Accessibility testing gets smarter

Right about now, Webmasters at a lot of federal agencies are realizing that the job of making Web pages accessible to people with disabilities — mandated by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act — is an ongoing one. Fortunately, software designers haven't stopped looking for ways to improve the tools available.

When we last looked at Section 508 compliance software [FCW, May 21], we found Hiawatha Island Software Co. Inc.'s AccVerify Pro to be one of the most powerful and easiest-to-use packages available. Now, HiSoftware has released Version 2.0 of AccVerify.

Users of previous versions will feel right at home because the interface is generally the same. All program tools are integrated into a cleanly designed window that offers tabs for configuring the program, for selecting Web pages to check and for viewing results.

Buttons are provided for quickly generating reports of Web page conformity with Section 508 standards, as well as conformity to World Wide Web Consortium guidelines. As with previous versions, you can click on "View HTML" to call up a detailed listing of violations and their locations on the page. Alternatively, you can select "View Checklist" to call up a report of all Section 508 requirements, with flags indicating whether the site passed each of them.

Unlike some other programs, such as InSight from SSB Technologies Inc., AccVerify does not offer a view of violations as they actually appear on the page. Although we would like to see this as an option, we've found that Acc.Verify's method of listing suspected violations and their location according to the line of code they appear in is generally more useful.

Most of the improvements in the new version of AccVerify have to do with enhancements to the program's reporting tools. Most notably, a new "accessibility recorder" stores all verification results to an ODBC database, allowing you to perform searches and generate custom reports. Queries and filters can be saved, and queries and results can be shared over a network.

We also like the new history feature, which allows you to track the status of pages over time. You can see at a glance which of the pages you've assigned to staff members for improvement have been fixed and which lag behind.

In addition, AccVerify 2.0 offers new summary reports that make it easy to scan file names and results, as well as links to reports and detailed summary information. HiSoftware has also provided a set of new default report formats, making the burden of creating accessibility reports much easier to handle. Finally, we appreciate the new ability to locate files that may not have been verified in a previous run without having to rerun verification on the entire site.

Those new reporting tools may not seem like much at first glance, especially to those with small Web sites, but they can be critical features for larger departments and agencies that have many Web sites and pages to manage and need to spread the work among numerous staff members.

HiSoftware offers users a choice of three versions of AccVerify, beginning with the Standard edition. If you want additional features such as batch processing and variables that can be customized for testing, you'll want to try the Professional version. Finally, there's a Server version — for use on two Web sites and up to 50,000 pages — that offers automated enterprisewide compliance checking and runs as a Microsoft Corp. NT or Windows 2000 service.

In addition, if you want automatic repair tools, you can purchase AccRepair, which includes all the verification and reporting tools found in AccVerify, plus the ability to automatically repair certain violations, such as unnamed frames or images without alt-text tags.

However, Webmasters need not worry that HiSoftware will put them out of work. Even with automatic repair tools, a great deal of hands-on work is still necessary. Many potential violations can only be checked visually — such as whether information on a page is conveyed solely by color without any textual cues — and the most programs such as AccVerify can do is remind page designers to check closely.

That said, AccVerify and AccRepair certainly can make the Web designer's job easier and quicker.

REPORT CARD

AccVerify Pro 2.0

Score: B+

Hiawatha Island Software Co. Inc.
(603) 229-3055
www.hisoftware.com

GSA pricing for AccVerify Standard is $84; AccVerify Professional, $418; AccVerify Server, $1,093; and AccRepair, $839. Volume discounts are available.

Compared with others we've seen, HiSoftware's line of Section 508 compliance-checking software is the easiest to use. The new version adds tools for querying and filtering verification data that make the software easier to implement in an enterprise setting.

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