How to Conduct Accessibility Tests?

Today, I want to talk to you about a detailed topic that often goes overlooked in testing applications: accessibility testing. I'm referring to a feature that exists on our phones, which many of us might not pay much attention to. What is this feature? It's the accessibility settings that you may have seen on your phones. So, what is accessibility?

What is Accessibility?

Accessibility is the ability of different individuals, especially those with disabilities, to easily access and use computer systems, websites, applications, and other technological solutions. For example, it can be a feature developed for a person with visual impairment to use an application through audio cues. Accessibility ensures everyone's right to access information, communicate, and interact in digital environments. Just because someone has a visual or hearing impairment doesn't mean they should be deprived of this right. Accessibility aims to enable individuals with visual, auditory, motor skill, or cognitive impairments to effectively use technology by considering different types of disabilities in the design or adaptation of existing systems. This implies that these systems or applications need to go through testing processes. If a person with a disability can only interact with an application using its auditory features, any incorrect reading, pronunciation, or crashes on the relevant device or application would mean that the individual cannot perform their tasks. This results in customer dissatisfaction, which is a loss for the brand, product, and market.

For example, a website being accessible means that a visually impaired person using a screen reader can accurately read the texts, a color-blind person can distinguish different colors, or a person with limited motor skills can easily navigate. Accessibility is often supported by standards and guidelines set by organizations such as the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), guiding designers and developers in creating solutions in line with accessibility principles. The goal is to ensure that everyone benefits equally from technological solutions.

According to the Turkish Statistical Institute's 2019 Disability Survey, there are around 8 million people with disabilities in Turkey. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), globally, the number of individuals with disabilities is estimated to be a significant population, potentially reaching millions or even billions. It's crucial to remember that these individuals constitute an important user base. While our applications may not target individuals with disabilities, they are users, and like everyone else, they have the right to use products and applications. Despite not receiving much attention in many companies, this is an important issue. By making your application accessible, you can instantly gain millions of users. Of course, this also requires certain tests.

How to Conduct Accessibility Tests?

Accessibility Standards-Based Checks: Standards like WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) provide essential guidance for conducting accessibility tests. You can perform tests to ensure compliance with these standards when developing your applications.

Manual Review and Testing: You can manually test various elements of the website or application, such as keyboard navigation and screen reader compatibility. For example, on your mobile device, you can perform tests by enabling the voice text feature.

Accessibility Audit Tools: Many online and offline tools can automatically check the accessibility level of websites or applications. Tools like Axe, Wave, or Lighthouse browser extensions can be used. Lighthouse's accessibility test, for instance, analyzes how well people using assistive technologies can use your website. It is a good tool to check whether elements like buttons and links are well-defined. It also analyzes images to see if alternative text is specified.

Disabled User Tests: Getting feedback from disabled users and testing the product from their perspective is important to understand real-world usage. These tests can reveal real user experiences and challenges. Even having one staff member within the team who can conduct these tests can make a significant difference. If you cannot provide such a contribution, you can study and research the behavior patterns of disabled individuals, think like them, empathize, and create different test scenarios.

Testing with Different Devices and Browsers: Testing with different devices (mobile, tablet, desktop) and browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, etc.) ensures that accessibility is independent of devices and browsers. Products are released on all platforms, and people now host a variety of products in their ecosystems. Just as we test every product on all platforms, we should also check accessibility in the same way.

Documentation and Reporting: Documenting the testing process and reporting the results in detail are essential. A report can be prepared, including accessibility issues, suggested fixes, and improvements made. It can be presented to management, ensuring necessary actions are taken.

Important Points and Risks in Accessibility Tests:

In my opinion, there are three crucial points in accessibility tests, and these points also represent the risky areas of accessibility tests.

Compliance with Standards: Compliance with accessibility standards like WCAG is a fundamental requirement. These standards ensure that accessibility tests are conducted within a specific framework.

Lack of Standard Compliance: Failure to comply with accessibility standards is one of the biggest risks. This situation can prevent disabled users from effectively using the product.

User Experience: Conducting tests with real disabled users to understand real user experience is essential. This is critical for understanding the real-world usage of the product.

Ignoring Disabled User Experience: Disregarding the experiences of real disabled users is a significant risk to the accessibility of the product.

Regular and Continuous Testing: Viewing accessibility tests as a process is important. Regular tests should be conducted at every stage of the product development process, and improvements made should be tracked.

Insufficiency of Accessibility Improvements: Not addressing identified issues or making inadequate improvements can negatively impact the user experience for disabled users.

Can Accessibility Tests Be Automated? How?

Some parts of accessibility tests can be automated. However, complete automation may not always be possible because some accessibility features and user experiences may require manual reviews. This is a common situation that we already encounter. Not everything can be automated. Some accessibility tests that can be automated, along with examples of how they can be done, include:

Keyboard Accessibility: The application's usability with a keyboard can be automated. Keyboard shortcuts and keyboard-based navigation can be tested.

Screen Reader Compatibility: Automated tools can check compatibility with screen readers. Ensuring that the application's texts and buttons are readable is crucial, especially for users relying on screen readers.

Color Contrast and Visual Impairment Compatibility: Automated tools can check color contrasts and evaluate the readability of specific colors, especially for texts.

Form and Input Controls: Automated tests can check the labeling, proper focus, and accessibility of form fields.

Alternative Texts and Media Content: The compatibility of visual content with alternative texts (alt tags) can be checked using automated tests.

Dynamic Content Compatibility: Automated tests can evaluate the usability, focus sequences, and user interaction of dynamic content.

Automated tools can assist in performing specific accessibility tests, but for a comprehensive accessibility assessment, manual reviews and evaluations of real experiences from disabled users would be more effective. This concludes today's discussion. I wish you successful results in your tests.

Author: Melih Can Demirtel