What is web accessibility testing?
Accessibility is not about disability, it’s about inclusivity. Around the world, many countries adopted W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). It’s the standard against which web accessibility is measured and tested.
The United States, Canada, the UK, and Europe have all adopted WCAG in one form or another. The latest standards are known as WCAG 2.2, but the laws mostly apply to WCAG 2.1 and, in some areas, the older WCAG 2.0.
In the United States, accessibility laws applied to public and privately-funded websites. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act mandate that organizations make their websites accessible.
There are also regional and State laws with subtle differences and amendments included.
In Europe, the EU Web Accessibility Directive applies to publicly-funded organizations. In the future (around 2025), private sector organizations will be covered.
Automated web accessibility testing helps you measure your website against the WCAG standards. You can test many thousands of pages and get reports on accessibility failures. You can learn how to fix them. Combine automated and manual testing for full coverage (we’ll discuss this later).
What does automated web accessibility testing do?
There are many areas to consider in a website, from navigation to forms, to typography, and more. Each has its own potential problems. With many contributors to your website, errors will likely creep in. Accessibility isn’t something that the majority of content creators know of (yet).
Automated web accessibility testing helps you find problems with each of these areas. It identifies issues and gives explanations about why they cause problems for people. Your content team can actually learn about accessibility as they go. This helps to prevent future errors.
You can use accessibility testing to uncover issues in the following areas:
Page and heading structure
- Presence of an h1 tag on every page
- Correct ordering of headings (h1, h2, h3 etc)
- Ensure menus are skippable
Typography and contrast
- Make sure the text is readable for people with low vision
- Ensure text has enough contrast against its background
- Don’t rely on only color to distinguish elements like links, underline them as well
Images and alt text
- Make sure screen readers skip decorative images
- Ensure images are correctly marked as decorative
- Ensure alt text reflects the image content
- Make sure people who do not use a mouse can navigate your website
Mobile device testing
- Makes sure pages only scroll in one dimension
- Allow zooming into web pages
Screen reader compatibility
- ARIA descriptions
- Skip to content links
Broken links and spelling
- Make sure all links work, both internal and external
- Check for spelling errors, including inside alt text
- Make sure forms are correctly labeled
- Ensure sufficient text contrast in form elements
- Makes sure that autocomplete is correctly implemented
- Show the correct input keyboard when using a mobile phone
This is a non-exhaustive list and covers the most common web accessibility problems. Accessibility is a complex, in-depth topic that cannot be covered in its entirety here.
How effective is automated web accessibility testing?
Let’s start by getting the elephant in the room out of the way. Automated accessibility testing alone will not make your website 100% accessible. Always combine automated testing with manual auditing. The reason for this is that some WCAG criteria are ambiguous.
For example, automated accessibility tests can tell you if alternative text exists, but what they can’t do is understand the context. If you display an image of a banana, but your alt text says, “apple”, a computer cannot determine its context and therefore, whether it passes or fails.
That said, a good platform will show you a list of all your alt text and allow you to manually review them quickly.
What automated accessibility testing can do for you is find a broad range of issues quickly, across many thousands of web pages. It’s scalable, saves you time and money, and helps you find obvious accessibility issues before your users do.
Automated testing allows for consistency, makes your team more efficient, and allows you to report on progress toward your accessibility goals.
Interesting in reading more? Our article “How do I know when my website is accessible” gives further guidance.
Who benefits from automated accessibility testing?
Everyone! In the US, public and private sector organizations must make sure their websites are accessible. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), these organizations are at risk of litigation and high costs of remediation. High-profile lawsuits from companies like Domino’s, Target, Netflix, and Harvard have resulted in millions of dollars in damages.
In Europe, public sector websites are also subject to accessibility legislation, the EU Web Accessibility Directive. Private sector sites will follow in a couple of years, so we might start seeing high-profile lawsuits in that region as well.
But it’s not just businesses and large organizations who benefit. Their website visitors stand to gain the most from better accessibility. People with disabilities may rely on technology including screen readers or keyboard navigation to browse a website. If you haven’t built it with accessibility in mind, you’re excluding a percentage of web visitors.
There are other benefits. Accessibility testing platforms tend to include other checks for problems with spelling, grammar, user experience, and mobile device compatibility. By incorporating automated accessibility testing into your workflow, you can improve every aspect of your website.
Automated accessibility testing helps you find a range of accessibility issues across your entire website, quickly. You can monitor thousands of pages at once and fix issues as they occur, or even before you publish them.
How can Silktide help you test your web accessibility?
Silktide works by helping you find and fix web accessibility issues across your websites in the code, design, and content.
Because it’s automated, it helps you:
- Find accessibility problems at scale
- Check for ongoing changes to your websites
We recommend manual testing to find specific instances that cannot be automated. This includes, for example, describing the contents of images in the alt text. But manual testing is usually only an expensive, infrequent ad-hoc process.
Silktide monitors your website by testing pages all the time. Your content team can test pages before they’re published. This avoids any accessibility failures before your customers experience them.
The main ways that Silktide’s automated web accessibility testing platform helps include:
- Silktide explains every issue, so your team members don’t need to be experts
- Many thousands of pages can be tested
- Silktide costs less than an in-house or external accessibility contractor
- Accessibility problems are found before pages are published
- Designers get taught about accessibility considerations, like font sizes, styles, and color contrast
- Developers can improve accessibility knowledge through training material and code examples
- Content editors gain an understanding of key concepts like readability, alt text, and heading order
- Measure progress over time, which isn’t possible with free single-page accessibility scanners
- More issues are found with Silktide than with other platforms because of how our technology works
- Silktide tests against the latest WCAG standards
- Finding issues with a single root cause that affects multiple pages
- Silktide automatically prioritizes the accessibility issues with the highest impact
Web accessibility testing takeaways
Silktide’s automated web accessibility testing platform helps you:
- Find accessibility issues across thousands of pages
- Explains how to fix the issues
- Provides training to web team members to prevent future issues