Improve web and mobile accessibility testing using a continuous testing approach
Accessibility principles are critical for ensuring your product releases can be used comfortably by as wide of an audience as possible.
Ensure superior digital experiences for all customers
Accessibility testing is crucial for holding businesses accountable for building accessible apps and meeting compliance and regulatory mandates.
Accessibility principles are critical for ensuring your product releases can be used comfortably by as wide of an audience as possible. This makes improving accessibility not only a moral and ethical mandate, but also a business one. On top of that, certain laws (like the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA) might require any given website, platform, or product, to be accessible.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around one billion people — or 15% of the world's population — lives with some form of disability. The U.S. population of individuals with disabilities is 61 million, or about one in four U.S. adults, says the CDC.
Granted, not all of these individuals will require specific accommodations in order to access the services of a given web or mobile app environment. But the point stands that there is a large portion of the population whose needs might feel "invisible" to the typical development organization.
Accessibility for web and mobile can be greatly improved through automation and a "shift-left" of accessibility and inclusivity initiatives to become embedded within development processes. Using solutions like Digital.ai Continuous Testing, organizations can streamline the process by which they ensure accessibility, reducing cost and delays while improving the experience of customers with all range of abilities.
What is website and mobile accessibility?
Digital accessibility is a design/build discipline used to improve the ability for all individuals to access and use an online service. By making specific accommodations, developers can accommodate individuals with a broad range of visual, auditory, physical, or cognitive disabilities to provide them with a quality user experience.
Website accessibility is a discipline that ensures websites can be viewed by a broad range of people from any number of browsers, both desktop and mobile. Notably, many individuals with disabilities use secondary applications, such as screen readers, to interact with a browser, so website accessibility also involves engineering a page to easily facilitate the use of these secondary tools.
Mobile app accessibility refers to the discipline of ensuring that mobile apps are able to be viewed and used by a wide audience with a wide range of abilities. Mobile apps typically have more control over their presentation, design, and interactivity elements compared to web-based tools, so designers and engineers must pay special attention to the principles needed to ensure broad accessibility and compatibility with any secondary device-based accessibility tools.
"When websites and web tools are properly designed and coded, people with disabilities can use them," the WC3 Web Accessibility Initiative bluntly states. "However, currently many sites and tools are developed with accessibility barriers that make them difficult or impossible for some people to use."
There are a number of reasons why this is the case. The first reason is that developers and testers who are not differently abled simply do not think of web and mobile accessibility testing as part of the user experiences they build. On top of that, they often lack the knowledge of web accessibility standards and the multiple versions of these standards globally. Developers might also lack the tools to properly evaluate web and mobile accessibility. Even if they had the tools, the evaluation process for considering accessibility improvements can be lengthy, time-consuming, and costly.
Improving accessibility is all about examining a web or mobile-based service for common use cases involving individuals with disabilities. By adhering to basic guidelines, developers can expand access to large swathes of their audience within just a few releases. Product teams can then take a deep dive into the full scope of accessibility using automated testing tools like Digital.ai Continuous Testing.
What are some of the most common mobile accessibility issues?
Below are some of the most common issues that tend to violate web accessibility guidelines.
UI Design for People with Physical Impairments
Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that 20% of U.S. adults (around 48 million people) have a form of functional limitation. Around 1.7% (appx. 4 million people) report difficulty using a typical smartphone.
Improving the mobile experience for individuals with physical impairments involves making interaction points sufficiently large. Touch targets should be, at minimum, 9mm x 9mm, with an amount of buffer space between any other inactive elements. Activation requirements can be made so that only a touch and lift of the finger activates an action, not just a mere touch.
Any priority buttons should be placed within easy access to an individual's range of motion, while accounting for left or right-handedness. Support should also be added for alternative input devices, including keyboard and mouse or voice controls.
Accessibility for the deaf and hard of hearing
Census data indicates that 7% of Americans have difficulty hearing, and around 1.4% of U.S. adults are deaf — about 3.4 million individuals.
To accommodate individuals who are deaf or have hearing impairments, all auditory cues should be given a redundant visual cue, as well. Information that's reliant on audio should be accompanied by a caption or transcript.
Auditory accommodations not only provide an improved experience for individuals with an auditory impairment, but it also reduces the need to have sound on when an individual is using their device in public and wishes to have the sound off.
Accessibility for visual impairments
Visual impairments can refer to a broad range of differently-abled individuals.
Around 5% of American adults have difficulty seeing, and around 1.6 million individuals (0.7% of the population) is considered blind, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
For individuals with impaired vision, the design and interface of the app environment should follow WC3 criteria for contrast. Designs should be sufficiently clear so as to minimize confusion. Also, text fonts used should be able to be increased to up to 200% magnification and still be legible.
Designers should keep forms of color-blindness in mind when selecting color palettes. Alternative palettes should be made available when color cues are important for conveying information, or redundant design elements should be present so that individuals aren't missing information dependent upon their ability to distinguish between certain colors.
Finally, individuals with total or near-total blindness will rely upon a form of screen reader software to both read information from a mobile/web environment and interact with it. To accommodate screen readers, all images should be given alternate text, and instructions can be embedded to give screen readers quick access to the most relevant information or navigation points on a given screen.
Accessibility for people with differences in information processing and comprehension
Around 10% of all Americans have a form of cognitive or mental impairment, reveals U.S. Census data, and around 3.5% have a form of learning disability. Forms of cognitive processing disabilities vary greatly, but some general accessibility principles can be used to make wide accommodations.
Foremost, web and mobile app services should consider the hierarchy of information that's presented. The most important information or navigation options should always go first and be the most readily accessible. Reducing the number of actions needed to reach the most-common activities or screens should also be a priority.
Designers should strive for consistency between pages so that information can be gleaned in a consistent way with minimal confusion. The language used for copy, flavor text, and core design elements should also be accessible, meaning it is at about a sixth grade "reading level".
The most important web accessibility guidelines
Interestingly, there have already been web accessibility guidelines referring to digital technologies since 1995. These have been updated periodically but retain the core principles of making technology inclusive and available to all.
Some of the most influential web and mobile accessibility testing guidelines driving improvements to mobile and web apps today include the following.
Implemented in 1998, Section 508 regulations are part of the US Rehabilitation Act and required that all government websites needed to be fully accessible.
The people covered by this act are those with
- Visual impairments
- Hearing impairments
- Physical Impairments
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) issues these guidelines for accessibility. This institution works to develop web standards, that meet the needs of everyone from governments down to individual users.
WCAG 2.2 is the upcoming version to be released in 2021, and it has been organized into 4 different standards:
Web Accessibility Initiative — Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA) Specification
Also created by W3C, WAI-ARIA focuses on web development and semantics in order for assistive technologies to be able to learn how to navigate a given website or app.
Elements to consider during website accessibility testing
There are a number of ways that a differently-abled person can reach a stumbling block when navigating web and mobile applications. Here are some of the main elements that need to be considered when mobile accessibility testing.
- Forms - This seems like the most obvious element that needs to be accessible. Some of the ways to ensure that accessibility is to make sure that all boxes are correctly labeled. It is as important to make sure that users can easily submit any forms on your web or mobile application.
- Transcripts - Any video that you post on your website must have accurate transcripts for those users who either cannot hear or see the videos.
- Data Tables - These require specific headings so that automatic readers know to read the information contained in a table.
- Color - Use color carefully and with restraint. Assigning specific meaning to color on your website or app could leave people with color sensory issues at a disadvantage.
- Links - Must also be handled carefully. They should be placed on a page with the correct content so that users understand it.
- Content - Should be simple to read and understand.
It is not only a good idea to follow these guidelines for your differently-abled users. In many cases, we have seen that there are laws protecting these rights. Not only that, but a website that is accessible usually scores higher on their SEO rankings.
How to test your apps using SeeTest
Let's take a look at how this capability works when manual testing on the SeeTest Platform.
Step 1 - Start by logging into the cloud and selecting a device. Once your device is open you will see the device reflection.
From here you can interact with the device as if you are holding it in your hand.
Step 2 - Open up the settings.
Step 3 - Click on Accessibility
Step 4 - When the accessibility window opens activate VoiceOver.
Step 5 - Navigate back to the home screen, and open an app. For this demo we used Netflix.
Step 6 - Click on the audio icon on the left of the screen.
Step 7 - In the window that opens go to the record tab and click "Listen".
Step 8 - Now that audio is active as you highlight different text on the app you are testing you will hear the text read back to you. You can also adjust the speed at which it is being read.
And that is it. In order to see it in action in real-time take a look at the video below.
Using Digital.ai Continuous Testing for Web Accessibility Testing
Digital.ai Continuous Testing's capabilities can also be leveraged for cloud testing of browser-based applications using the most popular browsers and configurations across a broad range of devices, both real and virtualized. By testing accessibility not just in isolated web environments but also using actual hardware specifications in multiple geographies, developers can ensure that they are aware of any number of issues that can arise from unique user situations.
Inclusion is the conclusion
By reviewing the rules and regulations, design and compliance teams will be able to ensure that mobile accessibility best practices they are followed. It is important to be inclusive, to be able to give each user of your web or mobile app an experience that meets their needs, no matter what their level of ability is. This level of care demonstrates the values your organization holds towards keeping your products and services inclusive. Your customer base can see visibly through your actions that you care about everyone, and those that need web and mobile accessibility will feel cared for. More than that, in many cases, maintaining minimum accessibility standards is the law.
Knowledge of the latest guidelines can make inclusivity easier to maintain, but automating reviews through solutions like Digital.ai Continuous Testing ensure that accessibility initiatives remain visible throughout the development cycle. Automation reduces the risk that major accessibility compromises will be overlooked. Further, the fact that an automated review is part of the development cycle puts accessibility as a priority on the radar of engineering and design teams.
Everyone has a right to information. In a way, there is more to the practices of accessibility than simply following guidelines. You are also ensuring that your company does not stand for discrimination of any kind, and you show how you are willing to go the extra step to make sure everyone is included.
For more information on services that simplify and streamline accessibility, review the capabilities of our Continuous Cloud Testing solutions.