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Software Testing for Legal Compliance

Software Testing for Legal Compliance

Testing software to ensure compliance with accessibility laws helps IT professionals avoid Errors & Omissions lawsuits.

Thursday, January 9, 2014/Categories: errors-and-omissions

One risk in software development is failure to comply with accessibility standards. Laws and industry regulations can require IT businesses to make software and web services accessible to handicapped users, and failure to comply could lead to lawsuits.  

To help you prevent errors and omissions lawsuits associated with failing to comply with accessibility guidelines, this post provides an overview of the software testing process and which laws you need to know.

Project Risks: 3 Steps IT Project Managers Can Use to Test Software

In its web accessibility handbook, Microsoft suggests that software testing follows the following 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 Acts, 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 it and how accessible the navigation is via keyboard alone.

Some businesses like 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. Their website also posts a thorough overview of accessibility testing procedures.

What Accessibility Laws Do IT Professionals Need to Know?

  • Americans with Disabilities Acts. Section 504 requires that public programs be accessible to people with disabilities. Any work that you do for 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 will have to meet accessibility standards.
  • The Assistive Technology Act of 1998. The 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 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.

There may be additional laws that you need to know for your specific discipline. This is by no means an inclusive list. But it is a starting point.

Whether you’re a programmer, web designer, or a software consultant, the general takeaway is that failing to test software for usability and accessibility exposes you to professional liabilities. It's best to know these laws well, assess your software for risks, and manage whatever risks you discover to protect your business from and errors and omissions lawsuits.   

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