Web Accessibility Testing – Why It’s Necessary and How It’s Done
Sep 11, 2019
This blog has been updated to reflect the release of WCAG version 2.2 in October of 2023.
The internet has been the home of rapid innovation and updating standards since the 90’s, and while it may not be the “Wild West” it once was, it’s still a race to stay ahead.
You may have just finished working with a web designer to create a snappy and responsive new site, but if it’s not accessible for people with disabilities, it’s not complete.
And we don’t just mean partially accessible. Only thorough testing will make sure your website is ADA compliant, follows section 508 compliance, and meets the latest WCAG standards. In plain English, this means that your website or mobile app is fully accessible to people with disabilities.
Let’s break down this process and take a look at how the testing is done and why you should be actively testing your site.
How Web Accessibility Testing is Done
At Level Access, we make sure that your website, mobile sites, and apps meets ADA compliance, 508 compliance, and the latest WCAG standards.
The United States government mandates the ADA guidelines,¹ and the Section 508 standards work in tandem with these ADA standards.² The Website Content Accessibility Standards, or WCAG, are upheld by the World Wide Web Consortium. The WCAG 2.2 guidelines are the most current and updated version of these standards.
Testing with Experts
Our staff is expertly trained in web accessibility. Proper accessibility testing of a website or app typically involves extensive manual scrutiny of individual pages, as well as tests of individual functions such as product searches and online form submissions. Beyond our own expertise, we also actively seek the input of users with disabilities to make sure things go beyond theory and into practice.
In addition, automated testing tools such as accessibility checkers are great ways to get a quick understanding of why the ADA requirements are in place, but they often flag false positives and lack the nuance of human interaction and accessibility training. Furthermore, accessibility software and other assistive devices used by people with disabilities are difficult to emulate with automated testing tools.
The best approach involves a combination of both automated and manual accessibility testing.
Automated Accessibility Testing
There are many kinds of tools that will perform an automatic test of certain components of a website or electronic document and let you know, instantly, if the components pass or fail the test. An example is the free website checker WAVE (Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool) as well as AChecker or Jaws.
Often, automated accessibility testing is a great way to learn more about the different reasons why customers with disabilities might encounter problems, close their browsers, and look for another company with a more welcoming website.
However, automated accessibility testing has its limitations. It isn’t thorough. It is widely accepted within the industry that automated testing only captures 25 — 30% of issues. It is known to report false positives — accessibility problems that aren’t accessibility problems — and you may not be able to tell the difference. It may spit out jargon-filled reports that only make sense to web developers. And it won’t eliminate the accessibility barriers for you.
But it can show you areas of your website that may need the most attention or remediation.
Manual testing involves human judgment and we don’t yet have the technology to replace it completely.
There are different ways to do manual testing for accessibility. You can work with an accessibility partner to systematically go through individual pages and electronic documents, looking for known problems with appearance, coding and other elements.
Since these experts are extremely familiar with web accessibility standards, they can quickly spot possible failures to comply with these standards, and exercise judgment about whether these issues will create barriers for people with disabilities. Or you can have users with disabilities manually check pages and test different functions on the site or mobile app.
If these individuals use assistive technology, or if their disabilities affect their computer use in other ways, they’ll be able to find certain types of barriers that might not otherwise get noticed.
For example, if a user’s disability slows down the speed with which they type on the keyboard, they might get “timed out” when they’re trying to complete a purchase, and lose all the information they’ve already inputted. If this is happening to your potential customers with disabilities on a regular basis, it’s the kind of thing you’d like to know about and work towards remediating!
It’s also critical to test the website in a mobile environment. That’s because a website that may appear perfectly accessible on a laptop computer can become riddled with barriers when it’s viewed on a mobile device such as a smartphone. A typical problem is an image shrinking to such a tiny size on a smartphone screen that it’s impossible for someone with a disability to click on.
Which Disabilities Are Supported?
When done right, ADA testing, WCAG conformance testing, and Section 508 compliance testing should be checking for a wide variety of disabilities. Examples of disabilities we test for include:
- blindness and limited vision
- deafness and other hearing disabilities
- motor disabilities from conditions like spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy
It’s important to note that your website should not discriminate against people with disabilities, but it should also not discriminate between disabilities. That is to say, it should not be designed to be accessible for people with blindness at the exclusion of people with dyslexia.
Why Your Website Needs Accessibility Testing
You may think your website is problem free, but the only way to know for sure is to undergo accurate and thorough accessibility testing. Not having an accessible website or mobile app not only limits who your services are able to reach, but it also could open up your organization to a web accessibility lawsuit.
To get your website, mobile app, or digital product up to the highest accessibility standards, request a demo from the experts at Level Access.
The best time to make your digital properties accessible to everyone is today.
- ADA Chapter 5 Toolkit ADA.gov
- Section 508 Standards United States Access Board
- Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1, W3C Recommendation W3C.org, June 2018
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in April 2017 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.