Automated vs manual web accessibility testing


More organizations have started to understand the importance of digital accessibility. This has led to the use of new resources to analyze the compatibility of websites with disabled online users. Businesses are leveraging tons of new resources to analyze conformance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

Due to the ever-evolving tech industry and the high demand, web accessibility testing falls is done in two ways;

  • Automated accessibility testing, and
  • Manual web accessibility testing

In this article, we will be explaining to you both methods. We will understand what they are, how they work, and at last, which one can be better for your business.

What is Automated Web Accessibility testing?

While most of the web accessibility testing is done manually, experts say that automating it is a better choice. As the name suggests, automated web accessibility testing is done with the help of multiple online tools and software out there. Instead of checking each page of your website manually, the tools scan your website and enable you to audit multiple documents, and web pages, all simultaneously.

Automated accessibility testing of your website not only saves you a lot of time but also allows you to work on the front end while the whole process is going on the back end.

What does automated web accessibility testing check for?

Whether you are getting started with web accessibility or striving to get the most out of it for current standards, using the latest tools and software to check your website can save you a huge amount of time and labor.

Just like the web accessibility experts, the tools will scan your website’s code to find common accessibility errors and identify common issues. These tools work in such a way that your website can be helpful for as many people as it can be.

Here are the key issues that automated testing tools will look for in your website;

Page structure and navigation

The automated web accessibility tools will check for your website’s page structure and navigation to make sure that users, both abled and disabled, can leverage your content.

The tools will;

  • Detect issues with your website and menus navigation
  • Suggest you appropriate improvements for users who rely on assistive technologies for navigation
  • Check for appropriate section headings and provide helpful fixes
  • Identify page regions that need to be marked up for better orientation.
Readability and color contrast

The tools also make sure that the content pieces on your website are highly readable and can be understood by everyone.

These tools;

  • Check the font sizes used in your content and parse to ensure optimal readability
  • Identify fonts with high character complexity and or ambiguity
  • Check for the spacing and the weight of the fonts used
  • Check for sufficient contrast between the fonts and the background on your web pages
Internal and external links

In automated web accessibility testing, the tools;

  • Spot informative link phrases (and CTAs) such as click here, click to know more, etc.
  • Make sure that the hyperlinks are easily identifiable by checking their hover and focus elements
  • Detect empty or broken links on your site for a better user experience
ALT Text and anchor text

Alt texts and anchor texts hold very crucial value for any website. They indirectly boost your website’s reach and help you get more traffic, leads, and ultimately customers.

But to get all of this, you must optimize them properly. The online tools and software used in automated accessibility testing;

  • Identify images on your web pages that lack alt texts.
  • Check for alt text-based inputs for icons and emojis
  • Check and identify if the alt texts and anchor texts are used repetitively or redundantly.
PDF accessibility

Apart from the other things on your website, the web accessibility tools also;

  • Check that the images in your PDFs contain ALT text
  • Identify PDF documents without bookmarks
  • Ensure that your PDF files have proper tab and reading order.
  • Check for interactive form controls in PDF files.
Checking buttons

The tools and software;

  • Ensure that the buttons are big enough to be visible and easy to be clicked on
  • Check for the presence of buttons to increase the font size and spacing on the page
  • Make sure that the reload buttons are easy to be clicked on
  • Check for the proper labeling of the buttons
Reviewing HTML and CSS
  • When you test your website accessibility with automated tools and software, you get;
  • Proper checking for issues in HTML parsing
  • Complete assurance that the page language is correctly identified in the HTML tag

This is not everything but a brief list of common issues that are checked for when you do automated web accessibility testing of your website.

Advantages of automated web accessibility testing

As we have seen previously, automated web accessibility testing saves you a lot of time and labor. But is that all? No.

Apart from this, doing web accessibility testing using automated tools and software helps you with many more things.These include;

  • It can be done by anyone

Automated web accessibility can be done by everyone, no matter if they are familiar with accessibility testing or not. Unlike manual testing, it doesn’t require a team of experts. To execute it, all you need to do is have some online tools and software and get all the information regarding your web accessibility with a few clicks.

  • It is much cheaper than manual testing

When you check for your website accessibility manually, you need to hire an in-house team of experts. And that can cost you a lot. But when you go with automated accessibility testing, it is much cheaper.

  • It helps you pinpoint recurring accessibility issues very easily

Though doing manual accessibility testing of your website with the help of experts is very detailed, they may miss some points. But when you go with the automated one, pinpointing your website’s recurring issues is much easier and more convenient.

  • Check thousands of web pages simultaneously

Going through the web pages of your website one by one to check their web accessibility manually is a daunting task. It can not only take several hours to do but also make you extremely tired, both physically and mentally.

That’s where the importance of automated web accessibility testing comes in. With high-tech automated tools, you can check hundreds of web pages on your website at once, providing a comprehensive overview of your site accessibility status within minutes.

Also, these super amazing tools can identify multiple errors on your site caused by a single root issue. It saves you from burning yourself out in finding them manually.

  • You decide what to fix first

When you use the manual method for checking your website’s accessibility, you would be fixing issues on the go as you discover them. But here you don’t know which issue is bigger and needs to be resolved first.

On the other hand, when you use tools to do the same automatically, you can prioritize the issues found and solve them first. This makes the process easier.

  • It tracks your web accessibility

Unlike manual accessibility testing, the automated method keeps a track of your web accessibility compliances and progress over time. It also reports to you if it identifies any issues with that so you can get it fixed ASAP.

Limitations of automated web accessibility testing

In the previous section, we went through the benefits of automated web accessibility testing for your business.

But like all the other things in the world, it has some limitations also. And being a fair information provider, it’s our responsibility to let you know them as well. There are areas in your website where no automated tool or software can detect accessibility issues. It can only be done manually. These areas include;

  • checking that all facets of your web page are accessed with keyboard-only navigation.
  • Detecting color contrast issues in your web pages that makes it difficult for users to read your content.
  • Checking for HTML5 and web accessibility issues in the Accessible Rich Internet Application (WAI-ARIA) elements for executing best coding practices, and
  • Testing the compatibility of your website with leading screen readers.

Best tools for automated web accessibility testing

Throughout the article, we have talked enough about different online tools and software that can help you do automated web testing for accessibility. But what tools are we talking about? Here are a few online tools that can help you automate your web accessibility testing and make the process much faster and easier.

  • AChecker
  • Accessibility Insights
  • aXe
  • Sortsite
  • Tenon
  • WAVE

What is Manual Web Accessibility Testing?

In the simplest words, manual web accessibility testing is the same process of checking your website accessibility for a larger audience. It follows the same process that automated web accessibility does, but just manually. Here, an expert or a team of experts is hired that checks your website manually and then creates a report on the observed data. Usually, their reports include detailed information about WCAG conformance issues and recommended fixes.

How is manual web testing different from automated accessibility testing?

Manually testing your web accessibility is a completely different thing than doing it the automated way.

In automated testing, tools only look for technical errors in your website and recommend fixes for that only. But in the manual method, you get to experience your website like a random reader. This way, you can identify different minor issues in your site that an automation tool cannot.

Whether it is to identify and optimize your web page background according to the fonts for a better reading experience or to structure your content for better readability, manual testing is your go-to way.

Benefits of manual web accessibility testing?

Manual web accessibility testing is a more frequently used method for checking the accessibility of your website than the automated one. There are several reasons for this;

  • It allows you to do everything that you can do in the automated method.

Everything that you get in the automated web accessibility testing can also be achieved manually. From checking ALT texts, Anchor texts, and PDFs to reviewing the readability of your website and your content structure, you can do everything in the manual method.

  • It helps you increase your web content screen reader compatibility

Screen readers are the most commonly used devices/tools used to assist readers with low vision. There are different models of screen readers available in the market but usually, they all scan the content of a web page and use the source code to help the readers with what they want to see and when.

For these simple reasons, optimizing your web content properly for screen readers has become so important. Though doing this the automated way helps you scan missing titles on your web pages, it cannot tell you whether the title is appropriate and helpful or misleading.

On the other hand, manually doing this not only helps you find the missing titles and tell the nature of the title but also understand the context of the titles to make sure your readers get value from your site.

  • It helps you optimize your website keyboard navigation

To improve the accessibility of a website, it is very important to make sure that its major or all functions are operable without a mouse. To be a website accessible, it needs to be operable with different assistive technologies and the keyboard is the most important of them. But you can’t optimize your website for keyboard navigation with automated web accessibility testing. It can be done using the manual method only.

Limitations of manual web accessibility testing

Unlike automated web testing, manually testing your website for accessibility doesn’t have many limitations. The reason is that you can do almost anything you want using this method.

Still, you should know the few limitations of this method.

  • It is more time-consuming and labor-intensive

Obvious, I guess. Manual web accessibility is more time-consuming and labor-intensive than the automated method. Because here you would be doing everything on your own without seeking help from any automation tools.

  • The kind of result from the test depends solely on the tester

Unlike automated testing where tools are assigned to provide you with clear results, the results in manual web accessibility testing mainly depend on the experience of the person testing the website.

If he is actually an expert, things will go a good way. But in case he is not, your website accessibility can be affected negatively also.

Conclusion: What’s the best way to test web accessibility?

There is no doubt that automated web accessibility testing is a great way to move forward with. It provides you with accurate details and appropriate suggestions in simple no time.

But after all, you’ll be using tools. And they don’t see things the way a human does.

That is why it is necessary to follow up with manual testing every time you check for your website accessibility using automated tools.