Web Accessibility Toolbars: 7 Pros, 8 Cons of Automated Testing Tools

website test with web accessibility toolbars

Web accessibility – the elimination of online digital barriers – is crucial to ensure that customers and clients with disabilities can browse for information, purchase products, pay bills and use other online services. When these individuals run into accessibility problems, they can prevent them from completing these tasks.

A web accessibility toolbar is one type among a group of automated testing tools that can help people determine, very quickly, whether their websites are able to be used by people with disabilities, or whether they contain barriers.

Digital barriers are considered a form of discrimination and a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and other civil rights laws. People with disabilities have the right to access the same services as everyone else – as long as there’s no undue hardship in providing that access.

Providing web accessibility, of course, is not considered an undue hardship, since it’s not at all costly in light of the overall expense associated with producing a website. It’s also not burdensome to try to figure out what kind of steps should be taken to remove barriers. That’s because a list of technical requirements already exists – the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 – and is widely used as a trusted reference.

WCAG 2.0 addresses many of the problems that people with disabilities can encounter on an inaccessible website, and how they can be fixed. For example, if a person who is blind and using a screen reader encounters an image of text instead of the text itself, they won’t be able to read it. If a person with a seizure disorder visits a web page with content that flashes too quickly, this can trigger a seizure.

WCAG 2.0 explains how to provide text that screen readers can interpret. It recommends a safer speed for flashing or blinking content that won’t induce seizures. Numerous other types of barriers and their solutions are described in WCAG 2.0.

“How Accessible is My Website?”

Often, when marketing or e-commerce teams start thinking about compliance and improving online accessibility, the first thing they want to know is: How accessible is my website right now? Applying a web accessibility testing tool is one way to determine where there may be digital barriers for people with disabilities.

As we mentioned above, there are many types of testing tools in use. Some are online tools that allow people to simply type in the URL of the web page they wish to test. In other cases, accessibility testing features may be programmed right into the software that people are using to create documents.

Another type of checker is a web accessibility toolbar or extension. This type of tool, once downloaded, shows up as a toolbar on the screen while the user is viewing or making adjustments to their website. Depending on the choice, it may automatically highlight barriers, or it may guide the user through some common accessibility problems.

The “Web Accessibility Evaluation Tools List” maintained by the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative is one place you can look for examples of web accessibility toolbars.1 Others are made available through specific browsers, such as those listed in the Chrome Web Store or on Mozilla’s website for Firefox Add-ons.

A web accessibility toolbar can be useful, and it’s certainly better than ignoring accessibility problems that you are legally obligated to address. But there are pros and cons to using and relying on them. Let’s go through a handful of them.

The Pros:

  • Web accessibility toolbars can be educational – and eye-opening – for someone who is new to digital accessibility and would like to learn more.
  • They are often free of charge.
  • You can get results immediately.
  • Unlike testing tools that will only check content that is online and public, a toolbar can often be used for intranet sites (i.e. private networks used within an organization) as well as password-protected web pages and draft content.
  • Unlike checkers that simply perform an automated test and issue a report, a toolbar can allow you to make changes dynamically to your web pages and instantly find out whether or not this improves accessibility.
  • Depending on the type of toolbar, it may guide you through the use of accessibility tools that are already a part of the software program you’re using.
  • Again, depending on the type of toolbar, it may not require extensive technical expertise in order to use it.

The Cons:

  • Web accessibility toolbars often only work with certain browsers or software programs, so their application is limited.
  • Some toolbars may issue false positives – they may indicate an accessibility problem where there is none. Likewise, many digital barriers may be missed. After all, toolbars are only able to capture between 25 to 30% of the issues.
  • Individual toolbars may address different sets of accessibility issues – they are not necessarily exhaustive.
  • A toolbar may be designed to guide you through the removal of barriers, but it won’t automatically fix everything for you.
  • With many web accessibility toolbars, it may take a certain amount of code expertise or technical training to be able to use them. This can be especially challenging for someone who has no web development experience at all, especially if the toolbars don’t come with user-friendly support materials.
  • Sometimes, the report that a toolbar issues can be lengthy and overwhelming – if, for example, it uses technical jargon, or repeats every instance of a specific type of barrier.
  • These reports may not be exportable, meaning you can’t forward them to your web development team.
  • Web accessibility toolbars don’t – yet – take WCAG 2.1 into account. The upcoming new add-on to WCAG 2.0 will list additional technical requirements that further enhance the accessibility of a website for a wider variety of individuals.

Like so many of the web accessibility testing tools that are out there, you can never rely on one specific tool to verify whether or not your website is fully accessible to people with disabilities, and/or whether or not it’s in compliance with the laws your organization is obligated to follow. That can only be done with human evaluators who use a combination of assistive technologies and functional testing along with professional judgment. Experts like these can also monitor your website periodically to ensure that it remains accessible over time.

A web accessibility toolbar can, however, raise awareness about the various kinds of disability-related barriers that need to be considered and eliminated. You may find it’s a useful introduction or first step. As long as you understand the limitations of this kind of testing tool, it can’t hurt to try one out as part of your commitment to improving your digital accessibility to customers and clients with disabilities.

An Innovative Solution

eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY has developed a comprehensive accessibility solution to help organizations follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and achieve and maintain compliance with standards and regulations. This includes integrating web compliance evaluation and remediation services with assistive technology to deliver a transformative experience for people with disabilities. Learn more about eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY’s innovative solution.

References

  1. Web Accessibility Evaluation Tools List W3C, 2016

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