Avoid These Common Mistakes When Testing for Accessibility

September 16, 2021

Over one billion people worldwide live with some form of disability, and digital accessibility is a growing priority for organizations of all sizes. Testing for accessibility can identify the issues that affect your audience.  

Accessibility testing should be conducted throughout development, not just at the final stages. With that said, how accessibility tests are conducted matters as much as when. Improper testing may give the impression that a site has no accessibility issues whatsoever when the site has several major barriers. Alternatively, your tests might indicate that your site has significant issues when it actually needs a few minor tweaks to meet the standards in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which provide widely accepted guidance for creating a more accessible internet for all users.

Professional accessibility testing can be immensely helpful. However, your team can certainly carry out basic accessibility tests in a responsible way. Here’s an overview of some of the most common mistakes and how to avoid them.

Don’t put the responsibility of accessibility on a single employee or team.

Your organization’s accessibility initiative is just that — a full initiative undertaken by every member of your team. Developers, designers, programmers, and customer service representatives should all understand the basic principles of accessibility. 

Many organizations think of accessibility as a one-time project that can be assigned to a specific person or a small group of developers. This has several disadvantages:

  • The person or persons tasked with the project may feel overwhelmed. 
  • If the person hasn’t undergone accessibility training, they might miss key issues that affect real-world users.
  • Testers may interpret their results through their own experience. For example, a developer may miss accessibility issues related to the site’s design by focusing too much on semantic HTML or ARIA attributes.
  • The person or group may have trouble managing their other work responsibilities.
  • The testing team might not be able to communicate their results to other employees who aren’t engaged with the project.

Assigning accessibility testing to a single person can be particularly problematic if the person lives with disabilities. A blind or hearing-impaired employee might appreciate the opportunity to bring their experience to the project, but they may also feel that the assignment creates a burden. If they’re the only person performing the tests, they may feel that the organization isn’t treating accessibility as a priority.

Of course, individual employees can be responsible for performing certain tests, but the best tactic is to think of accessibility as a set of principles, not as a stage of the development cycle. When every member of an organization performs testing related to their area of expertise, the process will yield more relevant results. 

Don’t assume that a single accessibility test will find all potential issues.

Your audience browses the internet using a variety of technologies including screen readers, eye-gaze sensors, touchscreens, and with keyboards (without a mouse). Many organizations make the mistake of assuming that accessibility is just for the blind; an accessible website improves the on-page experience for everyone, including people with neurocognitive disorders, hearing disabilities, mobility issues, and people who don’t experience disabilities in their day-to-day lives. 

A single test is unlikely to find all of the issues that could affect your audience. If a site works well with screen readers, it may still have color contrast issues that prevent low-vision users from reading text. If a site is fully operable with only a keyboard, it might still have navigational issues that affect people who use touchscreens. 

Individual tests can be helpful for finding and addressing issues, but to create and maintain an accessible site, you’ll need to consider the full spectrum of disabilities. The WCAG framework is helpful here, and your tests should utilize WCAG success criteria to accurately evaluate your content.

Don’t rely completely on automated accessibility tools.

Many automated scanners and widgets are available, and these resources can help pinpoint WCAG conformance issues. The Bureau of Internet Accessibility (BOIA) offers free automated compliance summaries using our A11Y® platform, and our conformance reports can be an excellent first step when beginning your accessibility initiative.

Automated tools can find issues that human testers wouldn’t normally notice, and it’s tempting to think of AI-driven testing as comprehensive. However, humans can also notice issues that artificial intelligence platforms can’t find. Human testers are also necessary to interpret the results of accessibility tests and create effective solutions. Accessibility testing should always include both types of tests — and manual testers should have a thorough understanding of the WCAG framework. 

Your audience expects your content to be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust, and an accessible website offers a better experience for all users. By thinking about accessibility throughout development and testing with several different methodologies, your organization can realize the full benefits of an accessible approach

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