You might be surprised to know that currently 650 million people—or 10 percent of the world’s population—live with some form of disability . With the growing use of software in all walks of life, this is a major segment of the population that cannot be left behind.
Disabilities and associated accessibility problems largely fall into four categories:
Visual Impairments: partial or complete loss of vision. Low or no vision affects the user’s ability to discern or see the screen. Core assistive tools and technologies for the visually impaired include screen readers, Braille terminals, and screen magnification tools.
Mobility Impairments: conditions that affect movement of the limbs. This category includes conditions that cause difficulty or inability to use one’s hands, including tremors, muscle slowness, and loss of fine muscle control. Due to their restricted movements, users with mobility impairments might find the links in your application too close or too difficult to access. Some assistive technologies that promote accessibility in such cases include speech recognition tools and head mouse wireless pointing devices.
Auditory Impairments: partial or complete loss of hearing. Hearing loss affects the user’s ability to discern or hear audio. In some cases, hearing aids are a useful tool along with enhancements to your product, such as video transcription (a text equivalent for the video content).
Cognitive Impairments: mental disorders that affect cognitive functions. These disorders range from developmental disabilities to learning disabilities to cognitive disabilities of various origins, affecting memory, attention, developmental “maturity,” and problem-solving and logic skills. Screen readers come in handy in the testing process, but a lot of manual intervention focusing on site design, flow of information, and content intuitiveness is required in testing for accommodating users with cognitive impairments.
Special attention needs to be given to the product’s architecture, implementation, and quality assurance phases to accommodate these users’ needs. Identifying lack of support in these areas late in the game makes it very difficult to fix issues, leading to the possible alienation of a large set of your product’s users.
So, what can you as a tester do proactively to ensure comprehensive accessibility support for your product from the early stages?
Understand the Accessibility Guidelines and Standards: These guidelines set by governmental agencies and consortiums—including World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 and 2.0, Section 508 —outline critical checklist points that you can extract and incorporate in your test effort.
Understand Accessibility from a Usage Standpoint: Discuss your inputs with your product team up front. If your team has done usability tests in the past leveraging real end-users or is open to allowing you to interact with real-time users with accessibility issues, grab the opportunity. Interact with your users, observe them playing around with the product, and carefully make note of the kinds of issues they face from UI, functionality, and usability angles. If you have a usability expert on the team, work with him to analyze your observations. These findings go a long way to help you design the right product. Even if you do not have a product to demonstrate as yet, talk to users to understand their pain points and what they would like to see in a product such as yours.