It is still a bit of a minefield when it comes to accessibility testing, how do we ensure good value and that we are getting the right advice and support?
Types of accessibility testing
This generally falls into three categories, automated tests, manual tests and user tests.
Automated accessibility tests
These are computer based tests that can scan your web pages a little like the way search engines scan pages. These start from free online tests to corporate software systems costing thousands a year. They can not do a full WCAG2.0 test at a level that will ensure an accessible and usable experience for everyone. They can have a benefit over manual tests in that they are faster and less susceptible to human error. However, automated systems can be tricked and depending on the level and complexity of the test, may give false results.
Manual accessibility testing
These require a methodical approach and a high level of technical knowledge from the tester and can take considerable time for large and complex websites. They do have the advantage over automated testing in that it is harder to full a human test compared to computer tests. They are most cost effective when used on new website designs or for new features of existing sites. As it can reduce the need for re-working or re-building entire sections of code and infostructure. However, it is susceptible to human error and may include individual opinions.
User accessibility testing
This type of testing can give you the most valuable information regarding user experience but will depend on the way testing is managed and monitored. For best results it will need to take into account the nature of your website service, the target audience and a number of people testing with different assistive technology.
How often should accessibility testing be done
This will depend on factors like: how often is your site content updated, how many people manage content, the type of content used and what process you have in place for supporting your website visitors. It will also rely on the accessibility awareness of the people producing your web content.
It should be checked at least once a year for relatively static sites and at least quarterly for more frequent updates. For sites with daily updates and frequent new feature updates, it should be incorporated into your project flow as part of the QA (quality assurance) process.
What value is there in accessibility testing conformance badges
Personally I feel there is little to no value a part from showing what accessibility testing service you use and perhaps to indicate that you may have an accessibility budget. They only verify that you had a specific accessibility testing process carried out by a particular provider at a given time. It does not prove anything, as you may of broke accessibility guidelines the day after having the badge awarded.
However, if it is a recognised or required badge within your specific organisation, then it may have some credence. The W3C WCAG badges are self awarded and again give no proof of accessibility testing ever been done.
Can I do accessibility testing myself
Yes, although the level of accessibility and quality of testing results will greatly depend on your personal knowledge and experience across all areas of accessibility. This will be particularly limited in the area of assistive technology as this is a vast specialist area and very difficult to emulate different accessibility requirements.
However, there are a few things you can do to help you gain some empathy with a few areas of accessibility. Things like unplug your mouse and just use the keyboard, install a screen reader like NVDA and take a little time to learn the controls before unplugging or switching off your monitor and just working with the screen reader, you can also unplug or switch off your speakers. The kind of things are very difficult to emulate include dyslexia, Braille displays, voice activation, specialist keyboard/pointer devices and cognitive related issues.
Accessibility testing is a specialist part of UCD (User Centric Design) that forms the bases for any good UX (User Experience) or UI (User Interface). It is about striking a balance between many different situations and people to give the best possible experience for everyone and should be a part of your web management process. It is not a one off process that you can just tick a box and forget, it is a on going journey just like marketing or customer relations.