How to Choose a Web Accessibility Tool
Web accessibility tools help you evaluate your content for accessibility barriers that can impact people with disabilities. Here’s what you need to know.
After you’ve learned the basics of digital accessibility, there’s an obvious next step: Testing your website to find accessibility issues.
But without the right approach, you might miss some issues — or find “problems” that don’t actually affect your users.
Fortunately, there’s a rulebook you can follow. Published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are the de facto international standard for digital accessibility. Auditing your content against the latest version of WCAG can reveal issues that need to be solved — and provide some guidance on effective remediation.
Web accessibility evaluation tools can also help. However, you should be familiar with the capabilities and limitations of each option.
Web Accessibility Evaluation Basics: Automated and Manual Tests
Accessibility tests fall into two broad categories: automated and manual tests. Automated testing is faster and better-equipped to provide a real-time view of a website’s accessibility, but it’s important to note that some accessibility issues require human intervention.
Manual testing is generally performed by digital accessibility experts or people with disabilities who have extensive knowledge of WCAG, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and other digital accessibility laws. However, web developers and designers can also perform basic tests, provided they understand the principles of accessibility.
When you use a web accessibility testing tool, you’re probably using automation. But if you’re evaluating your site for conformance with a specific issue, you might consider using assistive technology (AT) to understand how the issue affects your users. That’s a form of manual testing.
With that in mind, let’s look at one of the most common testing mistakes: using a single screen reader to evaluate accessibility.
Can You Use Screen Readers for Web Accessibility Testing?
Many WCAG success criteria focus on screen reader accessibility. Screen readers are software that outputs text as audio or Braille, and they’re most commonly used by people with visual impairments. For more info, read: How Screen Readers Make Digital Content Accessible.
If you’re a developer or web designer, reviewing your work with a screen reader might seem like a logical step. However, the user needs to understand the software’s interface, features, and functionality. If you’ve never used screen-reading software, you won’t have the same experience as a regular user.
There’s another important factor to consider: Every screen reader works slightly differently.
They might use different hotkeys to trigger certain actions, or offer different levels of support for WAI-ARIA (Web Accessibility Initiative — Accessible Rich Internet Applications) markup. Just as you wouldn’t test your content with a single web browser, you shouldn’t test it with a single screen reader.
Additionally, screen reader output may change when the software is used with different web browsers. Testing your site with NVDA and Google Chrome might indicate issues that don’t exist with NVDA and Mozilla Firefox.
Ultimately, screen reader testing works best when you entrust the work to experienced screen reader users. With that said, downloading a screen reader can still be beneficial — you’ll gain perspective on how your users experience your website, and you might find usability issues that can be easily fixed.
Popular Screen Readers for Accessibility Testing
Professional accessibility testers will often use a variety of screen readers and browser combinations to test for WCAG conformance. According to WebAIM’s (Web Accessibility In Mind) 2022 screen reader user survey, the most popular combinations include:
- JAWS (Jobs Access With Speech) with Chrome: 32.5% of respondents.
- NVDA (NonVisual Desktop Access) with Chrome: 16% of respondents.
- JAWS with Edge: 12.6% of respondents.
- NVDA with Firefox: 9.7% of respondents.
- JAWS with Firefox: 4.8% of respondents.
- Apple VoiceOver with Safari: 4.7% of respondents.
If your goal is to gain perspective about your users’ experiences, using NVDA (Windows) or Apple VoiceOver (macOS and iOS) can provide some insights. Both screen readers are free. Before getting started, learn some basic NVDA or VoiceOver commands.
Using a screen reader to test your website can be enlightening. However, if your goal is to test for WCAG conformance, testing your content with a screen reader may be misleading — even if you switch between browsers and software.
Remember: Professional testers have years of experience with the software. If you’ve never used a screen reader, you won’t have the same skillset.
Some Web Accessibility Tools Focus on Specific Accessibility Barriers
While screen reader testing requires experience, other types of accessibility tools are much more intuitive.
Dozens of accessibility tools are available to help you identify common WCAG conformance issues. If you suspect that you have an issue with a certain success criterion — and that it can be tested with a simple pass-or-fail rule — these tools are quite useful.
For example, AudioEye’s Color Contrast Checker can test color combinations for conformance with WCAG Success Criterion 1.4.3: Contrast (Minimum), which sets minimum contrast ratios for text.
Other issue-specific tools might flag images that don’t contain alternative text (also called alt text) or find improper HTML markup. You’ll still need a working knowledge of WCAG to fix the issues, but by quickly identifying the problem, these tools can provide a head start.
Comprehensive Tools for Testing WCAG Conformance
If you’re reading this article, odds are you’re looking for a single tool that can find every type of WCAG conformance issue.
Certain automated tools can test content against a wide range of WCAG success criteria. The W3C does not endorse specific products, but maintains a list of both issue-specific and comprehensive accessibility tools (including AudioEye’s Accessibility Score).
Although automated tools are a critical part of providing an accessible browsing experience for people with disabilities, it’s important to remember that most of them are intended for a specific use case.
For example, ANDI (Accessible Name & Description Inspector) is a free, open-source accessibility testing tool that scans for compliance with Section 508 standards. Although ANDI is fairly accurate, it has several drawbacks:
- The tool’s output is fairly technical. Without a thorough understanding of WCAG, you may not find much useful guidance.
- ANDI provides a snapshot of your website at a given point of time, and it cannot alert you to new accessibility issues.
- Like all browser-based accessibility tests, ANDI may not work on certain websites with complex content.
ANDI is a valuable resource. But if your goal is to maintain compliance — and provide your visitors with the best possible browsing experience — you shouldn’t rely on any individual test. Instead, you should focus on developing a long-term strategy for ongoing compliance.
Developing a Sustainable Accessibility Testing Strategy
Digital accessibility is an ongoing set of priorities, not a simple checklist. Web accessibility tools work best when you’re committed to the best practices of inclusive design.
You can make that commitment stronger by testing your website frequently and prioritizing accessibility when developing new content. AudioEye can help.
At AudioEye, our automated technology can find up to 70% of common accessibility issues — and automatically fix about two-thirds of them. We also offer options for expert manual remediations, custom training, and legal support.
To get started, test your website against the latest WCAG standards using AudioEye’s free Website Accessibility Checker.
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