Website accessibility testing tools are an important part of the website optimization process: These tools run an automated test on a website and report any potential errors that are inhibiting accessibility. It’s an easy way to very quickly see what a website’s accessibility issues may be, and where to start with performance improvements. If your business has a website and you haven’t tested it for accessibility yet, picking one of these tools is a smart first step.
But since there are a lot of accessibility testers out there, including both free and paid versions, finding the right one can be tricky. We’re helping out with our guide to some of the best testing tools available, why they’re good picks, and what limitations you should know about.
Accessibility Testing, Lawsuits and Your Site
There’s also a darker side to accessibility test that’s surfaced in recent years: More companies are getting sued on the basis that their websites fail accessibility requirements, which are mandated by the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and similar types of legislation. Many of these lawsuits are filed with an eye on getting a quick settlement, and they often use quick accessibility testing tools to note website errors as potential evidence for the court.
The problem is that not all testing tools are created equal, and even excellent tests pop up some “errors” that don’t necessarily impact accessibility but reflect coding bugs or something similar. The law is still adjusting to this trend and what it means for compliance issues, but it’s not a mess you want your business getting in.
So, while testing tools are an important starting place for any website worried about accessibility, it’s also important to note they can be misused or misinterpreted. An accessibility test should always be interpreted by developers with the right experience in this field, especially if there are any uncertainties in the report.
Other Accessibility Tests Your Business Can Use
Wave: Wave is a popular extension-based evaluation tool, which means you download it as a plugin (available on Chrome and Firefox). This makes it a bit easier to quickly review a website or new web content that’s been added to a site and has a lighter footprint than some programs. When used, Wave runs a series of basic checks on a website and adds an overlay explaining what it found. As we mention below, it’s good to be wary of solution-oriented overlays, but error-oriented overlays like this can be helpful because they can pinpoint specific design flaws or other issues on the site for immediate attention. It checks structure, linking, color contrast, and similar issues.
JAWS: JAWS, or Job Access with Speech, isn’t exactly an accessibility tool but rather a very popular screen reader. That makes it a handy way to check how compatible a webpage is with screen readers at any time. It won’t generate reports, but it makes it easier to test changes on the fly when updating website code.
Remediae.co: This team-oriented software/extension is designed not only to spot accessibility errors, but to streamline the resolution process and support a variety of roles for dealing with issues. When used, the tool generates a report with an overall score, and then breaks that score down according to the key pillars of the WCAG – the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines that are the standard used for most types of accessibility compliance. This is an excellent overhead shot for a site, especially when paired with experienced developers that are already aware of the techniques and design that can address accessibility. For each specific pillar of the WCAG, the report breaks down the number of errors and what kind of errors they appear to be. The service can also test PDFs and other types of content.
SortSite: This is a simple, “one click” auditing tool for your site that isn’t particularly expensive, while still offering thorough checks for WCAG and Section 508 compliance. There are a couple things we really like about SortSite’s down-to-earth approach. First, the reports it generates are based directly on the compliance requirements of the WCAG, even quoting parts of the guidelines for each error. Second, it’s very easy to use, with minimalistic reports that show exactly what needs to be done, which can save a lot of time. This tool fits well with smaller sites or experienced developers that are most interested in charting errors fast.
Deque Axe: Axe adds a toolbar to your webpage that both audits the site and provides more in-depth information on what needs to be done to improve accessibility. This, combined with other Dev tools in its suite like Guided Testing, make Axe an excellent pick for developers who have the ability to update websites without trouble, but need extra tools and advice to address accessibility specifically. It also comes with a free Chrome extension, although compatibility is more limited on other browsers. One thing we will note about Axe is that it still recommends using ARIA coding for screen readers. ARIA is still a potential solution but, when possible, websites are now encouraged to use HTML5 tags instead, so take this extension’s suggestions with a grain of salt.
Signs of Poor Testing Tools You Should Avoid
There are also many tools that you should avoid, or warning signs that should make your business rethink a particular service for auditing your site. Let’s go over several of the common red flags that indicate the tool won’t give you what you need:
- Not mentioning the WCAG, Section 508, the ADA, or other standards: These are the guides and laws that enforce accessibility compliance. The point of creating audits like this is to meet these standards, and professionals tools should be specifically designed to do so.
- Not specifically mentioning the WCAG 2.1: This is the latest version of the WCAG in use, and if a service refers to an older version, that’s a warning sign that it may not be up to date. Note that there is a coming update to WCAG 2.2, so it will also be helpful to see what services take that into account.
- Offering an overlay to fix all your problems: We’ve covered this in some of our other guides, but it’s a warning sign that the service isn’t interested in true optimization. Overlays can add magnifiers or automatic screen readers, etc., but they’re a messy solution. They can’t fix everything, and they often don’t work with today’s assistive technology.
- A lack of testimonials from current websites: This is an obvious alarm bell that a service may not be the professional option you are looking for. If a service has its own site or is available on platforms like the Google Store, then it should have reviews you can look it from recent sites that found the tool useful.
- Tests that promise to detect all errors: Automated tools are very useful, but just as they can sometimes find errors when there aren’t any practical issues, they can also skip certain problems entirely that still need to be fixed. A tool claiming to solve all your accessibility problems isn’t telling the full story.
What to Do After Getting an Accessibility Test Report
This step will vary greatly depending on the tools used and the business. Some tools focus on finding errors, and don’t offer much advice on what to do about them. This is the same approach taken by the WCAG, as it allows developers to choose their own fixes based on what techniques they prefer or what will work best with the current site.
Others may offer specific advice on how to address certain errors, although this isn’t as common and has some limitations. SortSite, for example, can reference WCAG lines that appear to line up to issues detected, but it’s not always a reliable system. This type of information can be useful pointers in the right direction. Larger services may have their own developers that can go in and fix problems for additional fees, but don’t always have the branding and design experience to make the best choices for a site for all users.
Finally, keep in mind a testing tool can’t cover all accessibility issues. Some issues just don’t show up very easily in code or colors. The best audits can cover maybe 80% of a site’s issues, but the rest should be addressed by developers and designers with the right training – those that also perform manual testing with assistive technologies.
Work with an Experienced Agency Using the Best Testing
Does your website need improvements to increase accessibility and avoid potentially costly liability issues? You need an experienced agency with developers well-versed in fixing accessibility problems: Contact Blue Atlas Marketing to learn more. We will arrange a discussion about your website, and what an optimization plan will look like based on your schedule.