Website Accessibility Testing: How to Offer the Best User Experience

Developers and designers are accustomed to testing the functionality of websites and applications they create. They may test using different operating systems, browsers, and devices, but they might overlook the importance of accessibility testing.

An estimated 15% of the world’s population has some type of disability. That means websites that are not designed with accessibility in mind may exclude about 1 billion people.

Businesses that embrace the concept of website accessibility not only demonstrate their commitment to inclusion, they also expand their opportunities to reach new customers. And with website accessibility lawsuits on the rise, making websites accessible for all users is a wise decision. That process begins with website accessibility testing.

What is Web Accessibility Testing?

Accessibility testing is a subset of usability testing that applies to a website’s ease of use for people with disabilities. This type of testing requires technology that can evaluate site content and determine whether it’s accessible for people with visual or hearing impairments, color blindness, and other disabilities.

With the right testing tools, users can generate reports that include suggested improvements for accessibility. Manual testing — with human users navigating through a site to evaluate accessibility — works in conjunction with technology to get the best possible results.

Why is Web Accessibility Testing Important?

In testing your website for accessibility, you may discover issues that could result in a negative experience for any user, not just a user with a disability. Illogical navigation, broken links, and confusing forms, for example, are frustrating for all users. When you remedy those types of issues, you can document your compliance with web accessibility guidelines and improve the overall user experience.

Web accessibility testing can help you:

Accommodate people living with disabilities

Simply put, making your website accessible for people with disabilities is just the right thing to do. If you’re updating your website regularly, allot some time for accessibility testing and updates. Most accessibility errors aren’t difficult to discover and correct, especially if you’re using accessibility testing software.

Abide by accessibility standards and regulations

Accessibility standards may vary by country or locality, but if you have a website, it’s part of the global web, meaning your site should be compliant with any and all accessibility standards.

Applicable standards include Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 508 for federal agencies in the United States, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) in Canada, and the EU Web Accessibility Directive in Europe. All these regulations are based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) developed by the World Wide Web Consortium. If your site includes PDFs, learn the rules about PDF accessibility — PDFs must be compliant with PDF/UA (ISO 14289-1) and the HHS.

Avoid costly lawsuits

Failure to comply with applicable standards can be costly — in early 2021, a large pizza chain was still in litigation over a digital accessibility lawsuit that originated years earlier. While corporations may have the financial resources for this type of ongoing litigation, an easier (and more affordable) approach is to avoid violating accessibility guidelines.

Which Disabilities Should Your Website Support?

When designers think about web accessibility, their first concern may be how people with vision impairments can engage with a website. That’s an important consideration, but web accessibility is a broader concept — it means developing and designing sites that are accessible to people with any type of disability.

Disabilities that interfere with hearing, reading, cognition, or motor skills can make navigating and understanding a website difficult. In creating a truly accessible site, one cannot assume that every visitor will be capable of common actions like clicking a mouse or knowing how to respond to a CAPTCHA. Accessibility also extends beyond disabilities; everyone benefits from it. Think about the time that you used closed captions to watch a video without sound, or when you used a voice assistant to type out a text message or play music. Website accessibility can be improved with the right technology and creativity — if a standard feature isn’t accessible for all users, there’s almost always an alternative.

Developers and designers may use elements or techniques that, years ago, were the “gold standard” for web design, but accessibility guidelines are evolving, so it’s wise to periodically review websites for compliance.

Who Performs Accessibility Testing?

Accessibility testing involves experts — developers, or people with experience in testing websites — and users.

Experts

Experts use software to analyze website accessibility and can make any necessary updates to the code. Some people with experience in web accessibility testing may be able to use assistive technology to review a site’s functionality, but results are generally more reliable when people with disabilities are invited to review a site using assistive technology.

Users

Users with disabilities who are reviewing a website for the first time won’t have any biases or previous knowledge of the site content, so their feedback should be a reliable indicator of a site’s ease-of-use. The WC3 Web Accessibility Initiative recommends gathering input from a range of users, as two people with the same disability may experience a website in different ways.

Types of Website Accessibility Testing

The process of testing a website for accessibility can be manual, automated, or a hybrid/combination of manual and automated.

Manual

Manual testing usually begins with a web accessibility checklist that includes items like reviewing the navigation, making sure any forms are functioning properly, and checking the mobile interface to see whether users can pinch and zoom content.

On the backend, manual testing includes a review of metadata and alternative text for images, as well as semantic structure. Manual web accessibility testing can be quite time-consuming.

Automated

Web accessibility testing is much faster, with software that evaluates code for WCAG compliance. Designers and/or developers may need to make changes, based on the website accessibility scan — each finding requires review, so there is no 100%-automated process for testing a website’s accessibility.

Hybrid

A hybrid approach is always the best practice for ensuring website accessibility, especially because some features — like keyboard-only navigation, and page-scrolling — cannot be properly tested with software.

In the next section, we’ll take a look at some web accessibility testing tools you can use to create a better experience for users with disabilities.

Web Accessibility Testing Tools

Following is our roundup of five accessibility testing tools and their key features.

Monsido

A screenshot of a section of the Monsido homepage
Monsido is a comprehensive website governance platform with a focus on accessibility. The Accessibility platform is a good example of hybrid testing, offering automated sitewide audits and provides recommendations and support on how to manually address them. There are also add-on features that offer limited automated remediation. With the reporting features in Monsido, users can produce documentation that shows how their compliance has improved over time, which is a helpful feature for businesses pursuing federal government contracts. Monsido’s platform is also made for usability, ensuring that even those with limited technical knowledge can still understand the errors and work to correct them. 

Key accessibility testing features:
  • ADA and WCAG 2.0/2.1 A, AA, AAA compliance testing
  • Automated accessibility audits and recommendations
  • PDF accessibility scans and remediation
  • A free color contrast checker to review WCAG color contrast compliance ratios
  • Track accessibility progress in the History Center
  • Accessibility statement generator
  • Accessibility training resources and one-on-one testing support
  • CMS integrations and a browser extension of on-page accessibility reports

WAVE

A screenshot of a section of the WAVE homepage
Source: WAVE
WAVE has a free website UI where users can enter a URL to get an accessibility report for a specific page. Accessibility errors appear in a side panel, and users can click on different tabs to get error details, see the site structure and tags, and view an assessment on the site’s contrast levels. WAVE also offers extensions for Firefox and Chrome, along with four products for users who need a full website analysis.

Key accessibility testing features:
  • “Reference” field provides guidance on how to remedy errors
  • Quick links for applicable standards
  • Styles can be turned on or off in results view
  • Extensions enable analysis of intranet sites

Google Lighthouse

A screenshot of a section of a Google Lighthouse page with statistics
Source: Google
Lighthouse is an open-source for developers that can be run programmatically, or as an extension. It analyzes site accessibility from the viewpoint of a 4G mobile user with a mid-tier smartphone. Add-ons for this tool include Stack Packs, which make accessibility recommendations based on the specific technology in a website (JavaScript, etc.), and plug-ins that apply to specific industries or use cases.

Key accessibility testing features:
  • Weighted scoring system
  • Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA) analysis
  • Online report-sharing
  • Works for intranet sites

Axe DevTools for Chrome

A screenshot of a section of a AXE page from the Chrome extension store.
Axe DevTools is an extension for the Chrome browser that tests for accessibility issues in cross-domain iframes. One of this extension’s value propositions is that it results in “no false positives” — the software will not report an accessibility issue unless it is 100% certain that it’s a problem. Available for both Android and iOS platforms (and also available for Firefox and Edge), this extension helps developers and designers create accessible mobile-first websites.

Key accessibility testing features:
  • Automated testing with every code update
  • Issue description library, for quick remediation
  • Individual component-testing option
  • Results can be saved and exported
  • Works for intranet sites

Tenon

A screenshot of a section of a Tenon homepage.
Source: Tenon

Tenon provides accessibility consulting services and web accessibility testing in the website development stage and for live sites. Pricing for Tenon is based on “API calls,” which Tenon defines as the testing of one website page. Customers may request testing of whole pages, or just some sections, and a “Pay as You Go” feature may make Tenon affordable for small businesses.

Key accessibility testing features:
  • Voluntary Product Accessibility (VPAT) testing for tech companies with government contracts
  • Accessibility audit
  • Integration with Git, Jira, and other tools
  • UI accessibility troubleshooting

How to Report on Accessibility Testing

Many automated web accessibility testing reports will provide you with a list of potential problems that you can export as a CSV or Excel file. Then you can add fields to that sheet for your manual quality-control reviewers. Following are some suggested fields to include, as well as an example of an accessibility error:

Problem: Contact form does not highlight specific fields when error occurs

Repo: When an invalid credit card number or address is entered, the form does not explain to the user which fields need to be corrected

Explanation: [aria-invalid="true"] not set for some form fields

Standards: WCAG 2.1

Action item: Add aria validation code to all form sections

Be sure to include a checkbox or field for “action completed,” where the person who made the change can add their initials. As an extra layer of quality control, have someone else verify that the problem has been corrected.
The Monsido dashboard with sections of the page enlarged
You can also use a solution such as Monsido to fast track the testing and assignment of action items. The platform will scan the entire website to find potential accessibility issues, provide a performance overview, as well as specific recommendations on how to address each problem. This level of detail ensures every report is actionable for your team.

Test Your Web Accessibility Today

Knowing that improving your website accessibility can help you reach new customers and avoid potential legal problems, there’s no reason to delay analyzing your site’s accessibility.

Monsido’s accessibility testing tool scans sites for compliance with WCAG, 508, and other applicable regulations, so you can learn how to improve your site. And with our team of web accessibility experts, we can manage your accessibility updates, provide accessibility training, and offer one-on-one support.

Book a demo with us to learn more about how Monsido can help your website.