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Where’s Bobby

Careful! This post is looking a little old and could be inaccurate in many, many ways

Accessibility is becoming a more important part of a web developer’s job. Yet accessibility is notoriously a hard thing to get right and it’s only getting harder.

If you’ve ever read the WCAG specification you would know that even for some of the most technically minded people the specifications are a difficult read. It’s not just the WCAG specification that suffers this way but the XHTML/HTML specifications read the same. Luckily for us there are online tools that mean we don’t have to read through hundreds of pages to know what we need to do to get everything right.

This isn’t true in the case of accessibility, unlike coding standards the accessibility guidelines cover both design and mark-up and online tools are only able to check mark-up. The tools do their best to advise on the areas that apply to design, or at least they did…

Bobby by Watchfire (now owned by IBM) was one of the most comprehensive and useable web accessibility tools, but now it has disappeared from the Internet. Instead you get some blurb about the development of what appears to be a paid for accessibility checker. Personally I find it disappointing that with the growing emphasis on web accessibility we as web developers are losing the tools that aide us.

There are a number of alternative options such as cynthiasays and wave, however I have personally found these a bit poor to use due mainly to unimaginative presentation and guidance. It is my opinion that there is a massive gap in the market for an online accessibility checker that is able to provide us with meaningful results in a pleasing and useable graphical interface. I would personally love to undertake such a project myself but a lack of time or necessary skills means the project would never reach my own expectations. However if anyone fancies a shot I’d be happy to pass on my ideas.

With the abundance of free online web applications and tools, I’m surprised that such a tool is not available for free, even given the limits such a tool has on providing a fully comprehensive view of the accessibility of a website.