29 Tools to Test Higher Education Website Accessibility

laptop on a desk showing webpage on its screen

Article and table data updated July 2019

Keeping University Websites Accessible is Hard

Ensuring higher education websites are accessible is getting significantly more attention as regulatory enforcement expands and user-centred/inclusive design practices spread.

In two previous posts, Keeping Higher Education Websites Accessible is Hard to Do … and 6 Accessibility Fixes for University and College Websites we reported the results of accessibility tests on the home pages of universities in the Province of Ontario, where accessibility legislation has been in effect for a number of years.

The critical takeaway from our research is that making and maintaining higher education website accessibility is hard work.

To get a stronger sense of just how tough, take a look at Oliver Emberton’s presentation at the 2019 IWMW conference, for higher education web professionals, in which he discusses the accessibility of UK university websites.

Effective on-going accessibility will, in part, rely on testing. As a result, we’ve updated our tools and services list.

Keeping University Websites Accessible is Complicated

While lists of tools and services are useful, their applicability and suitability depend on context.  To that end we have a few observations.

Whether addressing website accessibility is internally (re-design) or externally (regulatory pressure) motivated, a fundamental question can be: which sites need testing? Larger universities with sprawling web estates of internally and externally hosted sites may not know all of the sites within their scope. Regulators and visitors aren’t concerned with ownership technicalities. It all looks like one website. You may need to start by identifying all the sites in a web estate.

Automated testing is the essence of computer programming: exhaustively cycling through algorithms.  In this case, comparing web page elements against guidelines (usually, WCAG2.0). But, parts of WCAG2.0 aren’t amenable to automation. They require human intervention. For example, automated tests find missing ALT attributes, but don’t verify the descriptions being used are appropriate.  Automated testing can do some, but not all of the work.

When the need for manual intervention is combined with variations in test logic implementation, it’s unlikely that only one tool or service will work in under all conditions. In other words, one tool can do some, but not all of the work.

We’ve only included tools and services that analyse page structure, as this process represents the greatest opportunity for testing-at-scale and is the biggest challenge across complex pages and large websites.

We’ve included tools and cloud-based services that test individual pages as well as entire websites.  Browser add-ins let users test single pages. Cloud services either inherently test entire domains or have APIs to process URL lists. Testing whole websites produces data mountains. Individual web page tests can generate dozens or even hundreds of accessibility results.  Entire websites can produce hundreds of thousands of data points to evaluate and prioritise.

We’ve limited the list to tools/services that appear to be under continuous development or have been brought to market within the last five years.  Tools testing to current standards with regular update releases are of more value to time-pressed higher education web teams than dated, but free, open source projects.

List of 29 Tools and Services to Test Higher Education Website Accessibility

Name Supplier Availability Scope Implementation
a11yTools Extension for Safari Paul J. Adam Open Source Page Browser
Accessibility Center Accessibility Center/Sitemorse Commercial Site Cloud
aViewer The Paciello Group Open Source Page Windows
aXe Deque Systems Open Source Page Browser
Blackboard Ally Blackboard Inc. Commerical Content Cloud
CommonLook Campus 101 CommonLook Commercial Content Cloud
Compliance Sheriff Cryptzone Commercial Site Cloud
Dinolytics Dinolytics Commercial Site Cloud
DubBot Web Accessibility DubBot Commercial Site Cloud
Dynomapper Dynomapper Commercial Site Cloud
EIII European Internet Inclusion Initiative Open Source Page Cloud
Functional Accessibility Evaluator University of Illinois Open Source Site Cloud
Funnelback Accessibility Auditor Funnelback Commercial Site Cloud
Grackledocs Grackledocs Commercial Content Cloud
HTML_CodeSniffer Squiz Open Source Page Browser
IBM Bluemix Digital Content Checker IBM Commercial Site Cloud
Lighthouse GoogleChrome Open Source Page Browser
Little Forest index (LFi) Little Forest Commercial Site Cloud
Monsido Monsido Commercial Site Cloud
Office Accessibility Checker Microsoft Commercial Content Windows
OzART AccessibilityOz Commercial Site Cloud/On-premises
Silktide Silktide Commercial Site Cloud
Siteimprove Siteimprove Commercial Site Cloud
SortSite PowerMapper Commercial Site Cloud
Tanaguru / Tanaguru Web Extension Tanaguru Open Source Site/Page Cloud/Browser
Tenon Tenon Commercial Page Cloud
UsableNet AQA UsableNet Commercial Site Cloud
Wave Web AIM Open Source Page Browser
WCAG 2.0 AA Audit Bureau of Internet Accessibility Commercial Site Cloud

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