Outsourcing accessibility testing is essential

Written By: Peter Abrahams
Content Copyright © 2007 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

If you want your website to be accessible there are two things
you absolutely have to do:

  • Specify that accessibility is essential in your requirements
  • Arrange that the site is tested for accessibility.

The first requires a bit more than just saying “the site must be
accessible” but there are lots of examples of such requirements and
people who can help you write them.

However, the second is much more difficult because:

  • Defining what needs to be tested is complex: what disabilities,
    what functions, what assistive technology, what browsers.
  • There are a variety of ways to do the testing: automated
    testing, desk checking by people who understand accessibility,
    testing by people with a variety of disabilities, testing by
  • The testing cannot be done solely by the developers because a
    developer is unlikely to have a sufficiently detailed understanding
    of the issues to test adequately.
  • You cannot do the testing because you are very unlikely to know
    all the variations that need to be tested.
  • Some of the testing needs to be done by people with
    disabilities and you may not have suitable candidates amongst your
  • Not every variation of environment, disability and function can
    be tested so there is a need to do the tests that find the

The answer is to outsource the testing to a specialist
organisation. Test
is a provider of a whole range of outsourced website
testing including: usability, accessibility, browser compatibility,
functionality, performance, website availability, multimedia and

Test Partners are testing web sites all the time and therefore
have built up a level of knowledge of common problems and typical
issues in the design of a site. My recommendation would be to bring
them in early during the development cycle when the basic structure
of the site is being developed; at this stage they can identify and
help you resolve issues quickly and cheaply that could be much
harder to fix later in development. Having done an initial check it
should be possible to let the developers do internal testing using
both their own expertise and some automated testing tool to keep
the up the level of quality. When a significant cross section of
the site has been developed Test Partners should be brought in
again to:

  • Verify that the quality has been maintained.
  • Run a scenario test where users are asked to complete specific
    tasks to ensure that the design is both usable and accessible;
    these may pick up specific rough edges that can be eliminated to
    provide a better user experience for all.
  • Check the site across multiple browsers to see if there are any
  • Run test with real users, both able-bodied and disabled, to see
    if anything in the site causes problems for specific groups.

Test Partners run all the user testing with a tester and a
facilitator. The facilitator takes note of the session, letting the
tester concentrate on the scenario. The combination of tester and
facilitator provides much more information than a tester by
themselves, for example:

  • If the tester is blind and there is an important visual
    (without an adequate text description) the tester will not be aware
    of this.
  • The tester may not use a particular function on a page that the
    facilitator can see. The facilitator can note that this has
    happened and possibly ask the tester why they have not used it.
    This may lead to a redesign of the page or a change in the
    explanatory text.

Having run the tests a report is produced that identifies the
issues and help can be provided to resolve them.

Once a site has gone into production it is advisable to re-test
it on a regular basis to ensure the continued quality and
accessibility. If you already have a production site and you
realise that you should have tested it early then Test Partners can
do a preliminary site audit and help you define a roadmap to
greater accessibility.

I believe that any substantial web site, whether it is
commercial, government or not for profit, should include external
testing as part of the development and maintenance cycles.