What is Accessibilty Testing and What Regulations Govern it?

Over the years, we have covered a lot of different quality assurance aspects, such as audio-video quality testing, performance testing, and even battery usage testing. Last month we wrote about the importance of usability, user experience, and accessibility testing and now the time has come to talk about Accessibility testing in more detail.

What is Accessibility testing?

Similar to the physical world where we have a bunch of different rules regarding how public objects should be constructed and what guidelines they should follow to make them accessible for people with disabilities, we also have specific rules and guidelines for web pages and applications.

By definition, Accessibility testing is the practice of making your web and mobile apps usable to as many people as possible. It makes apps accessible to those with disabilities, such as vision impairment, hearing disabilities, and other physical or cognitive conditions. In these cases, users have various options to help them perceive the content of your page or app and interact with it.

To name an example, keyboard navigation is one of the most commonly used methods for navigating around the content if the user has a condition that makes it hard for them to use a mouse. Another example would be a screen reader that audibly outputs the content for the user in case of any sight disabilities.

When developing and testing any digital product, it is our job to make sure that it meets all the necessary accessibility requirements as early as possible, as it could save a lot of time and money not only on the development process but also on legal issues.

In other words, making your website or app accessible not only gives you a chance of reaching more clients but is also regulated by law and could cost any company not following the guidelines thousands of dollars.

Currently, the USA is leading the way in web accessibility regulations, having the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This does not mean that companies working outside of the USA can disobey these accessibility guidelines as sooner or later we are going to have strict regulations regarding this in all parts of the world.

The European Union has The European Standard for Digital Accessibility EN 301 549  in place, which helps to improve digital products in public and private sectors.

The deadline for public sector websites to comply was September 23, 2020, for mobile applications – June 23, 2021. Private sectors must improve their products (Web and mobile) and services before June 28, 2025.

While at first, this might not sound so serious, lawsuits regarding this topic are actually really common and the fines can go over 100,000 USD. According to UsableNet’s predictions of trends in digital accessibility in 2021, we can clearly see that the amount of ADA lawsuits have increased in the past few years and most likely it will keep going up in the following years, so it’s essential to be proactive and ensure that your site or app is Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) compliant even if you haven’t received any complaints yet.

Web accessibility regulations

When it comes to the regulations of web and application accessibility, there are no strict and specific rules defined in the law itself, but that doesn’t let companies off the hook. They are still obligated to provide an accessible site or app that accommodates users with disabilities. To do that, most companies follow the WCAG.

These guidelines aren’t a legal requirement, rather a reference point for organizations looking to improve their digital accessibility. Currently, there are three versions of WCAG: 1.0, 2.0, and 2,1. Version  2.2 is still in draft.

Versions 1.0 and 2.0 are now outdated and have been replaced with 2.1, while 2.2 will be an extension of 2.1. There are also three levels of conformance: A (bare minimum level of accessibility), AA (target level of accessibility meeting legal requirements), and AAA (exceeds accessibility requirements).

Currently, most companies are trying to achieve WCGA 2.1 AA level, as websites or apps at this level of conformance are generally usable by anyone and should be able to withstand any legal claims against them.

Some examples of what requirements the web page or app must meet, to classify as WCAG 2.1 Level AA:

  • Content should not restrict its view and operation to a single display orientation.
  • Content should not be scrollable in two dimensions.
  • The visual presentation of text and images of text should have a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1.
  • The text should be resizable without assistive technology up to 200 percent without loss of content or functionality.
  • No loss of content or functionality should occur when changing word/letter spacing.
  • Requirements inherited from WCAG 2.0: no keyboard traps, non-text content alternatives like alt tags, consistent navigation elements throughout the site, etc.
  • And others.

A full list of all WCAG requirements can be found on the w3.org homepage under the Web Accessibility Initiative.

Accessibility testing

When starting with web accessibility testing, it might seem a bit overwhelming as there are a lot of guidelines to follow and a lot of scenarios to cover, so it is becoming more and more common for companies to pay for their employee training on the topic, as well as to use different services that can do audits on your content and provide results with current accessibility level.

Starting with an overall audit is actually not a bad plan of action as it provides a good base for the developers and testers to build their knowledge on and lets the team start working on the issues right away.

For smaller projects or projects that don’t have a need for excessive accessibility testing, there are a lot of different browser extensions and other tools, like the aXe Google Chrome extension or WAWE website evaluation tool that can execute some general automated tests and provide instant feedback, but in some cases, it might not be enough. If these tools are not enough, then there are more things to consider.

If there is no need for excessive long-term accessibility testing, then it might be a good idea to use one of the many services that provide on-demand accessibility testing of your content provides reports with current issues. If this fits your needs, then great, but in many cases, a smarter long-term solution would be team training so that all these processes can be incorporated into the current workflow thus eliminating any excess spending on outsourcing.

When it comes to manual vs automated accessibility testing, the general rule is that automated tests can detect about 20-30% of all issues, as a lot of the guidelines cannot be clearly defined for the computer to interpret. The core issue is that one of the main tasks when making accessible content is describing non-textual components with text for the screen readers to interpret but the technology is not there yet to tell if the descriptions are correct and follow all the guidelines. Another obstacle is the overwhelming number of assistive tools and ways that the tools can be used by people to access the content.

While it might sound bad, automated testing is actually really important in regards to accessibility, as it still detects most of the critical errors and provides really quick feedback that developers can work on right away, while also giving an estimate on the current state of your web page or app as a whole. The process of automating accessibility tests is also not that complicated as there are open-source tools that make the process easier and allow you to implement the tests in your current CI/CD flow.

We will take a more in-depth look at implementing automated accessibility tests in your workflow in upcoming blog articles. Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive a notification about our newest articles.

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