Accessibility Testing and Why it Matters
According to census.gov, 56.7 million people have some sort of disability. That’s nearly one in every five Americans. Do you really want to create a product which is totally unreachable by almost 20% of the US population? Accessibility testing is an absolutely vital aspect of software development and testing.
What is accessibility? – When we say that something is “accessible,” we mean that it is available for use by as many people as possible; it is the ability for anyone and everyone to gain access to a product, device, service, or environment.
What is accessibility testing? – To determine if a software product can be used by people with disabilities, we perform accessibility testing. According to census.gov, 56.7 million people have some sort of disability. That’s nearly one in every five Americans. Do you really want to create a product which is totally unreachable by almost 20% of the US population? Accessibility testing is an absolutely vital aspect of software development and testing.
Some of the categories which accessibility testing targets, and some of the conditions related to those, are:
- Vision impairment (blindness, colorblindness)
- Auditory impairment (deafness, hard of hearing)
- Seizures (photosensitive, or light-sensitive, epilepsy)
- Motor (loss of fine muscle control, muscle slowness, such as from Parkinson’s or stroke)
- Cognitive/intellectual (dyslexia, developmental disability)
The sad fact of the matter is that many websites and software products are simply not developed with much consideration towards those who are disabled. According to the US Department of Labor, people with disability have about $175 million per year of spending money. This is a huge demographic with a lot of spending capital, and it’s one that your company is completely bypassing if you do not test for accessibility. Across the EU, only about 5% of public sector sites are considered accessible.
There is also the legal aspect to consider. According to BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, “The US has passed the most detailed and far reaching laws relating to accessible IT.” Congress has required that Federal agencies keep accessibility prominently in mind when designing electronic and information technology since 1998; it is their hope that “the purchasing power of the American government would help drive the introduction of accessible technology in both the public and private sectors.” Many other countries, such as the UK and Japan, have also had accessibility laws in place for years.
Practical Exercise: Right now, close your eyes and try to open a web page or dial a phone number. Many smartphones have accessibility features built in, such as TalkBack and text-to-speech output, which can be selected under the “settings” menu. However, even with these enabled, if an app or website is not accessible, there is only so much help that these features can provide- yet another reason why it is so important for app and software testers to keep accessibility in mind.
How do you perform Accessibility Testing? There are many free, automated tools which are useful for an initial accessibility scan. For example:
- WebXact (Free Software): WebXACT is a free online service that enables users to test single pages of web content for accessibility, quality, and privacy issues. Can be integrated into the browser via favelet or similar technology.
- Wave(Free Software, Open Source): WAVE exposes errors and highlights content where accessibility considerations require human judgment (e.g. WAVE exposes alt text so a human evaluator can determine whether it is appropriate for the image). Icons are used as feedback elements within the webpage.
While these tools are an excellent starting point, they should not be relied on solely. As they are far from perfect, manual functional testing is also recommended, such as:
- All functions available via keyboard only
- Information visible when display setting is changed to High Contrast
- Screen reading tools can read all the text
- Product defined keyboard actions do not affect accessibility keyboard shortcuts
For more information: