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Assert Accessible: Automated Testing for Accessibility with JavaScript

Alice Boxhall (Google), Cameron Cundiff (Pivotal Labs)
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More and more web developers are becoming aware of the importance of designing for accessibility—ensuring that their products are able to be used by as many users as possible, not just those who use the product in the same way as the developers do. Particularly given upcoming revisions to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which will likely apply web accessibility standards to the commercial web, accessibility is becoming a highly relevant issue.

An interest in testing for accessibility follows naturally; however, this has historically been an area which is difficult for developers to come to grips with. While tools have existed, they are often hard to find, incomplete, or don’t integrate well into developers’ workflows. Standards and recommendations are often perceived as esoteric and outdated. This creates a gap in tools and knowledge that leads to accessibility failures in applications. These failures are in turn often very expensive to fix in production. This can lead to some degree of resentment amongst product leads and developers towards the topic.

It is not, however, an impossible problem to solve. Testing for accessibility is tractable, without relying completely on expensive third-party services, if you have the right knowledge and tools up front. With open source tools, developers have a way to inexpensively incorporate testing into their workflows, and have transparency into the tests themselves.

We will introduce Accessibility Developer Tools, one such open source library which allows developers to run a suite of accessibility checks on their webpage as part of automated testing. We’ll look at some of the individual assertions, and then show some end-to-end testing workflows with tools that use the library, including the Accessibility Developer Tools extension and capybara-accessible.

We’ll discuss what benefits automated accessibility testing gives to developers, what types of problems they don’t solve, and areas of active development which may be opportunities for contributions.

This session will be co-presented by Alice Boxhall, software engineer at Google, and Cameron Cundiff, software engineer at Pivotal Labs.

Photo of Alice Boxhall

Alice Boxhall


Alice Boxhall is a software engineer at Google, where she works on improving accessibility support in Google Chrome.

Photo of Cameron Cundiff

Cameron Cundiff

Pivotal Labs

I work at Pivotal Labs, practicing TDD with Ruby on Rails and Javascript. I’m an advocate of web accessibility and automated accessibility testing, and a maintainer on capybara-accessible and Google Chrome’s Accessibility Developer Tools. I write about accessibility on the Pivotal Labs Blog