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    How to Test the Accessibility of a Website

    by UsableNet

    When addressing accessibility in your websites, apps, and other digital content, it is paramount that you follow established best practices in order to ensure your digital properties are fully inclusive for the one in four Americans who have disabilities

    Often, companies default to addressing website accessibility solely through the lens of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). However, although meeting those standards is crucial to reduce litigation risk, many accessibility and usability issues can be easily missed without a holistic plan for how to test the accessibility of a website.

    Here’s a five-step guide explaining how to test your website’s accessibility:

    1. Define the Scope of Testing

    The first step to properly testing the accessibility of a website is to define and understand the scope of your testing. You must know the regulations and how they apply to your business, and understand the general and industry-specific criteria to follow.

    Know the Regulations

    Between WCAG, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act—not to mention other industry-specific laws that govern web accessibility—there are plenty of ways that your organization might be compelled to make your web content accessible. Knowing which laws apply to your business is an important first step, because each law is prescribed and enforced differently.

    Understand the Criteria

    In addition to legal standards, understanding how the four major WCAG success criteria apply to your business and your website is also important. According to the guidelines, information on websites must be: 

    • Perceivable
    • Operable
    • Understandable
    • Robust 

    How you test your website for accessibility using these POUR criteria may differ depending on your industry, as well as the type of content and user journeys on your website.

    → Want to learn more about how to test web and app accessibility? Download our ultimate guide.


    2. How to Test: The User Comes First

    Once you’ve identified which laws you need to comply with and how you can fulfill the POUR principles of accessibility for your website or app, the next step is to plan out your testing process. The single most important thing you can do at this stage is put yourself in the shoes of users with a wide array of disabilities. 

    Run Multiple, Diverse Test Cycles

    For a truly comprehensive testing process, you will need to run several test cycles through each crucial user journey. Steps to achieve this include:

    1. Navigating using a screen reader
    2. Turning off images and seeing if you can make your way through the content
    3. Checking that captions accurately describe the images
    4. Turning off the cascading style sheet (CSS)
    5. Navigating with “no sound” (speakers and microphone off)
    6. Navigating with no mouse, using only the keyboard 
    7. Zooming out


    Test with Real Users

    Testing the accessibility of your website with real end users who have disabilities is critical. You should first establish a group of users from the disability community to participate in testing your website. UsableNet can help set up and run user testing on your site; UsableNet AQA can be used to set up user testing tasks and provides a fully accessible way for assistive users to give feedback to you and your team. Regardless of how you recruit users for testing, be sure to provide them with a way to give direct and honest feedback. And take their opinions and ideas seriously. 

    Be Inclusive of All Disabilities

    Although often overlooked, including users representing different types of disabilities is important. The way someone who cannot move their arms uses your website differs from the way someone who can’t see well or has difficulty hearing interacts with it. The default is to test users of switch devices or users who are blind, but that is just a fraction of overall accessibility barriers that need to be checked.

    3. Make Sure to Test for Accessibility and Usability (There’s a Difference)

    It’s important to understand the difference between usability and accessibility and why you should be looking at both. Usability refers to how easy things are to use (i.e., can a wide variety of users achieve end goals within your digital environments?). 

    Accessibility, on the other hand, is more of a checklist of technical criteria that must be met through proper coding so that your website supports different assistive technologies. Both factors should be tested separately; together, the results give you a broad overview of what needs fixing.

    4. Keep It Simple

    One of the most common mistakes in accessibility and usability testing is when companies get too ambitious with testing. Fully testing every flow and page within your website is generally not feasible. Although it might be tempting to task your testers with reviewing your entire site, try to focus on a few key areas instead. For example, an e-commerce site might focus on the checkout process for shoppers who use screen-reading software. Also, make sure the scope has a time limit, so testers don’t get tired or frustrated.

    5. Just Do It!

    When testing your website for accessibility, the hardest part is starting. It’s easy for testing to become frustrating or overwhelming, so try to keep the process fun and casual. When presenting your participants with tasks, use real-world situations and storytelling to make the experience more fun, realistic, and less like a test that needs to be passed. Involving the disability community will allow you to capture real examples of how users engage with your site; making this a part of your overall process will ensure ongoing accessibility and usability for this important group of users. 

    Get Started with Web Accessibility Testing Today

    If you’re ready to test accessibility on your website, contact us for a free consultation. UsableNet can help your organization design, plan, and execute accessibility and usability testing goals. With more than 20 years of accessibility expertise and broad experience across industries and businesses of all sizes, we have the right plan for you.

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