As with many agencies, our university is charged with making Web pages accessible to people with disabilities. And our support team is responsible for providing training and support for this initiative. But understanding accessibility guidelines and techniques is only part of the deal.

In such situations, Web developers need a way to test their Web pages, and in a distributed development model, enterprise-level monitoring may also be appropriate. Our organization performed an evaluation of several Web accessibility testing agents. Criteria used in the evaluation included which checkpoints the software assessed, ease-of-use, end-user licensing, server-wide monitoring, and cost. In the end, we selected the AccVerify/AccMonitor solution from HiSoftware, Inc., which tests both Section 508c and World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) guidelines.

Let’s look at how to use AccVerify to test Web pages. I’ll cover the enterprise-level monitoring agent, AccMonitor, in a future article.

Understanding accessibility guidelines

Several guidelines have been defined to determine accessible Web sites. As amended, Section 508c of the 1978 Rehabilitation Act is the required standard for all federal agencies or those receiving federal grant monies. The W3C defined a set of prioritized guidelines for Web accessibility that has been adopted by many other organizations.

Estimates indicate that 20 percent of the U.S. population has some level of disability. Accessible design makes navigating the Web easier for anyone with visual, hearing, physical, or cognitive/learning disabilities. But accessible design features for the Web are like curb cuts—everyone benefits. It’s not just a person in a wheelchair who uses a curb cut; people on bikes, pushing strollers, or pulling carts all utilize the feature. Likewise, Web accessibility makes the Web more usable for everyone.

How AccVerify works
In our organization, AccVerify is deployed to each Web developer. Two versions are available. AccVerify Professional can scan Web pages located on local drives or on the Web that are developed by any means, and it offers some advanced features. AccVerify for FrontPage integrates with Microsoft FrontPage as a menu item and scans individual or multiple files that are part of the open FrontPage Web. Both versions are available with AccRepair to make automatic fixes or guide users through the repair process. Validating files with AccVerify is a three-step process followed by repair work.

Selecting the files to verify
First, the user selects the files to be validated. As shown in Figure A, AccVerify Professional allows a user to select files from a variety of sources. Users can choose individual files from the local hard drive, or scan entire folders. In additional, files can be selected from FTP sites, singly from the Web, or through an automated crawl process. Files located on content management servers can also be selected. In the Professional version, users can set up Web sites as individual projects to store file selections and other settings.

Figure A
Users can select files in a variety of ways.

Verifying the selected files
The second step is to run the verification process on the selected files. Verification is quick, and HTML formatted reports are immediately available for review. The user can generate an overall summary report, shown in Figure B, and detail reports for each Web page. In AccVerify Professional, a user can save reports as separate groups to keep the reports from different dates or Web sites separated and to prevent them from overwriting one another. AccVerify records all information from the verification process in a recorder database. Users can use this database to generate reports later or exported it to a historical database to compare progress over time.

Figure B
Sample summary report from AccVerify

Performing a Visual Interview
No computer program can judge all accessibility guidelines. AccVerify provides a third step in the verification process called Visual Interview, shown in the wizard in Figure C, to assist the user with those checkpoints requiring visual determinations. A series of questions are posed corresponding to each visual checkpoint. A user can review pages as a group with the same answer for each page or review pages individually. During the Visual Interview process, a user can easily open the Web page in question to view and assess the checkpoint. Answers from the interview process are recorded in the AccVerify database, and reports can be updated to reflect those answers.

Figure C
Visual Interview Wizard

The repair process usually follows the validation process. Users can make repairs through their Web development tool or through the AccRepair option that guides users through missing ALT text and other repair options. AccRepair’s Table utility provides the ability for easy repairs to data tables, a feature many WYSIWYG Web editors lack.

More than just accessibility testing
AccVerify is more than Web accessibility testing. Perhaps your organization has other guidelines for published Web pages. A specific copyright notice or disclaimer statement may be required. The Custom Checkpoint Editor defines and reports on these customized rules. The Custom Checkpoint can validate based on specific text, conditional text, or specific HTML elements. Sample custom reports for ALT text quality, deprecated HTML tags, and metadata are provided. Custom reports can be included during the verification process.

Also included with the purchase of AccVerify Professional is the Link Validation Utility. This utility crawls Web pages and tests links on each page to ensure they are valid. Report data includes additional information, such as last modified date, and can be published in HTML format or exported to Excel.

Pricing and availability
Retail pricing for AccVerify Professional is $495, and AccVerify for FrontPage is $99. AccRepair, which includes either version, lists for $995. HiSoftware offers volume pricing and discounts for educational and government users. Floating licenses are available, so only the necessary number of concurrent licenses is purchased. Technical support for the first year is included, and annual maintenance is available. Purchase of AccVerify Professional includes several useful add-ins, such as the AccVerify Publisher for Microsoft Office, Link Validation Utility, Usability Test Manager, and Combined Project Report Publisher, at no extra charge. You can download a trial version of AccVerify and test up to 25 pages for 30 days.