Web Accessibility, AKA Digital Accessibility, is a trending topic in today’s digital market. As per Statista Reports, “Over 4.33 billion people were active internet users as of July 2019, encompassing 56 percent of the global population”. That being said, we know how mobile applications have become influential and a routine of our day to day life. Starting from waking call alarm to body fitness, banking, insurance, entertainment, learning and for everything we rely on mobile/computer/tablet applications.
Imagine you are doing an online money transfer with your mobile banking application. But then you are stuck on the page after clicking on the transfer button and not getting an idea what is happening on the screen- then you swipe left-right-up-down, zoom and finally happened to see the ‘Remarks’ field highlighted in red colour with no error message!
You understand that as an error and correct it as you ‘see’ the page. But imagine how confusing that could be for a person with no/low vision accessing the same page with any assistive technology? He/she will keep on pressing the ‘Transfer’ button wondering what’s going on!
This is where accessibility comes into play.
A good accessible website will have a meaningful message instead of a colour driven instruction!
What is web accessibility?
“The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect. –Tim Berners-Lee”
Web Accessibility Testing is a practice to ensure that the web/mobile applications are accessible for the people who are disabled. We are talking about people who have problems with vision, hearing, motor or cognitive impairments. That means it ensures that the web content is reachable to everyone without any barriers.
Why is web accessibility so important?
The governments have made it mandatory to follow accessibility standards for all the digital services before being used by the people. But the importance of web accessibility is beyond legal obligations. The World Health Organisation survey report says that 1 in 5 people are affected with a disability, this forms 19% of the overall population in the UK. Designing web with accessibility in mind will help all the website visitors regardless of disability because the design enhances more usability features that help everyone to use and navigate through the website. In addition to social commitment, implementing accessibility is a smarter way towards a better business. A study by G3ict in Cooperation with Ephox Corporation shows that after redesigning a company’s website with accessibility showed significant growth of 30 percent increase in search engine originated traffic, an extra 13,000 visitors a month (including mobile device users), as well as a whopping 90 percent increase in online insurance sales. Ensuring accessibility also reduced page loading time by 75 percent, and support costs as complaints from mobile customers all but disappeared.
How do we test the accessibility of web or mobile applications?
Accessibility testing can be done using both manual and automation methods.
The World Wide Consortium (W3C) has created the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines which defines the list of accessibility standards. The design, development and testing team can leverage these guidelines while designing, developing and testing the application. The guidelines are classified under 4 principles such as perceivable, operable, understandable and robust. Based on the complexity, guidelines are categorised as A, AA and AAA standards.
The easiest and most basic manual way of testing accessibility is keyboard accessibility. This has been done by pressing the ‘tab’ key of the keyboard. Ideally, every link will get focussed on every ‘tab’ press and thus the user will be able to navigate through the application. There are assistive technologies such as screen-readers (NVDA, JAWS, VoiceOver, Talkback, etc.). These screen readers will read what is on the application and which will help people with vision to use and understand it better.
If we consider automated way of testing accessibility, then there are quite a lot of options such as browser plug-ins (Axe for Chrome and Firefox, Web Accessibility Toolbar, etc.), automated APIs (Axe, pa11y, etc.) and other tools such as Accessibility Inspector, JAWS Inspect, The Colour Contrast Analyser, etc.
Unlike any other testing, accessibility testing cannot be just carried out by using automation alone. If we do automated accessibility testing alone, there is a high chance of missing many accessibility issues. So, it is a thumb rule that manual and automation testing must go hand in hand while testing accessibility.
However, there is no substitute for real user feedback. The best people to test accessibility are people with disabilities. As a best practice, we must involve people with disabilities to test our applications for a better result.
Accessibility is not just limited to ‘testing accessibility’ as an exploratory testing methodology and fix at the end of the Software Development Life Cycle but something to be considered as early as possible. Ideally it should start from the early stages of application development lifecycle like requirement gathering and design. If we do not involve people with disabilities while defining the requirements, we will not be able to understand how they think; and if we don’t understand how they think, we will never be able to build an application that is ‘accessible’ for everyone. The responsibility of the accessibility doesn’t really fall on an individual but is a collective responsibility of the organisation with a lot of collaboration with different teams.
Benefits of Digital Accessibility Testing
- Abide by the law – Many countries have made it mandate that the websites must meet the accessibility requirements before it goes to people. The UK government enforces the digital services to meet level AA of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1) as a minimum. If it is not, then it is a violation of the law!
- Better Business – For business, digital touchpoints are on the rise and is becoming the biggest revenue generation channel. Increase the revenue by ensuring your application reaches to people with disabilities as well.
- Accurate Search results – If the website is built by keeping accessibility in mind, it will have rich text which will make search engines to find websites more easily as search engines will look for text while looking up the content.
- Better User Experience – If digital content is made accessible, it can be used by everyone who uses the application as intended. Keeping accessible design makes the application’s navigation, text clarity, appearance and many more features more appealing and usable.
More than everything, accessibility is for everyone
The benefits of testing accessibility don’t end there. Accessibility is not just for people who are disabled. It helps everyone, for example, people who are left-handed naturally, through injury or if they are holding a baby, etc. More than that we all age one day. People say what we build today will be for tomorrow. If we build things right today, we get and use it right in the future.
So, let us try ensuring what we build is for ‘everyone’ and ‘ourselves’ for today and for tomorrow!
Written by Aparna A Gopalakrishnan