What is Accessibility Testing? Why is it Crucial?

Web App Usability Testing

Thursday May 31, 2018

Accessibility Testing is a subset of usability testing which is aimed at ensuring that people with disabilities can access the resources available to all.

Primarily discussed in the context of website usability testing, the accessibility testing should be designed to test the ease-of-use of the site itself, by persons with disabilities and at the same time, have a rigorous feedback mechanism which can enable changes in design, constant improvements and enhancement of the user experience.

There is a need for accessibility testing, over and beyond to adhering regulatory norms, to be able to design formats which cater to everyone and is inclusive and non-discriminatory.

In this article, we will discuss in detail about the accessibility testing and the scope of its implementation in various future projects.

About Accessibility Testing

Broadly, the testing is designed to aid people with speech, vision, motor and cognitive difficulties as well as the elderly who may also find themselves at a disadvantage. Assistive technology such as speech recognition, screen reader, screen magnification and special keyboards go a long way in enabling the use of software products by all.

While it is required that these tools be built into products, just like all other aspects of usability are repeatedly tested to ensure the user has the best experience, it becomes imperative that accessibility testing is made part of the routine testing cycle. It will ensure that these aids are built-in efficiently and continue to provide an enhanced experience, irrespective of the user.

The testing can be categorised into manual and automated; however, it is only when done together that there will be a better understanding of the problem and development of efficient solutions.

While Automated testing assists at a coding level, in identifying repeated issues which need to be fixed and facilitates effective maintenance, manual testing tackles it by prioritising the user, allowing us to understand challenges from the user perspective and resolving it based on user insight and not merely at a code level.

Testing needs to be done early and as a continuous process because testing right at the end leads to it lacking in rigour and sometimes even omitted. Further, in terms of actual changes which need to be implemented, both from a cost as well as efficiency perspective, it becomes easier to do it on an ongoing basis.

There is a need for clear testing requirements concerning regulatory norms which need to be adhered. For example, https://www.w3.org/WAI/policies/ provides information on legislation concerning to accessibility requirements (country-wise), company policies for accessibility, customer policies which the company may have in place and finally, marketing accessibility to customers and users.

While these external requirements need to be determined and worked towards, this should only set the floor regarding the overall efficiency of the product.

The goal should always be concerning maximising accessibility, and the testing team has a responsibility to constantly raise additional accessibility concerns and ensure they are acknowledged as well as answered.

There is also a need to distinguish between these requirements and reports should be able to demarcate as well as indicate the level of adherence.

With this in mind, accessibility testing needs to be inherent to the process across designers, developers and testers.

To ensure accessibility standards, one should be cognizant of the development environments and environment options across different devices while using specialised tools, automated testing tools and assistive technology.

The Scope of Accessibility Testing

In this context, we should now look at what is the scope of accessibility testing. It has, so far, been discussed and mainly developed in terms of software and more specifically website usability testing, from an end-user perspective. The next logical extrapolation is, of course, to applications and web-based products and across different devices like computers, mobiles, tablets etc.

Within a web site context itself, the importance of making the user interface accessible cannot be overstated. This then extends to applications on mobiles and tablets, as well. An accessible interface at any point enables the user to seek other resources to access the same content in more usable form. In keeping with this, one approach would be to ensure that the personas you build for developing user cases span a wide breadth and necessarily include people with different abilities.

One common mistake would be to assume that disabilities are interchangeable or demographics can be merged. It is critical to be aware that every disability is different and unique and it is essential to tackle different demographics based on age, gender etc. within each of them. The wider the breadth of the user test cases, the more rigorous the accessibility is likely to be.

In keeping with this thinking, there need to be two groups doing the testing – experts and users. While the expert testing group handles the technological aspect of the product and uses dedicated testing tools, the user testing group is critical since they can reveal gaps in the usability and also within various types of users such as new users, familiar and expert users.

The feedback from the user testing needs to flow back into the expert testing group for evaluation and more importantly, action, in terms of making it more accessible.

More inclusive and non-discriminatory products and services are the need of the hour. Thus accessibility testing should be made part of any prototype being built or any new design.

While not every webpage and application will be evaluated by experts for accessibility, it is possible for website developers, at every stage, to learn about accessibility, build it into their design as well as development, ensure testing and use the feedback to enhance the next round of development.

There is a need to drive this as an essential process and also share this as a best practice across groups, thereby making accessibility testing as a critical part of usability testing.

The points covered in this article would have enlightened you with the fact about the accessibility testing and the increasing demand for it.



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