I was talking to a friend & the conversation towards how people with disability like me find accessibility bugs. I showed her a demo by sharing my screen reader voice through zoom & ran her through the process. Then the talk moved around how accessibility trainings are conducted, as a person with disability I believe in practical & firsthand training rather than running the crowd using the presentations where we talk only theory.
When I showed a demo to my friend, she asked me one question that kept me thinking, why is your training on accessibility testing focused so much on-screen reader. The immediate answer was I am a person with visual disability & I use screen reader day in & day out so that might be the reason. But the though kept me awake during the nights & then it struck me, without screen reader we can do accessibility testing but is that scalable, is it efficient, how much time will it take for an average tester to find accessibility bugs without screen reader & what kind of skills does an average accessibility tester need to possess to perform effective testing using this method.
In this blog post I will be answering some of these questions from my perspective. After spending more than 10years in the accessibility consulting space & performing more than five hundred audits I understand the nuances of accessibility testing & I am going to share my opinion. Other accessibility evangelists & experts might feel otherwise & might not agree with my take on this….as I said before this is my opinion & let us get some of the questions answered.
Can we perform accessibility testing without screen readers?
Absolutely! We can perform accessibility testing without screen readers, screen reader is just one of the tools to find accessibility bugs manually. While automation catches only certain percentage of accessibility failures it is imperative to do manual audit of the application.
Is the screen reader the only way to perform manual accessibility testing?
No, using screen reader is one of the methods to find accessibility bugs. There are other methods like using keyboard & going through the code manually to identify accessibility violations.
Without screen reader is it possible to scale accessibility testing at large?
It is possible if the person who is performing the testing is familiar with browsing the code & can do it at a rapid pace. But those kinds of skills are rare to find in an average accessibility test engineer.
What skills are required to perform accessibility testing without a screen reader?
How much time does it take to perform accessibility testing without screen readers?
With screen reader it takes me around 3-4hrs to work on a medium complex page & log all the issues. Most of the work is getting issues into the reporting system. It takes me less time to evaluate & more time to log. If I must go through each line of code, then it might take me more than 4hrs for an average complex page because I need to check the code line by line & verify if all the right syntax are being used. Even if I assume it takes me 8hrs to finish one page then it is double the effort.
Here are some of the benefits of using a screen reader
Web is a complex visual medium just as its parent computer. So the most affected users are the screen reader users or blind and visually impaired users. Besides, people with learning disabilities too use screen readers. Also, just like screen readers, other assistive technologies like speech input tools heavily rely on clean code and appropriate semantics. So, testing with screen readers is the most reliable representational method as it covers majority of the accessibility issues.
If one wants to be a better accessibility consultant, it is important to have good development knowledge coupled with understanding of screen readers so as to identify and classify accessibility gaps that arise out of untidy coding practices and screen reader/browser bugs. We need to remember that this understanding saves time, money and resources.