“When designing a website or attending a design review,” says Campbell, “There are some standard questions you need to ask. It’s always best if these questions are asked during the design stage of a project. Like other requirements in software development, retrofitting a site or mobile app for accessibility always costs more in time and labor.”
Here are a few key questions to consider during design:
- What navigation features need to be included so that all users can skip repeated navigation and easily get to various parts of the website?
- Can users easily access all features of the site with a keyboard as well as a mouse?
- Is audio used to convey information, and if so, is it captioned for the hearing disabled?
- Is meaningful alt text provided for all images?
- If a visual CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart) is used, are accessible alternatives such as audio CAPTCHAs provided?
- Are the labels on links and form fields descriptive enough so you don’t have to see them on the screen in order to know what each does?
- Can users enlarge fonts or change colors to make the content easier to see?
- Is key information being conveyed via PDF? If so, are they labeled as PDFs with a link to an application that users can download to read PDFs?
As the website or mobile app is being developed, a few more questions developers need to ask:
- Is navigation information being displayed in an easy- to-read list format?
- If scripting, forms or applets are used, are they being implemented in such a way so the functions they perform can be done using a keyboard as well as a mouse?
- Are combo boxes being implemented with separate ‘submit’ or ‘go’ buttons?
Developers can download demonstration versions of software such as screen readers and screen magnifiers, in order to help them unit test their work to be sure it’s accessible. Web validation tools provide a list of detailed HTML coding issues that could cause accessibility problems. (An example can be found at validator.w3.org.) However, these tools only work on non-secured pages; and there are no tools for evaluating non-HTML documents such as Word or PDFs.
“Nothing substitutes for having testing accessibility experts with disabilities go through a site during development,” says Campbell. “It is much easier, faster and less expensive to do the work upfront in the building and testing stages – rather than trying to look for problem code after the fact.” Accessibility testing experts are either native users of assistive technologies or trained in using various screen readers. They listen to web pages or mobile apps and record non-accessible issues that require resolution.
By incorporating accessibility testing into the website’s or mobile app’s quality assurance strategy, accessibility defects can be discovered and corrected early, along with functionality, compatibility and performance issues.
Effective accessibility testing includes both validation of conformance to standards such as Section 508 or WCAG, as well as accessing usability based on key usability criteria. A website or mobile app can be in compliance to standards but still may not be easy to use; however a website or mobile app that is not in compliance with standards is never easy to use.