What we talk about when we talk about accessibility testing


Presented at 9:15am in Colorado F on Wednesday, November 8, 2023.



  • Derek Jackson, Digital Accessibility Developer, Harvard University

Session Details

  • Length of Session: 1-hr
  • Format: Lecture
  • Expertise Level: Intermediate
  • Type of session: General Conference


Because so much of our manual accessibility testing relies on the keyboard it might seem that a successful keyboard test is also a successful screen reader test, or vice versa. However, these two types of testing cover very distinct and separate ways of using a browser. In this talk, we will look at keyboard and screen reader testing, why they are not the same, and how keeping them separate can improve our testing.


There is often confusion surrounding the distinction between keyboard and screen reader testing when we do manual testing. While the keyboard plays a role in both keyboard and screen reader testing, in reality, we are testing two very distinct ways that assistive technology can interact with content in a browser. This presentation will examine the unique aspects of each type of testing and why we want to keep them separate. To fully understand these distinctions, it is important to understand the technology that these devices rely on. In this presentation, we will look at the ways the keyboard alone works with a browser and how it works when we use the keyboard with a screen reader. These are two different ways of “talking” with the browser and understanding the ways that keyboards and screen readers work will help us avoid confusion in the testing we do. In addition to understanding these different technologies, it is important to connect them to the users that rely on them. So we must go beyond the keyboard and connect the screen reader and keyboard testing we do to the users and assistive technology affected by these two different testing methods. This is not just a pedantic issue for technology but has the potential to impact real people if we are not clear about what and why we are testing. From this presentation, attendees will gain a deeper understanding of the nuances of keyboard and screen reader testing, why they are distinct methods of testing, and the users we are thinking about when testing with these two different methods. While both types of testing involve the keyboard, they each have their own specific focus. Understanding these differences will enable us to make better-informed decisions so we are better equipped to perform thorough and effective accessibility testing, ultimately making the user experience more equitable.


  1. Understanding the differences between keyboard and screen reader testing enables more effective testing.
  2. Keyboard and screen reader testing are distinct and separate ways of using a browser.
  3. Connecting keyboard and screen reader testing to users is essential.

Disability Areas

Mobility, Vision

Topic Areas

Accessible Course Design, Assistive Technology, Other, Uncategorized

Speaker Bio(s)

Derek Jackson

Derek is a Digital Accessibility Developer with Digital Accessibility Services at Harvard University, where he works with a team of developers and consultants to provide a host of accessibility service to the Harvard Community. Before working in this role he was at Harvard Business School Publishing where he worked in Higher Ed as the Assistant Director of Content Publishing. While at HBP Derek worked to make delivering accessible content a priority, building accessibility into publishing work flows and also creating an accessibility roadmap for the Higher Education group. Derek graduated from Simmons University with a M.S. in Information Science and also graduated from City University New York with a M.A. in Liberal Studies.