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Definitive Guide to Accessibility Testing

Posted December 20, 2023


Posted December 20, 2023

A stylized webpage displaying a number of error warnings, with an accessibility icon in the bottom-right corner
A stylized webpage displaying a number of error warnings, with an accessibility icon in the bottom-right corner

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Learn about the different approaches to accessibility testing — and why it should be a priority for your organization.

In our daily lives, we all rely on the internet to help us get things done. Whether shopping for clothes, scheduling appointments, or simply reading the news, almost everything can be done quicker and easier online.

Or at least, that’s the idea.

Unfortunately, accessibility issues can make it difficult for people with disabilities to enjoy equal access to the internet. From websites that cannot be navigated with a keyboard alone to images and links that lack critical context for non-sighted users, these issues can disrupt the user experience for millions of people — and expose businesses to the risk of legal action.

Regularly testing your website’s accessibility is one of the first steps to delivering an accessible browsing experience for all end users, but there are multiple ways to do it. In this post, we’ll break down the different approaches — and share tips on how you can establish a robust, effective testing framework for your organization.

What Is Accessibility Testing?

Web accessibility testing is a form of usability testing that focuses on ensuring websites and digital content are operable for users of all abilities — and function well with assistive technologies like screen readers or sip-n-puff devices.

In recent years, the Department of Justice has drawn a closer link between digital accessibility and accessibility laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act — clarifying the need for all organizations to prioritize accessible websites and other digital experiences.

A stylized webpage with a magnifying glass positioned over an accessibility icon.

Why Is Accessibility Testing Important?

For organizations just starting their accessibility journey, there are several reasons to prioritize inclusive digital experiences — and a robust plan to test digital content:

  1. It’s the right thing to do: Web accessibility testing is about delivering an inclusive, user-friendly experience to everyone — regardless of ability. By prioritizing website accessibility, organizations can contribute to a more equitable internet.
  2. It can reduce legal risk: Accessibility laws like the ADA are in place to protect the rights of people with disabilities, in the real world and online. Accessibility testing can help organizations find and fix issues that might otherwise result in legal action.
  3. It makes business sense: Creating accessible website designs doesn’t just help you expand your audience and reach more potential customers; it can also help your website appear higher in search results (SEO) and improve brand reputation.
Stylized web browser with green check marks next to resolved issues and the AudioEye icon above the page

How Does Accessibility Testing Work?

Testing the accessibility of your website and digital content against the latest WCAG criteria (currently WCAG 2.2, which is inclusive of all criteria from WCAG 2.0 and 2.1) is key to delivering an accessible experience for all users and complying with accessibility laws like the ADA.

For example: Conformance with the WCAG guideline on minimum color contrast can improve usability for people with color blindness.

Web accessibility testing involves checking different page elements (like headings or image alt text) and user actions (like clicking a link or tabbing between fields on a form). As part of the accessibility evaluation process, accessibility vendors will test content using a variety of accessibility tools, such as screen readers (including JAWS, NVDA, and VoiceOver) and keyboard-only navigation.

Most accessibility vendors will perform accessibility testing across a variety of mobile devices and browsers, like Chrome or Firefox. Depending on your accessibility partner, they may also offer mobile app audits for iOS and Android.

What's the Difference Between Manual and Automated Testing?

Many organizations rely on either automated testing tools or manual audits to test the functionality of their websites and digital content. Unfortunately, neither option is sufficient by itself.

Automated accessibility testing is not able to check for every WCAG or ARIA criteria, which can let certain accessibility issues slip through the cracks (and expose your business to the risk of legal action).

Manual audits, on the other hand, are primarily focused on usability testing and things like color contrast and contrast ratio. However, these audits require testers to go through each line of CSS and HTML code on a web page — a slow, expensive process that is ill-equipped to keep pace with the dynamic nature of most websites.

What Are the Biggest Challenges In Accessibility Testing?

There are plenty of reasons to invest in ongoing accessibility testing. However, a number of challenges can make it difficult for organizations to start or maintain a dedicated accessibility program. Including a lack of internal resources or commitment, misconceptions about the importance or ROI of accessibility, and even the perception that toolbars or automated testing alone is sufficient to deliver a fully accessible experience to every website visitor.

Addressing these challenges requires a strategic approach and a commitment to creating an inclusive digital environment.

A stylized web page, with an icon of a human on the left side and a magnifying glass with an accessibility symbol on the right side.

How to Create an Accessibility Testing Plan

Creating a robust, scalable testing process involves several key steps:

  1. Create a list of assets: First, you should create a list of digital assets that require testing, from your website or mobile app to any digital documents (such as downloadable reports or PDFs) you provide to users.
  2. Prioritize issues: Second, you should prioritize these assets based on a number of factors, such as usage, litigation risk, and current level of accessibility.
  3. Formalize an accessibility policy: Next, you should formalize an accessibility policy and create an Accessibility Statement detailing your commitment to inclusivity, listing current accessibility barriers, and giving website visitors clear instructions on how to report additional accessibility issues.
  4. Establish a regular testing schedule: Finding (and fixing) accessibility issues before they can impact users is the primary goal of accessibility testing, which is why many organizations opt for regular automated testing. However, there’s also value in having human experts periodically review your website and digital content to identify issues that automation alone cannot. For that reason, we recommend that organizations establish a testing schedule that includes both manual and automated testing.
  5. Implement fixes: Once you finish testing your website, you need to fix the issues identified by your test — either via automated accessibility solutions, at-source fixes (meaning the code is manually updated by developers), or a combination of the two.

How to Choose an Accessibility Testing Partner

Choosing the right accessibility partner is just as important as committing to accessibility in the first place. As you evaluate your organization’s needs, it’s important to consider the following:

  • Sample Reports: Ask potential vendors to supply a sample report of accessibility test results, including issues identified, issues fixes, and any outstanding issues that still need to be corrected.
  • Interpretability: Ensure that reports are easy to understand, with guidance on next steps and recommended fixes. These fixes should fit seamlessly into your development process.
  • Coverage: If you’re evaluating automated accessibility solutions, check to see how many WCAG criteria they test — and whether they supplement their automated solution with human experts who can check for additional issues.
  • Scalability: If you’re considering a manual-only accessibility solution, check to see how they can help you deliver accessible browsing experiences between audits and how they can help you fix issues identified in their report.
A stylized webpage with a series of purple checkmarks, signaling accessibility errors that have been fixed

Our Approach to Accessibility Testing and Remediation

At AudioEye, we believe that everyone should have equal access to the internet. Our approach to accessibility — which pairs automation with human expertise — is the most effective way to deliver ongoing accessibility.

Automation should be the backbone of your accessibility strategy. Through our continuous investment in research and development, AudioEye has created an automated test suite with 400+ test outcomes and 70+ automated fixes that allow us to solve the majority of common accessibility issues in real time.

But we also recognize the role of human expertise in delivering the highest level of accessibility to people with disabilities. To that end, we provide human testing and remediation services and use the insights from our expert audits — run by certified testers and members of the disability community — to develop new Javascript-based fixes and solve issues proactively.

Ready to make your digital content accessible to all users? Get started with a free scan of your website to see what accessibility issues you might have missed.

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Ready to test your website for accessibility?

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