Bobby Approved: The Origin Of Practical
And Affordable Website Accessibility
Over the years, "Bobby Approved" site designs have powered an easy, practical approach to website accessibility. But how do you get that classic Bobby approval icon for your site today?
Accessible design is intended to facilitate Web access for people with disabilities. In fact it makes it easier for everyone. Following Bobby accessibility guidelines improves website performance.
Such accessibility approval implies a harmonious blending of the objectives of the site owner with the recommendations of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines of the Web Accessibility Initiative.
Also important are the U.S. Section 508 Standards for accessibility adopted by the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board) of the U.S. Federal government.
A Short Bobby History
Bobby is the name CAST gave to the free public service it launched in 1996 to automatically analyze accessibility features of web sites. It cleverly capitalized on the iconic British Bobby policeman and became an instant hit.
In addition to the automated analysis, it also offered easy-to-follow suggestions for the manual interpretation of the extensive WAI guidelines, for which an automated check is not so practical.
For nearly 10 years, Bobby helped make the World Wide Web more accessible to individuals with disabilities. Novice and professional Web designers alike analyzed and made improvements to millions of Web pages.
This work won CAST numerous awards and international recognition. CAST no longer supports the Bobby accessibility testing software, and in fact, sold the application to Watchfire in 2004.
Watchfire further developed Bobby and included it as the Accessibility Module of its Watchfire® WebXM™ application. WebXM™ was designed to help the online business better manage its brand by complying with accessibility guidelines and best practices.
With Watchfire's acquisition of Bobby in 2004, and then the later acquisition of Watchfire by IBM in 2007, Bobby ceased to be available as a free service or standalone product.
However, as a testimony to the true value of Bobby, it's morphed into one of the tests included in IBM's Rational Policy Tester Accessibility Edition software, the enterprise application for testing websites.
What Bobby Approved Means
Bobby approval was covered in detail on Ability-Mission.org, while it was a showcase of accessible website development. (Now it helps people who are disabled get the disability grants and benefits they're entitled to.)
Because the so-called Priority 1, 2 and 3 issues did not apply to pages on Ability-Mission.org (previously Accessible.org), it qualified to be AAA Bobby Approved and thus entitled to use the AAA Bobby Approval icon.
Bobby's accessibility analysis implemented the May 5, 1999 version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines of the Web Accessibility Initiative.
Bobby analyzed Web pages according to these guidelines and, where possible, automatically checked guidelines.
There were a variety of important accessibility guidelines that Bobby, like any other accessibility tool, could not check automatically.
For example, the requirement for text transcriptions for audio files to help people who are deaf required you to manually look at the Web pages to confirm that the transcripts existed.
Bobby's Section 508 accessibility analysis implemented the U.S. Section 508 Standards for accessibility adopted by the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board) of the U.S. Federal government.
Section 508 issues did not apply to pages on Accessible.org, thus qualifying it to be Section 508 Bobby Approved and entitled to use the Section 508 Bobby Approval icon.
Bobby Approval For YOUR Site
Accessible.org used to offer accessibility-related resources for nonprofit and small business website designs in the form of advice, products and services. Its services generally consisted of:
- site tune-up for accessibility
- accessible website designs and development
- site promotion geared to small business accessibility
Accessible.org no longer provides accessible Web site design services, but there are many organizations that do. WebAIM is one that comes highly recommended.
WebAIM is a non-profit organization within the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University, has been providing Web accessibility solutions since 1999.
In addition to industry-leading services and training, WebAIM also has a free online accessibility checker called WAVE that's very similar to what Bobby was. Anyone familiar with Bobby will love WAVE.
A noticeable difference between CAST/Bobby and WebAIM/WAVE is that CAST/Bobby offered an approval process (with the catchy "Bobby Approved" name and icons), whereas WebAIM/WAVE does not.
But that does not detract in any way from their enviable capabilities and experience, powered by the intent of their mission statement...
"WebAIM's mission is to expand the potential of the web for people with disabilities by providing the knowledge, technical skills, tools, organizational leadership strategies, and vision that empower organizations to make their own content accessible to people with disabilities."
You can also implement accessibility features on your own. Follow the current WAI or even the old Bobby guidelines. Although the original Bobby self-checking service is no longer available, some sites still display the Bobby logos.
The Bobby logos were always used on a "good faith" basis. In other words, it was understood that if you Bobby-tested your site and followed the simple rules, you could display the appropriate logo(s) on your site.
So, can you get a classic Bobby approval icon for your site today? Yes you can, if you can find one, but it wouldn't mean much. Instead of rummaging through the nostalgia, just contact WebAim.
Make your Web site affordably accessible by taking a
practical and pragmatic approach to accessibility.
Looking for accessibility resources? Try 100 Killer Web Accessibility Resources: Blogs, Forums and Tutorials. Recently updated, it's an essential part of any designer's accessible Web toolkit.
Need Financing For Accessibility?
Small businesses and nonprofits CAN get financial assistance. There are thousands of government grant programs to help do accessible website designs. You can also find grants online for accessibility work.