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Timeboxed Accessibility Audits - Why and How

I've found that the activity of accessibility auditing can be very different depending on who you talk to. While we all follow the same guidelines and use many of the same automated accessibility tools and manual testing methodologies, how we work and pull it all together is as diverse as we are.

In my day to day work I've honed a few variations of how I organize and timebox my testing for accessibility conformance, each has their own strengths and weaknesses that make them ideal for specific situations. In this article I'd like to detail one such variation I've been calling "Timeboxed Accessibility Audits" or "mini audits".

TL;DR

Timeboxed audits are basically accessibility audits on a time limit to prioritize speed of delivery over comprehensive results. These agile accessibility audits are intended for situations where smaller course corrections are needed or more data points are necessary before making larger accessibility strategy decisions.

Why audit on a time limit?

Target Audience

Teams that are:

  • in the middle of the development process, in need of some accessibility course correction and training
  • interested in low hanging fruit remediation before a comprehensive audit
  • in need of a quick spot check to help with future accessibility strategy and decision making

Setting Expectations

I mentioned strengths and weaknesses in the intro, here are some to consider before giving timeboxed audits a try.

  • Allotted time will never feel long enough, you'll need to get comfortable with incomplete.
  • This is not intended to be a replacement for a more complete audit, you most definitely should plan on revisiting more comprehensively in the near future.
  • You should never imply remediating issues found during a timeboxed audit leads to conformance. If conformance is the end goal, this is not for you.

Guidelines for timeboxed audits

Flexibility is key here, the following are high level guidelines I try to keep in mind but as always you should take into consideration the needs of your target audience and plan accordingly.

Setup

  • Determine a number of hours you're able to spend, a day or less seems to be a sweet spot. Hold yourself to it.
  • Determine your representative samples and then narrow them down to the top 5. 
  • Pick 3-4 accessibility testing tools, make sure it's a mix of assistive technology manual testing (for example keyboard navigation and screen readers) and automated testing (for example browser plugins). Ideally, you should aim for methods that can all surface unique observations.

Auditing

  • Keep thinking "broad strokes", watch the time, and remember this isn't meant to be perfect. You're going fast for a reason.
  • If you absolutely have to check every one of the representative samples, divide your timeboxed goal hours by the samples you have to check. Be mindful of your time and move along to the next when time is up.
  • Track as much detail as you can quickly and try not to do much accessibility testing research. If you have research ideas that could help provide more details during remediation, add notes about that research idea instead of following through on it.

Deliverables

Times up, pencils down. Now it's time to prepare your deliverables, this will depend on your goals. Some ideas based on the target audiences mentioned above:

  • Teams mid-development - Export your observations and get them added to your issue tracker (Jira or Azure, for example). Refine them as a team so everyone benefits from seeing where improvements can be made, pay particular attention to where these learnings can help improve accessibility from the start on upcoming tickets as well.
  • Low hanging fruit remediation - Isolate the most common issues that hit that impact sweet spot of low effort and high priority.
  • Quick spot check - Identify trends and spend a bit of time writing out an executive summary with particular attention to the upcoming decisions that need to be made.

Wrapping Up

As accessibility-minded professionals, we are fairly used to considering and accommodating for various constraints for the benefit of our users. This method of auditing turns that consideration around upon ourselves and our work. I hope, with a little practice, timeboxed audits can become another viable option available to help you with your accessibility efforts.

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