Five steps towards better software for A11Y accessibility

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Five steps towards better software for A11Y accessibility

The A11Y movement is an important one, because it refers to how accessible software is to everyone, ensuring that apps can be used by the maximum number of people to ensure inclusivity. The A11Y is a numeronym, with 11 referring to the number of letters that the word 'accessibility' contains between 'a' and 'y'.

Nor is this just about reaching the most potential customers: with increasing numbers of websites and apps being used for healthcare, government and more, A11Y has become a must. After all, in many countries, accessibility is a right protected by law.

This right to accessibility is why the teams responsible for bringing new software apps to market (or updating existing ones) increasingly need to address A11Y. There are a multitude of assistive technology requirements of which to be aware, including: reading comprehension level, and how easy is information to view (not just relating to eyesight issues, but also dyslexia, migraine triggers, colour blindness).

A11Y is often overlooked as part of software development and testing, but building accessibility into these processes does not have to be onerous. There are some other useful best practice techniques, including the use of alternative text, usually abbreviated to alt text.

Alt text

Alt text assists people with visual impairment, and can be used in conjunction with browsers or screen readers that block images. Usually abbreviated to alt text, it allows viewers to get the gist of an image on an app or website — including viewing infographics — without seeing it themselves. When writing alt text, the message being conveyed is added to the image, and if the image has text, include that text in the alt too. Here is an example: ALT = jeans blue straight leg. Alt text descriptions should use simple language, be descriptive rather than promotional, and while it needs to convey all the vital information, shorter is better than long.


Screen reader users navigate content with heading structures. So, making sure that structure is well-organised and easily translated — for instance, h1, h2, h3 — by screen readers is essential. The title of a page should be h1, which should not be used anywhere else to avoid confusion. For the remaining content, use h2 and h3 in order, and it is important not to skip a number (for instance, jumping from h2 to h4), otherwise the screen reader will think there is no text.


Having strongly contrasting graphics helps to make content more visible in general. Plus, people with colour-blindness can experience difficulties differentiating between hues, so when there are colours being used adjacent or in combination with each other, strong contrast will improve readability for people with impaired vision. There are a variety of contrast analyser tools that can be used to check the accessibility of a visual design.


Not everyone uses tracking pads or a mouse on a laptop, so websites must also be tested for keyboard functionality. If it is possible to press the tab key and navigate to each element in a logical order, then the physical navigation of a website or app is in good shape for accessibility.


Like any aspect of software quality, efficient testing is a fundamental need.It is essential to ensure that apps work with screen readers, speech recognition software and screen magnification. Areas to test include labels (used by assistive technologies such as VoiceOverorTalkBack), hit area size (the area designated for user interaction, and options for users to easily increase font size to fit their needs.

In line with the DevOps and shift-left movement, testing early and frequently is the name of the game. Test frameworks developed specifically for behaviour driven development (BDD) are a recommended starting point. Also, given that developers and test engineers will already have multiple test requirements, automating as many A11Y-related tests as possible will help to mitigate additional workload.

A11Y requires continuous validation both by manual and automated tools across web and mobile. It needs to be part of automated regression testing, and most of the functional testing frameworks like Selenium and Cypress for web integrate with the Deque AXE solution, while for mobile apps, there are native iOS and Android A11Y scanners.

From thinking about the initial design of a web or app through to testing, these are just some of the ways in which development teams can contribute to A11Y,support assistive technology,and help the digital world become a more accessible and inclusive one.