What is Manual Website Accessibility Testing? (And Why It’s Important)

By UsableNet on Feb 2, 2023
Topics: QA Testing, Accessibility Testing


At UsableNet, we speak with a lot of companies that believe in accessibility but struggle to understand what’s required, how to test, and how to scale. This blog explains the different types of accessibility testing, why manual testing is more than just a best practice (spoiler: it’s an absolute must when evaluating your site for accessibility), and how to get the most out of manual testing.

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What Is Manual Accessibility Testing?

Manual accessibility testing is the process of inspecting your website or application by hand to check for accessibility issues that may cause a problem for users with disabilities. This type of testing is critical for catching issues that may not be caught by an automated test. Examples of manual testing include:

  • Testing your app or website with a screen reader to make sure content is coherent when read aloud
  • Turning off speakers and microphones to make sure the website experience is the same with or without sound
  • Navigating a website or app with only a keyboard to ensure all content is accessible and that a skip navigation link exists

Seventy percent of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) success criteria require human review in order to properly interpret criteria and navigate gray areas outside of technology’s purview. For example, to be accessible, an image must have alternative text that is meaningful, but the mere presence of alternative text doesn’t guarantee that it is meaningful. A human must look at the picture and the accompanying text to determine whether or not the text accurately describes the image.

Other Types of Accessibility Testing

It’s important to know the differences between manual testing, automated testing, and user testing because each method catches different types of accessibility issues. Let’s take a look at how automated and user testing work.

Automated Testing

Automated tools and software can test websites for accessibility, and they come with varying benefits and features. However, these solutions can determine pass or fail for only about 30 percent of WCAG success criteria.

For companies that want to improve web accessibility, it may be tempting to use automated testing tools alone. These tools can be helpful for initial risk assessment. 

UsableNet's web accessibility testing software, AQA, saves customers time finding and fixing accessibility problems. Run a free test here.

But automated testing can only get you so far, 80 percent of WCAG success criteria need some manual review and verification. For example, when using automated and manual testing in the physical world, automated tools can check that you have the streets labeled at an intersection, but manual testing ensures those street names are correct. 

User Testing

The point of making a site accessible is to ensure that it’s usable for people who have disabilities. In addition to meeting WCAG, make sure the site actually works for people who use assistive technology, such as screen readers.

When you involve people with disabilities in your testing process, it helps your company and employees build empathy and understanding for the people who use your site and the challenges that they’re experiencing. You may have people who use assistive technology inside your company, or you may be able to find people through nonprofits in your community. If you’re not sure where to start, look for digital accessibility companies that offer testing services.

As discussed with UsableNet Chief Innovation Strategist Jason Taylor in “A Future Date” virtual conference, there has been an increased need for user testing in recent years due to:

  • The heightened focus on making user experience (UX) inclusive for all
  • The record-breaking number of accessibility lawsuits in 2018 and 2019
  • Numerous DOJ settlements over the past several years

Learn the best practices of user-testing in our webinar "How to set up user testing as part of accessibility program"

Going beyond automated testing to make sure people with disabilities can actually use your apps and websites before you push them live is vital for avoiding costly legal issues and alienating your audience.

Download Now: 2023 Midyear report on ADA digital accessibility lawsuits

The Elements of Manual Accessibility Testing

In WCAG 2.0 AA, 34 of the 38 success criteria need to be manually reviewed by a human. WCAG 2.1 AA increased the need to conduct manual accessibility tests by adding 12 new success criteria that all need to be tested by humans and cannot be tested by automation. WCAG 2.2, which is coming soon, is expected to take this even further.

When conducting manual testing, you’ll need to review keyboard-only navigation, including:

  • Tabbing between sections of a webpage to make sure they can be found without a mouse
  • Testing all menus with the keyboard to ensure none are skipped over
  • Checking for skip links at the top of the page that allow users to jump directly to each page’s vital content
  • Verifying that links and form fields are highlighted when using keyboard commands

Checking your website and app with a screen reader helps you test how your website sounds when read aloud. Screen readers are assistive tools that help people with reduced vision navigate a website. Manual testing should involve making sure a screen reader announces everything a user needs to know to navigate the site or app accurately including:

  • Menu navigation
  • Color adjustments
  • Link destinations
  • Page titles

Manual Testing Delivers the Feedback You Need

Your website should be usable for people of all abilities. As advanced as software is, there are still plenty of situations where an algorithm can’t recognize the nuances of website accessibility or usability. Because of this, manual testing is mandatory; it will provide the most detailed feedback about your website’s accessibility.

WCAG 2.1 Level AA accessibility standards lay out measurable requirements to test your site’s impact accessibility, but manual testing ensures all customers receive the same quality of experience when visiting your site.

As recommended by the WCAG, start your accessibility efforts with the pages and user journeys on your website that are most frequented by your customers and site visitors. Testing this sample of pages ensures that the evaluation results accurately reflect the site’s overall accessibility. To get started, review your most commonly used templates and top-visited pages, and then scale your efforts from there.

Ultimately, the end goal of accessibility testing is to identify barriers that need to be removed so that all people—regardless of ability—can perform the same functions on the web.

Bring Your Site to a New Level of Accessibility

Websites today are complex and evolving organisms for businesses of all sizes. The combination of automated testing, manual review, and user testing will give you the insight needed to bring your site to a new level of accessibility and increase your engagement with audiences that rely on assistive technology. Want to make your content accessible to everyone? 



Founded in 2000, UsableNet created some of the first tools and platforms to make websites accessible and usable for all people. Starting out, we worked with government agencies as well as universities and corporations. Today, accessibility has become important to almost all companies. We provide accessibility solutions to Fortune 1000 companies, small and medium enterprises, government, and education organizations across industries including retail, travel, hospitality, food services, automotive, financial services, and healthcare.

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