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Why Manual Accessibility Audits are So Important

If you’re new to testing for accessibility, questions like these may have crossed your mind:

  • Why do I need to do anything manually when there are automated accessibility tools available?
  • What benefits are there to testing manually instead of just with automated tools? Doesn’t it take longer?

Automated tools and plugins are certainly helpful in incorporating accessibility best practices into your day to day workflow, and indeed as part of manual accessibility audits too. But there are some very important reasons why you shouldn’t stop there.

I’ll list some of the key benefits of automated testing and of manual testing to highlight how they’re different but complementary in creating a more comprehensive and efficient end result.

Automated Accessibility Testing Benefits

Let’s first start with some of the benefits of automated accessibility testing tools and browser plugins:

  • Speed: Automated accessibility testing tools can test a large number of pages in a short amount of time, making it more efficient for testing a large website or application.
  • Consistency: Automated tools can perform the same test on multiple pages, ensuring that the results are consistent and accurate.
  • Repeatability: Automated tests can be run multiple times, making it easy to verify that issues have been resolved and to keep track of progress.
  • Cost-effectiveness: Automated tools can be less expensive than manual accessibility auditing, as they do not require a team of experts to perform the testing.
  • Ease of use: Automated tools are designed to be user-friendly, allowing you to quickly run accessibility tests without requiring extensive knowledge of accessibility standards.
  • Early identification: Automated tools can identify accessibility issues early in the development process, allowing teams to address them before they become major problems.
  • Continuous integration: Automated tools can be integrated into a website or application’s development process, allowing for continuous testing and monitoring of accessibility issues.

For these reasons, automated tools absolutely have a place in the overall strategy of accounting for accessibility early and often.

Manual Accessibility Testing Benefits

Manual accessibility audits offer several benefits that automated tools cannot provide:

  • More Comprehensive: Manual accessibility auditing allows for a more comprehensive and thorough evaluation of a website or application, ensuring that more accessibility issues are identified.
  • More Coverage: Manual audits can identify issues that automated tools will never be able to catch. These include issues with keyboard-only and screen reader navigation, audio and video, and overall usability.
  • No False Positives: Automated accessibility tools report errors and warnings that are not actually issues, leading to wasted time and frustration during remediation. Manual auditing will filter these out before they get added to a remediation plan.
  • Less Duplication: Automated tools also tend to list all instances of the same issue, for example a link color that doesn’t quite meet contrast guidelines means every link on a page is a separate item in the automated report.
  • More Helpful: Auditors can provide recommendations for remediation, estimated effort, and a sense of overall priority to each observation. All these are invaluable insights that help with planning and prioritization of accessibility remediation efforts

Manual & Automated Testing – Best of Both Worlds

When it comes to ensuring the accessibility of a website or application, a blend of manual and automated testing is essential. Automation provides a quick and efficient starting point that the human touch of manual testing can refine with less duplication, more coverage, and helpful details. Together, they create a comprehensive and impactful approach to accessibility.

If you’re building a website or application, consider incorporating both automated and manual accessibility testing into your process to ensure the best possible outcome.

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