User Testing Website Accessibility With People With Disabilities

Person scrolling through website on tablet with laptop in background.

An audit stating your website meets WCAG 2.1 AA standards is one thing.

Actual user testing and feedback from people with the disabilities WCAG attempts to account for is another.

The two compliment each other extremely well, especially when it comes to making a website accessible and reducing risk of an ADA website compliance (or state disability discrimination law) lawsuit.

With user testing, the objective is simple:

Get valuable feedback from people with different disabilities so we can correct any issues and ensure as many people as possible have access to our website.

Ideally, you’ll be able to get feedback from people who have different disabilities:

  • blind or visually impaired
  • deaf or hard of hearing
  • cognitive disabilities
  • reading disabilities
  • motor skills disabilities

But, even if you can’t get feedback from every group, feedback from people who are blind or visually impaired goes a long way in improving your website’s accessibility.

People with vision impairments are the most impacted when it comes to website accessibility. This is evidenced by the guidelines within WCAG, the plaintiff’s listed disability in ADA Website Compliance lawsuits, and surveys taken by WebAIM, a leading provider in website accessibility.

There are many different approaches to how you test accessibility. Here are a few:

  • in person
  • remotely
  • form input
  • interview style

Regardless of what approach you take, the primary objective is the same:

Obtain actionable data about the accessibility of your website and its primary visitor flows.

Actionable data constitutes detailed feedback pertaining to either or both the overall website and specific components.

If a website has undergone remediation prior to testing, there may not be changes to implement but positive feedback is still extremely useful in that:

  1. You’ve demonstrated accessibility
  2. You’ve shown genuine commitment and effort towards accessibility
  3. You have independent documentation certifying 1 and 2

To extract the most value from user testing, you’ll want to get feedback from users across:

  • multiple assistive technologies (including the most popular screen readers — JAWS, NVDA, and VoiceOver)
  • different devices (desktop, tablet, phone)
  • different device manufactures (Apple, Android)
  • different browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer 11, Safari)

User testing doesn’t have to include every last screen reader, browser, and device but you will want to gather data from multiple angles as well as get documentation on exactly what has been used while testing your website.

When and how often you test is up to you as the digital property owner.

I recommend testing after remediating your website, app, etc. for WCAG 2.0 AA (or 2.1 AA) so that you’ve already addressed issues found in your initial audit.

Another benefit to this timing is it creates a second checkpoint rather than trying to account for all accessibility issues in a vacuum.

After your website has been audited, remediated, and tested, the frequency at which you test is up to you.

For websites that are constantly changing and updating, you’ll want to test at higher intervals.

For large entities such as corporations, you’ll also want to test regularly (e.g., quarterly) as the concern and risk-reduction benefits will far outweigh the relatively low cost of user testing.

For other entities, a yearly review is a good default frequency. If your website is static, you can rely on your original testing so long as the going legal standard remains the same.

Right now it’s best to conform with as much of WCAG 2.0 AA or 2.1 AA as possible. However, in 2021, the prevailing defacto standard will likely be WCAG 2.2 AA so at that point, you’d want to re-address accessibility.

Robust user testing will include feedback from multiple vantage points.

We all experience and interact with the web differently so it’s best to have a team test your website vs. only one person.

If you attempt to procure user testing services ala carte in the market, the cost can be quite expensive (e.g. $500/hour and up). However, you can get a significant discount if you purchase a larger web accessibility package that includes user testing in the plan.

Many reputable digital accessibility companies will include user testing as part of their service.

Attorney. Author of The ADA Book: https://amzn.to/3lHIyjT (affiliate). https://Accessible.org founder.