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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 that cater to everyone and is inclusive and non-discriminatory.

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

What’s the definition and requirement of 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 categorized 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 prioritizing 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 rigor and sometimes even omitted. Further, in terms of actual changes that need to be implemented, both from a cost as well as an efficiency perspective, it becomes easier to do it on an ongoing basis.

There is a need for clear testing requirements concerning regulatory norms that need to adhere to. For example, https://www.w3.org/WAI/policies/ provides information on legislation concerning 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 maximizing 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 specialized tools, automated testing tools, and assistive technology.

Why we need Accessibility Testing?

While one may feel that accessibility testing is not important as it caters to only a very small section of people, but it reality that is not the case. Here are some reasons why accessibility testing is important.

  1. Make it usable for disabled people

It must be noted here that there are close to 20% of people who suffer from one or the other kind of disability. These disabilities can include handicaps, blindness, deaf, and others. Any software that is rolled out to the market can not ignore this section of the people. This makes usability testing important.

  1. Legal Requirement

Many countries have a law that makes it mandatory for software and IT products to be compliant with the usability needs of differently-abled people. Accessibility testing is mandatory to pass the legal requirements. Different countries have different laws to handle these like the Americans with Disabilities Act – 1990 (USA), Disability Act of 2005 (Ireland), and more.

  1. Avoid Law Suits

There have been several cases in the past where big companies have been sued by people for not being user-friendly for differently-abled people. These companies were not only asked to pay not only monetary compensation but also forced to make their software compliant at a later stage. These companies include corporate giants like Amazon, Target, and AOL.

  1. Usable for elderly people

Elderly people are another section of society just getting used to new technology and product innovations. Many times they find it difficult to use the software and applications. It is the responsibility of the companies to ensure their apps are usable by senior citizens also. They are a reasonably big portion of the market and should not be ignored for the success of the product.

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 a 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 needs 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 accessibility testing and the increasing demand for it.

Accessibility Testing Checklist

Here are some points that are used to whether the application is a go or no-go from an accessibility point of view.

  1. For every mouse, joystick, or windows operation, there must be a virtual keyboard displayed.
  2. User Manual should be provided with the software or application in a simple and easy to understand language supported with pictures where ever deemed necessary.
  3. The user should be able to move between controls and objects using the tab button. The movement should be sequential or logical with a seamless flow.
  4. The user must be able to navigate through the application using the standard short cut keys, especially for menu items.
  5. The application should support all or most commonly used operating systems.
  6. The choice of images and pictures in the application should be appropriate and easily understandable for the users.
  7. If there are audio and video options, then the users should be able to control them as well.
  8. The user should be able to change the default fonts and audio as per his needs and requirements.
  9. The color schema of the application is suitable and legible for all users.
  10. Ensure the audio and video content is clear and understandable for people with disabilities.

While this list is not exhausted, it is still a starting point for your application accessibility testing. There may be more points to be added specifically to the application under test (AUT)

Top 5 Accessibility Testing Tools

Accessibility is an important criterion for every application. Here we will discuss some of the most widely used tools in the market to help with accessibility testing.

  1. Wave

It is a free tool that can be used to check the web page manually for a lot of aspects of accessibility. This tool can be used to check sensitive and password protected web pages as well. An advantage of this tool is the private and secure accessibility test reports.

  1. TAW

TAW is a popular tool used to determine the accessibility of a web page. This tool assesses the web page as per the W3C accessibility guidelines and displays the issues that need attention. This tool allows you to check single and multiple pages as well on a website.

  1. Accessibility Valet

This tool accesses your web pages against the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines). The tool has provisions for detailed accessibility reports along with the scripting tools.

  1. Quick Accessibility Page Tester

When you want a quick and efficient accessibility analysis for your web page, Quick Accessibility Page Tester is what you should use. It will perform a detailed analysis of your page, point out the issues, and gives you some awesome suggestions as well.

  1. Accessibility Developer Tool

This is a Chrome extension that can be used to do an accessibility audit. This is widely used because of the ease of adding the extension to your browser and the frequent updates that are rolled out. After running an audit on your page you will have a fair idea of the accessibility rules violated by your page. This will help fix the issues in the early stages itself

Conclusion

Hope you have understood the cardinal importance of accessibility testing and why it’s one of the catalyst for your app success.

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