When testing the accessibility of a digital platform or product, companies have a couple of options. The two most common means of accessibility testing are automated and manual.
Although automated testing can be cost-effective and punctual, it needs some nuance inherent to manual testing. This nuance comes from the fact that manual testing is performed by real people rather than software.
Manual testing allows contributions from a variety of perspectives. One such perspective offered in manual testing is that of people with disabilities. One could argue that the view of an individual with disabilities is one of the most valuable assets available to companies pursuing accessibility.
In this piece, we will discuss the value of testers with disabilities, how to recruit testers and ethical considerations that a company should consider.
Understanding manual testers
Before getting into the specifics of testers with disabilities, let's briefly review manual accessibility testers.
Manual testing is the process of having someone evaluate the accessibility of a digital product or platform. The tester will use the product or platform and determine its accessibility based on their experience.
There are a variety of fields and backgrounds from which to find an appropriate manual tester. Examples include UX designers, developers, and accessibility consultants. Based on their background, each kind of tester will have unique criteria when assessing a platform or product.
For example, a developer conducting a manual test will be keeping an eye out to ensure the accessibility of the kinds of coding used to implement a design. Furthermore, an accessibility consultant will have an in-depth knowledge of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WGAG) and apply this expertise during testing.
Having laid out this background, let's examine another essential perspective for manual testing, testers with disabilities.
The benefits of using testers with disabilities
Enlisting the help of testers with disabilities can provide essential insight into the accessibility of a product. Digital accessibility ensures that users from a broad spectrum of ability levels can use a product or platform.
What better way to reach that goal than by asking users from that ability spectrum?
The term “disability” represents diverse experiences and conditions that comprise around 26% of all U.S. adults. Furthermore, in its definition of “disability,” the CDC states, “Although “people with disabilities” sometimes refers to a single population, this is a diverse group of people with a wide range of needs. Two people with the same type of disability can be affected differently. Some disabilities may be hidden or not easy to see.
All of this is to say that, when designing for accessibility, a number of experiences must be considered. Some of these include:
- Vision Impairments - Individuals with vision impairments may use features such as screen readers and audio descriptions to help identify any visual content on a webpage. Testers will assess how well the features communicate information. Furthermore, testers with vision impairments will also be able to assess other features of a page, such as text size and color contrast.
- Mobility impairments - individuals with mobility impairments may exclusively utilize keyboards to navigate a webpage without using a mouse or other scrolling devices. Testers can evaluate how operable and efficient mobility features are.
- Audio impairments- Users with audio impairments use features such as captions and transcripts to access audio content. Testers will check for factors such as caption quality as well as the availability of audio alternatives.
- Cognitive impairments - Testers with cognitive impairments will asses usability, clarity of language, and consistency of navigation in a product.
From the perspectives of testers with disabilities, designers and developers of a product can directly learn what features do and don’t work in a product.
The process of recruiting testers with disabilities
A company should enlist the help of testers with disabilities early on in the design process. This is the best way to ensure that only some mistakes are left to be discovered after deployment.
There are a few ways to go about recruiting testers with disabilities.
For one thing, there are several firms specifically designed to train accessibility testers. One such company in the US is Accessworks. Accessworks is a company that connects business owners to accessibility testers with disabilities. In their own words, “We can recruit test participants who use a variety of assistive technologies directly from our existing database. And, if you have special requirements, we can provide customized recruiting to meet your needs.”
Another firm is WeCo. WeCo trains testers with disabilities to help serve it’s dual mission of increasing accessibility and employment careers for people with disabilities. WeCo’s testing program allows for flexible income and paid training.
Given that accessibility is becoming more of a priority for businesses, there has been in influx in demand to hire testers. As such many would-be testers are looking for opportunities on relevant job boards. To find testers, companies can post ads to disability job-boards such as Circa, Ability Jobs, and Disability.gov.
There are also international firms, such as Vision Aid. Vision Aid is an India-based organization dedicated to empowering individuals with visual impairments. In 2019 they launched the pilot for their accessibility tester training program.
As beneficial of a resource as testers with disabilities may be, there are still some potential pitfalls to be aware of.
For one thing, like any kind of testing, the use of testers with disabilities has its limitations. From a business perspective, this kind of testing (like all manual testing) can be expensive and time-consuming. Even though it's recommended to hire testers with disabilities, companies should check their budgets and schedules before making any decisions.
Another limitation to consider is that a tester’s assessment will only truly reflect the experience of that individual tester. As W3.org states, “Avoid assuming that input from one person with a disability applies to all people with disabilities.”
Let’s assume, for example, that a tester with vision impairments is assessing the audio description used on a web page. Even if that tester has a good experience with the audio description, designers should not then that the tester’s experience represents the majority.
People with disabilities are not a monolith. Each individual has a unique way of experiencing the world and interacting with digital products. As such, designers should take tester approval to mean they are on the right track rather than assume they simply checked off another to-do box. Accessibility is a process of development. A way of operating a business, not just some end goal to reach.
When making sure that a product is accessible, designers ought to invest in the best tools that they have available. Usually, the best course of action is to consult testers with disabilities. By engaging with testers of varying ability levels, designers and developers can get essential insight into how accessible their product truly is.