Hiawatha Island Software Co. Inc.s AccMonitor Server software is a versatile Web crawler that checks Web sites for compliance with new Section 508 federal accessibility guidelines and generates reports in a variety of formats.
In eWeek Labs tests, AccMonitor Server proved to be a good tool for assessing site compliance and reporting its findings in detail as part of a remediation assessment or verification effort. However, it leaves actual code repair on the server to AccRepair, a separate product priced at $995. AccRepair, available as a stand-alone tool or as a Microsoft FrontPage add-on, will fix the "programmatic checkpoints" automatically when deployed on a server.
A crawler shouldnt be in the business of modifying code; still, HISoftwares line of products seems as if it could be consolidated somewhat by having some products combine monitor and repair capabilities.
AccMonitor Server produced reports that would be highly useful for managing a remediation team as well as for keeping an interested public informed of a sites compliance status. (Naturally, these reports themselves are Section 508-compliant.)
AccMonitor, which shipped at the end of last month, is priced at $1,295 for one web (one domain and its sub-domains). Additional webs are priced at $400. AccVerify Professional, which checks local files, is priced at $495.
AccMonitor parses and generates code to either Section 508 or the World Wide Web Consortiums Priority One guidelines. Crawling the designated host domain, it examines pages regardless of server type and creates HTML reports that can be rendered as e-mail messages or posted to a server.
AccMonitor allows users to choose from several types of reports. Detailed reports indicate the line and column of noncompliant HTML but not the actual code itself. Summary reports merely state whether a site passes or fails: This can be useful for gaining an overview of an extensive site. AccMonitor can also provide hyperlinks to either a detailed report or the page that failed.
In tests, we were impressed with AccMonitor Servers ease of use and the speed at which it functions. On average, the crawler examined and reported on about 800 pages an hour. However, we believe the default reporting form could be simpler to read and less cluttered with boilerplate restatements of legal requirements.
Reports at this level resembled quasi-legal documents to be posted on a site, much as a restaurant might post its "A" rating from the health department, to show compliance or progress toward compliance.
Because AccMonitor runs as a continuous process, it can supply detailed, up-to-the-minute reports of a sites compliance. Conversely, users can compile their own assessment of any site. For example, as a result of testing AccMonitor, eWeek Labs now has an exhaustive, always-current document detailing all the U.S. House of Representatives sites at www.house.gov. Some are more 508(b)-compliant than others.
using the softwares advanced settings, we could set AccMonitor to generate highly specialized reports for teams concerned with, say, image "alt" descriptions to the exclusion of all else. This specialization, along with AccMonitors ability to generate Web-ready reports posted to the sites server, enables it to support widely disbursed, specialized remediation teams that can control labor costs and trim completion schedules.
Not all aspects of a site can be verified or remedied by software, of course. AccMonitor calls those that can be so addressed "programmatic checkpoints." Those that cannot are called "visual checkpoints."
For example, under Section 508, the content of a graphic might need to be described in text, and the meaning of that text cannot be judged appropriate by software. Software can report the presence of text after an "alt" tag but cannot judge the content of that text. AccMonitors reports alert the user to areas that must be visually inspected.
This becomes significant when one considers that it affects more than just static pictures. There need to be text equivalents, which convey all the essential information of the element, to such diverse objects as image map regions, animations, applets and programmatic objects, ASCII art, frames, script images used as list bullets, and others. Without equivalents, a screen reader would be useless when it came to these sorts of elements.
The softwares interface is compact, efficient and intuitive to the point that we could generate our first reports on a site without referring to the documentation. However, deep and powerful report options are easily missed unless the user does a bit of homework.
Ultimately, it is the way that reports are formulated, distributed and tracked that will make or break an efficient compliance effort, and AccMonitor Server does its end of the job in a workmanlike fashion.