Normative and Functional Testing

Written by: Jonathan Avila

As the field of accessibility has become larger, it has also become more formal and professional. Prior to formal accessibility standards, governments and other organizations were required to provide a reasonable accommodation to meet accessibility. These solutions were generally on a user-by-user basis. People who were familiar with the assistive technology would perform an ad hoc assessment of the information technology required by the user and would then install assistive technology coupled with a custom solutions such as scripting or macros. This process often address the known functional requirements of a specific subset of information. After the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and Section 508 standards were released this process continued using the same methods.

Some companies in the accessibility space, including Level Access, realized that simple functional assessments using assistive technology were not sufficient for a professional industry. In addition to adding a normative technical testing component, we knew that the functional testing component needed to be formalized. The goal of this process was to create a repeatable scalable process of functional and technical/normative testing that could be used as a guide or ruler for compliance/conformance to an accessibility standard. A good accessibility program and assessment methodology must include both of these components. Accessibility standards also address these concepts although the level to which these items are covered is a policy decision that often differs by organization.

Section 508 addresses this by having two subparts. Subpart B covers the technical (normative) requirements that information technology must meet. Subpart C covers functional performance criteria for this technology. Some people have the misunderstanding that the functional performance criteria only apply when the technical performance criteria cannot be met, for example, when new technology emerges. However, both the technical and functional criteria are applicable to all electronic and information technology covered by Section 508.

WCAG 2 addresses normative and functional testing by introducing the concept of “accessibility supported” as a requirement for conformance. WCAG 2 conformance is not simply meeting the technical guidelines and checkpoints but also requires that technologies used expose information to assistive technologies and that assistive technologies are able to interpret and make the content accessible to the user.