Accessibility testing is a crucial part of compliance. A quick audit during development can help to identify barriers that affect users with disabilities — and provide developers with the information they need to fix those barriers before they impact the user experience.
Of course, for long-term accessibility compliance, you’ll need to test your content regularly. That leads to an obvious question: How often should you test your website for accessibility, and what methods should you use to make the most of every audit?
There’s no simple answer — every organization has different resources, capabilities, and testing needs. However, by evaluating several factors, you can build an effective testing strategy. Here’s what you’ll need to know.
To reduce costs, audit for accessibility during development
Before planning for long-term testing, you’ll need to make sure that your website currently follows the best practices of digital accessibility.
For most websites, this isn't an optional step. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in “places of public accommodation,” and according to the Justice Department, websites qualify as places of public accommodation.
To comply with the ADA — and to provide the best possible experience for your users — you should plan for accessibility from the beginning. That means testing your content before you publish your website. A proactive approach can make remediations easier while also reducing the long-term costs of web development.
WCAG and Accessibility Testing
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are considered the international standards for accessibility, and by following WCAG Level AA criteria during development, you’ll use your resources more efficiently. Some quick tips to keep in mind:
- Make sure your entire team understands your objectives. Designers, developers, and content creators should review the latest version of WCAG and take steps to avoid accessibility issues.
- Use automated accessibility tests and manual audits. We’ll discuss the differences between automated and manual tests later in this article.
- Test each feature during development. Build accessibility checks into your process; all content should be tested before publication.
By distributing responsibilities, you can eliminate many barriers early. However, you’ll still need comprehensive accessibility audits at major points in the development cycle — and once your content is live, you’ll need regular testing to maintain compliance.
If your content updates frequently, accessibility testing should be part of your process
As a general rule of thumb, most websites should undergo basic accessibility audits every 4-6 months. These “check-up" audits can help demonstrate ongoing conformance with the WCAG and highlight potential areas for improvement.
However, some websites may need to audit more frequently:
- eCommerce websites that regularly add new products or introduce new sales content
- Content publishers that adopt new templates or widgets on a regular basis
- Web apps and other dynamic online content that changes regularly
When content changes regularly, accessibility audits can have a greater impact. Consider testing your content on a monthly basis. Working with an experienced accessibility partner can make this process much easier (and less time consuming for your development team).
You should also test your content against WCAG Level AA standards after implementing any major change. For example, if you change to a new template, install a new widget, or refresh your site design, checking the new features against WCAG will help you avoid expensive remediations.
Choose an appropriate accessibility testing methodology
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) recommends using both manual and automated methods to test for WCAG conformance. Automated tests use software to analyze your website for common barriers, while manual tests employ a human tester who accesses the website and creates a report based on their experiences.
Both methods have advantages. Automated tests are inexpensive and fast, but not every accessibility issue can be diagnosed with simple “pass-or-fail" criteria. Manual testing requires more time and expertise, but human judgment is vital for addressing some types of barriers.
If you plan on auditing your content infrequently (for example, every six months or every year), a comprehensive manual audit will usually provide the best results. However, if you need to test content more frequently, regular automated testing can be a practical option, with manual audits reserved for major milestones.
Building an accessibility compliance strategy isn’t always easy, but the Bureau of Internet Accessibility is ready to help. Our services include ErrorCast™automated testing, manual audits, and expert remediation guidance.