Artem Skolota - The Test Tribe

Author: Artem Skolota

Hey there, I am Artem, and I have been working in quality assurance for over ten years. It all began back in 2014 when I started as a manual tester. I wanted to find better ways to improve how things worked and make sure our products were top-notch, so I moved into test automation. As I got more into it, I became really interested in how to make sure our projects were set up for success right from the start. That’s why I started focusing on quality engineering, where I learned how to build strong systems to keep everything running smoothly. Now, I am lucky enough to be a Technology Manager, where I help my team grow and make sure our projects are successful. I work on both the technical side of backend and the frontend, making sure everything works well for our customers. I have also got certifications in ISTQB for Foundation level and Advanced Test Automation Engineer. I’m really passionate about what I do, and I am always looking for new ways to make things better in the ever-changing world of technology.
Accessibility Testing: Where do we start?

My first attempt to understand accessibility and how to test it started back in 2016. I was working for a company where accessibility was already an important part of the process. I was asked to perform accessibility testing on the product to determine whether we could claim to be accessible.

Since it was a new subject for me, I was quite confused. Where should I start? Should I be certified to provide a proper assessment? Do I need to request assessments from third-party companies? Is there guidance on how to perform accessibility testing?

These questions, and many more, were floating around in my head. So, I decided to write this article to share my personal experience and, hopefully, help other engineers find their way in accessibility testing. In this article, I will not mention what accessibility is or what types of disabilities exist. Instead, I will focus on practical testing tips for accessibility.

Do I Need to be Trained to Perform Accessibility Testing?

Short answer – yes. Long answer – yes, and it will take some time for you to gain the required experience, practice, and possibly certifications (if you want to obtain one). What if you do not have time or your deadlines are very tight, but you need to understand the basics of accessibility in your project right now?

First, you need to learn the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Although they were created for the web, the rules were adapted and applied in most cases to mobile apps as well. You can read more about them here

After you become familiar with the most important principles of Accessibility and know the most common violations, you can use automated or semi-automated tools that you can integrate into your project pipelines or use them manually. Examples: axe, Wave, or Lighthouse. These three can already be used to perform an initial check on your web pages. Some can even be integrated into your pipelines and alert you about basic (and most common) accessibility violations before you even merge the code. I’m sure you can find more accessibility tools if you search, but even these should be sufficient for the first time.

Please note that even if you fix all the problems they find, it does not mean that your web page is 100% accessible now. However, it will definitely make your product more accessible, perhaps even possible to use with different assistive technologies.

What does assistive technology mean?

Assistive technologies are tools or devices designed to help people with disabilities interact with technology and perform tasks more efficiently. These technologies are crucial for promoting accessibility and inclusivity in various digital environments. Here are some common types of assistive technologies used for accessibility:

Screen Readers: Screen readers are software programs that convert digital text into synthesized speech or braille output. They enable individuals with visual impairments to access and navigate digital content, such as websites, documents, and applications.

Screen Magnifiers: Screen magnification software enlarges on-screen content, making it easier for users with low vision to read text, view images, and navigate graphical interfaces. Users can adjust the level of magnification to suit their preferences.

Alternative Keyboards: Alternative keyboards include specialized keyboards with larger keys, ergonomic designs, or customizable layouts to accommodate users with physical disabilities or mobility impairments. They may also feature input methods such as voice recognition or head tracking.

Switch Access Devices: Switch access devices enable users to interact with computers or mobile devices using switches or buttons instead of traditional input methods like keyboards or touchscreens. Switches can be activated through various means, such as hand movements, foot pedals, or sip-and-puff devices.

Braille Displays: Braille displays are tactile devices that convert digital text into braille output, allowing blind or visually impaired users to read content displayed on computer screens or mobile devices through touch.

Voice Recognition Software: Voice recognition or speech-to-text software enables users to control computers, dictate text, and execute commands using spoken language. This technology benefits individuals with mobility impairments, repetitive strain injuries, or conditions that affect typing ability.

Captioning and Transcription Services: Captioning and transcription services provide text-based equivalents for audio content, such as videos or live presentations, to support users who are deaf or hard of hearing. Captions convey spoken dialogue, sound effects, and other auditory information in a visual format.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Devices: AAC devices help individuals with communication impairments express themselves using symbols, pictures, or text-to-speech output. These devices range from simple picture boards to sophisticated electronic communication aids.

What Assistive Technologies Can Enhance Our Product, and Who Are Our Target Audiences?

The next question you should ask yourself is: what kind of assistive technology may our product use, and what kind of audiences do we have?

It is a fundamental question because some web pages will have videos and motions, while others will not. Some will contain an interactive interface, while others will be just pages with a lot of text and information. The assistive technology can also differ depending on the product and the devices users will use to interact with it.

An important note: if you are using a screen reader to check how accessible your product (mobile app or web app) is, you need to consider that screen readers are very different in each environment. For example, Apple users on mobile most likely use VoiceOver, while Android users will use TalkBack. Those are different screen readers. The same is true for Web apps: we have VoiceOver (for Apple products) but NVDA for Microsoft environments, and those will behave differently and have different shortcuts.

To learn more about different types of screen readers, you can visit this resource.

So, you have established which kind of assistive technology your audience most likely will use, you understand what kind of environment it is going to be (mobile app or web app), and you now know which types of disabilities and how your product can affect (for example, if you have videos in your web page, then sound is very important for people with visual impairment, but transcripts will be very important for people with audio impairments). 

What Test Cases and Scenarios Should We Consider for Thorough Testing?

Now, you need to think about your test cases and test scenarios. It would be great if you had a user research team who could collect data for you and research how exactly users are using your product, but if not, do not worry. You can also learn how people with different impairments are using assistive technology and try to replicate the flow.

The most important things to check are:

  • Does the content I am checking with assistive technology make sense?
  • Does the assistive technology give me a good understanding of where I am on the page (screen)?
  • Do WCAG principles apply?
  • Am I able to perform all actions that any other user can do with a mouse, touchpad, or keyboard?
  • Does the assistive technology keep the experience consistent and user-friendly?

And remember – the purpose of accessibility testing is to identify if our product is accessible to everyone, and we do not discriminate against anyone based on their health conditions or anything else. Web Applications and Mobile Applications should be equally accessible to everyone who might need to use them, and we live in a time when it is possible to do so. So, let’s keep accessibility at a high level and make digital accessibility an important part of our quality architecture.