Testing for Accessibility

Websites are made of pages. These testing tools scan the code on these pages one at a time when you enter your URL. There are a few free services that offer to test your entire website, but that often gives too many results to process. Fine for a baseline. Start with about five pages that represent your site. A common set is home, Contact, Forms, Most Visited and pages critical to the process.

Accessibility is part of usability and should be part of usability testing. Moving forward include accessibility into each phase: design, build and test process.

Ridiculously Easy to Use Compliance Testing Tools

HTML Codesniffer — a “bookmarklet” for anyone. It works in all major web browsers and provides a detailed report of the error warnings and notices (items that may need to be reviewed by a human) indicating which parts of the code are causing red flags, and pointing to the relevant section of the WCAG or Section 508 spec and information on how to resolve the issue.

 Wave Toolbar extension for Chrome: Suited for those working with Dev tools. It overlays your page with icons that point out trouble spots. It also includes a report tab that gives details each element on the page that it highlights.


Additional tools can be found in this page's sidebar (below or to the right, depending on your screen width).


Automated and Manual Testing

There are two layers to testing a web page/site for accessibility compliance: automated testing and manual testing. You need a combination of both to get the whole picture. 

Automatic Testing

Automatic testing will give you a good start and help you to understand some of the basics. Most tools have suggestions for correcting, links to the criteria, and general guidelines. Even the better testing tools test less than 25% of the WCAG 2.0 AA guidelines. False positives are common and take time to weed out. The speed and convenience of Automatic Testing make it an integral part of testing. It is a good start but not a reliable evaluation of true accessibility. You may get slightly different results with different tools. Some tools do a better job of presenting the findings. It is a matter of preference. Also, the tools are improving rapidly keep checking to see what is new.

Manual Testing

Manual testing requires an understanding of the goals of the web page/site being tested and the full context of the content to judge the accessibility. For example, the accuracy of closed captioning can only be determined by someone who is familiar with the subject material. The difference between the caption reading “Richmond CA” and Richmond VA” is only two letters and seem like a very small percentage off, but the information given to the person dependent on captioning is not equal.

Use both Automated and Manual Testing Together

When you use automated testing, eliminate false positives and check manually the rest of the elements using a checklist developed specifically for your website page you will get a clearer picture of its accessibility. Many things you should be able to fix on the spot. For example adding alt text to images is a simple fix.

WCAG 2.0 Checklists

The WCAG 2.0 Guidelines Level A and AA list more than 50 Success Criteria. Maintaining a checklist of satisfied criteria will help you manage your accessibility review process. The lists include short descriptions of each Success Criteria and several include links to reference documentation. 

Having a checklist will get you started, but best to customize any list to cover what you are testing and only what you need makes the process a bit more manageable.

Test Early, Test Often

These simple tools will go a long way in teaching you about accessibility. Checking and ensuring accessibility is for every stage, but is most cost effective in development.

A reiterative approach to testing and correcting can give you balance. Trying to test and fix all at once is not practical. The biggest misconception is that Accessibility is applied – it is an integral part of the creation.