical writing, content strategy, and product marketing. She is currently a freelance writer helping tech companies create relevant, valuable content that helps their customers solve problems and make informed decisions.


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Erin Conrad


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