How is web accessibility tested?

As you will already know, Web Accessibility seeks to make the web accessible and inclusive of everyone, regardless of their abilities. Web accessibility testing is a subset of Usability or User Experience testing methodologies that seeks to ensure that a specific website, software or digital platform can be accessed and used by people with disabilities. 

Web Accessibility testing usually involves auditing a website’s elements using a mix of automated and manual methods to uncover what elements may be creating barriers for particular user groups.

What accessibility testing standards are out there?

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are internationally recognised as the single shared standard for web content accessibility. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines provides a detailed set of success criteria for an accessible website, including sufficient techniques and failure examples. 

The WCAG 2.1 is the most recent set of web accessibility standards, while the WCAG 2.2 is currently in a working draft phase.

How is Web Accessibility testing completed? 

There are a number of approaches to web accessibility testing, and the one that is right for you really depends on your business objectives and the level of accuracy you are looking to achieve.

If you aren’t a developer or designer and want to do a quick DIY test on a couple of elements, there are some really great free and automated tools that will help you investigate. Some automated tools can really help save time but the level of accuracy can be compromised, and with web accessibility’s social and potential legal ramifications, it’s best to cover all bases. 

If you are more serious about accessibility and your goal is to truly optimise your platform for accessibility, it’s best to engage a professional accessibility tester like Internetrix. 

If you engage a professional, they will conduct a series of testing across your platform to ensure all your pages and elements meet the WCAG 2.1 guidelines to either the A, AA, or AAA level (depending on your requirements).

A professional accessibility audit can include testing of content, front-end code, user interface and design, as well the compatibility with assistive technologies, such as screen readers. Some professional accessibility experts will also encourage you to complete first-hand user testing during this process, which can help to uncover accessibility and broader user experience barriers.

When should web accessibility testing be done? 

A common mistake that many people make is that they think web accessibility testing is a one-and-done process. This is just not true.

Like anything digital, accessibility needs to be managed and monitored. As you change pages and add content to your digital platforms, your previously accessible platform may now have some errors. It’s important to take an iterative approach to accessibility and test often, especially during new releases to your website. 

For the most cost-effective and accurate accessibility results, testing should start from the beginning of any digital project. If you test and avoid errors in planning and design phases, there will be a lot less accessibility errors once you get to development and implementation so testing more often can really mean you will have to test less.

Testing early and often can severely reduce the risk of future errors, testing and late project blowouts. Internetrix strongly recommends testing in the planning and design phase of any web project. Early identification of accessibility errors in the design and testing phases has a knock on effect and reduces errors in development or testing phases.

What outcomes can you expect from web accessibility testing?

By using a set of automated, potentially free tools, you can expect: 

  • A high-level understanding of whether your website is accessible
  • Information on some key areas that need to be addressed - accessibility requirements such as colour contrast and aria attributes can easily be audited using automated tools
  • Enough evidence to build a business case for a professional accessibility audit

Following a full professional web accessibility audit, you can expect:

  • A detailed report that identifies all web accessibility issues found on your digital platform with recommendations on how to fix these issues.
  • A full understanding of where your digital platform needs to improve to cater for all user groups, especially those with disabilities.
  • A renewed perception of how your users understand and interact with your platform
  • A platform that meets Government accessibility standards following necessary platform updates

Internetrix Web Accessibility Testing Process

Written Language and Content Elements Testing

A content and written language audit looks at all of the in-page content. Everything that provides meaning on the page needs to be tested and the number of content types and content volume heavily influence how thorough testing must be. To dive a little deeper, we look at the following in content testing: 

  • Headings - to ensure a good heading structure.The H1 should describe what the page is about and only used once, other remaining headings are meaningful based on their level not size, headings describe content that follows and no heading levels are skipped.
  • Text - to make sure it is readable, grammatically correct, and accurately provides meaning. Try to avoid jargon in your content.
  • Text Links - to ensure users are able to navigate to and select each link using the keyboard alone.  We ensure they are linked to the correct page or content  and provide accurate link descriptions for screen readers.
  • Graphics - to ensure graphics are not used as the only way of conveying meaning, accurate and descriptive alternate text is added to images, enlarged (zoomed) images of text do not become pixelated and difficult to read, graphics conveying meaning or content such as a map do not rely solely on colour and meet colour contrast requirements and ensure flashing images and multimedia do not cause seizures.  . 
  • Video and Audio - to ensure videos have subtitles and closed captions, audio jas a transcript and video or audio does not auto-play
  • Tables and Graphs - to ensure they are easily understandable and information is structured correctly.
    Forms - to ensure that suitable information and notifications are added to aid for completion and provide content for validation errors.

The most important concept for web content testing is that content is structured and designed to be 'Perceivable', 'Operable', 'Understandable' and 'Robust' in order to meet the WCAG 2.1 guidelines. 

Front-End Code Testing

A 'Front-End Code Audit' investigates the front-end code of a platform to ensure valid and semantic HTML. This is essential to identify any issues or inconsistencies may lay that will influence how disabled or disadvantaged individuals may use a platform. Front-end code audits are best completed with a mix of automated tools and manual investigation. 

How the front-end code has been written, structured, and integrated can heavily affect how effective assistive technologies are. Front-end issues can also limit on-page user interactions and may create barriers with how users can and will engage with different action items on your page. 

To dive a little deeper, we look at the following in user Front-End Code testing:

  • Keyboard Navigation - to ensure all functionality works by using the keyboard only. The only way to test this is manually.
  • W3C Validation - to ensure the code is error free e.g. no duplicated ID’s
  • WCAG 2.0 Validation - to ensure the generated DOM adheres to WCAG 2.0 requirements
  • Dynamic Content - to ensure all dynamic content changes are announced for screen readers. The best way to test this is manually.

User Interface Testing

User interface testing is super important as it investigates the quality of interaction, ease of use, visual/graphic representation, reactivity and interactivity that a creative design and user interface has. 

By investigating specific UI elements, we can identify key issues in these aspects that target accessibility improvements for users with blindness, low vision, deafness, mobility or cognitive impairments.

To dive a little deeper, we look at the following in user interface / design testing:

  • Colour Contrast - to ensure all elements adhere to WCAG 2.0 colour contrast requirements
  • Not by colour alone - to ensure colour isn’t the only method for conveying meaning or content
  • Not by icon alone - to ensure icons are not the only method for conveying meaning or content. Items must be labelled correctly
  • Typography Formatting - to ensure text font is legible and adheres to WCAG 2.0 text-spacing requirements
  • Page / Feature Structure - to ensure logical layout and relationships between page/feature elements and to ensure the avoidance of using too many elements on a page that may distract the user from reading the text or using the navigation.
  • Focus Styles - to ensure all interactive/focusable items have a visible focus indicator

Assistive Technology Compatibility Testing

Many users with disabilities are not able to use computers and mobile devices with a keyboard and mouse or with swipes and taps. Many users rely on integrated softwares to support how they use and interact with digital platforms. 

Within this testing section we use screen-reader technologies such as NVDA, Apple Voiceover or ChromeVox to see whether pages can be understood and navigated using just vocals, text-to-speech output, or a Braille display.

Manual testing of assistive technology compatibility is a must to front-end code and structural issues.

UX Interviews / Focus Groups

For those that are looking to get the best accessibility results, we always recommend to engage real user groups in accessibility testing. UX interviews and focus groups allow us to gather first hand information on how different user groups are interacting with a certain platform or page, and what positive and negative accessibility experiences they may be having. 

As commonly known in UX design and Design Thinking methodology, user testing during planning, design, development, and implementation phases is most important for successful digital design results. The same goes for accessibility. 

Engaging users first-hand will always give you a greater understanding and insight into the experiences and impact that your digital platform or website delivers. 

Outcomes for your business. 

With a professional web accessibility report you will get the output and outcomes that match your initial business requirements. You will get the option to choose from:

  • Accessibility Compliance Checklist - A simple "Pass / Fail" checklist for all tested elements' compliance with WCAG 2.1 requirements. 
  • Accessibility Detailed Findings Report - A "Pass / Fail" grade for all primary components of the WCAG 2.1 guidelines and a detailed report of where each non-compliant aspect was found through each page or page type. 
  • Accessibility Findings and Recommendations Report - An extremely thorough report outlining a "Pass / Fail" grade for the primary component of the WCAG 2.1 guidelines across each page and page type tested, along with detailed recommendations on how to fix each and every accessibility issue identified. 
  • Accessibility Findings Presentation - In addition to the report of your choice, Internetrix can provide an accessibility findings presentation to summarise key issues and recommendations to a wider internal company stakeholder audience.