Monday April 26, 2021 By David Quintanilla
How To Bake Layers Of Accessibility Testing Into Your Process — Smashing Magazine

About The Authors

Kate Kalcevich is the Head of Companies at Fable, a number one accessibility testing platform powered by individuals with disabilities. Kalcevich is an skilled …
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Kate & Mike

Accessibility consultants Kate Kalcevich and Mike Gifford introduce readers to “layered accessibility testing”, a follow of utilizing a wide range of instruments and approaches at totally different phases within the digital product lifecycle to catch accessibility points early — when it’s simpler and cheaper to repair them.

When constructing web sites or apps, accessibility testing is essential to make sure that what you construct will work for all of your customers. This consists of customers with disabilities and in addition individuals with momentary and situational limitations (like that coworker who broke their arm snowboarding or the client who’s outside on their telephone with glare on the display).

We’re going to share easy methods to “layer” accessibility testing through the use of a wide range of instruments and approaches at totally different phases within the digital product lifecycle to catch accessibility points early — when it’s simpler and cheaper to repair them. Taking a layered strategy to testing your web site for accessibility additionally improves the usability of your web site — which in flip will increase your buyer base and reduces customer support inquiries. It may well each make and prevent cash.

We’ll use a layered cake analogy to speak concerning the totally different layers of accessibility testing and when to make use of them. Food analogies have develop into fairly in style within the accessibility world!

A picture of three people gathered in a kitchen preparing and tasting food
(Picture credit score: Dana Chan for Disabled And Here) (Large preview)

This strategy has labored effectively for each of us. Mike is a seasoned accessibility advocate and senior strategist at a authorities know-how agency (CivicActions), and Kate is the Head of Companies at an accessibility testing platform (Fable).

Whereas Mike appears to be like at accessibility testing from a extra technical angle early within the improvement part and scanning for compliance on stay websites, Kate focuses on the consumer expertise. Each of us realized that combining many kinds of accessibility testing all through the product improvement life cycle is a robust manner to enhance general product accessibility. On this article, we’ll share a number of the issues we’ve discovered.

Most organizations strategy accessibility in three important methods:

  1. Operating instruments to verify your code and/or consumer interface.
    That is sometimes called “automated testing” since you use software program to robotically take a look at many accessibility points directly.
  2. Utilizing your laptop in a manner that’s totally different than you usually do.
    For instance, by not using a mouse, zooming your browser to 200%), or switching to Windows high contrast mode.
    An image from Microsoft showing how high contrast colors shift for white, yellow, green, and blue
    The excessive distinction mode asks you to pick a selected coloured rectangle to customise excessive distinction colours. (Picture credit score: Microsoft) (Large preview)
  3. Utilizing assistive know-how and customers with disabilities to verify for usability points.
    That is sometimes called “handbook testing” as a result of it requires an individual to guage accessibility points.

Far too many organizations rely solely on a single accessibility resolution to validate their web site. Nobody device or course of can provide a company the arrogance that they’re really assembly the wants of the best potential variety of individuals.

How To Safe Purchase-In For Accessibility

In lots of organizations, in an effort to do accessibility testing, you’ll want executives to prioritize and help the work. Listed here are recommendations on easy methods to make that occur should you don’t have already got buy-in for accessibility:

  • Verify if there’s a authorized requirement to your group to be accessible.
    “Accessibility Act” and “Incapacity Act” are search phrases that ought to pull up related legal guidelines in most nations. Sharing the authorized threat may be the appropriate incentive for some organizations.
  • Discover out what your opponents are doing.
    Verify for an accessibility assertion on their web sites. Most organizations are eager to remain forward of the competitors and figuring out that others are prioritizing accessibility might do the trick.
  • Join with customer support to seek out out if there are accessibility complaints.
    If potential, attain out to prospects straight to listen to about their experiences and share these tales with firm leaders. Listening to about dissatisfied prospects could be a enormous motivator. If you may get permission from the purchasers, file a demo of them going through challenges along with your merchandise. A video like that may be very compelling.
  • Clarify the monetary prices and rewards.
    Many firms suppose they’ll’t afford to do accessibility, but it surely’s way more inexpensive when it’s built-in into the day-to-day work and never an afterthought. There’s additionally the potential income from individuals with disabilities — globally they characterize greater than 3 trillion dollars in disposable income.
A chart from a report summary of the Global Economics of Disability. It shows a y-axis of opportunity and an x-axis of market size/population. In a diagonal line up the graph, it shows increasingly larger clusters of 1)  people with disabilities as having 29 percent visible disabilities and 2) 71 percent having non-visible disabilities including sensory, cognitive, and chronic. 3) friends and family who are EvangelistsReady to act and ‘preach’ to others about the value inherent in People with Disabilities. 5) Broader Market: Everyone benefits from innovations and insights derived from disability. Design for All equals to Scale
A chart from a report abstract of the International Economics of Incapacity (Picture credit score: Wealthy Donovan) (Large preview)
  • Discover the appropriate champion.
    Likelihood is there’s already somebody on the highest ranges of the group who cares about individuals and doing the appropriate factor. This can be a Variety and Inclusion lead, somebody combating for environmental sustainability, or different points. Maybe it’s somebody with a disabled buddy or member of the family. Making them conscious of accessibility could also be all that’s wanted so as to add a brand new focus to their efforts.

Gathering Your Substances

Accessibility must be baked into your course of as early as potential. One place to begin is with the procurement course of. You’ll be able to incorporate accessibility as a part of the assessment course of for any know-how programs you’re shopping for or constructing. DisabilityIN has some wonderful assets on accessible IT procurement.

In search of vendor accessibility statements or VPATs for merchandise can assist, however so can doing a fast assessment with a number of the instruments talked about within the recipe beneath. Not all software program is created equally, so that you need to make certain you’re working with distributors who’re actively contributing to instruments and processes that provide help to prioritize accessibility from the beginning.

One other solution to bake in accessibility early, should you’re creating or updating a design system, is to decide on a part library that has been constructed with accessibility in thoughts. Search for libraries with a transparent accessibility assertion and an open concern queue that means that you can assessment issues.


  • The Angular Elements group has constructed accessibility into the Materials UI library. For instance, the radio button component makes use of a radio group with an aria-label. Every radio button reads as checked or not checked to a display reader consumer, the buttons may be chosen utilizing the arrow keys like normal HTML radio buttons, and the centered state is clearly seen.
  • Reakit for React describes an accessibility warning feature on their accessibility web page that may inform builders when an aria-label is required.
  • The Lion accessible net parts library makes use of an a11y label to tag accessibility issues in GitHub so you possibly can see what’s being improved and open your personal concern if wanted.

One other solution to embed accessibility into your course of is to replace one of many personas your group makes use of to incorporate disabilities. Many individuals have a couple of incapacity, so creating at the very least one persona with a number of disabilities will make sure you maintain that viewers top-of-mind in all of your early design work.

An illustration of a disabled person using a laptop to connect with other folks online
(Picture credit score: Disabled And Here) (Large preview)

To flesh out that persona, speak to individuals with actual disabilities — together with momentary and situational limitations — that will help you perceive how they use know-how, websites, and apps in the actual world. One in 5 individuals have a everlasting incapacity, however 100% of the inhabitants shall be confronted with imaginative and prescient, listening to, movement, or cognitive disabilities in some unspecified time in the future of their lives. Our personas can mirror:

  • individuals with allergic reactions, insomnia, or damaged bones;
  • individuals utilizing outdated know-how or utilizing their computer systems outdoors; and even
  • individuals who change their know-how use based on their location (for instance, disabling pictures when they should save web bandwidth).

Little modifications like these can have a big effect on how your group thinks. One solution to pitch this transformation to management and groups is to speak about the way it will make your personas extra reflective of your precise customers — which is the entire level of personas. They should be sensible.

One of the impactful methods to contain individuals with disabilities is to have them assist co-design companies and merchandise. Australia has a free training toolkit on easy methods to do co-design with individuals with disabilities. There’s additionally a terrific case study on how one firm ran co-design periods with individuals with studying disabilities on behalf of the UK authorities.

People holding up a red or a green card to tell the facilitator how they got on with the task
Group analysis exercise (tailored usability testing) (Picture credit score: Vita Mangan) (Large preview)

Legacy IT

Whether or not we prefer it or not, a lot of the choices about organizational IT had been made months (if not years) in the past. Even when you find yourself within the warmth of a procurement course of, accessibility is often simply certainly one of many issues. That is to be anticipated — even in organizations which can be obsessed with accessibility.

With legacy know-how, step one is solely to increase consciousness with the seller or group concerning the significance of accessibility. When you can element accessibility points that you just need to be mounted utilizing automated instruments, it might assist modify how a vendor ranks their concern queue. There isn’t at all times a neighborhood portal to submit considerations like this, however there is likely to be a neighborhood on Twitter or Reddit the place you might deliver points to mild.

Moreover, there is likely to be a customizable theme that may very well be adjusted to deal with a number of the considerations. Some options could supply an Software Programming Interface (API) that might permit a developer to construct an accessible consumer interface round it.

If a vendor has opponents, it may be helpful to spotlight the accessibility options which can be included in that product. It may be helpful to remind distributors that you just do have choices.

If legacy IT is an internally constructed product, a great way to rapidly consider it’s utilizing the keyboard solely. When you can’t use the product with a keyboard (for instance, there’s no seen focus or the UI is simply mouse clickable), it’s possible going to be loads of effort to enhance the accessibility of the product.

Take into account providing other ways to entry the service (e.g. telephone help, in-person service, or e-mail) in order that individuals who can’t entry the product digitally due to accessibility limitations can nonetheless get what they want.

Take into consideration the organizational roadmap and when it is likely to be possible to improve or retire the product and weigh the associated fee and energy of accessibility towards that. If in case you have different, newer merchandise that aren’t accessible, it is likely to be extra productive to focus your efforts on these merchandise if a legacy device is nearing the tip of life.

The Recipe

Right here is an instance of a complete accessibility testing strategy, with 5 layers for a extremely scrumptious accessibility testing cake. Work out what your price range goes to be after which value out all the assorted testing approaches. Some are free, others will value cash. Within the subsequent part, we offer recommendation on the place to begin if all these layers of testing received’t slot in your price range.

  1. Analysis Consumer Wants
    Make sure the questionnaire that you just use to display potential analysis members asks about assistive know-how use. This may make it straightforward to combine individuals with disabilities into your present analysis course of at no additional value. When you don’t have luck discovering members this manner, attempt reaching out to incapacity organizations.

    It’s also possible to modify your present consumer personas to incorporate customers with disabilities. You’ll be able to borrow elements of user profiles from Gov.UK if it’s good to do that rapidly and cheaply. If in case you have the price range for it, add individuals with disabilities into prototype and design evaluations. This can be best to do should you interact a vendor that gives any such service, therefore the necessity for a price range. Alternatively, you possibly can pay members straight.

  2. Refine Your Course of
    Encourage builders, designers, and content material authors to incorporate accessibility checks as a part of their course of. Listed here are methods to try this utilizing free automated testing instruments:

    • Obtain free browser extensions/plug-ins to do web page particular testing for design evaluations (WAVE or Accessibility Insights)
    • When you use steady integration testing as a part of the construct pipeline for builders, be sure you are evaluating accessibility (there are free open-source instruments for this like Axe Core and Pa11y)
    • Give content material authors instruments within the WYSIWYG interface to determine limitations that they’ve added (HTML Code Sniffer)
    • Guarantee you’re crawling your web site commonly to catch accessibility points. If potential, run crawlers in each staging and manufacturing environments (Purple Hats is a free open supply possibility)
  3. Guide QA
    You don’t have so as to add additional individuals to do QA, simply combine it into your present course of. When you solely do one factor, then cease utilizing the mouse throughout your common QA. You’ll catch accessibility bugs together with different useful bugs. If you wish to do extra, take a look at with display readers, and magnifiers too.

    Listed here are varied methods you are able to do handbook accessibility QA with out buying any instruments:

    • Are you able to entry your web site with out your mouse? Use easy keyboard-only handbook testing to guage new parts and content material.
    • Browse your web site with magnification set to 200% or larger utilizing the built-in magnification instruments in your browser (Ctrl + +).
    • Flip your browser or OS to darkish mode and see in case your web site works effectively for individuals with mild sensitivity.
    • Carry out sprint-level testing with builders and designers utilizing assistive know-how (VoiceOver, Microsoft Narrator, and NVDA are free choices).
  4. Consumer Testing
    In massive company environments with a devoted price range for accessibility, you possibly can pay assistive know-how customers to check performance in your staging surroundings earlier than launch.

    Nothing offers you larger certainty that your product will work for individuals with disabilities than validating with customers. Not even an ideal WCAG compliance rating can provide you that assurance the way in which an actual particular person utilizing the product can.

    Folks with disabilities are sometimes requested to do work without cost, which is problematic as many with disabilities are already at an financial drawback. When you’re engaged on a private undertaking and there’s no price range, have a look at your community and see if there are individuals who could be desirous about serving to in change for an equal favor.

  5. Specialist Overview
    In case your group has an accessibility group, have them do Consumer Acceptance Testing pre-release. That is the place you may get detailed suggestions on WCAG compliance that you could have missed in earlier steps.

    Consider it as a ultimate verify; your accessibility group isn’t doing the entire work on accessibility, everybody has a job to play. Accessibility groups are best after they set requirements, present coaching, give steerage and consider compliance. They help accessibility efforts however aren’t the one ones doing accessibility work. That manner nobody particular person or group turns into a bottleneck.

    When you don’t have a group, you possibly can rent accessibility professionals to do the evaluations previous to launch.

The place To Begin

Begin the place you’re. The objective isn’t perfection, however ongoing enchancment. Implementing all layers directly doesn’t must be the objective. Moderately, it’s about beginning with one or two layers after which progressively including extra layers as your group will get higher at accessibility testing. A small slice of cake is healthier than no cake.


  • If you’re new to accessibility, begin by including a free browser extension to seek out accessibility points and begin by studying easy methods to repair the errors which can be displayed. WebAIM’s WAVE Toolbar is nice for this.
  • Begin sharing accessibility info that you’ve discovered helpful. This may very well be simply on Twitter or Reddit, however you might additionally begin a e-newsletter to assist increase consciousness.
  • Join webinars or occasions centered on accessibility in an effort to study extra.


  • A group with a robust user-centered design strategy may need to begin with layer one: interviewing individuals with disabilities as a part of consumer analysis.
  • A group with a robust IT compliance course of may spend money on tighter integration of automated testing of their steady integration course of or a site-wide crawler first.
  • Discover methods to include accessibility earlier within the design/improvement course of.


  • Be sure you have significant accessibility statements which mirror your group’s dedication to take away limitations to individuals with disabilities.
  • Construct a champions community that enables a neighborhood of follow to develop and study from one another.

Limitations Of Automated Instruments

Each baker must have an arsenal of instruments they’ll depend on. There are proprietary accessibility instruments price contemplating, however there are additionally wonderful open-source instruments together with those we talked about within the “recipe” above which can be out there without cost.

In trendy dynamic websites, you will need to use automated instruments to catch accessibility errors early earlier than they’re revealed to the stay web site. It’s additionally vital to crawl the location to see that every one the pages nonetheless comply after they’ve been revealed and repeatedly up to date.

The problem is that designers and builders usually assume that if the checks don’t report any errors, a web site is nice. If you give individuals a take a look at, individuals have a tendency to jot down in direction of it. Sadly, many designers and builders cease after they eradicate the errors that they see with WAVE or Axe.

To be clear, it’s a small fraction of groups that even do that, but when we need to make websites which can be perceivable, operable, and comprehensible for extra individuals utilizing various kinds of know-how, we’ve got to do higher.

Automated instruments are nice however restricted. Even one of the best out there automated instruments solely catch about 30 to 40% of WCAG compliance accessibility errors. An automatic device can inform you if a picture is lacking another description, however what it might’t inform you is that if the outline is fully inaccurate or used within the incorrect context and subsequently ineffective. That also requires an individual to guage.

To get previous these limits, it’s vital to acknowledge that accessibility doesn’t robotically imply usability for individuals with disabilities. Consider accessibility because the lowest bar; it really works with assistive know-how, however to transcend “it really works” to “it’s pleasing and straightforward to make use of” you’ll want to check with actual customers.

Many organizations already do usability testing, however most don’t embrace individuals with disabilities. When you’re having hassle recruiting extra various members, take into account working with a company that has a neighborhood of assistive know-how customers and a platform to make testing fast and straightforward.

Let’s Get Baking!

Use a layered accessibility testing strategy when you find yourself working to construct an inclusive web site. Don’t depend on only one kind of testing to seek out limitations for individuals with disabilities.

  • Take a look at your concepts with assistive know-how customers early within the course of
  • Combine common automated code checks into the method of constructing the location
  • Do handbook testing utilizing assistive know-how as a part of QA
  • Take a look at with individuals with disabilities previous to launch
  • Carry out complete accessibility evaluations on staging
A colorful layered cake with five colors from top to bottom: red, orange, yellow, blue and purple - covered in white and red frosting
A layered strategy to testing your web site for accessibility improves the usability of your web site and must be baked into your course of as early as potential. (Picture credit score: topntp26)

Keep in mind the objective isn’t to attain excessive in a testing device, and even to satisfy a WCAG guideline, however moderately to make your content material extra broadly out there, together with to assistive know-how customers.

In the end, accessibility statements are the icing on the cake. Embody an accessibility statement with contact info in your web site to supply a suggestions loop. Your customers are the consultants and everybody must be a part of making a web site higher over time.

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