Between 10% and 15% of the world’s population (750mn-1bn people) suffers from some form of disability, according to estimates of international organizations including the WHO and the World Bank.

The prevalence is higher in developing countries. According to UNESCO, 90% of children with disabilities in developing countries do not attend school. Unemployment among persons with disabilities is as high as 80% in some countries, says the International Labor Organization (ILO).

Having said that, differing reports have shown that employees with disabilities often have better retention rates, which reduces the high cost of turnover. So why is more testing for accessibility not happening?

The digital world often levels the playing field in the terms of employability of people with disabilities. One would expect that with the acceleration of the world going online due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this would open up more chances for people with some sort of impairment.

In January this year, the Third State of Digital Accessibility survey was published by US digital accessibility consultancy Level, alongside The Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs (G3ict) and the International Association for Accessibility Professionals (IAAP).

The results of the survey, of more than 1,000 professionals, showed that while 95% of respondents agree that testing by people with disabilities for accessibility and usability is important, 56% are not routinely doing it.

Some 23% said that their webinars were not accessible for people with disabilities and 30% were not testing their mobile apps for accessibility.

However, 60% said that current litigation trends have motivated them to move faster to achieve accessibility compliance.

Many countries including the US, the UK, Australia and Ireland all have legal acts requiring IT products to comply with requirements for disabled people.

What is accessibility testing?

So that is the current situation. But what do we mean by Accessibility Testing?

Accessibility Testing is a method of running checks using software to ensure that the application is usable by people with disabilities in the key areas of: visual, auditory, physical, cognitive and literacy (speech and language). Accessibility testing is a subset of usability testing.

People with visual impairments may be completely or partially blind or have color blindness. They may also be sensitive to flashing images on a screen. People with auditory impairments may be totally or partially deaf.

Physical disabilities have more to do with poor motor skills, which may impair their use of the mouse or keyboard.

Cognitive disabilities refer to learning and speech difficulties, or difficulty in understanding complex scenarios.
Literacy testing refers to reading problems.

In terms of the web, websites should be available to all to perceive, understand, navigate and interact.

How to do accessibility testing?

Accessibility testing can be done both in an automated format or manually and there are advantages and disadvantages of both.

Automated testing can allow QA professionals to test huge amounts of data in short periods of time and be more precise. However, it is only as good as the person that programs the testing.

In recent years there have been several incidents reported in the news of people driving their cars into lakes or the ocean, while they relied on their GPS navigation devices. The software did what it was told to do and sought the fastest route to the destination.

But often, one has to take into account the human element and do things manually. And that is why testing with actual disabled people is key. That has been more difficult due to the social distancing restrictions required during the pandemic, though some advances have been made in testing using video calls.

In the US there are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), a set of reference standards and recommendations for testing. In general, they focus on four areas, that technology should be: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.

Most common accessibility issues

There is a long, long, list of things that can be checked. But we can look at some of the most common.

An application should provide keyboard equivalents for all operations that are done using a mouse. This includes the use of shortcut keys for menus. Tabs should be ordered logically to ensure smooth navigation.

The idea that applications should support all operating systems and devices perhaps might sound obvious, but this is not always the case.

Applications should be tested to ensure there are audio alerts and that video content can be properly heard. There should also be adjustable audio or video controls.

Testing of colors and font sizes must also be taken into account. Users should be able to change color contrasts and magnify lettering. Questions to be asked include whether icons or images are easily understood. Can users disable flashing or rotating or moving displays? Are there time-out controls to extend the time needed to complete a task?

There are also more technical issues like: missing alt text on images. ALTs refer to the invisible description of images which are read aloud to blind users on a screen reader.

Perhaps there are missing or ambiguous hyper-links in text, or too many navigation links, which makes things confusing for some users.

Testers should check labels and form controls, which are key for keyboard shortcuts, tabbing and dropdown menus.

People with disabilities often use assistive technology to help them operate a software product. Examples include speech recognition software (which converts spoken words into text and is inputted into the computer); screen reader software (used to read out text on the screen); screen magnification software (to enlarge text for visually impaired users); and special keyboards (to make typing easier for people with motor control difficulties).

A well-known example is refreshable Braille display or Braille terminals. These are electro-mechanical devices for displaying Braille characters, usually by means of raising dots through holes in a flat surface. Blind computer users, who cannot use a normal computer monitor, use it to read text output.

Screen readers

Screen readers are among the most widely used assistive technologies, many of which are free for different browsing technologies. The most commonly used ones are: JAWS; NVDA; Voiceover; and Talkback.

A typical QA checklist for testing use of a screen reader includes: ensuring that the page has a relevant page title, so that screen reader users know what page they are on; ensuring that images, which are not decorative, are read by the screen reader, and that they have relevant alt text; and ensuring that decorative images are not read by the screen reader.

The benefit of QA accessibility testing

Every company has its own requirements and needs. Making Sense has been working with a legal company in Texas. One of the requirements of that company was to ensure that there are not high contrasts of colors on the website, which may be disagreeable to potential clients.

In general, all websites should meet a broad range of accessibility characteristics. But clearly, projects aimed at a specific target audience will have more special requirements. For example, websites aimed at elderly people may prioritize the use of audio options. Bank websites, for example, will have to try and cater to a very broad range of users, especially as more people are shopping online.

Like any teamwork, QA testers must work alongside developers and point out errors or areas for improvement at the earliest opportunity. The later in a project that one has to add functionalities, the more costly and the more manpower required to make the changes.

Finally, it is important to point out that checking for accessibility doesn’t always have to do with people that have a significant disability. Improved accessibility leads to many other benefits for companies on the web.

Good search engine optimization (SEO) has advantages for discoverability of a website meaning correct tagging is essential.

Greater efficiency and ease-of-use on websites, can boost customer usability and brand loyalty which in turns leads to increased market share and audience reach.