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Website Accessibility Testing – Scanning Tools

I previously blogged about website accessibility testing – where to start? That blog offered advice on accessibility testing basics including the standards and guidelines you want to meet, how you’ll approach the website, templates and critical tasks/scenarios and testing approaches. Once you gather all this information, it’s time to move forward with your accessibility audit.

In today’s blog, I’ll address web accessibility testing – scanning tools that support your audit. If you are currently doing accessibility testing, or might be tasked with doing so soon, are considering an investment of some type of automated scanning solution or overseeing or implementing accessibility initiatives, you’ll benefit from this blog.

At the conclusion of your information gathering, you might be thinking, “Wait a minute! My site has over 1,500 pages or 3,000 pages or tens of thousands of pages or more! How will I ensure that content on those pages is accessible?”

This is where an automated scanning tool allows you to quickly scan a large amount of content for common accessibility issues. You’ll have reviewed and improved the framework of your site already – see ‘where to start’ if you haven’t gone through this step. Now you’ll need to use a scanning tool to review the rest of the site.

Many people are led to believe that an automated accessibility scanning tool is all that’s needed to review your content for accessibility. That's not true. While an automated scanning tool is part of the process, it can't do everything. Why? An automated tool is not a complete solution.

Here are a few examples:

  • Logical flow/meaning of content – The logical flow, or the logical meaning of content that’s on your page, can only be assured when looked at with human eyes. It’s very difficult to programmatically validate your logical flow and meaning.
  • Tab order – The tab order of your site must be logical and follow an expected path. The current input:focus needs to be visible to the user, especially for a keyboard-only user, otherwise they are not going to know where they are.
  • Keyboard access images with text – Keyboard access needs to be confirmed by a live tester. An image that has text, and the text within the image is an important part of your page content. There’s no way for a scanning tool to look at that and understand what that text is and understand whether it’s conveyed properly to the user. Users need to verify that it is exposed not only to the user, but also the way the assistive technology can convey it to the user.
  • Meaningful alt text – One of the biggest advantages a scanning tool offers is the ability to identify images that don’t have alt text. The thing to keep in mind is that alt text should be meaningful and a scanning solution can’t determine that.

These are just some examples of why a scanning tool is not a complete solution. Even though a scanning tool can’t do everything, it is an essential part of any accessibility testing effort because there can be thousands of pages to be reviewed and not enough resources to handle them all.

Benefits of Accessibility Scanning Tools

An accessibility scanning tool allows you to easily scan a site for accessibility issues. Scanning thousands of pages at a time saves a lot of time. It can also report on the site’s current state of accessibility. Whether you need it for litigation or another purpose, you’ll need to show your current state of accessibility at some point.

Here is an example of a report from the Compliance Sheriff web accessibility scanning software. Here you can get an overview of Glenview Campus Score and dig into smaller groups for more fine-grained details.

Sample scorecard from Compliance Sheriff. The Accessibility Health Score for each checkpoint group and scan is represented as a percentage value and color

When looking for a web accessibility scanning solution, you’ll want to look for one that can break down your results by Section 508, WCAG 2.0 or other set standards and guidelines.

In this example, you can also see an overview of search engine optimization (SEO) checks. A quality web scanning tool doesn’t just measure accessibility, it allows you to incorporate other checks.

Demonstrate Web Accessibility Progress

Scanning tools allow you to report progress over time. This is important when faced with litigation and legal settlements. It’s also good to see if your efforts are having the impact that you need or want. If no progress is made, you’ll be able to adjust your strategy.

An accessibility scanning tool can also provide ongoing monitoring, tracking and the reporting of content. That's important because you don’t want to go through all the effort to create an accessible site and then stop. You’ll quickly end up with an inaccessible website again. Once you start and set up a process, continue to monitor new content and existing content.

Prior to Investing in a Scanning Solution

Before investing in a scanning solution, there’s a few things you need to know. First, not all of these tools are created equal.

We encourage you to consider your needs right now and in the future – you may have a small site of 200 pages today, but it will grow significantly in the future. If there is the potential that your site will grow into thousands of pages, you’ll want to consider a more enhanced, enterprise-level tool.

Select a tool that’s going scale with your organization’s website. Ask:

  • Is there a limit on how many pages can be scanned at one time?
  • Can the solution scan mobile web content? How is that done?
  • What checkpoints are included out of the box and how much configuration is required?

Armed with your scanned website, now what?

After your information gathering and automated site scan, now what? It’s time to consider how you’ll use accessibility testers and assistive technology. I’ll write about that in my next blog in this series.