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U.S. Access Board Launches New Site for the ICT Testing Baseline for Web Accessibility

August 04, 2021

Testing information and communication technology (ICT), including websites, for accessibility is essential to ensure conformance with the Section 508 Standards that apply to ICT in the federal sector. However, there are two ways to test webpages for conformance: manual review and fully automated tools. Often a mix of manual and automated testing is needed to fully evaluate most websites.  The results, however, may vary according to the test methods used. It is important that test procedures align to an established framework or “baseline” to ensure that the results accurately evaluate conformance with the standards.    

In partnership with the General Services Administration (GSA) and the ICT Baseline Working Group in coordination with the CIO Council Accessibility Community of Practice (CIOC ACOP), the U.S. Access Board has released a baseline for testing web content. The ICT Testing Baseline for Web Accessibility sets minimum testing criteria and evaluation guidance to determine if web content meets the 508 Standards that incorporate by reference the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA. Issued by the W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative, WCAG 2.0 is a globally recognized, technology-neutral standard for web content. 

The ICT Testing Baseline describes how to evaluate conformance and is organized by categories to help users easily identify applicable requirements. The Baseline itself is not a test process and does not include testing tools, but it can be used to create an accessibility test process. It can also be used to assess how well an existing test process evaluates conformance with the Section 508 requirements. 

To aid comprehension of the Section 508/WCAG test requirements, the Baseline Tests for Web are in categories such as images, forms, keyboard, synchronized media, and sensory characteristics. Each test includes the applicable accessibility requirements, test method rationale, and procedures and instructions to assess accessibility properties and determine test results. Some Baseline tests have multiple accessibility requirements. For example, the Forms Baseline Test has eight accessibility requirements and test procedures for each requirement. 

Test procedures indicate the content to test (Identify Content), what to check (Test Instructions), and what determines a pass/fail outcome (Test Results) as illustrated in this example from the Forms Baseline: 

10.5 Test Procedure for Form has a Label
Baseline Test ID: 10.5-FormHasLabel 

Identify Content 

  1. Find all form components. Examples include buttons, text fields, radio buttons, checkboxes, multi-select lists. 
  2. Find all instructions and cues (textual and graphical) that are related to form components, including groupings, order of completion, special conditions or qualifiers, format instructions, etc. 

Test Instructions 

  1. Check that each form component has label(s) or instructions. [SC 3.3.2] 

Test Results

If any of the above checks fail, then Baseline Test 10.5-FormHasLabel fails. 

Utilizing the Baseline to create or evaluate a test process ensures that all Section 508 requirements are tested. While some accessibility requirements are clearly applicable to just one type of element, some requirements apply to many elements. WCAG SC 1.3.1 Info and Relationships, for example, is a single but very broad requirement that is tested by four Baseline tests. 

Many agencies have used the DHS Trusted Tester test process for their manual testing of webpage evaluation. The DHS Trusted Tester version 5.1 is a manual testing process that was developed from the ICT Testing Baseline for Web. Manual testing processes are time-consuming methods, and one of the goals for publishing the Baseline is to facilitate validation of methods which also include automated tools. Until automated tools are capable of evaluating conformance to all Section 508 requirements, the best test procedures involve a combination that provides both the efficiency and speed of automated tools and the accuracy of manual testing. 

The Baseline allows agencies to evaluate their own test processes, review others’ accessibility conformance reports, and trust others’ reports on web accessibility. Federal agencies are encouraged to review the Baseline, which is recognized as a best practice by the Federal CIOC ACOP, and begin their alignment efforts. Users are invited to propose improvements and submit test cases to help validate test processes and tools through a GitHub repository

The Baseline interagency working group is developing a procedure for federal agencies to validate how well existing test processes align to the Baseline. Test processes that demonstrate alignment to the Baseline will be acknowledged as reliable processes or determining Section 508 conformance. 

Direct questions or feedback on the Baseline to the interagency working group at:  ictbaseline@gsa.gov 

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