Quick start guide to Web Accessibility Testing

For most of us, Internet usage or different elements of technology in general are like ‘for granted’, but it is an altogether different scenario when we talk about a different demographic front of people living with challenges. But it doesn’t have to be all that tough! Let’s walk through the realms of Accessibility Testing, a technique – a form of technology, being used to help technology reach the people living with challenges and disadvantages.

Accessibility testing is a type of usability testing performed to verify if the system in consideration is accessible and usable for people from disadvantaged groups or with different types of disabilities such as color blindness, hearing impairment, old age, difficulty with movement, cognitive, learning impairment, etc.

System can be anything ranging from a landing page to a comprehensive website, an executable .exe file to a multi-layered software package, some hardware or a PDF document and much, much more.

Different types of assistive technology tools are used to ensure people with disabilities can normally operate a system. Such tools may include:

  • Speech Recognition Software
  • Screen reader software
  • Screen Magnification Software
  • Special keyboard

Scope of Accessibility Testing

An ideal system is designed to ensure easy usability and accessibility for all types of people and not just those coming from disadvantaged, underprivileged or disabled groups. These may include:

  • Users from poor communication backgrounds and infrastructure
  • New users and the elderly who are generally computer illiterate
  • Users running old systems (those not able to use the latest applications)
  • Users running non-standard equipment
  • Users with limited or restricted access

 

Why accessibility Testing?

  1. Monetizing users across different disability groups

Reports suggest that nearly 20% of the world population has some form of disability. By introducing accessibility testing in their process lifecycle to ensure systems and products are developed with high usability for disabled users, businesses can really increase sales and enhance their market reach.

  1. Adhere to Accessibility Legislations

In most parts of the world, Accessibility Testing is essential to ensure legal compliance of developed systems and applications. Government bodies, the world over, have formulated strict legal instructions for IT products and solutions to be made disabled-friendly.

  1. Avoid Potential Lawsuits

On multiple occasions, various leading enterprises (including fortune 500 companies) have faced court trials over allegations of developing products that were not easily usable and accessible by disabled people.

  1. Improved efficiency and maintainability
  2. Internationalization
  3. Access for low-bandwidth users.

By the end of any day – there’s one common reason: better business – better ROI.

How is Web Accessibility measured?

W3C has created a few web accessibility standards known as Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) on which we can evaluate the accessibility of a website. Several other regulatory bodies have also formulated their specific guidelines; however, they are too broadly based on the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) Guidelines.

How to make a website accessible?

There are various factors that influence the availability aspect of a website, such as:

There are many factors that play a part to this such as:

  • Content
  • Mark-up languages
  • Development tools
  • Size
  • Code
  • Environment

Like in all other types of web testing, it is recommended that you implement standard web accessibility techniques during the early stage of your project itself, else removing in-accessibility issues later on from an end-product can truly be time-consuming and complex.

For instance, have a look at the sample techniques given below:

  • Page title verification
  • Image text alternative (also known as “alt text”)
  • Contrast ratio (“color contrast”)
  • Header tags
  • Permalink

A number of standard Evaluation Tools are also there to help you with web accessibility analysis. Though these tools are not 100% accurate, particularly when it comes to things like alt text assessment for appropriateness, the do prove handy for the most part.

Given below is a list of important points that a website must fulfill for accessibility:

  • Use of descriptive link text. Visually impaired users access webpages using the tab button and navigate link by link. So it is highly important that the link description is well defined and clearly understandable. Moreover, you should make sure all hyperlinks can be accessed using the tab key.
  • Go with CSS styling since CSS-powered websites are far more accessible than those based on the HTML code.
  • Avoid long sentences. Break a long sentence into two or three short sentences. Visually challenged users listen to the content provided on web pages and try to remember it. Short sentences will help them recall things better.
  • Don’t go for too flashy things, marquee or shiny text.
  • Make sure you add informative pictures wherever possible. One pictures can indeed explain more than thousand words. Try to use appropriate and detailed pictures with your text since they come handy in describing the content of your web page to literacy-challenged people.
  • Use simple and clear language. Big words need not necessarily explain big emotions. Consider creating simple sentences that are easily readable by cognitive-disabled users who have learning difficulties.
  • Consistency is the key. To provide appropriate accessibility to cognitive-disabled users, it is important that you provide consistent navigation across the web pages. Webpage consistency should be maintained, along with ensuring that you do not modify the pages at short intervals. For users with disability it is really a pain and time-consuming task to adjust and adapt to a new layout on a regular basis.
  • Avoid pop-ups. For visually-impaired users, who depend on a screen reader to get information from a web page, pop-ups can really play a spoilsport. Screen readers are meant to read a webpage from top to bottom but, if a pop-up usurps suddenly out of nowhere, it will leave the page to start reading the pop-up. Won’t it mess things up? It will leave the visually-disabled user completely baffled.

Accessibility Automation Tools

There are several specialized tools available out there to automate the task of web accessibility testing. Some of them are explained below:

aDesigner

Developed by IBM, aDesigner is meant to simulate the experience of visually-impaired people in order to assist developers in understanding the requirements of visually-challenged individuals – and come up with better applications in accordance with their needs.

WebAnywhere

It is a web-based utility that works more or less the same as leading screen readers such as Jaws. It is meant to assist users in reading a webpage.

Vischeck

Vischeck is another simulation tool that generates the experience of viewing a webpage by people affected by color blindness. It can be done by simply uploading images or by entering a URL into the space provided on Vischeck dashboard.

Web accessibility toolbar

Available as an extension for Opera and Internet Explorer, WAT provides web designers with efficient features for web page analysis. One of its important features the GreyScale mode that helps designers detect low contrast points in the design.

How Automated Accessibility Testing Tools work?

The list given above include some of the most widely-used automation tools to evaluate the accessibility rate of your website so that you can act accordingly and make the required modifications for accessibility. Here’s what these tools actually do:

  • Analyze website’s syntax code
  • Identify lines of codes and web pages that need to be checked manually for accessibility
  • Identify web pages that contain elements which might cause accessibility issues
  • Search for known, human-listed patterns
  • Detect some actual real accessibility issues
  • Detect potential problems

For a professional, detailed understanding of usability and technical issues and vast experience in automated accessibility testing is needed for accurate interpretation of test results.

The interpretation of the results from the automated accessibility testing tools requires experience in accessibility techniques with an understanding of technical and usability issues.

Conclusion

Accessibility testing is an integral part of usability testing and is widely used around the world by web designers and developers to create disabled-friendly web apps and services. If you are a developer and consider following accessibility guidelines hard to follow due to the complexities they have in place then –  we recommend you develop two versions of your website, one for general users and other for disabled people.