Monday April 26, 2021 By David Quintanilla
How To Bake Layers Of Accessibility Testing Into Your Process — Smashing Magazine

About The Authors

Kate Kalcevich is the Head of Providers at Fable, a number one accessibility testing platform powered by individuals with disabilities. Kalcevich is an skilled …
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Kate & Mike

Accessibility consultants Kate Kalcevich and Mike Gifford introduce readers to “layered accessibility testing”, a follow of utilizing a wide range of instruments and approaches at totally different levels within the digital product lifecycle to catch accessibility points early — when it’s simpler and cheaper to repair them.

When constructing web sites or apps, accessibility testing is vital to make sure that what you construct will work for all of your customers. This consists of customers with disabilities and in addition individuals with momentary and situational limitations (like that coworker who broke their arm snowboarding or the shopper who’s open air on their telephone with glare on the display).

We’re going to share “layer” accessibility testing through the use of a wide range of instruments and approaches at totally different levels within the digital product lifecycle to catch accessibility points early — when it’s simpler and cheaper to repair them. Taking a layered strategy to testing your website for accessibility additionally improves the usability of your website — which in flip will increase your buyer base and reduces customer support inquiries. It will probably each make and prevent cash.

We’ll use a layered cake analogy to speak concerning the totally different layers of accessibility testing and when to make use of them. Food analogies have develop into fairly fashionable within the accessibility world!

A picture of three people gathered in a kitchen preparing and tasting food
(Picture credit score: Dana Chan for Disabled And Here) (Large preview)

This strategy has labored nicely for each of us. Mike is a seasoned accessibility advocate and senior strategist at a authorities expertise agency (CivicActions), and Kate is the Head of Providers at an accessibility testing platform (Fable).

Whereas Mike appears to be like at accessibility testing from a extra technical angle early within the improvement section and scanning for compliance on reside websites, Kate focuses on the person expertise. Each of us realized that combining many sorts of accessibility testing all through the product improvement life cycle is a strong means to enhance total product accessibility. On this article, we’ll share among the issues we’ve discovered.

Most organizations strategy accessibility in three essential methods:

  1. Working instruments to examine your code and/or person interface.
    That is sometimes called “automated testing” since you use software program to mechanically check many accessibility points without delay.
  2. Utilizing your pc in a means that’s totally different than you usually do.
    For instance, by not using a mouse, zooming your browser to 200%), or switching to Windows high contrast mode.
    An image from Microsoft showing how high contrast colors shift for white, yellow, green, and blue
    The excessive distinction mode asks you to pick a selected coloured rectangle to customise excessive distinction colours. (Picture credit score: Microsoft) (Large preview)
  3. Utilizing assistive expertise and customers with disabilities to examine for usability points.
    That is sometimes called “handbook testing” as a result of it requires an individual to judge accessibility points.

Far too many organizations rely solely on a single accessibility resolution to validate their website. Nobody device or course of can provide a corporation the arrogance that they’re truly assembly the wants of the best attainable variety of individuals.

How To Safe Purchase-In For Accessibility

In lots of organizations, in an effort to do accessibility testing, you’ll want executives to prioritize and assist the work. Listed here are tips about make that occur for those who don’t have already got buy-in for accessibility:

  • Verify if there’s a authorized requirement on your group to be accessible.
    “Accessibility Act” and “Incapacity Act” are search phrases that ought to pull up related legal guidelines in most international locations. Sharing the authorized threat will be the proper incentive for some organizations.
  • Discover out what your rivals are doing.
    Verify for an accessibility assertion on their web sites. Most organizations are eager to remain forward of the competitors and realizing that others are prioritizing accessibility may do the trick.
  • Join with customer support to search out out if there are accessibility complaints.
    If attainable, attain out to clients instantly to listen to about their experiences and share these tales with firm leaders. Listening to about dissatisfied clients generally is a big motivator. If you may get permission from the purchasers, report a demo of them dealing with challenges along with your merchandise. A video like that may be very compelling.
  • Clarify the monetary prices and rewards.
    Many corporations suppose they’ll’t afford to do accessibility, nevertheless it’s way more inexpensive when it’s built-in into the day-to-day work and never an afterthought. There’s additionally the potential income from individuals with disabilities — globally they characterize greater than 3 trillion dollars in disposable income.
A chart from a report summary of the Global Economics of Disability. It shows a y-axis of opportunity and an x-axis of market size/population. In a diagonal line up the graph, it shows increasingly larger clusters of 1)  people with disabilities as having 29 percent visible disabilities and 2) 71 percent having non-visible disabilities including sensory, cognitive, and chronic. 3) friends and family who are EvangelistsReady to act and ‘preach’ to others about the value inherent in People with Disabilities. 5) Broader Market: Everyone benefits from innovations and insights derived from disability. Design for All equals to Scale
A chart from a report abstract of the International Economics of Incapacity (Picture credit score: Wealthy Donovan) (Large preview)
  • Discover the proper champion.
    Likelihood is there’s already somebody on the highest ranges of the group who cares about individuals and doing the proper factor. This can be a Range and Inclusion lead, somebody preventing for environmental sustainability, or different points. Maybe it’s somebody with a disabled buddy or member of the family. Making them conscious of accessibility could also be all that’s wanted so as to add a brand new focus to their efforts.

Gathering Your Components

Accessibility needs to be baked into your course of as early as attainable. One place to start out is with the procurement course of. You may incorporate accessibility as a part of the assessment course of for any expertise techniques you might be shopping for or constructing. DisabilityIN has some glorious sources on accessible IT procurement.

Searching for vendor accessibility statements or VPATs for merchandise might help, however so can doing a fast assessment with among the instruments talked about within the recipe under. Not all software program is created equally, so that you wish to ensure you’re working with distributors who’re actively contributing to instruments and processes that provide help to prioritize accessibility from the beginning.

One other option to bake in accessibility early, for those who’re creating or updating a design system, is to decide on a element library that has been constructed with accessibility in thoughts. Search for libraries with a transparent accessibility assertion and an open problem queue that lets you assessment issues.


  • The Angular Elements workforce has constructed accessibility into the Materials UI library. For instance, the radio button component makes use of a radio group with an aria-label. Every radio button reads as checked or not checked to a display reader person, the buttons will be chosen utilizing the arrow keys like commonplace HTML radio buttons, and the targeted state is clearly seen.
  • Reakit for React describes an accessibility warning feature on their accessibility web page that can inform builders when an aria-label is required.
  • The Lion accessible internet elements library makes use of an a11y label to tag accessibility issues in GitHub so you’ll be able to see what’s being improved and open your individual problem if wanted.

One other option to embed accessibility into your course of is to replace one of many personas your workforce makes use of to incorporate disabilities. Many individuals have a couple of incapacity, so creating no less than one persona with a number of disabilities will make sure you maintain that viewers top-of-mind in all of your early design work.

An illustration of a disabled person using a laptop to connect with other folks online
(Picture credit score: Disabled And Here) (Large preview)

To flesh out that persona, discuss to individuals with actual disabilities — together with momentary and situational limitations — that will help you perceive how they use expertise, websites, and apps in the true world. One in 5 individuals have a everlasting incapacity, however 100% of the inhabitants shall be confronted with imaginative and prescient, listening to, movement, or cognitive disabilities sooner or later of their lives. Our personas can mirror:

  • individuals with allergic reactions, insomnia, or damaged bones;
  • individuals utilizing outdated expertise or utilizing their computer systems outdoors; and even
  • individuals who change their expertise use in line with their location (for instance, disabling photographs when they should save web bandwidth).

Little adjustments like these can have a huge impact on how your workforce thinks. One option to pitch this alteration to management and groups is to speak about the way it will make your personas extra reflective of your precise customers — which is the entire level of personas. They have to be lifelike.

Probably the most impactful methods to contain individuals with disabilities is to have them assist co-design providers and merchandise. Australia has a free training toolkit on do co-design with individuals with disabilities. There’s additionally an amazing case study on how one firm ran co-design periods with individuals with studying disabilities on behalf of the UK authorities.

People holding up a red or a green card to tell the facilitator how they got on with the task
Group analysis exercise (tailored usability testing) (Picture credit score: Vita Mangan) (Large preview)

Legacy IT

Whether or not we prefer it or not, many of the selections about organizational IT have been made months (if not years) in the past. Even when you’re within the warmth of a procurement course of, accessibility is often simply considered one of many issues. That is to be anticipated — even in organizations which might be keen about accessibility.

With legacy expertise, step one is just to elevate consciousness with the seller or workforce concerning the significance of accessibility. For those who can element accessibility points that you just wish to be mounted utilizing automated instruments, it might probably assist alter how a vendor ranks their problem queue. There isn’t at all times a neighborhood portal to submit considerations like this, however there is likely to be a neighborhood on Twitter or Reddit the place you could possibly convey points to gentle.

Moreover, there is likely to be a customizable theme that might be adjusted to deal with among the considerations. Some options might provide an Software Programming Interface (API) that may enable a developer to construct an accessible person interface round it.

If a vendor has rivals, it may be helpful to spotlight the accessibility options which might be included in that product. It may be useful to remind distributors that you just do have choices.

If legacy IT is an internally constructed product, a great way to rapidly consider it’s utilizing the keyboard solely. For those who can’t use the product with a keyboard (for instance, there’s no seen focus or the UI is just mouse clickable), it’s possible going to be a whole lot of effort to enhance the accessibility of the product.

Contemplate providing other ways to entry the service (e.g. telephone assist, in-person service, or electronic mail) in order that individuals who can’t entry the product digitally due to accessibility limitations can nonetheless get what they want.

Take into consideration the organizational roadmap and when it is likely to be possible to improve or retire the product and weigh the price and energy of accessibility in opposition to that. You probably have different, newer merchandise that aren’t accessible, it is likely to be extra productive to focus your efforts on these merchandise if a legacy device is nearing the tip of life.

The Recipe

Right here is an instance of a complete accessibility testing strategy, with 5 layers for a very scrumptious accessibility testing cake. Determine what your price range goes to be after which worth out all the varied testing approaches. Some are free, others will value cash. Within the subsequent part, we offer recommendation on the place to start out if all these layers of testing received’t slot in your price range.

  1. Analysis Person Wants
    Make sure the questionnaire that you just use to display potential analysis individuals asks about assistive expertise use. This may make it simple to combine individuals with disabilities into your present analysis course of at no additional value. For those who don’t have luck discovering individuals this fashion, strive reaching out to incapacity organizations.

    It’s also possible to modify your present person personas to incorporate customers with disabilities. You may borrow facets of user profiles from Gov.UK if it’s good to do that rapidly and cheaply. You probably have the price range for it, add individuals with disabilities into prototype and design opinions. This can be best to do for those who have interaction a vendor that gives such a service, therefore the necessity for a price range. Alternatively, you’ll be able to pay individuals instantly.

  2. Refine Your Course of
    Encourage builders, designers, and content material authors to incorporate accessibility checks as a part of their course of. Listed here are methods to do this utilizing free automated testing instruments:

    • Obtain free browser extensions/plug-ins to do web page particular testing for design opinions (WAVE or Accessibility Insights)
    • For those who use steady integration testing as a part of the construct pipeline for builders, be sure you are evaluating accessibility (there are free open-source instruments for this like Axe Core and Pa11y)
    • Give content material authors instruments within the WYSIWYG interface to determine limitations that they’ve added (HTML Code Sniffer)
    • Guarantee you might be crawling your website often to catch accessibility points. If attainable, run crawlers in each staging and manufacturing environments (Purple Hats is a free open supply choice)
  3. Handbook QA
    You don’t have so as to add additional individuals to do QA, simply combine it into your present course of. For those who solely do one factor, then cease utilizing the mouse throughout your common QA. You’ll catch accessibility bugs together with different purposeful bugs. If you wish to do extra, check with display readers, and magnifiers too.

    Listed here are varied methods you are able to do handbook accessibility QA with out buying any instruments:

    • Are you able to entry your website with out your mouse? Use easy keyboard-only handbook testing to judge new elements and content material.
    • Browse your website with magnification set to 200% or larger utilizing the built-in magnification instruments in your browser (Ctrl + +).
    • Flip your browser or OS to darkish mode and see in case your website works nicely for individuals with gentle sensitivity.
    • Carry out sprint-level testing with builders and designers utilizing assistive expertise (VoiceOver, Microsoft Narrator, and NVDA are free choices).
  4. Person Testing
    In massive company environments with a devoted price range for accessibility, you’ll be able to pay assistive expertise customers to check performance in your staging surroundings earlier than launch.

    Nothing provides you larger certainty that your product will work for individuals with disabilities than validating with customers. Not even an ideal WCAG compliance rating can provide you that assurance the way in which an actual individual utilizing the product can.

    Individuals with disabilities are sometimes requested to do work without cost, which is problematic as many with disabilities are already at an financial drawback. For those who’re engaged on a private venture and there’s no price range, take a look at your community and see if there are individuals who can be fascinated with serving to in trade for an equal favor.

  5. Specialist Assessment
    In case your group has an accessibility workforce, have them do Person Acceptance Testing pre-release. That is the place you may get detailed suggestions on WCAG compliance that you might have missed in earlier steps.

    Consider it as a last examine; your accessibility workforce isn’t doing the entire work on accessibility, everybody has a job to play. Accessibility groups are only once they set requirements, present coaching, give steerage and consider compliance. They assist accessibility efforts however aren’t the one ones doing accessibility work. That means nobody individual or workforce turns into a bottleneck.

    For those who don’t have a workforce, you’ll be able to rent accessibility professionals to do the opinions previous to launch.

The place To Begin

Begin the place you might be. The aim isn’t perfection, however ongoing enchancment. Implementing all layers without delay doesn’t need to be the aim. Moderately, it’s about beginning with one or two layers after which regularly including extra layers as your workforce will get higher at accessibility testing. A small slice of cake is healthier than no cake.


  • If you’re new to accessibility, begin by including a free browser extension to search out accessibility points and begin by studying repair the errors which might be displayed. WebAIM’s WAVE Toolbar is nice for this.
  • Begin sharing accessibility info that you’ve got discovered helpful. This might be simply on Twitter or Reddit, however you could possibly additionally begin a e-newsletter to assist elevate consciousness.
  • Join webinars or occasions targeted on accessibility to be able to study extra.


  • A workforce with a robust user-centered design strategy would possibly wish to begin with layer one: interviewing individuals with disabilities as a part of person analysis.
  • A workforce with a robust IT compliance course of would possibly put money into tighter integration of automated testing of their steady integration course of or a site-wide crawler first.
  • Discover methods to include accessibility earlier within the design/improvement course of.


  • Ensure you have significant accessibility statements which mirror your group’s dedication to take away limitations to individuals with disabilities.
  • Construct a champions community that enables a neighborhood of follow to develop and study from one another.

Limitations Of Automated Instruments

Each baker must have an arsenal of instruments they’ll depend on. There are proprietary accessibility instruments value contemplating, however there are additionally glorious open-source instruments together with those we talked about within the “recipe” above which might be accessible without cost.

In fashionable dynamic websites, it is very important use automated instruments to catch accessibility errors early earlier than they’re printed to the reside website. It’s additionally vital to crawl the location to see that every one the pages nonetheless comply after they’ve been printed and repeatedly up to date.

The problem is that designers and builders usually assume that if the exams don’t report any errors, a website is nice. If you give individuals a check, individuals have a tendency to put in writing in direction of it. Sadly, many designers and builders cease once they eradicate the errors that they see with WAVE or Axe.

To be clear, it’s a small fraction of groups that even do that, but when we wish to make websites which might be perceivable, operable, and comprehensible for extra individuals utilizing various kinds of expertise, we’ve got to do higher.

Automated instruments are nice however restricted. Even the most effective accessible automated instruments solely catch about 30 to 40% of WCAG compliance accessibility errors. An automatic device can let you know if a picture is lacking an alternate description, however what it might probably’t let you know is that if the outline is solely inaccurate or used within the unsuitable context and subsequently ineffective. That also requires an individual to judge.

To get previous these limits, it’s vital to acknowledge that accessibility doesn’t mechanically imply usability for individuals with disabilities. Consider accessibility because the lowest bar; it really works with assistive expertise, however to transcend “it really works” to “it’s fulfilling and simple to make use of” you’ll want to check with actual customers.

Many organizations already do usability testing, however most don’t embrace individuals with disabilities. For those who’re having bother recruiting extra various individuals, contemplate working with a corporation that has a neighborhood of assistive expertise customers and a platform to make testing fast and simple.

Let’s Get Baking!

Use a layered accessibility testing strategy when you’re working to construct an inclusive web site. Don’t depend on only one kind of testing to search out limitations for individuals with disabilities.

  • Check your concepts with assistive expertise customers early within the course of
  • Combine common automated code checks into the method of constructing the location
  • Do handbook testing utilizing assistive expertise as a part of QA
  • Check with individuals with disabilities previous to launch
  • Carry out complete accessibility opinions on staging
A colorful layered cake with five colors from top to bottom: red, orange, yellow, blue and purple - covered in white and red frosting
A layered strategy to testing your website for accessibility improves the usability of your website and needs to be baked into your course of as early as attainable. (Picture credit score: topntp26)

Keep in mind the aim isn’t to attain excessive in a testing device, and even to fulfill a WCAG guideline, however quite to make your content material extra extensively accessible, together with to assistive expertise customers.

Finally, accessibility statements are the icing on the cake. Embrace an accessibility statement with contact info in your website to supply a suggestions loop. Your customers are the consultants and everybody needs to be a part of making a website higher over time.

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