A Review of Free, Online Accessibility Tools
- Current page: Page 1: Introduction
- Page 2: Comparing and Contrasting Accessibility Tools
- Page 3: Accessibility Report Formats
- Page 4: Additional Features
- Page 5: Which Tool is Right for You?
Online Accessibility Tools
Many web designers, developers, and evaluators are introduced to web access through accessibility tools. All accessibility tools perform automated checks of web pages for accessibility issues and all generally have additional features, but each tool targets different audiences. In order to help web designers, developers, and evaluators choose an appropriate tool for their purposes, this review discusses the general characteristics of accessibility tools, provides a comparison between tools, and offers suggestions as to which tool would be appropriate for different audiences. This review is not comprehensive and only covers the following seven free online accessibility tools:
- Accessibility Valet Demonstrator (WebThing) - external link
- AccMonitor Online (HiSoftware) - external link
- Cynthia Says (HiSoftware) - external link
- TAW (Sidar in Spanish) - external link
- Torquemada (WebxTutti in English and Italian) - external link
- Wave 3.5 (WebAIM) - external link
- WebXact (Watchfire) - external link
Other free evaluation tools:
General Characteristics of Accessibility Tools
HTML Validators vs. Accessibility Tools
Individuals new to web accessibility need to understand some of the general characteristics of web accessibility tools. Some of these characteristics can best be seen by comparing accessibility tools with HTML validators. Understanding the difference between HTML validators and accessibility tools is important to web designers, developers, and evaluators because these people need to know that there is more to ensuring the accessibility of a Website than checking it with an accessibility tool.
HyperText Markup Language (HTML) validators are Standard Generalized
Markup Language (SGML) Parsers that check the mark-up language
of a Web page against its document-type definition (DTD).
A DTD for a web page is listed before the
in the source code and defines the type of HTML being used
and the mark-up tags that can be employed within the page. HTML
validators can tell users whether or not their code is valid or invalid.
In contrast to HTML validators, accessibility tools cannot tell users whether or not their web pages are completely accessible or inaccessible. All accessibility tools scan the source code of a web page using interpretations of either the United States Rehabilitation Act Section 508 standards and/or the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (WCAG). These tools help can help individuals spot glaring accessibility errors and remind users of accessibility issues that require manual checks. Using accessibility tools is really just one of the first steps toward Web accessibility.
The Problems with Automated Tools
In the same ways in which we don't always accept the results of a spell and grammar check (or they don't catch the real errors we have because words are spelled correctly), web accessibility requires more than just accessibility tools; it requires human judgment. All accessibility tools vary slightly in their interpretation of WCAG 1.0 and Section 508, and depending on the interpretation, accessibility tools can give users some automated results that require human judgment.
Here is an example. WCAG 1.0 Priority 3 checkpoint 5.5 states, "Provide summaries for tables." Interpreted strictly, this checkpoint could mean, every table in a web page should have a summary attribute. In practice, putting summary attributes into both data tables (which should have summaries) and layout tables (which do not need them) just gives individuals using screen readers more distracting information to read through.
Accessibility Tools Need Human Judgment
It is important to remember that accessibility tools can only partially check accessibility through automation. Of the sixteen standards in Section 508, only seven standards can be partially evaluated automatically. Similarly, of the combined 65 checkpoints in WCAG 1.0 Priority 1 through Priority 3, only nineteen can be partially evaluated automatically. The real key is to learn and understand the web accessibility standards rather than relying on a tool to determine if a page is accessible or not.