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Software Testing for Legal Compliance

We mentioned earlier that ensuring accessibility of software is a professional responsibility for IT professionals. Here's a closer look at strategies for testing software to ensure that it complies with applicable accessibility standards.

3 Ways to Test Software for Accessibility

In its web accessibility handbook, Microsoft suggests that software testing should consist of three phases:

  1. Functional testing. Do all the features of the web site, service, or software work? This is the most basic component of testing: finding potential software defects.
  2. Usability testing. Is the service or software easy to use for people with and without disabilities? Many usability concerns are universal. For instance, having a clean, easy-to-read interface helps all users.
  3. Compliance testing. Are there compliance standards you need to meet? Depending on your situation, you may have to meet protocol outlined by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1997, the Assistive Technology Act of 1998, W3C web accessibility standards, or other guidelines. We'll outline these requirements below.

Testing software for accessibility can involve all sorts of things. For instance, to make software accessible for the visually impaired, software testers check how well a screen-reader program is able to process information and how accessible the navigation is via keyboard alone.

Some businesses (including the SSB BART Group) specialize in testing software for accessibility and offer accessibility training for IT professionals who want to learn more about designing software and systems to be handicap-accessible. Its website also posts a thorough overview of accessibility testing procedures.

What Accessibility Laws Do IT Professionals Need to Know?

There may be specific laws that you need to know that are unique to the clients or industries you serve, but the following list outlines the accessibility laws that most commonly affect IT businesses.

  • Americans with Disabilities Act. Section 504 requires that public programs be accessible to people with disabilities. Any work you do for federal government agencies, local governments, educational facilities, or other organizations that receive government funding will need to be handicap-accessible. Employers must make software and IT systems accessible to all employees.
  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1997. This law requires states to make public education accessible to students. Education software or IT systems you install at schools or libraries will have to meet accessibility standards.
  • The Assistive Technology Act of 1998. This law provides money to state programs to make accessible devices, software, and technology available to disabled citizens. You might work on one of these projects as a contractor or subcontractor.
  • Telecommunications Act. Section 255 requires that any telecommunications (including VOIP, computer automated answering systems, etc.) be accessible or compatible with assistive technology to make them accessible. The FCC published a guide to accessible telecommunications.
  • W3C web accessibility standards. While not a formal law, these international guidelines are industry-standard ways to make websites and designs accessible to all users. The W3C even has a series of validation programs that can test your software for errors, including one called HTML TIDY, which cleans up HTML coding errors and finds places where you can make your site more accessible to the disabled.

Whether you're a programmer, web designer, or software consultant, the general takeaway is that failing to test software for accessibility can expose your business to professional liability lawsuits.

Next: Software Testing for Security

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