The web is now the place to do business – to be seen, heard, and communicate to your customers. Your audience is diverse and will include people with disabilities. So, supporting everyone is no longer an afterthought, but a requirement that is done during development and planning stages. Lawsuits have increased tremendously during 2017 and 2018 against companies that are not properly supporting those with disabilities. In fact there are now as many lawsuits for not supporting web accessibility as there are sexual discrimination lawsuits and there are even attorneys intentionally seeking out companies to sue for not meeting the ADA requirements. Aside from the threat of legal action, it’s just the right thing to do.
Web accessibility is the process of ensuring that your website, mobile applications, and digital assets will properly support people with disabilities. Web accessibility testing is the verification of the process of validating and testing how well your site will support people with disabilities and make sure your site is usable to them.
There are certain standards and laws that have been put in place to make sure that business is done in a way to support people with disabilities. These standards include the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) – https://adata.org/factsheet/ADA-overview, and the WCAG 2.0 and 2.1 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) – https://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG21/. The WCAG is a set of guidelines (since May 1999) that defines accessibility guidelines that web developers should use.
How Is Web Accessibility Testing Done?
Accessibility of a website, a mobile application, or any digital asset requires expert review of individual pages, functionality, and all user interaction. Good accessibility is a combination of successful communication from the website back to the user and from the user back to the website (so that the website understands exactly what the user requests. For those with disabilities, this interaction is not trivial in that a website that is not designed for interacting with devices that those with disabilities may be using will in most cases not satisfactorily allow for the user to accomplish what they wish nor for the website to communicate back to the user in a clear way.
Accessibility testing can be done in a manual way – verifying that the correct messaging and functionality exists when using a myriad of devices to support people who may be blind, deaf, deaf blind, colorblind, dyslexic, limited vision, have cognitive disabilities, motor disabilities, etc. The objective is to support people who use assistive technologies to be able to utilize a website and its functions completely and as expected. A website must be accessible to all, including those that have multiple a combination of disabilities and those from different age groups and differing levels of computer skills.
The WCAG 2.0 standard is used worldwide and lists criteria that will achieve different levels of web accessibility. Those levels are: A, AA, and AAA and are more progressively supportive. Testing of website to be accessed from a desktop computer is very different than testing of a website that will be used on mobile devices, such as a smartphone or tablet. Additionally, it’s not just the functionality that must be accessibly compliant, but also content such as videos on a website that must properly support people who have visual disabilities, but also support people who may have hearing disabilities. Another example of accessibility compliance is an image on a smartphone being too small for someone with a physical disability to be able to select. An accessibility testing expert will be aware of the requirements and nuances necessary for ensuring that your digital assets properly support everyone who visits and interacts with your site from a variety of devices.
Businesses and even developers and quality assurance staff may try to perform accessibility testing on their own, but unless they are expert in the complexity of using assistive technologies they may not be successful in truly developing a website experience for all that is satisfactory. Accessibility testing requires a specific skill-set – knowing which technologies a person with a disability will be using and knowing exactly how that person will be using that technology during a website visit. There are even ways to automate accessibility testing so that the testing is done as part of each release cycle ensuring that the site continues to function nominally for all users, including people with disabilities.