What is Accessibility Testing Automation? Tips & Tools

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What is Accessibility Testing Automation? Tips & Tools

Posted April 11, 2024


Posted April 11, 2024

Stylized web browser with accessibility errors in pop-up boxes next to the accessibility symbol.
Stylized web browser with accessibility errors in pop-up boxes next to the accessibility symbol.

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Automated accessibility testing refers to software that automatically scans a website and flags errors based on accessibility standards. Learn more about what automated testing is and what the benefits are.

All individuals — regardless of their abilities — should be able to access and use digital content. It’s a fundamental right in today’s digital world. Yet, according to the latest WebAIM report, the majority of business’ homepages (95.9%) have some type of accessibility error. 

With accessibility barriers blocking individuals with disabilities from accessing critical information, it’s beyond time to start breaking down these barriers. A critical part of this process: automated accessibility testing.

Automated accessibility testing streamlines your path to accessibility, enabling you to create more inclusive online spaces as well as comply with accessibility regulations.

What is Accessibility Testing Automation?

Accessibility testing automation refers to the use of software to automatically evaluate and identify accessibility issues on a website or application against established web accessibility standards like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). More simply, the process tests whether websites, mobile applications (like iOS or Android apps), or other digital content are accessible and usable by people with disabilities.

Unlike manual accessibility testing, which relies on human testers to navigate through digital content and identify issues, automated testing streamlines the whole process via accessibility scanners or evaluators. Typically, scanners analyze the structure and content of a webpage for accessibility errors such as missing alternative text (alt text), poor color contrast ratios, lack of assistive technology compatibility, etc. The tools then assess the identified issues against accessibility guidelines and highlight the severity and impact of each one.

Every accessibility tool takes a slightly different approach to web accessibility testing. Most, however, will crawl through web content, simulate user interactions, and report on accessibility issues. Some accessibility checkers even highlight specific lines of HTML code that need attention.

The Role of Automation in Resolving Web Accessibility Issues

One of the biggest advantages of using automated testing tools is their ability to rapidly identify straightforward code-based accessibility issues (like missing alt attributes or insufficient color contrast). These issues can exist in numerous places across your website and be time-consuming to locate with a manual accessibility audit. 

By finding and fixing accessibility issues more quickly, you’re able to remediate the accessibility and usability issues that are affecting your users in real-time. This ultimately fosters an accessibility-first mindset within development teams. 

Taking an iterative approach not only improves accessibility, but also creates a culture of accessibility within your team. Over time, this leads to more awareness and consideration of digital accessibility which ultimately results in more accessible, inclusive digital experiences.

Advantages of Automating Accessibility Testing

Digital accessibility testing itself has numerous benefits — automated accessibility testing furthers them, helping you create accessible web designs and online spaces faster and more efficiently. Additional benefits of automated accessibility testing include:

  • Increased efficiency: Arguably, the biggest advantage of automated testing is the increase in efficiency. Manual testing (though it has its place) is time-consuming and labor-intensive; automated accessibility testing tools can quickly scan the entirety of a webpage and pinpoint potential accessibility errors. Rather than spending hours manually testing digital content, developers can do it in minutes, enabling them to spend more time fixing issues rather than finding them.
  • Compliance: All organizations are required to provide accessible online spaces per the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Automated accessibility testing streamlines the path to compliance by identifying existing accessibility issues on your site and providing recommendations for remediation.
  • More coverage: Automated testing provides more coverage. Tools can scan entire aspects of a website, including text, videos, images, interactive elements, and forms. This increase in coverage enhances the overall accessibility of your site and creates a better user interface.
  • Repeatability: The ease and speed of automated tests encourage regular use. Tests can be scheduled to run at regular intervals, allowing for continuous monitoring. This also helps you to catch accessibility issues early in the web development cycle.

Challenges of Automated Accessibility Testing

Despite the benefits of automated accessibility testing, the approach does have its limitations:

  • False positives: Automated testing tools aren’t perfect — they can generate false positives, flagging elements as inaccessible when they’re not. Or generate false negatives, failing to identify genuine accessibility issues. Refining tool settings or using more sophisticated tools capable of smarter analysis can help with false positives, but even then, some may slip through.
  • Complexity of accessibility guidelines: The way automated tools interpret accessibility guidelines may not always be accurate. This may result in inaccuracies in identifying certain types of accessibility issues; if not identified, these issues can create problems for your users.
  • Limited scope: Automated testing tools primarily focus on common accessibility issues, overlooking more complex ones that can significantly improve the user experience. These errors typically require human judgment to find and fix.
  • Integration into development workflows: Depending on the testing platform you’re using, integration may not be easy. You want to ensure your testing platform can integrate with your entire deployment pipeline as this ensures accessibility is considered at every stage of development.

Overcoming these challenges requires one thing: manual testing. Manual testing incorporates human expertise and judgment into the testing process. This ensures that testing results are interpreted accurately — especially for nuanced issues that require human judgment — and helps you find and fix more accessibility issues.

An accessibility icon surrounded by a number of design tools — an eyedropper, a cursor, and an anchor point tool.

Top Accessibility Testing Tools

Today’s market has an abundance of accessibility testing tools. When considering different evaluation tools, it’s critical to remember that testing is just the first step in creating a more accessible website. No tool can create a totally accessible website, so look for a platform that provides more than just testing. And remember to look beyond just price — free tools might be a great starting point but you may want to consider more advanced options.

A few other features and functionalities to keep in mind when looking at platforms:

  • Integration capabilities: Ensure testing tools can seamlessly integrate with your existing tech stack. This will make things significantly easier on your IT or development team and help you seamlessly integrate testing into your existing processes.
  • Flexibility and adaptability: Testing tools should be flexible enough to adapt to your specific needs. Tools with more flexibility and adaptability can more easily fit the unique needs of your organization.
  • Testing criteria: Testing tools should help you comply with the latest accessibility requirements such as the ADA, WCAG, or Section 508. Check platforms are testing against these criteria to minimize the risk of noncompliance.
  • Custom fixes: Not all accessibility issues can be fixed with software alone. Look for vendors that can write custom, code-based fixes for more complex accessibility issues. 
  • Support: Look at the support options offered by the vendor. Do they provide legal guidance or support in the event of an accessibility lawsuit or demand letter? Do they offer 24/7 assistance? Is training or onboarding included? 

Ultimately, you’ll want to choose a tool that can do more than just accessibility testing. You want something that will help you build accessible websites, mobile and web applications, videos, and more. This will help you foster a culture of accessibility and create more inclusive online spaces.

For example, AudioEye’s Automated Accessibility Testing Platform streamlines the accessibility testing process. Our automation software scans your digital content for common accessibility issues and applies Automated Fixes. AudioEye ensures thorough coverage of WCAG 2.1 standards, ADA compliance, and other accessibility guidelines by utilizing a combination of automated tests and expert human analysis to cover a wide range of potential issues. With AudioEye, you can create accessible online spaces that serve the needs of individuals with varying disabilities or impairments faster and easier than ever.

How to Get Started with Automated Accessibility Testing

Getting started with automated accessibility testing will vary depending on your organization, technology stack, and accessibility goals. The steps below, however, are a good starting point for bringing automated testing to your development processes.

First, research accessibility tools. Look for platforms that have the features, capabilities, integrations, and support needed to reach your goals. Once you’ve signed up for a service, make sure you’ve installed all the necessary extensions or integrations into your development environment. Finally, start testing your digital content!

Integrating Automated Testing Tools into Your Development Workflows

It’s important to note that the integration process will vary depending on your specific software development environment. Below are a few high-level integration steps for various environments to help you get started.

  • Content Management System (CMS): Check that you have the necessary browser extensions or integrations installed into your preferred API or CMS environment. Next, configure the tool to automatically run accessibility tests as part of your local development workflow.
  • Version Control System (VCS) integration: Integrate the automated testing tool with your VCS (i.e., GitHub Bitbucket, etc.) to trigger tests on commits or pull requests. Then configure webhooks or CI/CD pipelines to automate the testing process whenever changes are pushed to the repository.
  • Continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipelines: Once you’ve incorporated the testing tool into your CI/CD pipeline, define the stages in your pipeline to execute accessibility tests alongside other automated tests. You may need to utilize scripting or configuration files to define testing steps and parameters within your pipeline. For example, AudioEye’s Developer Tools integrate directly with your CI/CD deployment and thoroughly check your code for accessibility issues.

Maintaining Ongoing Compliance

Another thing to remember about accessibility testing: it’s not a one-time process. Accessibility guidelines are always changing as technology evolves and user needs shift. Continuously monitoring your site for accessibility issues and ongoing compliance with digital accessibility laws ensures your digital content stays accessible and compliant over time.

Using a real-time monitoring system can help with this. For example, AudioEye’s Active Monitoring continuously tests for accessibility issues. Every time you update your website or add new content, you run the risk of introducing new accessibility issues. Our Active Monitoring is designed to catch those issues, bringing them to your attention before they can impact your users.

Achieve and Maintain Digital Accessibility with AudioEye

Automated accessibility testing plays a critical role in addressing and resolving accessibility barriers. The process ensures that digital content is accessible to all users — not just those with disabilities. By streamlining the testing process, organizations can more quickly meet regulatory requirements, adhere to accessibility standards, and foster a culture of inclusivity.

With AudioEye, the path to inclusivity is faster and easier than ever. Our commitment to making the digital world more inclusive is seen in our Automated Accessibility Platform — a platform that goes far beyond just accessibility testing. Our suite of accessibility and Developer Tools find and fix accessibility issues and ensure your digital content is accessible and usable to all. 

Ready to take the first step towards a more inclusive digital future? Book a demo with AudioEye and see the difference accessibility can make.

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