Accessibility Testing for Beginners

Timothy Joseph
Timothy Joseph
| July 27, 2021
Listen to this article
Accessibility Testing for Beginners

Every business wants to expand the reach of their software application to as many users as possible. Yet, so many applications never reach their potential, simply because the design or implementation of the application didn’t keep every type of end-user in mind.

Is your testing strategy keeping your application from being accessible to all?

This guide explores everything you need to know about accessibility testing, including:

  • What is accessibility testing?
  • How to create effective test cases for accessibility, including accessibility testing examples
  • Types of accessibility testing essential for your application
  • Recommended accessibility testing tools for your tech stack

What is Accessibility Testing?

In software QA, accessibility testing is the practice of confirming that an application is usable for as many people as possible, including people with disabilities such as vision impairment, hearing problems and cognitive conditions.

By incorporating various types of accessibility testing into your QA practices, your team can ensure that all content within your web application is reachable to anyone without barriers. Testing teams often incorporate accessibility testing tools when performing these tests to ensure their applications are compatible with assistive technology, including speech recognition software, screen reader software, screen magnification software and special keyboards.

Before the Web Accessibility Initiative, testers guessed how to test for accessibility without any real guidance. Thanks to the WAI, QA teams now have accessibility testing examples and concrete guidelines to follow so that they can create the most effective accessibility test cases across development cycles.


Digital Accessibility Rules and Regulations

Accessibility testing isn’t just a nice-to-have best practice—it’s the law. The government is on the side of the people in ensuring that all technologies, including web-based and mobile applications, are accessible for all.

  • Americans with Disabilities Act Section III: This law enforces that all domains such as schools, organizations and public buildings are accessible to everyone, including web-based applications and technology.
  • Title II of ADA: This law enforces that all programs, services and activities provided by state and/or local governments are accessible to everyone, including web-based applications and technology.
  • Sections 504 and 508 of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973: Section 504 requires that reasonable accommodations be available for people with disabilities within the workplace, educational institutions and organizations. Section 508 establishes requirements to be met by these institutions so that technology is accessible for everyone.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG): These protocols provide accessibility testing examples and recommend types of accessibility testing so that development and QA teams can discover ways to improve application accessibility. WCAG recommends following these four main principles:

  • Perceivable: All users can comprehend all displayed information being depicted, including how to use the application’s user interface.
  • Operable: All users can navigate through all user interface components without issues or barriers.
  • Understandable: All users can understand all displayed information being presented, including how to navigate through the user interface of an application.
  • Robust: All users can reliably interpret content within an application through assistive technologies.

2021-2022 Software Development and QA Testing Report


What Should Accessibility Testing Address?

Knowing how to do accessibility testing starts by examining the types of disabilities that require enhanced support throughout your application. Your accessibility test cases should confirm that your product can provide a seamless experience for everyone, including those with the following disabilities:

  • Vision: Difficulty watching videos or reading text due to complete blindness, color blindness or vision impairment.
  • Hearing: Difficulty hearing verbal communication or digital media due to deafness or hearing impairment.
  • Mobility: Difficulty with physical movement, including using physical requirements of technology, such as a keyboard or mouse.
  • Cognitive: Difficulty remembering, concentrating or making decisions.

Types of Accessibility Testing

You can break down your approach on how to perform accessibility testing into two categories: manual testing and automated testing. Like many forms of QA testing, a strong accessibility testing strategy should apply both testing approaches for full testing coverage.

Here’s how best to apply both types of accessibility testing:

  • Manual Testing: QA testers should manually test any test case that requires physical interaction with the application and the usability of the user interface across potential barriers. Accessibility testing examples include manually reviewing keyboard accessibility, UI structural elements, style disablement, content scaling and text sizing. These types of tests can also rely on the assistance of accessibility testing tools to increase accuracy and efficiency during the testing process.
  • Automated Testing: QA teams can further expedite the process of testing for accessibility with automated testing tools designed to catch errors across hundreds of web pages. Automated testing is ideal for analyzing image contrasting, design styling and application functionality, which often can’t be manually tested.

Before we look into accessibility testing tools, let's spend some time learning about Section 508 Compliance Testing, and why it's important.

Section 508 is an important amendment that has been added to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that protects the rights of individuals with disabilities to have equal access to all electronic equipment and information technology.


What is 508 Compliance Testing?

This law sets standards that must be followed by federal agencies, as well as organizations, including educational institutions that receive federal funds via Assistive Technology Act. In fact, private companies and contractors providing services to federal agencies also fall under the purview of this law. Simply put, this policy aims to make mobile applications, electronics, software applications and websites accessible to individuals with disabilities.

Section 508 includes both hardware devices and software applications, operating systems and networks, websites, printers, downloadable apps and multimedia. If companies fail to remove barriers to  accessibility, then not only do they risk prosecution under federal law, but they also stand to lose potential clients and customers with disabilities.


Does Section 508 Compliance Apply to All of the Website’s Content

There is a lot of confusion surrounding the full scope of Section 508. While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that websites should be easily accessible, government regulations state that Section 508 is only applicable to federal institutions. However, there are other laws that do apply. For instance, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination on grounds of mental or physical disability by any federal agency or institute that receives federal funding. This applies to all physical facilities and communication channels, including websites.

The lack of clarity in law has resulted in ongoing litigations. The most famous of these is Robles vs Domino’s, where a blind man sued Domino’s Pizza over the lack of accessibility of their website. Although an affiliate court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, Domino’s is preparing to go to trial.

In short, it can be concluded that even if organizations do not directly fall under the federal law, they are not immune to lawsuits. Hence, it's better to test websites and all other channels of communication for accessibility.


Section 508 Compliance Testing Checklist

With an update to Section 508, organizations need to adhere to more universal standards that are widely used around the globe. Below is a brief 508 compliance testing checklist, along with explanations about why these attributes matter.

  1. Websites need to contain text equivalents of photos, logos, and anything that is non-textual. This is important for individuals with impaired vision, as it helps them to read and understand images that might not be easily seen. Generally, they use on screen readers like JAWS to read the content.
  2. Pages should not flicker more than three times per second. This will reduce the risk of triggering seizures in individuals who are prone to them.
  3. It must be possible to fill out online forms using just the keyboard or assistive technology. This feature will help people who do not have dexterity over hand movements to completely fill out online forms.
  4. There must be sufficient contrast between the background color and information on the web page. This will help people who do not have a clear vision navigate through the content on the website.
  5. Visitors should be able to skip logos and navigation links to get to the main content. This means that individuals with disabilities who cannot scroll can quickly navigate to the main part of the page. Similarly, it will be easy for individuals who use screen readers to quickly get to the most relevant part of the web page without having to manually scroll up or down.

Testing Methods for 508 Compliance

There are several ways to ensure that your hardware devices and software applications conform to 508 Compliance requirements:

  • Automated Tests: These are high volume automated testing tools that can easily scan and test all electronic content
  • Manual Tests: This type of test uses a repeatable, documented, consistent process
  • Hybrid Tests: This is a combination of both manual and automated testing methods

Benefits of 508 Compliance Testing

508 Compliance Testing has several benefits for organizations both big and small. Some of them are listed below:

  • Helps Serve a Wider Audience Base - Accessible content will help engage a much wider section of your target audience base, and thereby get more customers on board.
  • Decreases Legal Risks - Enterprises and organizations that actively pursue accessibility testing exercises are positioned better to address claims and avoid violations.
  • Helps Improve Search Engine Rankings - Transcripts of visual and audio files are discoverable by search engines, and hence including text supplements of all non-textual assets go a long way in improving search rankings.
  • Improves Overall User Experience - Studies have shown that changes made to a website’s UI/UX to incorporate methods of accessibility benefit everyone, even individuals without disabilities. Thus accessibility testing services improve the overall user experience of a website.

Accessibility Testing Tools

Because QA teams are required to run so many test cases during accessibility testing, they are unable to complete testing completely and accurately without the right toolset. Unlike many forms of QA testing, accessibility testing tools offer the ability to perform both manual testing and automated testing with software assistance.

When researching your options, we at QASource recommend checking out these testing tools designed specifically for accessibility testing:

  • Wave

    This free manual testing tool lets QA testers enter a webpage URL or apply Firefox and Chrome extensions to quickly identify accessibility issues including contrast errors, concerning structural elements, text size issues and accessible rich internet application (ARIA) challenges. Wave is designed to also evaluate the intranet and sensitive webpages, such as password protected links and dynamically generated content. Users have access to accessibility reporting and a toolbar that identifies components of a webpage provides access to alternate views of page content and connects third party online applications.

  • Tenon

    As an API-first tool, Tenon can easily integrate with third-party applications for running unit testing, acceptance testing, system testing and issue tracking. This automated accessibility testing tool offers fast remediation service for fixing any accessibility issues within your website or application during the testing process. Tenon is designed to evaluate web accessibility for WCAG 2.0 and Section 508 compliance.

  • Axe

    This free, open-source accessibility testing tool is supported through Chrome and Firefox extensions for analyzing accessibility issues within the content of your web-based application. Axe shows users the exact section of code that causes the accessibility issues as well as presents recommendations on how to fix the problem. These testing tools can show the severity of each discovered issue and analyzes all violations for WCAG 2.0 and Section 508 compliance found within your system.

  • JAWS

    Many QA teams consider this tool as the most popular screen reader for accessibility testing. JAWS—standing for Job Access With Speech—specializes in uncovering accessibility issues that impact users with vision impairment. This testing tool features two multi-lingual synthesizers and returns fast results through its skim reading tool. JAWS is compatible with braille keyboards and supports touchscreen testing on Windows as well as Microsoft Edge, Firefox and Microsoft Office.

  • Accessibility Valet

    This accessibility testing tool offers both a free and paid subscription service—as a free user, you can check one URL at a time while a paid user can test multiple URLs simultaneously. Accessibility Valet provides executive summaries for QA testers and project managers as well as in-depth reports for developers. This testing tool features automatic cleanup, HTML to XHTML conversion and scripting tools. Accessibility Valet allows users to check applications and webpages against WCAG and Section 508 compliance.

if your team requires more guidance on integrating accessibility testing services within your development cycle, choose to team up with a reliable QA service provider like QASource. Our team of testing experts specialize in both manual testing and automation testing with years of experience performing accessibility tests for applications across domains. We can help your team implement best practices for accessibility testing so that your application is always accessible for all. Get a free quote today.

New Call-to-action


This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be considered legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out of this information and encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.