November 12 2018

Manual Testing for Website Accessibility

ADA Manual Testing Blog ImageMost of us now understand the importance of website ADA compliance. Ensuring website accessibility to all users – no matter their disability – is a priority for all website owners and businesses. And, if the “do the right thing” approach isn’t compelling enough for you, maybe the estimated 1,500 web accessibility lawsuits projected by the end of 2018 will convince you otherwise. Once you make ADA conformance a priority for your business, it’s important to understand how your site will be tested and kept conformant.

Adding Manual Testing Your ADA Scanning Process

In today’s world, we have software capable of driving cars, flying planes, and flipping burgers. We even have software that detects accessibility issues on websites. But while a software driven car is capable of driving you all the way home, software-driven accessibility testing won’t always get you where you need to be. Although, automated ADA testing software can raise many issues with accessibility, it still can’t do what a human can.

Real World Manual Testing Example

Since describing the minutiae and details of ADA code violations can put most people to sleep, let’s use a practical real-world example. In this case, review this picture of a crosswalk in Florida:

Accessibility fail image of handicapped ramp blocked by another ramp

What if software were used to decide if this crosswalk was accessible*? Could we expect that software would be able to be used by itself to make the decision? Sure, it would go through the list of items it knew to check and compare, much like a human with a checklist might, and either pass or fail based on predictable outcomes. The checklist might be something like this:

  • Curb cut at least 36” wide - Pass
  • Ramp with 1:12 slope ratio – Pass
  • Detectable warnings if required – Fail, no detectable warning
  • Level landings at top and bottom of ramp – Fail, gutter not level
  • Landings width and length at least 36” - Pass

*This list is for demonstration purposes only and should not be used to assess the accessibility of curb cuts and ramps.

Technically, the software would fail this curb cut. Mission accomplished, right? Not quite. If the planner were to reopen the plans for this intersection and add detectable warnings (the yellow, bumpy features) and remove the gutter, they would assume that all is well and that they would be accessible. But the detectable warnings are not required in this context; only a knowledgeable human could decide that. And, removing the gutter ditch would run afoul of other regulations, like environmental regulations and water drainage rules and may not be possible.
While your website is pretty different than a crosswalk, this concept applies perfectly to your website. In fact, if you are linking to or integrating your site with third-party vendors like Google Maps or calculators, they may not pass WCAG conformance guidelines but that doesn’t mean you are required to remove them.

If we consider an accurate test case of this scenario to be ‘successfully cross the street in a wheelchair’, we might fail the case at the curb cut, and would definitely fail it at the island. The bottom line? Automated tools have no nuance and are poor at completing test cases once they encounter a failure. Once the tools reached the island, they would continue on with other testing but wouldn’t go any further in this ‘cross the street’ test case.

What Manual Website Accessibility Testing May Catch

Manual website accessibility testing for ADA conformance is an essential follow up to automated testing. Device regression, CMS, and personalization tests all help meticulously spot barriers. Without these manual tests, automated testing may miss simple barriers like images with wrong alt attributes, blank link text, flashing content without a warning, and plain language that is not used in content.

Going back to our previous crosswalk example, manually testing this crosswalk would get to the first impediment, record it and carry on. Then it would get to the island, record that impediment and carry on. Why does this matter? Because there are more errors ahead that you can’t see from this side of the road.

Initial and Ongoing ADA Testing Services

If you are entirely relying on software for your website accessibility testing, or you don’t have an initial or ongoing testing procedure in place, let’s discuss your website ADA needs.

Disclaimer: This article has been prepared by ZAG Interactive to provide information of interest to our readers. It is not intended to provide legal advice. Please consult your own legal or compliance team for specific questions and concerns.
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ZAG Interactive is a full-service digital agency in Glastonbury, CT, offering website design, development, marketing and digital strategy to clients nationwide. See current job openings.
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