Accessible, yes; usable, no

19 February 2004


A Blue Perspective: Accessible, yes; usable, no

It's always helpful when an anonymous reader sends you a message saying your site "fails miserably". In this case, it was my "claim" to Bobby AAA approval that they took umbrage to. It's best not to rebuke such scathing criticism directly, but needless to say that this site (or at least the home page) is now Bobby AAA approved, and all it took was three seconds and one full stop.

However, in the process of getting approval I discovered that I could indeed empathise with Anonymous_Reader_37's view of my site's accessibility. If you have a look at the Bobby report page with the error on it (saved for posterity) it looks like your page is an affront to the existence of the Internet. There's bold text, line numbers, warnings and priority levels all over the report. What isn't wrong with your site?

Unfortunately, if your site is approved, the report looks exactly the same. The only difference is that there's a rather small "Bobby AAA Approved" graphic halfway down the page, and that one previous error has disappeared. If you don't know what you're looking for, it still seems like your site is an affront to the existence of the Internet.

I can understand the exigencies of automated detection of accessibility compliance – there's much that a computer cannot (at least for the moment) determine, such as colour choice, and that's what most of the warnings are about. If you are diagnosing your own site, such advice is great, but it does confuse anyone who is quickly checking the accessibility of a site.

This could all be pretty easily solved by placing a prominent "All automated checks passed!" at the top of the page or – if it didn't pass – by listing the automated errors at the top of the page. I think that the W3C gets it pretty right when you're validating a web page. There's a nice big message at the top saying yay or nay, and forthcoming explanations of the nays (if you are unlucky).

Mr. Zeldman moved to Cynthia because of Bobby's supposed reliability, but she includes even less recognition of a site's overall goodness, albeit with less alarming warnings.

I realise that both sites are free and help in a very important area, and for that I bless them, but with some tiny changes they could be oh so much better.


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  1. 1/8

    Unearthed Ruminator commented on 19 February 2004 @ 03:45

    I used to use Bobby, but now it won't connect to my site, so I use Cynthia Says. Bobby will test and approve it's own site ( for AAA, it fails Cynthia Says ( - but does pass it for 508 and A (not AA); Cynthia fails itself for AAA and AA (but not 508 or A), so at least they are consistent.

    I agree that the interface on both sites could be much improved.

  2. 2/8

    James Craig commented on 19 February 2004 @ 10:02

    I'm guessing you probably already know this, but the "Bobby Approved" icon does not mean accessible. This is most accessibility consultants' biggest complaint with Bobby. What it should say is exactly what you've stated, "All automated checks passed." Maybe it should also have checkboxes for each of the user checks so that you can get to the "Bobby Approved" icon eventually, but not just after the simple automated checks.

    I see so many sites claim full accessibility just because they saw the "Bobby Approved" icon. Some of the people that take the time to add that icon to their site, don't even take the time to do (or understand) a single user check.

  3. 3/8

    Unearthed Ruminator commented on 19 February 2004 @ 23:29

    That is true James. It's a whole lot easier to just print off the check lists from the W3C and go through them (although Bobby and Cynthia Says can help with some of the basics and while they might approve a site, they will still provide suggestions of where to still check things manually. Of course, how many people are going to scroll down past the little Approved Icon ;) ).

  4. 4/8

    Keith Bell commented on 19 February 2004 @ 23:37

    I agree that the Bobby report page looks like a dog's breakfast. I can also see your point of view about Cynthia's failure to make a clear and obvious statement that a page has "passed" -- but I think that's probably related to what James said in Comment 2. Cynthia probably does not want to give the impression because a page has passed the automated tests, that it is necessarily accessible. Maybe Cynthia hopes that will encourage users to review the report for those checkpoints that need to be verified manually.

    From that point of view, I find Cynthia's tabular Yes/No/Other layout much more friendly than Bobby's report: I can scan down the columns quickly to pick out anything that needs investigation. As a result I've pretty much dumped Bobby in favour of Cynthia for accessibility checking (fickle creature that I am...)

  5. 5/8

    Jemal commented on 20 February 2004 @ 07:41

    It looks to me like this site won't pass if you ever have the same number of comments on two posts. Priority 2: "Do not use the same link phrase more than once when the links point to different URLs." "4 comments" is "4 comments."

    For some automatically generated content, I can't imagine how you'd prevent this. On my blog I include a list of the recent comments. How should my CMS automatically come up with some creative text for each comment?

  6. 6/8

    The Man in Blue commented on 20 February 2004 @ 09:14

    "4 comments for 'Insert Title'"?

    Thankfully, by commenting you changed the comment numbers :o]

  7. 7/8

    James Craig commented on 20 February 2004 @ 09:51

    As for links using the same link text, such as comment links and permanent links, you can either generate your link text or have a unique title attribute. IE. "6 comments on post: Accessible, yes; usable, no" or "Permanent link to post: Accessible, yes; usable, no."

    The title attribute addition probably isn't as accessible as the plain text version, but it has the benefit of not mucking up your design with a bunch of extra long text links.

  8. 8/8

    Ash Donaldson commented on 24 February 2004 @ 10:59

    Accessibility requires a number of levels of validation.
    First, it should be valid, structured XHTML, with valid, semantic CSS controlling presentation.
    Next, the automated checks should be applied (N.B. I prefer CynthiaSays for as first pass because the reports aren't so clunky).
    A great tool that provides a very visual way to check the semantic and structural layers is WebAIM's 'The Wave' (v3.5), which is always my next check.
    An expert review is next on the checklist. Having performed a number of accessibility studies, and working with people of differing abilities, or those using different technologies allows me to apply a set of my own heuristics as I walk through a site e.g. don't hide skiplinks as they are just as useful to people with motor disabilities as they are to people with vision impairment; or don't use underlined letters to indicate accesskeys; etc.
    Finally, there is the ultimate test - testing with users. I'm amazed how rare this actually seems to be. If Usability Engineers, HCI Consultants, or Human Factors Engineers relied upon automated checks and expert reviews, they'd be immediately discounted. These are only the beginning - somewhere to find areas for further investigation. For something to claim to cater for the target audience, it has to be tested with the target audience.

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