Accessibility Testing: The Basic Facts You Need to Know

As businesses realize the importance of having an accessible website, there is a push to check both content and code to ensure that they are meeting 508 compliance standards and other accessibility standards, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

As a team, you must first make a few decisions: do you want to meet 508 compliance standards, WCAG 2.0 standards, or both? If you have decided to meet WCAG 2.0 standards, are you meeting Level A, AA, or AAA? The breakdown for these is as follows:

  • Level A: This involves the smallest amount of implementation effort and has the lowest impact on the presentation and business logic on your site.
  • Level AA: This has a high impact for users and makes a higher impact on the system’s presentation and business logic. Most businesses choose to focus on Level AA.
  • Level AAA: These changes are usually for specific user populations and can be very difficult to adhere to.

For an in-depth comparison of 508 compliance standards and 508, please visit Jim Thatcher’s article Side by Side WCAG vs. 508.

Once you’ve decided what standards you’d like to meet, the next step is testing both content and code. Testing an entire site can be daunting, so to get to a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) state, it is often easiest to check each template as opposed to every page. For existing content, you may want to pick the top 50-100 pages on the site, depending on how big the site is, how much variety there is in the content, and the number of audience types.

The final step is choosing the tools for developers to test the front-end presentation, and for content managers to test the content. Testing should include automated testing tools, manual testing, and screen readers.

The recommended automated testing tool is the WAVE automated testing tool. Input the URL of the page. A report, similar to the screenshot below, provides errors, features, and structural elements on the page and determines what items may need to be fixed. If the site is behind a firewall or has IP restrictions, it may only be possible to do manual testing and screen reader testing.

screenshot from WAVE automated testing tool

Manual testing is important in case the automated testing tool misses an element. It provides another checkpoint. Sometimes, manual testing consists of a visual check, or an examination of the source code. However, it may involve a toolbar similar to the WAVE plugin for Chrome or the Web Accessibility Toolbar for Internet Explorer.

The final check is screen reader testing. The most popular screen readers are JAWS and VoiceOver. JAWS is a fee-based screen reader for PCs, and VoiceOver is a free screen reader for Apple products such as computers, iPhones, and iPads. There are also other screen readers, such as NVDA and Narrator. Each screen reader has its own user manual to describe what commands to use for proper testing. For more information on what to test, please see my previous blog posts:

While it takes time and effort, testing a website for accessibility helps site visitors, regardless of their vision, motor, or cognitive skills, have a rewarding experience by being able to access all content on the site.