Watchfire Tests for Compliance

By Debra Donston  |  Posted 2003-05-19

Watchfire Tests for Compliance

Watchfire Corp.s AccessibilityXM helps to ensure that Web sites can be easily accessed and used by people with physical challenges. Whether organizations use the product to be good corporate citizens, to adhere to government mandates, or to increase affinity and sales (or all of the above), AccessibilityXM provides a relatively easy way for Web administrators of large sites to gauge accessibility and maintain accessibility standards over time.

AccessibilityXM 2.1
Watchfires updated AccessibilityXM provides a robust method of gauging Web sites accessibility to physically challenged users. The applications comprehensive reports provide a multilevel view into Web sites performance at the moment and over time. AccessibilityXM will be most valuable to organizations with large Web sites that change often. eWEEK Labs tested the hosted version of the application, which is priced starting at $2,000 per month.
PRO: Highly customizable; easy to use; comprehensive reporting capabilities; integrates with privacy- and quality-auditing packages for bigger-picture view of site performance.

CON: Limited browser support.
SSB Technologies Inc.s InFocus ServerUsableNet Inc.s Lift

AccessibilityXM 2.1, released last month and available as a hosted or server-based application, scans Web sites to test for compliance with government and World Wide Web Consortium accessibility guidelines. Organizations can also use the product to scan against custom guidelines.

AccessibilityXM is one of three modules available in Watchfires WebXM platform. The others are PrivacyXM, which scans Web sites to identify privacy risks, and QualityXM, which checks for content quality and interaction problems. The modules are available separately or as a suite.

The price of the AccessibilityXM service starts at $2,000 per month, depending on the size of the Web site being scanned. The server-based version, which runs only on Windows-based servers, costs $12,500 and up, again depending on the size of the site being scanned.

The AccessibilityXM service can also be used for a one-time assessment, which will be useful for companies that want to gauge their current accessibility performance and figure out the scope of accessibility remediation needed. The price of a one-time assessment starts at $10,000.

AccessibilityXM has a Web services interface that allows it to integrate with most content workflow systems, whether home-grown or packaged applications, including Interwoven Inc.s TeamSite, Documentum Inc.s Documentum, Microsoft Corp.s Site Server, Vignette Corp.s Vignette platform, Percussion Software Inc.s Rhythmyx and Stellent Inc.s Content Management System. This allows organizations to build accessibility assessment into the content publishing and production workflow.

AccessibilityXM evolved from the Bobby application, which Watchfire acquired last year. The goal, said David Grant, Watchfires director of accessibility solutions, in Waltham, Mass., was to beef up Bobby with enterprise-scope bulk. The Bobby service is still available for testing of single Web pages, and Watchfire recently released Version 5.0 of the Bobby site testing tool.

AccessibilityXM checks for the issues that would give site users assistive devices (and many PDAs, for that matter) trouble. These include the absence of alternative text for images, lack of text transcripts for audio files and sole reliance on color to convey meaning (see related story, Web Access for All).

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eWEEK Labs evaluated the hosted version of AccessibilityXM. Like the other WebXM modules, AccessibilityXM works by sending content agents through a site to collect data. Interaction agents test specific content and site functionality (such as log-in forms and checkouts) by running prerecorded scripts.

The results are passed to a database (either Microsofts SQL Server or Oracle Corp.s Oracle) and analyzed by the applications reporting engine. Reports can be accessed via a Web browser. (Report consumers can use Internet Explorer 5.5 Service Pack 2 or IE 6.0 SP1 or Netscape 6.2.3 or 7.0; administrators must use the aforementioned versions of IE.)

We used AccessibilityXM to test eWEEKs Web site, For comparison purposes, Watchfire officials worked with us to conduct scans of a range of different sites with a variety of mandates and audiences, including,, and an additional scan of the eWEEK site. (None of the sites met all accessibility guidelines, by the way.)

During tests, we found the documentation to be good, making it easy to get through the many steps required to set up a job.

After creating a job name and description, we had to define what to scan. In the "Starting URL" field, we could enter internal sites, external domains, multiple sites or the same domain with multiple URLs. AccessibilityXM automatically checks for URL syntax and network validity.

From there, we could limit the number of directories, links and pages that would be scanned. Site licensing will also affect the number of pages that can be scanned. Administrators have the ability to determine a number of scanning properties, including how AccessibilityXM scans the site, how data will be gathered and what data will be included in reports.

It took about 2 hours and 20 minutes to scan beginning at about 10:30 a.m. on a Wednesday. The eWEEK site comprises about 13,000 pages. According to Watchfires Grant, the load on a site being scanned is about the equivalent of four unique site visitors. Grant added that Watchfire abides by all Robots.txt "rules of engagement."

AccessibilityXM provides extensive reporting capabilities with varying levels of granularity and detail for different audiences. The dashboard overview, for example, can show senior management a graphical, high-level representation of a sites accessibility performance (see screen).

The dashboard overview provides letter-grade scores based on a sites performance in a scan and especially in multiple scans over time. Administrators can set thresholds for specific issues so that scores will depend on the organizations level of tolerance for particular issues. Performance can also be trended and charted over time, and reports can be segmented in a variety of ways, including by issue or business unit.

AccessibilityXM also reports information in a manner that will make it easier for Web administrators to fix the problems the application has found.

One view, for example, showed all the pages that did not meet W3C guidelines in our tests. Clicking on the guideline brought up a help dialog that explained why the guideline was in place and how site content should be coded to meet it. Clicking on any one of the URLs displayed not only the specific guidelines that were not met but also the exact location of code that needed to be amended (see screen).

Accessibility can be set up to run jobs on a schedule or on demand.

Executive Editor Debra Donston can be reached at

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