Everything You Need to Know About Manual, Automated, and Hybrid Accessibility Testing

Published: March 15, 2022

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    The need for internet accessibility can not be higher than now post-COVID-19, with everyone, including people with disabilities, struggling to do things and handle the pandemic. Everyone seems to be doing their shopping, education, work, and meetings on the internet. It makes you wonder if your website is accessible or not. And with ADA-related lawsuits increasing by the year, you need to check your website content for accessibility issues. The problem is that you aren’t sure if you need manual testing, automated testing, or hybrid accessibility testing.

    One thing’s for sure. You need to perform an audit, and this post highlights the differences between manual, automated, and hybrid accessibility testing. You can then decide on the best solution for your business or organization.

    What is accessibility testing?

    Accessibility testing evaluates everyone, not just a particular segment of people or people with disabilities, to ensure a product has the most extensive user base possible.

    What is a Manual accessibility audit?

    Manual testing involves having a qualified and trained person test each web page. They check for accessibility issues based on web content accessibility guidelines for various platforms, browsers, and devices.
    The test gives the best results if conducted by people with disabilities.
    They provide first-hand experience with your website that’s incomparable to the results any automated web accessibility testing tool can offer. They may even reveal issues on the site, which you may oversee.

    Manual accessibility audit

    However, an essential part of getting actionable results through user testing is ensuring your tester is comfortable by:

    • Giving them a clear idea of the conclusions you hope to gain
    • Providing them with a comfortable and quiet environment without interruptions
    • Preparing test materials and ensuring functioning assistive technology like screen reading software work correctly.

    While it’s worth recording testing sessions to keep track of your progress, do not assume one person’s feedback applies to everyone with disabilities. So observe and consider everyone’s feedback.

    In addition to user testing, the technician may alternatively recreate possible issues someone with disabilities may face while navigating your site. For example, they will see if a person with disabilities can identify correct alt tags on photos or use keyboard navigation to navigate the site.

    Manual testing is essential because it determines whether people with disabilities can use the product or site and offer practical usability. Besides, computers and software programs that perform automated accessibility testing are not 100% and cannot understand accessibility issues like humans do.

    Don’t worry if you don’t have in-house accessibility testing knowledge. There are manual testing services with accessibility experts who will review your website.


    • Experts can catch issues automated methods may miss
    • Experts offer customized solutions tailored to your needs against generic automated solutions
    • You can ask the expert questions who will also provide guidance
    • No software solution recurring fees
    • Most effective for checking compliance with assistive technology like screen readers, keyboard navigation, and browser plugins like JavaScript


    • Longer testing process because the expert checks each page manually
    • There is the risk of the manual tester missing some issues
    • Manual testing services and labor is more expensive

    What Is An Automated Audit?

    An automated audit involves scanning a URL through a computer program that uses set parameters to automatically detects bugs, errors, and any missing accessibility requirements in the entire website.
    Automated audits can detect accessibility issues like missing links, page titles, color contrast, and form labels in your website code. However, it cannot thoroughly identify issues as humans do, so they give only 30-40% accuracy.


    • Easy to use
    • Automated tests are affordable compared to human testing
    • It gives you a bird’s eye view of your website’s accessibility issues
    • Saves time and effort of checking lines of code
    • Helps pinpoint recurring issues, critical for Section 508 compliance


    • An automated test may give false positives, making you think your site is accessible when it isn’t
    • Offers about 30-40% accurate results
    • Does not provide specific advice to resolve issues

    What is an automated accessibility testing tool?

    An automated tool provides an intuitive way of checking the compliance of your digital products with web content guidelines. They automatically scan and check your web pages against WCAG standards and give a score or grade that helps you assess your level of compliance.

    They also help you identify where you need to improve and provide reasonable accommodations to make your digital products more compliant.

    Examples of automated accessibility testing tools are Google Lighthouse, Stark Contrast Checker, and the WAVE Evaluation Tool.

    Automated software lets you know how well your digital product complies with web accessibility guidelines. It’s useful for scanning a large volume of site pages and giving instant results.

    So imagine you are looking for missing alternative text; a quality software solution can quickly extract and serve this information. Manual checks take much more time to give the same results.

    Automated tools are also perfect for quickly checking forms and telling you if there are missing labels or double labels.

    Unfortunately, most tools are oversold as a complete compliance solution which does not guarantee compliance. So you cannot depend on free tools alone to ensure accessibility and compliance. Besides, as different tools give different results, they aren’t reliable.

    When to use an automated testing

    Automated testing is better for those at the start of their online journey toward digital accessibility. You get a rough understanding of whether your entire site adheres closely to content accessibility guidelines WCAGG.

    When to use a manual audit

    After an automated audit, you can use a manual audit to get an actual picture of your website’s compliance problems. The manual audit helps you decide on the perfect game plan for addressing the issues.

    How combining automated and manual testing helps

    Accessibility requires a collaborative approach with issues overlapping across departments like web, design, content, and QA. A manual and accessibility testing hybrid system gives you a complete picture of your website’s compliance problems.
    It also offers the flexibility to achieve an accessible website efficiently based on your organization’s needs and goals.
    Once your product is ready for testing, run it through automated testing tools to give instant results for you to review and align with WCAG standards.
    You can then have a group of manual testers, preferably with disabilities like impaired vision or hearing disabilities, check your website. They will conduct a test and give their personal user experience, and your accessibility expert can automatically run the process to reach accessible and usable limits.

    Automated & Manual Testing Compliance

    Which web content accessibility guidelines are tested?

    The testing tool should support tests for accessibility standards your organization must follow. Today most accessibility standards conform with the international standard- (WCAG) 2.0. WCAG 2.0, in turn, describes compliance based on three conformance levels- WCAG A (lowest), WCAG AA, and WCAG AAA (highest).

    Most websites, however, target to comply with level AA. And the upgrade to WCAG 2.1 AA is broader, making web content accessible to more users with disabilities. in addition to conforming with the WCAG standards, testing tools also accommodate the creation and maintenance of internal custom standards and rule sets.

    Tips to resolve compliance issues and incorporate accessibility

    The best way to fix your website compliance issues and thus incorporate accessibility will be by:

    • Working with people having disabilities as you can then fully understand their needs and problems.
    • Take into consideration whatever they are willing and can contribute to your compliance issues.
    • Make it a key point to regularly evaluate and improve your product’s accessibility.
    • Always use a hybrid approach and automated and manual accessibility testing to ensure optimal usability.

    With more than 56 million Americans having a disability, digital accessibility is more critical than ever. It plays an integral part in ensuring your business doesn’t miss out on any job access and business opportunities.


    • How do you do manual accessibility testing?

      You can do manual accessibility testing by:

      • Looking for areas that don’t have a high-color contrast ratio
      • Using browser tools or test screenshots using Photoshop
      • Checking if all font sizes in the content management system pass or fail
      • Exploring the site using the arrow, tab, shift, and enter keys to ensure keyboard-only navigation
      • Testing and providing your site complies with screen readers
    • Can accessibility testing be automated?

      Yes, accessibility can and should be automated because while testers conduct most tests manually, they do not perform all tests.

    • What is accessibility testing in manual testing?

      Manual accessibility testing involves inspecting your website or digital product by hand for accessibility issues that may be problematic for users with disabilities. Manual testing is necessary to detect problems that automated tests may skip.

    • Why is manual accessibility testing necessary?

      Manual testing determines how readable your web content is for different assistive technologies and situations like navigating menus and understanding alternative text, which are difficult to replicate in automated settings.

    Choosing the proper accessibility testing method for your organization


    Website accessibility testing should be your team’s ongoing and routine process to develop accessible practices for your website. About the proper method for your organization, it’s best to use a mixture of automated and manual testing based on your budget and other factors like your needs, in-house accessibility knowledge, and the number of websites to test.

    It’s best to start with an automated test to kill issues at the root instead of having to spend hours resolving issues after implementing the source code on your website. It’s always better to plan to conduct manual testing at regular intervals to assess your website’s usability from a human perspective. It ensures your website produces the best user experience for your visitors.

    Automated tools with built-in reporting tools help you maintain track of issues, assign tasks, and document your results to send to management.

    Remember that compliance is a great place to start your accessibility journey. And while automated testing tools help quickly build a picture of what you have to fix and ensure your digital product is compliant, these tools have limitations.

    They cannot tell you if your website is fully compliant with WCAG. This is why you need real people conducting manual testing to ensure your site is accessible and meets WCAG standards.

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