Accessibility Testing: Respecting the difference

Chamila Ambahera
5 min readFeb 12, 2024

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Photo by Yomex Owo on Unsplash

Introduction:

As software developers and quality assurance engineers, it’s time to focus on the ethical aspects of software development and testing without just following the traditional way of development and testing.

In today’s digital age, software accessibility is no longer just a nice-to-have feature — it’s a fundamental aspect of inclusive design. Accessibility ensures that individuals with different abilities can access and use digital products and services with ease and respect.

In this article, we’ll explore the importance of software accessibility, key guidelines, best practices and tools that we can utilize for accessibility testing.

Let’s understand what is Accessibility

Accessibility in software means designing digital products and services which are easily usable by people who have different disabilities such as visual, auditory and cognitive issues etc. By developing accessibility features developers can eliminate barriers that keep limited users from making full use of their product.

Key Principles of Accessibility

Perceivability: Make sure all users can see what is being presented. This consists of giving options for non-text content like images and multimedia, maintaining adequate contrast between the foreground and background elements and using plain language.

Operability: Ensure that all users can access the interface regardless of their limited mobility. Here, developers should focus on developing interfaces which can be navigated by the use of a keyboard or other assistive devices. Also, provide enough time for the users to interact with the content and avoid content that could cause seizures or other adverse effects.

Understandability: Make sure that the interface and its functioning are comprehensible to every user regardless of their cognitive capacity. Apply consistent navigation patterns, give useful feedback and error messages, and refrain from using ambiguous or overly completed technical language.

Ex: 404 Error: It can be understood by technical people like you and me. But does it mean anything to common internet users? Developers should provide adequate information for users to understand what it is.

Robustness: Develop software that is compatible with a diverse set of devices and technologies including assistive technologies used by people with disabilities. This implies following web standards and coding best practices using semantic HTML. QA team should focus on testing the software using assistive technologies to ensure compatibility.

We will discuss how later.

Challenges in Ensuring Accessibility:

While accessibility is crucial, developers and testers encounter issues surrounding the implementation and maintenance of accessible software.

These challenges may include:

Lack of Awareness: Most developers are limited in their knowledge of accessibility. If it’s built for everyone then error messages or the language should be understandable by common people.

Resource Constraints: Time, budget and expertise limitations can hamper the prioritization of accessibility in the project.

Complexity: Implementing accessibility features, especially in complex software systems can be challenging and require careful planning and coordination.

Testing and Evaluation: In my point of view, testing for accessibility using available software is not enough. Getting user feedback is necessary and important for accessibility but it can be time consuming and resource intensive.

How to overcome the above challenges

Education and Training: Increase the awareness among developers about the need for accessibility and deliver training that outlines the best practices for designing, developing and testing accessible software.

Inclusive Design: From the very beginning of the design process, include accessibility considerations to make sure that users with different needs are taken into account.

Collaboration: Engage with people with disabilities in the development process through usability testing, focus groups and co-design.

Accessibility Guidelines and Standards: Adhere to the existing accessibility guidelines and standards,

Ex. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to ensure compliance and interoperability.

Automated Testing: Utilize automated testing tools and accessibility checkers to identify and resolve accessibility defects right from the beginning of development.

Continuous Improvement: Establish systems for the continuous monitoring, evaluation, and improvement of accessibility characteristics, considering the input from users and stakeholders.

Automated Testing Approach.

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

Since manually we can’t focus on every element during testing, automated testing tools play a crucial role in ensuring the accessibility of software applications. These tools help developers and testers to identify accessibility issues efficiently during the development process, allowing them to early intervention and remediation.

Here are some popular automated testing tools specifically designed for accessibility testing:

1. axe: axe is an open-source accessibility testing engine developed by Deque Systems. It offers a suite of tools for web accessibility testing. Including browser extensions, command-line interfaces and integrations with popular testing frameworks like Selenium. axe performs comprehensive scans on web pages and identifies accessibility violations. Also provides detailed reports with actionable insights for remediation.

2. WAVE (Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool): WAVE is a web accessibility evaluation tool developed by WebAIM. It allows users to assess the accessibility of web pages by analyzing the HTML markup and CSS stylesheets. WAVE provides visual feedback directly within the browser, highlighting accessibility errors and suggesting potential solutions. Additionally, WAVE offers features for contrast ratio analysis, ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications) validation and structural elements inspection.

3. Pa11y: Pa11y is an automated accessibility testing tool that can be integrated into continuous integration pipelines and build processes. It offers command-line interfaces, JavaScript APIs, and a web interface for testing web pages against accessibility standards such as WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines). Pa11y supports customization through configuration files, allowing developers to tailor the testing process to specific requirements and preferences.

4. Tenon.io: Tenon.io is a cloud-based accessibility testing platform that offers automated testing services for web applications and digital content. It provides APIs and integrations with popular development tools and platforms, enabling developers to incorporate accessibility testing into their workflows seamlessly. Tenon.io offers features for bulk testing, issue tracking, and collaboration, making it suitable for both individual developers and enterprise teams.

5. Deque AXE Coconut: Deque AXE Coconut is a commercial accessibility testing solution offered by Deque Systems. It provides automated testing capabilities for web and mobile applications, with support for desktop browsers, mobile emulators, and native mobile apps. Deque AXE Coconut offers advanced features such as dynamic content scanning, single-page application support, and integration with issue tracking systems for streamlined remediation workflows.

6. Lighthouse: Lighthouse is an automated testing tool developed by Google as part of the Chrome Developer Tools suite. While primarily focused on performance and best practices, Lighthouse also includes accessibility auditing capabilities. It generates accessibility reports based on the WCAG guidelines and provides recommendations for improving accessibility scores. Lighthouse can be run directly within the Chrome browser or as a command-line tool for batch testing.

These automated testing tools serve as invaluable resources for developers striving to create accessible software applications. By incorporating these tools into their development workflows, developers and testers can proactively identify and address accessibility issues in the early stages of SDLC.

Ultimately delivering more inclusive and user-friendly products as we always wanted.

Conclusion

In conclusion, accessible software development is not only an ethical obligation but a legal obligation in many jurisdictions.

As I highlighted in the beginning let’s build software that not only meets functional requirements but also respects diversity and ensures every individual’s right to access and participate in the digital world.

I plan to add demos for the above accessibility tools soon. So, please consider following my profile. I promise you will never miss an update then 😊

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Chamila Ambahera

Principle Automation Engineer | Arctic Code Vault Contributor | Trained Over 500 engineers