Digital Accessibility Index: Learn where the world’s leading brands fall short on accessibility.

See Report

How Do We Perform Accessibility Testing for the Impact of Physical Disabilities?

Mar 6, 2019

This article is the fourth in a five-part series dedicated to sharing what we look for when testing websites and mobile apps to identify the accessibility barriers that might affect people with certain disability types.

Part 4: Accessibility testing for people with physical disabilities

Physical, or motor, disabilities refer to any weakness or limitation that impedes movement. This can include, but is not limited to, partial or total loss of muscular control, coordination, or physical sensation, as well as pain and missing limbs.

When we test for accessibility impacts on people with physical disabilities, here is what we look for:

Full keyboard navigation and operation, including visual focus indication

Many people can't or don't use a mouse and instead navigate with a keyboard, keyboard emulator, or other input device. This can be along with or independent of assistive technology like screen readers. That's why keyboard accessibility is foundational to digital accessibility.

  • All elements and controlled that can be operated with a mouse must also be reachable and functional using only a keyboard.
  • A keyboard user must also have a sufficiently-visible indicator to show them which element is currently receiving focus.

Achieving these checkpoints is critical to achieving digital accessibility.

Read: Give Yourself an Accessibility Test: Don't Use a Mouse | Web Design and Accessibility: Basics Every New Designer Should Know

Enough time to read content, respond to prompts, or provide user input

Some people may need more time to click, type, and complete interactive tasks. They may also type in single keystrokes as opposed to typing simultaneous keystrokes to activate commands, which include commands for special characters, shortcut keys, and active menu items. When users with certain physical disabilities don’t have enough time to complete these tasks, it limits their abilities to do things such as filling out a form for submission. Examples of giving enough time for people with physical disabilities include providing mechanisms to:

  • Stop, extend, or adjust time limits, except where necessary;
  • Pause, stop, or hide moving, blinking, or scrolling content;
  • Postpone or suppress interruptions, except where necessary;
  • Re-authenticate when a session expires without losing data.

Adequate, equivalent text alternatives for images, controls, and other non-text content

There are numerous types of assistive technology that people with physical disabilities might use. In order for special devices or software to navigate and communicate content, accurate and adequate text alternatives are needed. This includes labels for any buttons or controls needing an accessible name available to be activated by tools like speech input.

Sufficient orientation cues (visual and programatically determined), structure, and navigation

There is a lot to consider when it comes to orientation, structure, and navigation. For display orientation, referred to commonly as portrait and landscape views, it's important that content is not restricted to a single view unless it has to be for some essential reason — this guideline can be critical for people with certain mobility disabilities who may not be able to rotate a device or may have their device mounted in a fixed orientation, but it is also something to consider for people whose vision allows them to view something more easily in a wider display, for example.

It's also critical that users aren't expected to rely solely on the physical orientation or location of content or a control. For example, asking website visitors to select the red button in the lower left corner is not adequate — information as to where a user currently is and instructions for performing any task need to be available in the code in order to be perceived and communicated by assistive technology, or can be linked to directly to limit unnecessary navigation.

For these elements to provide structural knowledge to everyone, however, they can't only be achieved visually — they must be programatically determined to be available to assistive technology. This means that when testing, something can't just look like a heading, for example, but must be an actual heading in the code.

Predictable and consistent navigation mechanisms and controls

Presenting navigation mechanisms in a consistent and expected way helps people become oriented with how to use a website and move around it. For example, a design that includes a hyperlinked logo in the same place on every page should make sure it always points to the same destination. Or, maybe there is a standard masthead of navigational elements — they should be consistently positioned and labelled for your users. WCAG states that any navigational mechanisms repeated on multiple pages should be positioned in the same order. The ability to skip content and navigate without using too many keyboard commands is another aspect to consider.


We believe our four-point hybrid testing provides the best path to achieving, maintaining, and proving digital compliance. Our comprehensive testing combines the best of human and artificial intelligence. Learn more about our testing methodology.


Contact us to learn all the ways we can put our testing and support strategies to work for you. Or, get started with a free and confidential website accessibility scan.

Use our free Website Accessibility Checker to scan your site for ADA and WCAG compliance.

Powered By

Recent posts

Key Colorado Web Accessibility Law Gets Deadline Extension

Jun 24, 2024

Texas Counties Agree to Improve Accessibility for Election Websites

Jun 19, 2024

What's Next for US Web Accessibility Laws?

Jun 14, 2024

Not sure where to start?

Start with a free analysis of your website's accessibility.