Bobby is provided by CAST (Centre for Applied Special Technology) and is a free piece of software available online or to download. It assists web page authors to identify obstacles to access by individuals with disabilities. Bobby's analysis of accessibility is based on the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) guidelines. To become "Bobby Approved" and display the Bobby Approved icon, a web site must successfully address all of the Priority 1 WAI issues that Bobby identifies.

Bobby is a very useful tool but it is all too often misunderstood. Many organisations however, falsely believe that simply passing the Bobby test will satisfy their accessibility obligations. For them, the measure of accessibility is whether or not their pages can attain the Bobby Approved icon. In many ways, this is an understandable perspective. The Bobby icon represents an achievable standard and a tangible, cost effective reward for efforts made towards web accessibility.

It should be remembered that the Bobby test does not ensure 'real' accessibility.

Firstly, "Bobby Approved" is based on passing the Priority 1 checkpoints alone. Many now believe that if a site is to be truly accessible it should pass the Priority 2 checkpoints also. Indeed, if we are to look at initiatives at European Union level we should expect Priority 2 compliance to be the benchmark going forward. Bobby tests for these Priority 2 checkpoints but compliance is not part of getting the icon. Secondly, Bobby cannot even warrant that a site has passed all of the WAI Priority 1 checkpoints it has evaluated as Bobby is only one interpretation of the WAI checkpoints.

Indeed, in the absence of a complaint, CAST does not actively regulate the use of the icon. There seems to be abuse in some instances and sites have been observed to display the icon even though they are not compliant. This usually occurs where the test's subjective Priority 1 'user checks' have not been addressed, where only the homepage on a site has been tested or where new content is not assessed for accessibility when added.

It may be difficult to displace the presumption that attaining the well renowned Bobby Approved Icon means sufficient accessibility has been achieved. It has been said that Bobby could have the effect of making the web less accessible due to over-dependence on the test as the standard used by many for measuring accessibility.

CAST itself recommends that web developers use Bobby only as a first step to ensure accessible Web page design. It might be more accurate to say that Bobby can be used to identify definite inaccessibility rather than to verify accessibility. On the up side, the appearance of a Bobby icon is a good indication that the site developer is concerned about accessibility and is amenable to making the necessary changes to facilitate users with impairments.

The reality is that it will always be difficult to create an achievable and accepted stamp of accessibility, especially when the interpretation of many Priority 2 (and Priority 3) issues are still to be universally decided and where they require subjective assessment in each instance.

You can find Bobby at http://www.cast.org/bobby/