The Inaccessibility of Automated Accessibility Tools

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As the concept of accessible websites continues to spread, more and more web developers are turning to automated tools to test their sites.  There are many tools out there, from those that generate detailed reports to toolbar add-ons for Internet Explorer and Firefox.  There is a bran new one just announced this week called AMP Express, which will generate a report based on the criteria you enter and test for compliances with Section 508 and WCAG 1 and 2.

But how accessible are these tools to potential web developers with disabilities?  For example if I were a totally blind web developer and wanted to be sure my site complied with all guidelines, what tools could I use to help me along that path?  Are there any at all that are accessible to me?  Of course I can test my site using my screen reader, but that would only give me part of the picture and in many ways, it would be more of a usability test rather than one for overall accessibility.

I asked some blind web developers what if any tools they are able to use to make sure their sites are accessible.  The only screen-reader accessible recommendation I got that tests for WCAG 2.0 is Total Validator.  This tool will even check for spelling errors and provides a report that is fairly easy to read via JAWS.  Another suggestion was Cynthia Says, which also tests for certain criteria.  However, from what I can tell from just a trial of it, the tool seems a bit outdated, though it also provides a screen-reader-friendly report that is easy to read through.

I am very interested in your thoughts here.  I would like to start being able to assess websites using more than just my screen-reader.  I want access to the same information other testers can get via accessibility toolbars.  Tell me what you think!

1 thought on “The Inaccessibility of Automated Accessibility Tools”

  1. Desiree,

    First, thanks for mentioning AMP Express in your post!

    Accessibility testing tools abound these days, especially for testing websites. Much can be done to provide an assessment of a website for accessibility using automated means and most of the tools out there will provide the same level of quality with respect to their results because, frankly, they (we?) all test for the same things using much the same methods. Unfortunately, automated testing – regardless of the tool – can only get you about 20% of the data necessary for one to make an informed decision of how accessible your cite is. The rest of the process is manual.

    There are numerous ways to test using non-automated means, ranging from manual code inspection to manipulation of browser settings, manipulation of hardware settings, use of assistive technologies, or simple things like using a keyboard only to navigate. Additionally, an audit is not complete without performing use case testing with actual users of assistive technologies completing typical system tasks.

    Clearly, toolbars fit squarely in with the manual inspection process. Many of the toolbars out there will provide you with good results specific to the things they can test for, be it the WAVE toolbar, the Firefox Accessibility toolbar, or something else. Regarding your question about these toolbars’ level of accessibility, I have no specific knowledge of them though given their context-of-use I’d be shocked if they weren’t themselves accessible.

    Here at SSB BART Group, we include the InFocus Toolbar for IE with all licenses of our Accessibility Management Platform (Better known as AMP: http://amp.ssbbartgroup.com). The InFocus Toolbar is meant as a complimentary tool to help the web accessibility auditing process be more efficient for users of AMP and can do loads of things all the other toolbars can do, such as turning on & off stylesheets, turning on & off JavaScript, grayscale previews, text-only view, view header info, and so on. Additionally, it performs screen captures and captures of the live DOM (including session-based capture) to assist in your auditing.

    SSB BART Group has more than 8 blind or low-vision client services employees who use the InFocus Toolbar on a daily basis, so we know it is accessible too!

    Hope this helps.

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