The Ultimate Accessibility User Testing Guide

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The Ultimate Accessibility User Testing Guide

Posted April 05, 2024


Posted April 05, 2024

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Person in a wheelchair sitting at desk with a computer on it and a stylized web browser behind them.

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Accessibility user testing helps you create accessible, inclusive online spaces for all users. Discover how to get started with accessibility testing and how to streamline the process without sacrificing accessibility.

Despite the increasing interconnectivity of our world, digital access remains difficult for the disabled community. While organizations have taken proactive steps towards improving the experience for the disabled community, persistent accessibility errors hinder the experience. And because we rely on the internet for most things — from socializing with friends and family to doing our jobs — it’s time to do more to improve digital accessibility.

Enter accessibility user testing (also called usability testing). The term refers to individuals with disabilities evaluating digital products or services to determine how accessible and inclusive they are. The practice shows developers and designers what the experience is like for users with disabilities, enabling them to create more accessible, inclusive digital products for everyone. 

That’s the ultimate goal of accessibility user testing — to create a positive experience for all users, not just those with disabilities. Below, we’ll dive into how to get started with accessibility user testing, best practices that streamline the process, and how AudioEye helps create a culture of accessibility.

Getting Started with Accessibility User Testing

Like we said above, the ultimate goal of accessibility user testing is to create digital experiences that meet the needs of all users, particularly those with disabilities. Understanding the importance of accessibility is the first step in effective accessibility testing. With that in mind, let’s dive in.

Initiating the Accessibility User Testing Process

Before you start recruiting testers, take time to understand accessibility standards — particularly the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA explains your legal obligations to provide accessible digital content; WCAG outlines the accessibility features you need to meet compliance requirements. 

Once you understand what accessibility standards you’re working towards, you’ll want to set up a structured testing environment complete with accessibility testing tools. Ensure the environment and tools you’re using are compatible with screen readers and other assistive technologies.

Prioritizing Disabilities for Testing

After your environment has been set up, map out user scenarios that cover a wide range of interactions with your digital product. Including a range of scenarios enhances accessibility across your site, enabling disabled users to accomplish more.

From here, you’ll want to prioritize testing for high-impact disabilities. Disabilities such as visual and auditory impairments have a bigger impact on the user experience so you’ll want to prioritize those over others. These disabilities include individuals who are blind, deaf, hard of hearing, have low vision, or are color blind. Create user personas for each one to ensure you’re considering diverse needs during testing.

Using a Comprehensive Approach to Accessibility Testing

There’s a myriad of ways you can approach accessibility testing. Most approaches fall into either automated testing or manual testing. 

Automated testing refers to using software tools to automatically evaluate accessibility against standards like WCAG. The advantage of automated testing is that it’s scalable, fast, and able to identify many common accessibility issues. The drawback, however, is that automated testing can’t catch everything. More nuanced accessibility issues — like the quality of alt text or the logical flow of content — require human judgment. This is where manual testing comes in.

Manual testing is hands-on accessibility evaluations that are conducted by real people and usually involves assistive technologies. The benefit of manual testing is it provides more in-depth insights — you’re able to better understand the user experience from the perspective of people with disabilities. However, the time and resources needed for manual testing is a drawback to the approach.

How AudioEye Integrates Both Automated and Expert Testing

We recommend taking a hybrid approach to accessibility testing — using automated software to identify common accessibility issues and manual testing to catch more nuanced issues. This is exactly what AudioEye does. Our Automated Accessibility Platform scans your website for common accessibility issues and provides Automated Fixes for these issues.

We then perform an Expert Audit of your site where our team of experts find and fix more complex accessibility issues. This enables you to deliver the highest level of accessibility across your site.

Navigating Legal and Ethical Standards in Accessibility Testing

As you’re conducting accessibility testing, you’ll want to ensure you’re adhering to ethical and legal requirements — particularly the ADA and WCAG. According to the ADA, organizations must meet WCAG 2.1 Level AA conformance standards to be considered accessible. Failure to meet these standards can result in expensive, reputation-damaging lawsuits or demand letters.

Meeting WCAG’s accessibility standards does decrease the likelihood of legal action being taken against your organization. More importantly, however, adhering to WCAG showcases your brand’s commitment to inclusivity and accessibility.

Accommodating a Range of Assistive Technologies

Assistive technologies, including screen readers, magnification software, and speech recognition, are used widely by people with disabilities. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 2.5 billion people worldwide need one or more assistive technologies to engage with digital content. 

Throughout accessibility testing, make sure you’re testing on different assistive technologies. This will help you identify and fix compatibility issues that may otherwise exclude certain users. 

It’s important to note that testing and resolving compatibility issues with assistive technologies may require changing content or design. For example, you may need to write alt text for images, adjust page layout, or write semantic HTML to enhance compatibility and usability.

When selecting the assistive technologies to test your content on, consider the needs of your users. Which devices are they primarily going to use when browsing the web? Are those devices compatible with your platform? Do these devices serve a broad range of disabilities? Answering these questions can help you narrow down which assistive technologies to utilize during testing.

Creating a Testing Plan

With all these details figured out, it’s time to create a testing plan. You’ll want to ensure your timeline includes sufficient time for both automated and manual testing phases. It should also include deadlines for specific tasks and who will be completing them. List an end goal that describes what success looks like for accessibility testing efforts. Finally, don’t forget to include specific objectives and the scope of testing in your plan.

Recruit Participants

Once you have a plan in place, it’s time to find testers. When recruiting participants, look for individuals with various disabilities. Include users with visual and auditory impairments as well as those with motor, neurological, or cognitive disabilities. Bringing in a diverse group of users enables you to more effectively meet the needs of users as well as create a more inclusive experience.

Iterative Testing and Feedback Loop

An important thing to remember about accessibility testing: it’s an ongoing process. With accessibility laws and standards always changing, it’s important to regularly gather user feedback from users with disabilities throughout the testing process and beyond. Consider using user surveys, beta testing groups, and direct observation sessions to gather feedback.  

Gathering this feedback enables you to create an open and ongoing dialogue with users which can deepen your understanding of users’ needs. It also helps you enhance accessibility across your digital offerings.

Providing Ongoing Accessibility Training

Regardless of whether users have a disability or not, providing accessibility training helps both testers and your team understand the importance of accessibility. These training sessions may fill knowledge gaps around accessibility laws, accessible design, and why accessibility is important. Training can also help them understand how they can contribute to accessibility outside of testing. 

Remember, accessibility should be seen as an ongoing commitment rather than a one-time task. As testers and employees go through accessibility training, they’ll have a deeper understanding of how to increase accessibility and usability in the future — something that will save you time and resources in the long run.

How to Streamline the Testing Process

Looking at the steps above can feel overwhelming — luckily, there are a few ways you can streamline the process without sacrificing accessibility.

Automate Accessibility Testing

The best way to streamline accessibility testing is through automation. These platforms are designed to scan your site for common accessibility issues and notify you of them. Some solutions — like AudioEye — provide automatic fixes for these issues, streamlining the testing process. 

It’s important to note that automation alone can only detect certain accessibility issues. Things like color contrast and missing alt text are issues that software can easily detect. Others require human intervention as we mentioned above.

Duration of User Testing

The complexity and size of your website can influence how long accessibility testing takes. Generally speaking, the bigger and more complex your website is the longer testing will take. 

If your website or mobile apps fall into this category, you may want to consider iterative testing cycles and leveraging automated tools for initial assessments. This will help you manage testing schedules and minimize disruptions.

Website and a checklist underneath a magnifying glass

Best Practices for Effective Accessibility Testing

For successful accessibility testing, there are a few things that you’ll need to keep in mind. These include considerations that span from planning and executing tests to analyzing results and implementing changes.

  • Prioritize which content you want to test: Rather than testing the entirety of your digital content, start with the most important first. Look at which ones are the most visited, which have the highest litigation risk, and how much effort is needed to remediate issues.
  • Create a testing schedule: Create a detailed testing schedule that includes who is going to test what digital content. Additionally, list which stakeholder(s) are going to oversee their progress. Make sure you communicate the plan with your team and update it as needed.
  • Include users with a range of disabilities: Like we mentioned above, ensure users with varying disabilities are testing your content. Have someone with a visual impairment test the effectiveness of keyboard navigation or text-to-speech. Someone with an auditory disability should test the accuracy and performance of video captions or transcriptions. 
  • Gather user feedback: Ensure you’re gathering and implementing feedback from testers during each testing session. This will help you guide improvements and prioritize issues that impact user experience the most.
  • Use both automated and manual testing: Remember, automation can only detect common accessibility issues. To maximize accessibility, bring in human testers who can identify more complex issues.
  • Perform ongoing user testing: Accessibility testing isn’t a one-time thing. Ongoing testing and refinement are crucial to not only achieving accessibility, but maintaining it.

How to Choose the Right Tools for Accessibility Testing

There’s a myriad of accessibility testing tools available — automated, manual, simulators, etc. When selecting testing tools, keep the size of your project, types of disabilities that need to be accommodated, and the level of expertise of the testing team in mind. You may want to consider using an accessibility platform that provides a combination of tools. This can help you create a more balanced testing strategy.

For example, AudioEye’s Automated Accessibility Platform can be used throughout the testing process. Our automation software can find billions of accessibility issues and apply automatic fixes. Expert Audits performed by our team of certified experts further enhance accessibility by finding and fixing more complex issues. AudioEye also provides Developer Tools that can be used throughout the design and development process to test how accessible your digital content is.

With a comprehensive accessibility platform like AudioEye, you streamline the testing process while simultaneously maximizing accessibility.

The Path Forward with AudioEye

Accessibility user testing enables those with disabilities to test the accessibility of your products or services and provide suggestions for improvement. These tests are critical for creating a more inclusive digital world — one where everyone can use digital content with ease.

AudioEye’s Automated Accessibility Platform provides a comprehensive solution for managing the testing process across your digital properties. By taking a hybrid approach to accessibility testing, we’re able to find and fix more accessibility issues which creates a more usable, accessible, and inclusive online space. With Managed Custom Fixes that are overseen by certified accessibility experts, you’re able to address specific accessibility challenges head-on. This ultimately results in tailored solutions that go beyond automated corrections and effectively meet the needs of your target audience.

Take the first step towards improving digital accessibility — scan your digital content now with AudioEye’s Website Accessibility Checker.

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