Purpose of List
This is not an exhaustive list of accessibility testing tools. It is meant to be of use to people who are not accessibility experts, but just want to get an idea of where some changes can be made to make things more accessible. Used in conjunction with a list of accessibility checkpoints you want to cover, these tools will help you discover what you need to fix. I’d go with Jim Thatcher’s Favelets if you’re just starting out and can only afford one. Did I mention they’re all free?
Accessibility Testing Tools
The WebAIM WAVE toolbar for Firefox is one of the few tools that tests the DOM: it evaluates the rendered version of your page. Because WAVE runs locally, the toolbar can check intranet, password-protected, dynamically generated, or sensitive web pages. You couldn’t meet a nicer guy than WebAIM Associate Director Jared Smith and if you use this tool you should thank him (and tell him I sent you) @jared_w_smith. Jared cares deeply about people, and especially about people who need just a bit more help to be able to freely access information. WebAIM is a great resource for accessibility information. Check out this article on the principles of building websites that are perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust: “Constructing a POUR Website.”
Jim Thatcher’s Favelets
Jim @jimthatc is another really nice guy who is legendary in accessibility work. While at IBM, he needed to devise a way to quickly manually check pages and so he developed the Favelets for checking accessibility. If you scroll almost down to the bottom of the Favelets page there is a section titled “Rapid human review for accessibility” which outlines a great approach for you if you don’t have much experience testing for accessibility. While the WAVE Toolbar is comprehensive, the Favelets provide a more approachable environment for newcomers.
Web Developer Toolbar
The Web Developer toolbar is loaded with great ideas like “View Responsive Layouts” which means you’ll want to have this toolbar loaded even if you’re not checking accessibility. Unlike Jared and Jim, I have never met Chris Pederick but now that I think about it, will have to make an effort to do so. At least I can Tweet at him @chrispederick.
Colour Contrast Analyser
The Colour Contrast Analyser was developed by Jun of Wrong HTML in collaboration with the Mighty Steve Faulkner @stevefaulkner who is yet another great and kindly person. Steve, who demurs when the sobriquet Mighty is attached to his name, is now Senior Web Accessibility Consultant and Technical Director, The Paciello Group Europe, and is also a W3C HTML5 editor. The Paciello Group now develops and distributes this excellent stand-alone tool. Founder and President of The Paciello Group, Mike Paciello @mpaciello is another outstanding individual who has been doing accessibility for decades. I really can’t recommend the Colour Contrast Analyser enough. Since it is stand-alone you can use it across all applications and documents. It’s another tool I can’t do without whether I’m checking for accessibility or not.
Web Accessibility Toolbar
The Web Accessibility Toolbar (WAT) for Internet
Exploder Explorer is essential. Remember: use Mac for development, Linux to run things, and Windows for checking things in IE. So while you are discovering what dastardly thing IE has done to your pages now, you can also check accessibility with this great toolbar. WAT is developed by the Mighty Steve Faulkner and maintained and distributed by The Paciello Group.
Screen Reader Disclaimer
If you don’t know what you are doing, attempting to use a screen reader to check accessibility is difficult. There are many people who use screen readers all day, every day. Some of them will help you if you pay them. Did you know that the unemployment rates for persons with disabilities is staggeringly high? I must recommend a unique service offered by Knowbility. Knowbility is a premiere accessibility organization led by Executive Director Sharron Rush @sharrush who is an outstanding person in all ways, constantly working to improve accessibility for all. If you want to get the expert help you need without breaking your head, simply use Knowbility’s AccessWorks Document Accessibility and User Experience Testing initiative, an enterprise that will connect you with people with disabilities who are expert users of assistive technology.
That brings us to the use of screen readers for accessibility checking. Screen readers are a form of assistive technology (AT) that outputs information via text-to-speech or a Braille output device. The major screen readers are Job Access With Speech (JAWS), Non Visual Desktop Access (NVDA), VoiceOver for Mac (and iOS), and Window-Eyes. Despite the claim I made in the first paragraph that all the tools on this page are free, JAWS and Window-Eyes are commercial software but they will work in demo mode. NVDA is free though a donation will surely help, and VoiceOver comes with Mac OS X or iOS equipment at no additional charge. I’m always auditing things with VoiceOver on my iPhone and iPad just to get a sanity check. These are the major players. Just as there are more accessibility checkers than I’ve listed above, there are more screen readers not listed here.