Automated vs Manual Accessibility Testing

when to use manual and automated accessibility testing

By Sam Stemler

When do you need manual testing to make your website accessible, and when is automated testing enough? There are advantages and disadvantages to each. Which one works best depends on what you’re testing and when. In this blog post we’ll explain automated vs manual accessibility testing, and when you might need each of them.

What is Automated Accessibility Testing?

when to use automatic accessibility testing Automated accessibility testing uses programs to scan your website and uncover accessibility obstacles. This process is automatic, and generally you only need a URL to get started. A number of apps and programs can scan your site for many different accessibility issues. These problems can be found in the code of your website, and they’re often easy to fix. When comparing automated vs manual accessibility testing, a program is easy to run and will give you peace of mind, though it won’t be able to cover everything that a person can.

For example, an accessibility testing program can crawl your site and identify any pictures that don’t have alt-text. It will flag these as accessibility issues to fix. A program can also identify any areas that don’t have sufficient color contrast by recognizing HEX values. Automated testing tools can look for empty links, missing labels, and other elements that can make your website hard to navigate with a screenreader or other assistive devices. Some of these programs can test a single page of your site, certain elements, or even your entire public-facing site.

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When to Use Automated Accessibility Testing

The biggest advantages of automated accessibility testing vs manual testing are ease and speed. Tell the program to run and it will check your page or website for a variety of common accessibility issues. Some services will even check your site at regular intervals, automatically, and provide a report. This means you can perform accessibility maintenance without lifting a finger.

As you add content and make changes to your site, accessibility issues will inevitably arise. Testing your site regularly will help you to solve these problems. Automated testing programs are ideal for this type of upkeep. Many of the most common accessibility issues can be identified by these programs and resolved fairly easily. When you perform manual accessibility testing, it’s also a good idea to conduct automated testing at the same time. This will allow you to quickly test individual elements across your site, while also testing functional elements that automated testing can’t.

When to use automated testing

  • When you significantly update your site content
  • At regular intervals for accessibility maintenance
  • Before launching a new site
  • After conducting a site redesign

What is Manual Accessibility Testing?

Manual accessibility testing allows a real human to use your site in multiple ways, and uncover accessibility obstacles. Often, this involves the use of assistive devices, such as a screenreader. This can also mean making adjustments to the browser to simulate what someone with a disability might face. Manual accessibility testing might include using your website with images or style sheets turned off, magnifying the screen, or navigating with a keyboard instead of a mouse. These types of tests imitate how someone with low vision or limited dexterity might use your site.

when to use manual accessibility testing

When it comes to automated vs manual accessibility testing, the biggest advantage of manual testing is the ability to critically assess the site. A program cannot make a judgement about whether something is or isn’t accessible, it can only look at code and make a determination. However, a person can look critically at an element of your site and see whether it works or not. This is ideal for elements that would require a level of interpretation or understanding. For example, a program can tell you whether or not an image has alt-text attached, but only a person can tell you whether the alt-text accurately explains the picture. A program can tell you whether your form fields have labels, but only a person can tell you whether they can actually fill out the form without too much difficulty.

When to Use Manual Testing

Since it requires time and energy from a real person, manual testing takes longer. However, manual testing gives you valuable insights about how your site really works for people with disabilities. This type of testing is ideal for assessing the functionality of your site and how visitors can interact with important elements.

When to use manual testing

  • Before launching your website
  • After or during a redesign
  • Changing or adding important inputs like forms
  • Changing or adding important navigational elements like menus

The easy answer when deciding between automatic vs manual accessibility testing is to use both. Conducting regular accessibility assessments will not only show your customers that you care about their experience, but it will also protect you from liability.