It might seem that usability and accessibility are the same since they both relate to the website experience. However, websites need to be both intuitive and accessible to all users.
Thorough testing of a website’s usability and accessibility improves engagement, increases retention, and reduces the risk of costly lawsuits. Therefore, digital accessibility testing is an important subset of usability testing.
To check usability, we test button interactions, form fields, navigation, and user flow. Ideally, the process should take the user to their destination with as few clicks as possible.
To check accessibility, we ensure ease of access to information for all users, especially for people with disabilities such as vision, hearing, cognitive and physical impairments. For example, accessibility testing can include ensuring appropriate contrast ratios of content and background colors, readable/scalable font sizes, and the inclusion of alternate text for images.
An Overview of Usability and Digital Accessibility Testing
World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) defines the usability of a website as “designing products to be effective, efficient, and satisfying.”
Web accessibility means “people with disabilities can equally perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with websites and tools.” It also means that they can contribute equally without barriers.
Usability testing, also called user experience testing, measures the overall user satisfaction of a website/app, focusing primarily on user interface interactions and successful completion of tasks.
In digital accessibility testing, we test how easily the website’s/app’s content can be accessed with keyboard-only navigation and assistive devices so that the people who have temporary or permanent disabilities can have equal access to the website content and successfully complete tasks.
Including UI/UX best practices and the digital accessibility guidelines early in product development saves time and money in creating websites, which reduces the risk of expensive fixes at a later stage.
Principles of Usability and Accessibility Testing
The purpose of usability testing is to understand how real users interact with a website and determine which features to add or improve.
The purpose of digital accessibility testing is to understand how users with disabilities interact with a website by keyboard-only navigation and with assistive devices. This reveals insights that help in making websites more accessible to all.
Why Conduct Usability and Accessibility Testing?
Usability testing identifies user pain points, which helps in increasing conversions and boosting user retention. Here are some of the questions to consider during usability testing:
- Is the navigation intuitive? (we should not make the user think)
- Can an audience with a lower than secondary education level understand the text? If the text speaks to an advanced audience, is there a version available for other users?
- Are form fields kept to a minimum to increase submissions?
- Is there a way to provide fewer clicks to get to important information or place an order?
- Are error messages inline, brief, helpful, and descriptive?
- Can users quickly ask for help or search the site?
- Are users informed of the allotted time for a task before they will lose their input? Is there a way to extend the time allotted for a task?
- Is the look and feel of the website/app consistent across all the pages?
WCAG recommends meeting the A and AA level guidelines, plus as many AAA guidelines as possible. A website/app is deemed accessible when it meets all of the WCAG A and AA guidelines. If that is not possible, the website/app must provide documentation in an Accessibility Statement about what is not accessible and what progress is being made to meet the guidelines.
Usability Testing Key Features
For website usability testing, the tester will go through real-life scenarios and complete various tasks to identify pain points in the following areas:
- There is consistency in navigation buttons.
- Navigation and flow require as few clicks as possible and lead to the intended pages.
- The flow to the destination page is top to bottom and from left to right.
- The back button is available to return to the previous page.
- Appropriate help options are present.
- There is minimal scrolling and resizing of screens. No horizontal scrolling unless necessary in a data table only.
- Page loads top-down, left to right and displays the navigation first.
- Search option is available and returns accurate search results.
- User warnings, alerts, and confirmation messages are present.
- Appropriate external links are available.
- Multiple views/layouts are available in responsive formats on various device viewports.
- Navigation is intuitive and easy to use.
- There is minimal jargon in the web/app pages.
- The colors & images are on-brand and relevant.
- The data on web pages is accurate and up to date.
Popular usability testing tools
Accessibility Testing Key Features
For website accessibility testing, a tester would try to identify the pain points in the following areas:
- Fonts are easy to read and scalable, allowing for easy enlargement.
- Headings are tagged appropriately in the HTML with only one H1, including H1-H6 styles.
- Alternate text for images is present.
- Closed captioning and transcript options for audio and video content are available.
- The skip navigation option is available.
- Link text is descriptive, providing the appropriate context to the user.
- Use of minimal form fields and indicating required form fields.
- Table headers and contents are labeled correctly in the HTML ARIA code.
- Ability to use keyboard-only navigation (no mouse at all) as well as assistive devices.
- Contrast ratios meet the WCAG recommendations for text, interface components, tables, and informational graphics, including charts and graphs.
- Speakers and microphones can be easily turned off.
- PDF documents have appropriate header tags and order of content.
- Check web/app pages with assistive devices such as a screen reader to perform manual tests.
- NVDA is a free screen reader to test any website/app.
- Built-in screen readers are also available such as VoiceOver on iOS and Voice Assistant on Android phones.
Some content management systems, such as WordPress, have automated accessibility test plugins that can be purchased and placed on a website/app. You can also run the Google Lighthouse Accessibility Audit for desktop or mobile. Manually check the items listed on the report. This automated test runs on the Axe platform, which was created specifically for digital accessibility testing.
Popular accessibility testing tools
Better accessibility has become a critical aspect of modern technologies. Therefore, websites and applications should aspire to be digitally accessible to all users. Usability and digital accessibility testing play a vital role in achieving this goal.
Usability testing helps uncover issues and get feedback from the audience who use the system during the test. It reduces the risk of building clunky, difficult-to-use products and saves precious resources.
Effective digital accessibility testing enables a website/app experience to offer a pleasant experience to a larger, diverse audience, including people with disabilities.
Remember to utilize both manual and automated accessibility testing to catch as many errors as possible. For usability and digital accessibility testing, choose the right tools that suit the project scope, budget, and delivery timeframe. Testing early and often can help reduce the development hours by increasing efficiency and productivity.
This post was published under the Quality Assurance Community of Experts. Communities of Experts are specialized groups at Modus that consolidate knowledge, document standards, reduce delivery times for clients, and open up growth opportunities for team members. Learn more about the Modus Community of Experts here.