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Accessibility Testing in the Product Development Lifecycle

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Final installment of a 4-part series

Recently I came across a comment from Lori Samuels, Senior Director of Accessibility at NBCUniversal, that stopped me in my tracks, “You can’t test your way to great user experience, you have to design your way there.” I completely agree. On the other hand, evaluating user experiences for accessibility plays a pivotal role. Testing ensures people with disabilities can access web content. Plus, you cannot create usable and accessible web content without it. These tips will get you started.

Tip #1 – User Testing is a Must

Satisfying user experiences start by understanding your key target audiences, and the most effective method is user research – involving people with disabilities in your usability evaluations to uncover usability and accessibility issues. Also, test responsive designs with them! A user interface (UI) component – for example a carousel – may look and behave predictably on a large monitor or laptop. However, when it is viewed on a mobile phone, you may see design flaws. For example, buttons appearing too close to each other cause web users to accidentally activate the wrong target. Imagine this scenario, you intend to tap “Cancel” and accidentally tap “Submit” instead.

Keep in mind website users with disabilities are not one size fits all. They use technologies in various ways and in different situations. Read the user story of Ali, a young woman with a mix of disabilities and technology usage to shed light on how to design for inclusion.

Tip #2 – Test with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1 A, AA)

WCAG 2.1 is the international standard to evaluate web pages, UI components, interactive media and videos. These guidelines include 50 Success Criteria with 30 of them labeled “A” level. This level offers the most benefits for digital access. And, it affects the broadest group of web users. When “A” criteria are ignored, web users cannot access web content.

The 20 “AA” Success Criteria is also necessary. It establishes a level of accessibility to work with most assistive technologies (i.e., text to speech screen readers VoiceOver and NVDA) on desktop and mobile devices.

Tip #3 – Automated Testing

Approximately 30-50% of accessibility issues can be detected by an application or browser extension, no human inspection needed. These handy tools will pinpoint issues within a minute of inspecting a web page. Also, they provide WCAG 2.0 / 2.1 Success Criteria based recommendations.

Some popular automated tools are WAVE, aXe, ARC Toolkit, and Accessibility Insights for Web. Keep in mind though, they do not catch all accessibility issues. To identify all or most accessibility issues on a web page manual inspection is a must.

Tip #4 – Manual Accessibility Testing is a Must

The auditors in our U.S. Accessibility Delivery Center routinely inspect web pages manually. “We test a web page by keyboard tabbing through the page and with the assistive technology app NVDA”, says Perficient Senior Consultant Samdisha Singh. “We make sure all front-end code is semantically correct by inspecting the HTML. Is it accurate? Does it have all the correct attributes an assistive technology user needs to interact with it?”

Tip #5 – Quality Assurance (QA) Testing

It’s likely accessibility issues will escape automated and manual testing. It could be last-minute edits made to UI components, or the addition of new content (e.g., PDFs). That’s were QA testing comes in. QA auditors check web pages, UI components, videos, etc. to verify they are indeed accessible and meet specified acceptance criteria.

Tip #6 – Final Advice

Accessible user experiences are becoming the norm and not a nice to have. User research, usability testing and the other forms of testing are essential to satisfy Web users’ expectations for equal access. If you have not read the earlier posts, check out Part 1 Plan to be Accessible by Design: Accessibility in the Product Development Lifecycle, Part 2 Define Initial Requirements: Accessibility in the Product Development Lifecycle, and Part 3 Designing for Diversity: Accessibility in the Product Development Lifecycle.

So, What Comes Next?

For those businesses looking for insights on website accessibility, Perficient has created a set of information to help. Download our guide Digitally Accessible Experiences: Why It Matters and How to Create Them and read our UX for Accessible Design series.

To jumpstart your website’s digital accessibility our Accessibility IQsm identifies and corrects website accessibility issues in two weeks, not months.

For more information contact our digital accessibility experts today.

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Lisa McMichael

Lisa McMichael is a Senior Manager Digital Accessibility, CPACC with the Detroit Business Unit.

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