Indeed, stepping into the shoes of end users can sound a bit risky when talking about accessibility, but not a single tester was harmed (permanently) in the writing of this blog. When approaching accessibility testing, one should have at least a basic idea of what challenges different people might have when using the service and why the European Web Accessibility Directive was even drafted in the first place.
Once a basic understanding of the different degrees of challenges with seeing, hearing, perceiving, reading and understanding begins to take shape, the next step is to delve into the four main principles of the Directive.
The main principles are geared toward solving these challenges:
In accessibility, the Directive focuses on examining the suitability of website content for various presentation methods, i.e. whether media content can be transcribed into text and text into speech as well as how accessible the essential service content is.
In perceivability, the focus is on the logical order and smooth transitions between different parts of a service or website. This is verified by, for example, going through the website content using only the keyboard.
In understandability, the focus is placed particularly on ensuring that the content production is clear, understandable and sufficiently concise.
In robustness, the focus is placed particularly on monitoring good practices with the technologies used as well as operating on different platforms.
Testing the service
But, how can we put ourselves, even partly, in the place of a person who has difficulties seeing, hearing, reading or even simply understanding? As with so many things, the answer can be found on Google. A simple search is all you need to find dozens or even hundreds of different tools to simulate or analyse accessibility.
Just pick the tools you feel are most effective for your tester tool kit and you'll be well on your way to testing accessibility. Although the tools are indeed handy for testing, as you prepare to test for accessibility you should understand that, at this point, there is no one automated tool that can determine whether your website or service meets the requirements laid out in the Accessibility Directive. Accessibility is always the way a person experiences and interprets something.
It is possible and even sensible to examine certain aspects of the service using only a tool. An example of this might be an analysis of contrast ratios. I am also sure that an even larger part of accessibility will be handled by automated tests as, for example, artificial intelligence evolves in the coming years, but let's stick to the present day for now.
What kind of manual work does testing require?
This question pops up every now and then when talking about the content of accessibility testing. In my own experience, I've found that roughly a fifth of the whole process goes to listing the analysis produced by testing tools and going over the results. The rest of the time is spent systematically going over the use of the website or service. Some good examples of manual website testing include navigating a website or service using only a keyboard, examining produced content and adopting good writing practices.
Each and every accessibility report submitted by Anders is based on a painstaking website analysis conducted by professionals. These will provide you with concrete and already prioritised suggestions on what measures to take to ensure that your website meets the requirements specified in the Accessibility Directive.
Which parts of a website or service are tested?
Example: An Anders accessibility report includes a comprehensive amount of testing, but the time available is always given to key areas of the web service in co-operation with the client.
A sufficient amount of time is reserved for examining the entire website content, particularly in smaller and medium-sized web services, but for truly massive services, an agreement can be made to focus on a specific area for testing or for a longer testing period.
However, the same findings are typically repeated on a website. For example, when it comes to findings related to contrast, it is typically enough for a content producer to present a comprehensive sampling of different situations where the contrast ratio of a service is insufficient.
Unfortunately, this blog does not represent a good example of accessibility as stated in the Accessibility Directive. Why? The answer to this is illustrated in the figure below, which demonstrates how a dyslexic person sees text content. This is also one of the reasons why sufficient accessibility cannot be provided with just a text version of a website or service.
Does my website have to be accessible?
Even though the Accessibility Directive will be gradually phased into effect beginning on 23 September 2019, accessibility guidelines have been in place since Finland's first Ice Hockey World Championship. The Directive itself is based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). This means that there are already excellent recommendation checklists available to help in building a clearly-defined structure for testing.
One of the best checklists that I personally use as a guide for accessibility testing is offered by WebAIM, which can be found here https://webaim.org/standards/wcag/checklist
However, few services or websites currently use accessibility as a guideline. Some of the more commonly used terms we come across include salesmanship, optimising exposure or even effectiveness. When a tester has given your website or service a good once-over, the results might be a good deal less than gratifying. There might even be hundreds of findings, leaving you with a distinct and rather unpleasant sinking feeling. But, there's no need to panic just yet, no matter how bad the results might seem.
However, you should keep in mind that, according to sources provided by the National Council on Disability VANE and other organisations for persons with disabilities, there are over a million Finns (i.e. roughly 20% of the Finnish population) that fall within the scope of web accessibility.
What do you get when ordering an accessibility analysis from Anders?
Naturally, we'll provide you with an estimate of your website's current status compared to the requirements given in the Accessibility Directive. And we'll also give you a preliminary estimate of what the correction of different areas would cost. Our experts prioritise the findings, thus allowing you to focus on making sensible decisions based on our report.
When you order an accessibility analysis from us, we'll assign you an expert who:
- has thoroughly familiarised themselves with the Accessibility Directive
- will train your personnel and content producers in accessibility
- will make the necessary changes
- will establish a multifaceted partnership as the developer and implementer of your service, also outside the scope of usability.