WebAIM - Web Accessibility In Mind

Introducing WAVE 4.0

WebAIM is pleased to announce the release of WAVE 4.0. We invite you to test WAVE and provide feedback, recommendations, and bug reports on this beta version at this time.

What is WAVE?

WAVE is a web accessibility evaluation tool. Rather than providing a complex technical report, WAVE shows your original web content with embedded icons and indicators that reveal the accessibility information within your page. WAVE cannot tell you if your web content is accessible – only a human can determine true accessibility – but WAVE can help you evaluate the accessibility of your web content. You can submit web content to WAVE for evaluation by providing a URL, uploading a file, or entering/pasting HTML code.

What’s New in Version 4?

New evaluation rules

WAVE 4.0 beta features 28 new accessibility tests. These provide more detailed checking of accessibility issues and features found in your web content. For instance, instead of simply identifying missing alt text, WAVE 4.0 indicates if the element missing alt text is a decorative image, a link, an image map hotspot, etc. New tests check for empty headings, broken skip navigation links, missing or poor page titles, small text, pop-up windows, hidden content, and much more.

A new evaluation framework

An entirely new evaluation framework makes WAVE more powerful and flexible. Rather than relying on complex tests and if/else statements, a simple, XML-based language is used for writing evaluation rules. This allows easy creation and modification of evaluation rules, icons, and reporting features. Eventually, WAVE may allow user-authoring, editing, or submitting of evaluation rules to allow custom evaluation of web or other content. This framework will allow us to implement future testing under our cognitive disabilities initiative.

Powered by Mozilla

When web content is submitted to WAVE, WAVE uses the Mozilla Gecko rendering engine (this is the rendering engine used in Firefox) to generate a virtual representation (or DOM) of the page. This rendered content, rather than the raw HTML code, is then evaluated against the evaluation rules. This allows WAVE to evaluate elements after cascading style sheets have been applied to them. WAVE can now identify overly small text, for example, even if it is small due to multiple CSS inheritances. It also allows for better evaluation of documents that are not structured or coded to web standards.

Better reporting interface

WAVE 4.0 reporting is simpler and more user-friendly. Tooltips for WAVE icons now provide additional details. Four different report views allow you to evaluate different aspects of your web content. New functionality is available for copy/paste of HTML code and viewing your evaluation history. Additionally, the number of preference options available has decreased. In fact, there really are NO user preferences in WAVE 4.

The interface is also more stable, allowing inline reporting for complex, CSS-driven web site. Despite the improvements, we cannot account for all possible styles and some reports may be rendered with unreadable or layered elements. In such cases, an option is available for disabling CSS styles within reports.

While the interface is javascript driven, all functionality is available with scripting disabled. We implemented the hijax approach which uses scripting to enhance an already-functional interface.

In future versions, more detailed reporting and report customization will be available.

WAVE Toolbar

The WAVE Firefox Toolbar will be available late January 2008. This toolbar will perform all of the WAVE evaluation work directly within your web browser. Because there will be no WAVE server interaction, this will allow for private and secure evaluation of password protected, intranet, dynamically generated, or script modified/AJAX powered web pages.

Beta Resources

During beta testing, a set of test case documents will be available at http://wave.webaim.org/report These provide an excellent way to become familiar with how WAVE works and what its capabilities are. Additionally, the Icons Key can be used to identify new WAVE icons and tests.

WAVE is very much in beta, so if you encounter bugs or have recommendations, please use the feedback form to notify us.

We will be holding an EASI webinar on Monday, January 28th, where we’ll present on the new features of WAVE 4 and what to expect in the future.


  1. Richard Morton - QM Consulting Ltd

    Initial tests with this new version look good. Looking forward to the toolbar when it becomes available.

  2. Jason King

    I just tested a few websites and the results seemed accurate. Wave picked up on the points I expected it to.


  3. Susan Mattson

    I just tried WAVE on a couple websites also and am impressed with the ease of use and am looking forward to the toolbar. I am fairly new at accessibility issues and appreciate this very much. Thanks!

  4. Nina

    I was pretty annoyed when I went to use Watchfire’s Bobby just now, only to see that IBM have taken it away from public use so soon after their aquisition of Watchfire last year.

    Thankfully after a little searching I found WAVE and was amazed at the graphical interface rather than the plain report that we used to see from Bobby. This is a definite improvement… thanks !!

  5. Sue Rego

    Good for you! There are so few testing tools out there, its nice to see this user-friendly tool come online as an alternative to the high priced 508 testing software products.

    Bobby and Lift Machine both just disappeared into the greed of the commercial world, and will probably re-emerge later is $1000 products. Please don’t let us down. Stay online and FREE please! Thanks!

  6. Stephanie Jobs

    Thank you for caring about the small website developers who cannot afford the high-end products. Your tool is very helpful.

  7. Jared Smith

    Thanks for your comments. We can assure you that WAVE will always remain a freely available tool. We are beginning development of an enterprise version that will do auditing and site spidering functions, but the page-at-a-time version of WAVE and the toolbar will remain free.

  8. Bruce Gingery

    Many congrats on an extremely useful tool, and I echo Stephanie’s thanks. I’d tried Bobby before, and really just fallen back to validator.w3.org, which at least warns of things such as missing ALT on images, in addition to structural defects in (some) web content.

    I confess ignorance about audio stylesheets for screen readers, and hope to find more useful information, in the form of guidelines (or even a usability validator) at some point. I try to take into account low-contrast problems and specific color-blindness factors, but have seldom found even usable guidelines regarding that, as well.

    Your cognitive disabilities direction is something I’d not even thought about, in the past. Your site is the first I have ever seen even mentioning that there may be something, within the framework of web construction, that can be done to help.

    Would you consider allowing links on pages for validations using the online WAVE, similar to that available for validator.w3.org? I’ve installed such on one on one page (so far) but limited access (and even visibility) to the link, to my own personal use in accord with your Terms of Use. My best guess is that online validation can be kept current, whereas browser plugins may become stale (perhaps obsolete is too strong). That’s not a criticism of the browser plugin which has distinct uses, too. I have a lot of web-technology content that validator.w3.org cannot access. Server-side generated dynamic content can easily be validated with your WAVE 4.0, where a link defines the content, rather than “Web 2.0” or similar interaction.

    It can be difficult to (for example) try to cope with active page elements for deuteranamoly, while still providing the stability for orientation under alternative technologies, such as screen readers. It is not impossible to still build “visually attractive” websites for the general public while pushing accessibility to the broadest audience. Perhaps it is more difficult than the old “it looks good in my browser” spotchecks, but certainly it is worth the effort.

    Blank images are often used to improve visual layout while adding nothing to the visible content (or contextual meaning) of the page. Is there a consistent guideline for the alt attribute for such images? Some (so far) will call ‘alt=””‘ missing, whereas yours finds many warnings with ‘alt=” “‘.