Introduction to Web Accessibility Testing

Web accessibility is the practice of building websites, web applications, or mobile applications with the intent to meet the needs of people with disabilities. Testing is a core pillar of any software development process, and it’s no different with accessibility. For teams that are building these inclusive applications, it’s important to test for accessibility issues while the application is in development, as well as when it’s in production and being used by customers.

The Growing Importance of Inclusion with Web Accessibility

The idea of creating inclusive web applications emerged over two decades ago when Web inventor and Director Tim Berners-Lee started the W3 Community and subsequently published guidelines - Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 - on how to make web content more accessible to persons with disabilities. The document includes 14 web design best practices that make it easier for users to navigate and read web content.

Since then, the community has released updated standards 2.0 and 2.1 as accessibility needs have evolved. Even more significantly, as of January 2018, all federal agencies and contractors in the United States are now required by law to comply with WCAG 2.0 A/AA. The government has also published numerous resources for private businesses on how they can ensure their websites are accessible and maintain compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Private companies are also increasingly being held accountable for their compliance with ADA regulations. For example, in April 2022, CVS reached a settlement with the US Department of Justice to update its website to conform with WCAG guidelines. The deal was part of a federal initiative to ensure users with disabilities had equal access to COVID-19 vaccinations through the CVS website, one of several similar settlements made with other national pharmacies like Rite Aid Corp, Hy-Vee Inc, The Kroger Co and Meijer Inc.

Companies and organizations are being held to a higher accessibility standard than ever before. Especially when it comes to consumer brands, meeting web accessibility standards is critical to creating an inclusive brand experience and avoiding the risk of legal repercussions and negative brand attention.

Embedding Accessibility Testing into Web App Development

While web accessibility is a movement that started decades ago, it wasn’t until recently with regulatory changes and subsequent lawsuits that a focus on making web applications more inclusive came to the forefront. While many teams have had methods of validating accessibility, testing and accessibility checks usually occur in production - when the application is already being actively used by customers. This reactive model exposes brands to the risk of customer complaints, federal scrutiny, and lawsuits.

While inclusivity is a high priority for a wide range of brands, those in consumer-centric industries are encountering stronger demand for more accessible web applications. Creating high-quality digital experiences has been an ongoing priority for many companies - especially for those that deliver ecommerce, financial services, and healthcare applications - and accessibility is a rapidly growing concern that directly impacts the customer experience; resulting in higher demand for running accessibility tests earlier in development.

Today’s web development teams are building accessibility tests into the development pipeline to check for accessibility issues well before they reach customers. Accessibility testing is often a manual process where individuals will validate that the application meets acceptable standards. However, a growing number of software teams are choosing to embed automated accessibility testing into their existing end-to-end testing strategy to proactively mitigate issues in development, avoid costly mistakes and save time on the rote tasks that come with a manual approach.

Automated Accessibility Testing

There are many facets to validating accessibility of a web application. Accessibility is usually evaluated through a comprehensive manual audit, whereas automated accessibility testing is intended to help execute a subset of the overall evaluation. Automated accessibility testing is most relevant for teams who are looking to continuously verify adherence to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) - versions 2.0 and 2.1.

As web application updates are being developed, code changes and integrations can be automatically tested before releasing updates into production. Many accessibility tests can be automatically executed alongside functional UI, API, email and PDF testing as an independent initiative or part of a larger end-to-end-testing strategy. By embedding automated accessibility tests into the development pipeline, software teams can ensure a good UX, avoid customer-facing accessibility issues, and reduce the number of issues being added to an already full product backlog.

There are many ways software teams have tackled accessibility testing, whether they’ve taken a manual approach, a scripted approach, or implemented an automation tool for executing the tests. With the adoption of DevOps and CI/CD practices, software development has accelerated rapidly, driving the need for more teams to think differently about their testing strategy. To keep up with the pace of code releases, testing has become more automated, but now teams also need to account for accessibility checks with the same first-class priority as functional UI, API, or any other tests that ensure the quality of an application.

Benefits of mabl’s Low-code Test Automation Software for Accessibility

Mabl’s low-code test automation platform gives users the ability to easily build, run, and manage automated accessibility checks as part of their overall end-to-end testing strategy. Quality professionals can easily embed accessibility checks earlier in the development pipeline, preventing accessibility issues from reaching production and their customers.

The mabl accessibility solution is powered by axe-core, a well-established engine for accessibility testing. Users can implement accessibility tests at any point in their development pipeline, and use mabl to gain actionable reports that make it easier than ever to continuously verify adherence to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) - versions 2.0 and 2.1.

To see how you can run accessibility tests with mabl, sign up for the free trial today.