Hire Real People with Disabilities for QA Testing

Paul Bohman
Director of Training
Twitter: @paulbohman

One of the most effective things any company can do to make their site more accessible to people with disabilities is to hire real people with disabilities to test the website for accessibility issues. It makes sense. Who better to test for accessibility than the people who need it most? They have practical life experience using assistive technologies like screen readers, screen magnifiers, voice input, alternative keyboards, etc., and they know where their pain points are. They are the real experts in disability access to the web, because they live it.

Here are a few ways to include people with disabilities:

Short term contracts:
The benefit of this approach is that it's fast and easy to set up, and it is relatively inexpensive. The downside is that you probably won't have the input of people with disabilities throughout the process. You'll ask them to evaluate the site. They'll evaluate it, and then you'll respond to the evaluation. It's kind of piecemeal, which gives the whole company the impression that web accessibility is a checklist item, when it really should be a way of thinking at every stage of development.
Full time employees:
This requires the most commitment, but it's also the most complete option. If you do it right, people with disabilities will be able to give feedback on everything from the initial concepts to the prototypes to the final production version of the components. In some ways, this option might also be the cheapest, because you have a greater chance of avoiding big mistakes that require complete redesigns. Working alongside people with disabilities also educates fellow developers and testers, making them more intimately aware of the needs of people with disabilities. You change the company's culture, and that's kind of a big deal.
You could probably find people with disabilities who are willing to look at your site and give you free feedback. That can work, but come on... if you work at a big company, you can afford to hire a person or two or ten. Besides, people with disabilities are among those most likely to be unemployed or under-employed. You can do your part to help improve the lives of a few people who need it most by giving them a job.