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Breaking barriers, testing style!

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Hello, I am a new mother and would like to share my experience. Before you dismiss this to be too absurd a topic for a tester’s blog, may I reassure you that it is very much to do with testing (and by that I don’t mean the baby ‘testing’ my patience!) Any guesses? Nope it is not about my curious experiments with baby food, nothing to do with the heroic tales of multitasking either! It is actually taking the baby around in a pram that has made me look at a form of non-functional testing in a different light. If you are intrigued, please read on..

 

When I am out with a buggy, there is a constant hunt for ramps and lifts in public places. And where I don’t find one, I get frustrated to say the least! It has made me wonder what life is like for someone who faces such situations for a life time? What about the people who face barriers all the time? Are those barriers limited to the physical world or is it rampant in the virtual world? What about the disabled and their right to accessing information? In this day and age, can technology be a true leveller? The sad truth is that the dream is far from being achieved. When it comes to web accessibility, awareness seems limited and consideration inadequate – in business and technical domains alike.

So, why should any business take this seriously? As many of you might know there is tough legislation around web accessibility which makes it mandatory for websites to cater to those with different abilities. With millions of end users from this group in the consumer market, there are crucial commercial opportunities to increase the reach and hence the revenue for any business. There are many hidden advantages as well in ensuring web accessibility like improved search engine ranking etc. (For more information and some staggering facts please visit http://www.w3.org/WAI/bcase/resources).

On the technical side, how about a bit of retrospection into what is missing in our delivery cycle – how do projects treat web accessibility? How about the situation in your work place? Has accessibility testing been set aside for a specialist to look at? Or worse, has it been postponed to be considered in a future release (in other words not to be looked at unless it became a burning issue!)? From my personal experience, it seems like the easiest decision to set it aside conveniently as a non-functional requirement. But is it not really a key quality issue related to functionality in that a website might not be available to a part of the end user group? Are we, as testers, doing our bit in enabling the transformation of the web resources to be more inclusive – by making a strong case for it to be taken as a priority, by influencing the decisions about quality assurance activities for accessibility at test strategy level, by being bothered to reserve some time in our estimates for accessibility checks? From experiencing temporary conditions like injuries to having aging grandparents, we have all witnessed the effects of disability, either directly or indirectly. However, does the empathy reflect in our everyday work? It is worth asking that question more so, if you are working on a public facing website.

In my opinion, it makes sense for this to be every tester’s remit – irrespective of whether you are a specialist in accessibility testing. This brings us to the question of how easy is it for you to pick up the required knowledge, if you are a novice.  Here are a few tips from my personal experience of learning more on this topic.

1)      Internationally accepted guidelines – WCAG guidelines are a logical place to start. The associated website http://www.w3.org/ is a highly recommendable source of authentic information.

2)      Familiarisation with assistive technologies – From using key board short cuts to magnifiers, it is important to get comfortable browsing in the accessibility mode (including default options provided by Operating Systems or any specific applications). Getting accustomed to a screen reader in particular involves a learning curve.

3)      Getting acquainted to the tools – There are many useful tools available which can make life easier. For example, a colour contrast analyser can assess precisely whether the given content is suitable for those with colour blindness.

4)      Online forums and blogs – this is perhaps too obvious as a source but there are some specific online forums that hold invaluable information.

When should you get involved?  At any point of the project, but sooner the better. From reviewing the web design prototypes or wire frames, all the way to auditing existing websites, a tester can be crucial in uncovering accessibility issues at any stage. However, early involvement can also ensure that there is significantly less risk of design changes late in a project life cycle.

Are there other reasons which would deter a tester from delving deep in this aspect? Here are some arguments I have come across as to why testers hesitate to take this up and my response to them:

  • “Usage of too many tools, I prefer manual, exploratory approach.”
    • You would be surprised to find that the most effective of the accessibility tests are manually executed!

 

  • “I like tools and this is not an exciting area of work.”
    • Again you would be surprised about the number of tools available and the innovation that you can bring in testing. Although human intervention might not be completely ruled out, there is a range of software available to make that effort minimal.

 

  • “WCAG checklists are massive and impractical to complete verifying them in a short span of time.”
    • It is possible to achieve the same coverage through a concise approach.

 

  • “I can’t emulate the experience of a person with actual disability.”
    • While it is true that the ideal way to test a website for accessibility cannot be achieved without users with disability, it is not impossible to anticipate and avoid issues they are most likely to face. Removing the most rudimentary and obvious barriers can make a huge difference.

 

In the spirit of simplifying these tests, how about a quick top 10 checks you could run manually, a condensed version of WCAG if you like, to ensure some important aspects of accessibility.

1)      Reading order – Disable CSS on the browser to check if reading order is logical and if there is appropriate usage of headings.

2)      Focus order – Keyboard only access on all key parts of the web page, ensuring sequential navigation to the website which is logical in order.

3)      Screen reader friendly – Access through a screen reader to check if all visible content is meaningfully conveyed.

4)      Meaningful URL hints – Link descriptions are appropriate.

5)      Alt text usage – Important images have appropriate alt text specified.

6)      Colour cautious – colour contrast is carefully chosen in terms of fonts and colour alone is not used to convey any crucial information.

7)      Timing out – Any time limited action gives user enough time.

8)      Instruction clarity – Forms are clearly labelled and have clear instructions.

9)      Magnifier friendly – Content can be resized easily.

10)   Easy navigation – Skipping sections is easily possible.

I personally found that going through a website with a screen reader and keyboard can be the quickest way to unearth the most significant of the issues. There is more to accessibility testing should you have a need and time to investigate further. For example, setting up user groups, establishing end user profile etc.

I hope the information above will encourage you to be an ambassador for web accessibility. Why wait for a specialist, when you can be one! Go on and be the torch bearer for a cause that ensures an equitable resource, which is for everyone.

About the Author:

Sowmya RameshSowmya Ramesh is a Test Team Leader at Sopra Group, with over 10 years of IT experience. Having played varied roles early in her career ranging from a developer to a project manager, she recognised a strong inclination for testing which eventually became her chosen career path. A stint at ‘Enable Scotland’, a charity supporting people with learning disabilities, gave her an opportunity to understand the needs of the disabled community and she has developed a deep interest in accessibility. Sowmya has actively led an initiative to develop accessibility testing in her company and has made key contributions in this connection over the last three years. She has been striving to raise awareness about it in her immediate testing community and hopes for it to gain more importance amongst testers. Sowmya’s other interests include Indian classical dance, which she believes has a positive effect on her work and personal life.

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