Should I use automated accessibility testing tools?

Published on 30 October 2019

Hands writing with pencil and paper next to desk with laptop

Yes. But that's just one part of making sure your website is accessible.

When checking your site for accessibility compliance, automated testing tools can be quite useful. They're often free to use and they quickly highlight many accessibility issues. Some even give recommendations on how to fix them. However, they're not a cure-all. Automated tools won’t pick up or accurately understand every issue. There are some issues that will require you to perform manual testing.

In the following HTML, an automated testing tool would see the image has an alt attribute with a value. All good! However, with manual testing you’d see the alt attribute text is a filename, rather than a description of the image content.

<img src=’/images/waste-services.jpg’ alt=’waste-services.jpg’>

Another problem you might experience with automated accessibility testing tools is false positives. These are compliance errors reported by a tool, which aren’t actually errors. The HTML below is likely to be reported as inaccessible, because the alt attribute doesn’t contain any text. However, we know the image, a page divider, is just decorative, therefore an empty alt attribute is valid.

<img src=’/images/divider.jpg’ alt=’’>

Automated accessibility testing tools are useful, but keep in mind they’re not a magic bullet. Combining automated tools, manual checking, updating site content updates and watching reviews will produce a better result overall. The bottom line is that making your site properly accessible can never be fully automated and will require some work on your part.

For more on this topic, please read gov.uk’s blog post, What we found when we tested tools on the world’s least-accessible webpage

Monsido  and Siteimprove are both automated accessibility testing tools that we have worked with in the past. Visit them online and request a site scan if you’re ready to add an automated testing tool to your website accessibility tool box.  

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