What is Accessibility testing?

Summary: Accessibility testing aims to ensure users with disabilities have an equitable experience with your design. Moreover, it means you don’t see digital accessibility as a developer task only. Users with disabilities need to be involved in testing to reduce the risks of relying on checker tools alone.

Accessibility testing is a crucial phase in the UX design process that evaluates how usable and navigable digital products are for individuals with disabilities. These disabilities can range from visual impairments to hearing loss, mobility limitations, and cognitive challenges. The goal of accessibility testing is to ensure that websites, applications, and other digital interfaces are designed and developed to allow everyone to interact with them effectively.

Moreover, because automated tools do not fully detect accessibility issues, you must test with users.

Automated testing tools have an estimated 20–30% coverage rate, and the tool axe by Deque claims it hits an industry high of 57% coverage of finding accessibility issues(source: Deque report 2021).

Accessibility testing is a de-risking essential when improving accessibility compliance. Research (Law et. al 2006; Farmer & Macleod 2011) shows accessibility efforts are more likely to fail when designers do not include users or consider themselves the end-users…

Value of Inclusive Design

Inclusive Design, is a fundamental concept closely tied to accessibility testing. It emphasizes creating products and environments that are usable by as many people as possible, regardless of their abilities. Inclusive design goes beyond accommodating individuals with disabilities; it considers various reaching users most neglected or historically left out of product development. Even UX teams have failed to include users with disabilities, and therefore UX must embrace inclusive design.

Implementing inclusive design principles from the outset has numerous benefits:

  1. Broader Audience Reach: An inclusive design approach expands your potential user base, as it accommodates a wider range of users, including those with disabilities.
  2. Enhanced User Experience: An interface designed with diverse users in mind tends to be more intuitive and user-friendly for everyone, leading to higher user satisfaction and engagement.
  3. Legal and Ethical Obligations: In many regions, there are legal requirements for digital products to be accessible to individuals with disabilities. Failure to comply can result in legal consequences.
  4. Positive Brand Image: Prioritizing inclusive design demonstrates your commitment to social responsibility, enhancing your brand’s reputation and goodwill.

Importance of User Involvement

One of the cornerstones of successful accessibility testing is involving users with disabilities in the testing process. Their insights, feedback, and experiences are invaluable in identifying usability barriers and making necessary improvements. When users with disabilities actively participate in testing, UX designers gain firsthand knowledge about their challenges and the features that would enhance their experience.

User involvement in accessibility testing brings several advantages:

  1. Real-World Perspective: Users with disabilities provide authentic insights into their challenges when navigating digital interfaces, allowing designers to address these pain points effectively.
  2. Identifying Hidden Issues: Users’ feedback often uncovers accessibility issues that automated tools might miss, ensuring a more comprehensive and accurate evaluation.
  3. Refined Design Solutions: Collaboration with users with disabilities leads to the creation of tailored solutions that truly cater to their needs, enhancing the product’s overall usability. But more importantly, providing a great accessible experience, not a show of tokenism.

Comparing Approaches to Accessibility Testing

It is important you understand and advocate for accessibility testing. To begin, be clear about the  different approaches and their strengths and limitations:

  1. Automated Testing: Automated tools scan digital products for compliance with accessibility guidelines, highlighting potential issues. While these tools efficiently detect certain issues (up to 57%), they lack the contextual understanding of user interaction. This is where Accessibility Testing can take you to the ‘last mile’ of understanding. Automated testing is a valuable initial step, but it should be complemented with user testing for a holistic assessment.
  2. Technical Evaluation: Technical evaluations involve manual assessments by developers or experts who understand the intricacies of accessibility standards. While this approach can identify specific coding-related issues, it misses around 60% of accessibility issues that users encounter.
  3. Guideline-Based Testing: This approach follows established accessibility guidelines, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). While adhering to guidelines is essential, they may not cover every user scenario. Guidelines (theory) are no substitute for actually watching users interact with their Assistive Technology (eg screen readers for blind users. User testing can unveil issues that guidelines alone might overlook.

In contrast, involving users with disabilities in the testing process brings a human-centered dimension that automated, technical, and guideline-based approaches lack. It provides context, empathy, and a deep understanding of the challenges faced by users in real-life situations.

In this example (video below) a blind woman attempts to access a restaurant’s PDF menu. Improperly tagged PDFs provide a digital “brick wall” preventing access to any information within the document.

Conclusion

Accessibility testing in UX design is a vital step toward creating digital products that are inclusive, user-friendly, and equitable. Inclusive design principles and user involvement lie at the heart of this process, enriching the user experience and contributing to a positive brand image. While automated tools and technical evaluations have their place, they should be supplemented with user testing to ensure a comprehensive assessment of accessibility. Ultimately, embracing accessibility as a core value in UX design enhances the digital landscape for everyone, making technology more accessible and enjoyable for individuals of varying abilities.

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