6 Free Tools for Evaluating Web Accessibility

January 25, 2023

Can you evaluate your website’s accessibility on your own? 

Not necessarily. To ensure conformance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), you’ll need to test your content regularly by using both manual and automated tools. Ideally, manual tests should be performed by human testers who have disabilities. 

However, as you learn about the concepts of WCAG, you can use free tools to test your website for common barriers. If you’re a web designer or developer, online tools can be a vital resource as you incorporate the best practices of inclusive design. 

Below, we’ll discuss six free tools that can help you make better design decisions. For more guidance, send us a message to discuss your website with an accessibility expert.

1. Lynx - A Text-Only Web Browser

Many people use screen readers (software that converts text to audio or braille) and other assistive technologies (AT) to browse the web. If your website relies on images, video, or complex interactions, some of these users may be left out of the conversation.

Lynx is a text-only browser available for Windows and UNIX systems. By testing your content with a text-only web browser, you can quickly identify some of the barriers that might affect AT users. Text browsers strip out CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), Flash, and virtually all other non-text content.

If your website works well on Lynx, there’s a good chance that it works well with popular AT. With that said, you shouldn’t rely on any individual test to determine WCAG conformance — but a quick review with Lynx or another text-only browser can help you pinpoint certain accessibility issues.

Related: Can a Different Browser Really Change Website Accessibility?

2. NVDA - A Free (and Popular) Screen Reader

NVDA (NonVisual Desktop Access) is the world’s second-most popular screen reader. It’s free to use, and we’ve written a guide for using NVDA to understand how screen readers work

An important note before you get started: If you don’t haven’t spent considerable time with screen readers, you will not have the same experience as regular screen reader users. 

NVDA should be used to gain insights about how screen readers interpret web content — but for optimal accessibility, thorough screen reader testing should be performed by certified accessibility experts. 

Related: Should Web Developers Perform Screen Reader Testing?

3. The a11y Color Contrast Validator - Test Color Pairs Against WCAG

For people with color vision deficiencies (also called CVD or “colorblindness") and other vision disabilities, low-contrast text may be difficult or impossible to read. WCAG requires normal text to maintain a contrast ratio of 4.5:1 with its background — but designers rarely consider WCAG requirements when building content.

Since color contrast issues are frequently cited in web accessibility lawsuits, it's a good idea to test color-pairs against WCAG before publishing content. The Bureau of Internet Accessibility provides the a11y Color Contrast Validator, a free tool that analyzes websites or individual color-pairs for WCAG conformance. 

Related: The Basics and Importance of Color Contrast for Web Accessibility

4. Colorblindly - An Extension for Simulating Color Vision Deficiency

If you’ve tested your content against WCAG’s color contrast requirements, you’re in good shape — but if you’re not sure why color contrast is important, Colorblindly can provide some perspective. 

This Chrome extension attempts to simulate CVD by changing your website’s visual appearance. It provides eight different settings to simulate different types of CVD.

Of course, testing every single webpage with all eight settings can take time — and if you’re already following WCAG, it’s probably not worth the effort. With that said, Colorblindly can teach developers to consider the experiences of different users when creating content, and an accessible mindset is essential for long-term digital compliance.

Related: Myths and Facts About Color Blindness and Accessibility

5. The W3C Markup Validation Service - Find (Some) Markup Mistakes

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which publishes WCAG and other web standards, provides a free markup validation service for testing HTML, XHTML, SMIL, and other markup. It’s not intended for testing CSS (the W3C offers a separate CSS validator for that purpose). 

Proper use of HTML is important for accessibility. All assistive technologies support HTML — and rely on accurate markup to present content. Testing your content with a validator can reinforce the best practices of HTML and improve accessibility across different types of devices.

Using the W3C Markup Validation Service requires a thorough understanding of markup. Most complex websites will present some validation warnings; you’ll need to review the output carefully to determine whether those warnings will actually affect the user experience. 

Related: Plain Old Semantic HTML: A Perfect Basis for Accessibility

6. The Bureau of Internet Accessibility’s Free Website Analysis

The tools we’ve listed in this article are useful for developers who have a working knowledge of WCAG. However, even if you test content with a text-only browser, validate your markup and CSS, and review your website with a screen reader, your content may still have barriers that affect users with disabilities. 

An automated WCAG analysis can find many common conformance issues. While automated tests have significant limitations, they’re an excellent resource for starting your accessibility initiative. 

The Bureau of Internet Accessibility provides a free automated analysis that tests content against WCAG Level AA checkpoints. After reviewing your report, you can create a strategy for remediation — and a long-term testing strategy that pairs automated audits with manual tests performed by humans who have disabilities. 

Get started with a free, confidential WCAG analysis or send us a message to connect with a subject matter expert.

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