We’ve published two higher education website accessibility articles. The first, Keeping Higher Education Websites Accessible is Hard to Do … reviewed the accessibility testing results for 46 university and college website home pages in the Province of Ontario: a jurisdiction with accessibility legislation in effect. Our research showed it is hard to keep sites accessible.
The second article, 6 Accessibility Fixes for University and College Websites analysed the test results reported in the first article, isolating the most frequently occurring errors. We also suggested how to fix them.
We’ve been asked about the available accessibility testing tools and our third post is a first response at producing a comprehensive list.
Things to Consider
We have a few observations to read before diving into the list:
One, our working assumption is that most testing is on existing websites, rather than on sites under construction. Sometimes, internal recognition of accessibility shortcomings motivates testing, other times external agencies point out the deficiencies.
For example, in 2017 the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) received just under 250 complaints about website accessibility at post-secondary institutions. The monthly trend for 2017 looks like this:
Figure 1: Monthly Number of Accessibility Complaints Received by Office for Civil Rights
Two, whether addressing website accessibility is an internal or external impetus, a fundamental question can be: which sites need to be tested? Larger universities can have sprawling web estates comprising internally and externally hosted sites, many of which may not share the main domain name. Visitors (and, it seems, the OCR) aren’t concerned with the technicalities of ownership or technical responsibility. It all looks like one website to them. As many institutions lack centralised web estate data on the sites they ‘own’, they may need to start by identifying all their sites.
Three, automated testing is the essence of computer programming: exhaustively cycling through a set of algorithms. In this case, the algorithms compare web page elements against guidelines (most commonly, WCAG2.0). Some parts of the WCAG2.0 guidelines are not amenable to automation and require human intervention. For example, automated tests will find missing ALT attributes, but can’t verify that the descriptions found are appropriate. In other words, automated testing can do some, but not all of the work.
Moreover, combining the need for manual intervention with variations in how a tool’s development team implements its test logic, it is unlikely that only one tool or service will be suitable for all conditions. In other words, one tool can do some, but not all of the work.
If you are going to ‘double check’ your accessibility tests, it surely makes sense to do the same with browsers and screen reader software.
Four, we’ve only selected tools or services that analyse page structure, as this exercise seems to represent the greatest opportunity for automation and challenge across complex pages and large websites.
Five, we’ve included tools or cloud-based services that test both individual pages as well as entire websites. Browser add-ins allow users to test single pages, while other services either inherently test entire domains or have APIs to process URL lists.
Testing entire websites produces lots of data. Individual web pages can generate dozens or even hundreds of accessibility results. Scaling up to an entire website can result in hundreds of thousands of data points to evaluate and prioritise.
Six, we’ve limited the list to tools 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.
We’ve ignored products whose principal function is search engine optimisation or broken link checking.
Please get in touch via email if you find an error or an omission.
Don’t have accurate and current information on all the websites you own? Not able to monitor and check each website’s content quality and risk status? Let’s talk about how we can help.