Accessibility Discussions at DrupalCon



March 12, 2009

I've been trying to lead the charge on accessibility issues with Drupal 7 leading up to DrupalCon DC.  As Dries outlined in his keynote, we've got until Sept 1, 2009 before the feature freeze takes place, so time's precious.  Also, as Angie Byron noted, there are some accessibility issues that have been identified but not resolved for years.  So, now that WCAG 2.0 is out and there seems to be a renewed interest in accessibility I was quite happy to see the interest in participants at the conference.

Between the two Bird of a Feather (geeky breakout group) workshops that were organized on accessibility issues we had nearly 40 people participate.  Accessibility was discussed in other contexts too as it was something that many people are concerned with, especially when reconsidering core themes and usability.  The discussions had a representative from DAISY, as well as several other accessibility experts.  Individuals participated in the sessions because they believed in the issue, understood the requirements for it and also because they ultimately saw it as being profitable to the organizations and businesses that they represented. 

William Lawrence gave a briefing about ACAG 2.0, the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines.  Having a website that everyone can read is great, but having one that everyone can participate is even better.  In a world where the Internet has become the town hall for the exchange of ideas, it is in fact essential for a functioning democracy.  William had created a slideshow presentation on accessibility which we only barely touched on in the workshop.  Last year he presented about Accessibility at the DrupalCon in Hungary.

One of the participants raised serious concerns about the maturity of the accessibility framework within the jQuery library.  Preferring Dojo, the participant raised some good points about tools that are quickly becoming an integral part of Drupal. Fortunately there's been some good follow up on this topic in Drupal Groups.  There's also good activity in the jQuery community to enhance accessibility issues there.

Accessibility issues are often a challenge as those people with ability to enhance the code are often not the group that is able to effectively test it.  Fortunately, there was representation from a number of people with connections with people who can actually test how these technologies work.  I did find it interesting to find out that those people who are blind from birth use screen readers differently than those who have become blind later in life.

Since access keys proved to interfere with the functionality of screen readers it is keyboard testing is limited to essentially just tabbing around between links and form elements on a page.  Unfortunately, on Firefox on the Mac it seems that this is essentially disabled by default.  Fortunately there are some good resources online on how to get browser tabs working properly on the Mac. Its difficult to consider using a website without using a mouse, but there are lots of times where it would be beneficial for all of us.

For me personally, the most exciting bit about the sessions though was meeting in person many of the people who are part of the Drupal group on accessibility.  Getting more people active in this community was also wonderful to see.  There have been a number of posts and follow-ups generated since the BoF.  Was great to also know that people are editing the WCAG 2.0 wiki page that I uploaded, and to know when the site is upgraded to Drupal 6 that we'll have versioning enabled (so we'll be able to see who edited what when). 

I think that the most exciting thing for the Drupal community will be the Documentation Sprint on Accessibility that happened on Saturday. The documentation on Accessibility & Drupal promises to be a core resource for those who want to learn how to make their site available to all.

About The Author

Mike Gifford is the founder of OpenConcept Consulting Inc, which he started in 1999. Since then, he has been particularly active in developing and extending open source content management systems to allow people to get closer to their content. Before starting OpenConcept, Mike had worked for a number of national NGOs including Oxfam Canada and Friends of the Earth.