Accessibility Is Not a Checklist

February 4, 2020

As more and more people and organizations work hard to learn how and why to comply with digital accessibility best practices and guidelines, they might also be looking for quick and easy ways to check the accessibility box. Checklists, primers, and clean lists of dos and don'ts can be great resources and can help content creators and their partners keep accessibility top of mind and get things right the first time.

But just as a sport is much more than a list of rules and penalties, the accessibility whole is greater than the sum of its accessibility parts.

Rules and parameters keep things in check. They help ensure that there is order, not chaos, and that the thing that is being used or viewed or played or enjoyed remains recognizable. But inside the boundaries is the action or the thing itself.

In the Big Game earlier this week, the players could have stood in place and looked at each other during the time parameters of each play, and the rules would have allowed for that. That would have been perfectly legal and no penalty flags would have been thrown. But they would not be playing football.

In many ways, accessibility is the same. If a checklist is followed perfectly and no violations are obvious, one can certainly argue that the website or app is accessible. After all, it hasn't broken any of the rules. But can people really use the material in the way it's intended? Is it worth using? How is the experience? Is there an experience?

Some of the ways to help answer these kinds of questions productively are to test for custom use cases and make sure that people with disabilities are involved in the testing process.

People visit a website to do something. A use case represents a process or key action a user would want to accomplish. Carefully developing custom use cases and including them in manual accessibility testing helps ensure that every step in one of those key processes is fully accessible, and this is critical to evaluating the experience itself.

Prioritizing the experience is also part of the reason that our comprehensive four-point hybrid testing includes full manual testing by a tester with a visual disability. Testers use assistive technology to thoroughly examine each page and each custom use case. Sometimes, it's easy to assume that because obvious rules haven't been broken in isolation that the experience is accessible, but accessibility testing is so much more.

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