2004 Conference Proceedings

Go to previous article 
Go to next article 
Return to 2004 Table of Contents 


Michael Cooper
Accessibility Product Manager, Watchfire
1 Hines Rd, Kanata, ON K2K 3C7, Canada
Phone: +1 (613) 599-3888 x4019
Email: michaelc@watchfire.com


Bobby™, the well-known Web accessibility evaluation tool, has been re-implemented in the robust Web scanning platform of Watchfire®. The Bobby product line has expanded to meet the varied needs of professionals in the field. At the same time, the core support offered by the tools remains the same, offering consistency for all users of Bobby products. Here we describe the new common features, look over the different features of each product with Bobby accessibility evaluations, and preview upcoming support changes.


The Bobby product line has been completely rewritten. New and improved features include:

Improved scanning capability

One of the important gains is the more comprehensive scanning ability. Web sites today are implemented in many different technologies, and a successful scan requires that all pages can be found and analyzed. In addition to following links in HTML pages, Bobby now follows the links in PDF, Flash, and Microsoft Office documents, as well as links generated by JavaScript and analyzes HTML pages targeted by these links.

Web sites vary not just in document formats, but also in the mechanisms required to connect to them. It is now possible to test sites that have high levels of security or are protected behind passwords. In fact, any HTML form can be completed and the results of posting that form data evaluated. Forms can be completed multiple times with different data. This ensures not just that Bobby can log into a secured site, but that template-driven sites whose content varies based on form parameters can be fully analyzed.


Various forms of improvements have been made to accessibility evaluations. The percentage of automatically detectable issues has increased, and manual checks have refined triggering conditions to make them more meaningful. Accuracy and updated support for the guidelines has, as always, been made throughout. The emphasis on providing complete guideline coverage remains and many of the subtleties involved are better supported than ever before.

Report layout

Reports have been designed for greater readability. Each accessibility report contains a summary of the types of problems found, as well as the total number of problems found on the page. A tabular format groups guidelines together and shows information about each error. As always, detailed help information about each type of error is available. It is also less confusing to find the specific part of the HTML that Bobby has flagged. Instead of including the HTML source for the entire line on which an element had a problem, the report now includes just the name of the element and identifying attributes, allowing a quick search in the source for that problem.

Expanded Bobby product line

There are now several products that include the Bobby accessibility checks:


WebXACT™ (http://webxact.watchfire.com/) is a new free online service to test a single Web page at a time. Like the older Bobby online service, WebXACT tests for accessibility, and also contains the complete set of quality and privacy checks that are part of the Watchfire platform. Since it is based on the Watchfire platform, it is able to connect to sites that the older Bobby server could not.

Bobby and WebQA

The product still known as Bobby is a single-user client tool. Like the older version this product will scan up to a few thousand pages at a time and produce reports on each page. This tool has the improvements described above, the ability to scan through and connect to complex sites, test pages that require the submission of form data, report design improvements, and accessibility evaluation improvements.

WebQA™, like Bobby, is a single-developer tool. It has identical accessibility evaluation features to Bobby. In addition, it includes the complete suite of other Watchfire scans for site quality and privacy, and inventories of elements used on the site.


AccessibilityXM is a module of Watchfire's enterprise evaluation tool, WebXM™. WebXM automatically scans your online business for over 100 types of quality, privacy, and accessibility defects. It then generates web-based reports for both management and technical staff. The management dashboard reports provide high-level views of how problems are distributed across the operation. The detailed technical reports provide the exact page or line of code that needs to be repaired. Scanning administration, data storage, and database configuration are carried out through the web-based Control Center. WebXM's flexible architecture supports multiple enterprise user roles and access permissions. As an enterprise product, AccessibilityXM supports large number of users and has been tested on sites with millions of pages.

There are two major workflows supported by the AccessibilityXM reports. The first workflow is an issues-centric view in which you drill down from a summary of issues to the URLs with those issues, and then down to the specific portions of pages that have accessibility problems. This makes it easy to find and fix all instances of a particular problem type site-wide. The second workflow is a page-centric view where you find pages with accessibility issues and then drill into a detailed report of all the accessibility issues on that page. This facilitates working on individual pages and repairing as many issues as possible on that page. You may find that you switch between these workflows depending on where you are in the process of working on your site or, to some extent, the differences among accessibility issues.

Ongoing development

The Bobby products set industry standards in automated accessibility evaluation. Automated evaluation is, however, only a part of the process of developing and maintaining an accessible Web site. It is a crucial part, because as the Web becomes more ubiquitous and Web sites grow larger, it is impossible to find all accessibility problems manually. Further improvements to Bobby extend support for the manual evaluation process to reduce the workload involved in achieving full compliance.

As larger organizations take on accessibility initiatives, the need for software tools to minimize the workload involved in achieving site compliance has grown. At the same time, it is important for tools to help ensure true accessibility and not merely nominal compliance to the guidelines. This requires improvements to the checks performed to maximize the number of automatic checks and ensure that manual checks are raised in as targeted a manner as possible.

In order to further Web accessibility and provide the best possible support to customers, Watchfire has taken a leadership role in the creation of techniques for the next version of the W3C's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, version 2.0. These techniques describe implementation of the guidelines and suggest a common approach for the creation of accessible Web sites. They can be updated as technologies change, while remaining an accurate interpretation of the guidelines, and are a comprehensive survey of the way to create accessible Web sites.

Bobby has always defined its checks according to the best available interpretation of the guidelines. The techniques work defines that interpretation for the future. In addition to providing market leadership, Watchfire's involvement in this process benefits customers by allowing Bobby to reflect a deep understanding of these techniques and their implementation.


During the presentation, the various forms of Bobby will be shown. The presentation will focus on new features at the time of the conference. There will be discussion of how to integrate automated evaluation into a total evaluation process.

Go to previous article 
Go to next article 
Return to 2004 Table of Contents 
Return to Table of Proceedings

Reprinted with author(s) permission. Author(s) retain copyright.