The Assistive Tools Testers Should Know When Ensuring Accessibility
Assistive tools have come a long way in facilitating digital accessibility for all. But, despite all this advancement, the challenges faced by people with disabilities can seem insurmountable.
Software testers play an important role in ensuring these challenges are largely mitigated, but to do so, they must understand the most common types of disabilities and the tools frequently used to overcome them.
Disabilities fall into four major categories: motor skill, auditory, cognitive, and visual.
Let’s first look at people with lack of motor skills. Members of this group are highly dependent on different kinds of assistive tools such as the oversized trackball mouse and voice recognition software. To navigate an application without using a mouse is the biggest challenge this category faces in regard to computer accessibility.
One noteworthy feature of these assistive tools is that most of them are keyboard-driven. Therefore, a tester must ensure all elements available on the page are accessible using a keyboard. Keyboard trap is one such check to ensure smooth navigation to a page and that correct tab ordering is followed. Additionally, shortcut keys generated by an assistive tool to access a page should not conflict with existing screen reader or browser shortcut keys.
The situation is quite similar in the space of auditory disabilities, too. The Internet is full of applications rich in video and audio, which is a barrier for hearing-impaired people. A tester should test subtitles and transcripts in audio and video files and ensure subtitles are synchronized with audio.
People with cognitive disabilities, such as dyslexia, autism, and learning disabilities, face challenges such as attentive reading, visual comprehension, and problem-solving that needs to be done within a fixed time limit. A few checks a tester can take on here include testing a web application’s time boundary; ensuring flexibility to extend, adjust, or turn off the time limit; validating that Flash content on pages doesn’t blink more than three times per second; and checking that a sufficient gap is maintained between paragraphs and that important points are bulleted.
In the case of visual impairment, such as complete blindness, low vision, and color blindness, screen readers and maginifiers are assistive tools that are commonly used. A tester uses these tools to ensure a good contrast ratio is used for text. Other checks include ensuring availability of alternate text for images and that color is not the only medium to display information (alternate text should be available).
To ensure end-to-end accessibility coverage, it is imperative for accessibility testers to have the requisite knowledge of the different types of disabilities and the challenges they pose to end-users. As opposed to sticking to an old and redundant set of accessibility tests carried forward release after release, it is important to understand the multidimensional practices that focus on specific end-user needs and the training on the varied assistive tools.