Automated testing of GNOME accessibility features

GNOME is partipating in the December 2023 – February 2024 round of Outreachy. As part of this project, our interns Dorothy Kabarozi and Tanju Achaleke have extended our end-to-end tests to cover some of GNOME’s accessibility features.

End-to-end testing, also known as UI testing, involves simulating user interactions with GNOME’s UI. In this case we’re using a virtual machine which runs GNOME OS, so the tests run on the latest, in-development version of GNOME built from the gnome-build-meta integration repo. The tests send keyboard & mouse events to trigger events in the VM, and use fuzzy screenshot comparisons to assert correct behavior. We use a tool called openQA to develop and run the tests.

Some features are easier to test than others. So far we’ve added tests for the following accessibility features:

  • High contrast theme
  • Large text theme
  • Always-visible scrollbars
  • Audio over-amplification (boost volume above 100%)
  • Visual alerts (flash screen when the error ‘bell’ sound plays)
  • Text-to-speech using Speech Dispatcher
  • Magnifier (zoom)
  • On-screen keyboard

In this screenshot you can see some of the tests:

Screenshot of showing tests like a11y_high_contrast, a11y_large_text, etc.

Here’s a link to the actual test run from the screenshot:

These tests run every time the gnome-build-meta integration repo is updated, so we can very quickly detect if a code change in the ‘main’ branch of any GNOME module has unintentionally caused a regression in some accessibility feature.

  • GNOME’s accessibility features are seeing some design and implementation improvements at the moment, thanks to several volunteer contributors, investments from the Sovereign Tech Fund and Igalia, and more. As improvements land, the tests will need updating too. Screenshots can be updated using openQA’s web UI, available at, there are instructions available. The tests themselves live in openqa-tests.git and are simple Perl programs using openQA’s testapi. Of course merge requests to extend and improve the tests are very welcome.

One important omission from the testsuite today is Orca, the GNOME screen reader. Tanju spent a long time trying to get this to work, and we do have a test that verifies text-to-speech using Speech Dispatcher. Orca itself is more complicated and we’ll need to spend more time to figure out how best to set up end-to-end tests for screen reading.

If you have feedback on the tests, we’d love to hear from you over on the GNOME Discourse forum.