February 01, 2021
Disclaimer: I am writing as a paid consultant and advisor for Evinced, a startup building new accessibility testing tools. Read on to find out why I said yes to this engagement and what you should know about their product launch!
As an accessibility advocate and web developer, I've spent a lot of time using and recommending accessibility testing tools. I want the process of developing accessible websites to be as successful and encouraging as possible so we can make the internet a more inclusive place. There are great tools on the market for accessibility testing of websites and web applications. I've worked on multiple in my career including some of the leading ones: axe-core, Accessibility Insights, Tenon, and Protractor for Angular.
I believe that semi-automated tooling such as browser extensions and fully automated accessibility tests with Cypress, Jest, Selenium, or similar (which I'll group together as "automated checks") are essential to building and sustaining accessible websites. Tooling can help highlight issues in the development process without relying on manual review for absolutely everything. Much progress has been made in this area since I started as a developer in 2009.
A reevaluation of how to scan a webpage using computer vision seemed very promising to me in raising the number of possible scanned violations. Some investors had already agreed: Evinced raised a seed round and Series A funding to spend dedicated time and effort pushing through this ceiling.
Finance hasn't historically had the most positive reputation in the accessibility community, with multiple vendors acquired by larger firms (Paciello Group and Level Access) and VC-funded organizations fighting with each other over patents. AccessiBe in particular has been selling overlay add-on products to site owners that don't actually solve accessibility problems but attempt to auto-fix them at runtime. Overlays contribute to a culture where site and theme developers aren't notified or required to fix their own code, and the systemic inaccessible cycle continues.
While Evinced is supported by venture capital, they are focused on solving the core problems of inaccessible development with tools that teach developers and other team members how to build more accessible sites and apps. They are eager for feedback from the community and are committed to making their products the most useful and accessible they can be. As a consultant, I've been transparent with them about what needs to improve in addition to what is working well. Their approach is definitely ambitious, and there are some rough edges in their solutions at the moment. But that also seems expected for a 2-year old company working on multiple solutions at the same time, and I'm encouraged by their work ethic.
I'll be interested to see how Evinced uses their computer vision and AI algorithms to create revolutionary accessibility rules, since they've really opened up what's possible by doing things in a new way. As the Evinced team evolves their prototypes into production-ready validations, there will be more solutions for things that would otherwise require manual or custom automated testing, like tricky color contrast problems and missing keyboard support.
I also now have better answers to a couple of questions I've seen floating around the community for the past few years, including:
- What should I use to crawl or scan a list of webpages for accessibility? Try the Evinced Site Scanner, with a community free service. There's an enterprise free trial as well where you don't need to speak to a sales person.
- How can I test a native mobile app for accessibility? Try the free iOS Debugger, with other native platforms coming soon.
The need for manual accessibility testing will never fully go away. There is simply too much nuance for computers to make websites and apps intuitive and accessible without human review. Pushing the limits of what's possible can bring us closer to an accessible web by making development easier. This launch feels like a step in the right direction.