August 30, 2017

The Secrets to Successful Testing of Accessible Documents

Jen Goulden | Project & Quality Manager
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Although automation has made creating accessible documents more efficient, testing is still a vitally important step in the process, and is a component that some organizations don’t fully understand. To start with, when we talk about testing accessible documents we tend to use the terms Quality Assurance and Quality Control interchangeably, but in reality they are different things. According to ISO-9000:2015 Quality Assurance (QA) refers to the procedures that must be followed to ensure that a product meets certain standards or customer requirements. Quality Control (QC) refers to testing and reviewing the final product to ensure that there are no problems or errors. Both QA and QC are necessary elements of document accessibility, but here we will focus on QC, or testing the final product.

QC is the phase of the process where you ensure that your documents comply with current legislation, including the recent Section 508 refresh. It is just as meaningful for you to get a sense of how the end user will experience your files. That’s why it’s so important (particularly with Accessible PDF and Accessible HTML5) to test with screen readers as well as verify technical accuracy.

Each of the accessible formats has standards, guidelines and best practices that you must follow in order to achieve technical accuracy. For example, braille has both code and formatting rules. Code rules tell you which symbol to use and formatting rules tell you how to arrange elements of text (such as lists and headings) on a page. Similarly, large print has industry standards regarding fonts, spacing and many other aspects of page layout. In both cases the best way to verify technical accuracy is to have someone well-versed in the appropriate standards read through the files. For braille this person should be a certified braille proofreader. Regardless of the format, the person who transcribes or remediates the files should not be the one who proofs them.

The distinction between technical accuracy and the end user experience is more of an issue with Accessible PDF and Accessible HTML5. If you’re going to test your documents in-house you’ll need to test for both.

When it comes to technical accuracy of Accessible PDF files you can use tools such as Adobe’s Accessibility Checker, or PAC 2.0. Both of these tools can provide you with a report that tells you if your file meets a series of success criteria for accessibility. There are similar tools that perform the same function for Accessible HTML5. We call this type of testing “machine verification”. On the other hand, “human verification” of these formats involves a subject matter expert reviewing the file to verify that each element has either been properly tagged or artifacted. Both machine and human verification are important. Consider that even if an automated checker verifies the format, it can’t tell you if alt text descriptions make sense or are helpful, or if the read order is logical. In other words, a file can “pass” when verified by machine, yet fail to communicate all of the content of the file.

Once you’ve determined that your Accessible PDF or Accessible HTML5 documents are  technically accurate, they need to be tested with a screen reader. These programs (such as JAWS, NVDA and VoiceOver) are designed to convert text into speech. It is critical to note that Adobe Read Aloud is NOT a screen reader. It does not function as a screen reader so it will not reflect how the end user will interact with your files. It’s also essential that the tester is proficient with the screen reader you use for QC purposes. This means knowing the keyboard commands that enable the end user to navigate the file and access specific information. Without a thorough knowledge of these commands the tester is not able to replicate the end user experience.

We always recommend both machine and human verification for Accessible PDF and Accessible HTML5. We also recommend testing with at least one of the available screen readers. There are advantages and disadvantages to each of them, but that is another blog post entirely!

If you want to learn more about the secrets of testing accessible formats and hear about the best practices we follow here at CrawfordTech, you can view the recording of our recent webinar, “Testing Accessible Documents” here.