Drupal 8’s Accessibility Advantage: ATAG Compliance



October 26, 2015

Drupal 8 accessibility logo.The W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative has recently (24 September 2015) released it's recommendations for Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) 2.0. The process for releasing W3C guidelines is a long and arduous process. A Canadian institution, the Inclusive Design Institute, has taken a leadership role in creating these guidelines. If people were still hand crafting pages in raw HTML like I did when I started OpenConcept, this wouldn't be needed. Fortunately, almost everyone uses some editing tool to help them create web pages.

Now I still do editing with a plain text editor, vi, much of the time, I don't use that for writing HTML. When creating a web page, I prefer to use either a nice WYSIWYG editor like CKEditor or a markup format like MarkDown or ReStructured Text that takes care of the formatting.

For most folks though, they use an editor. Editors make it easier to produce HTML, unfortunately, there is a long history of these editors producing crappy HTML. They are certainly getting better, but creating a nice WYSIWYG editor isn't trivial. The other problem with most editors is that they have accessibility problems so that people with disabilities often have trouble using the tools.

ATAG deals with both the both about (a) making the authoring tool itself accessible & (b) ensuring that the authoring tool helps authors produce accessible content. Fortunately, Drupal 7, and even more-so Drupal 8, have done a lot to see that the authoring tool is accessible. The Core contributors wanted to see that Drupal could be installed, administered, edited & read by people with disabilities. Because Drupal uses API's to centralize functionality we could improve elements throughout the CMS. The Drupal community is very inclusive, and we wanted to be able to include people with disabilities as developers as well as users. We have been striving for WCAG 2.0 AA for our authoring experience, which means we're in a good space for ATAG 2.0.

The first ATAG session for a DrupalCon was proposed back in 2006, but it wasn't until 2013 that we really started to look at how to incorporate ATAG guidelines in Drupal. Considering that the guidelines were just finalized less than a month ago, this is nothing to be ashamed of. Drupal and WordPress were both consulted, as were other CMSs, to look for ways to find examples of ATAG's recommendations.

I described a bit about how alt tags were set up to provide favourable defaults for ATAG, helping authors insert meaningful alt text on user generated images. We also added documentation to help make the accessibility enhancements be more discoverable, such as our work on CKeditor documentation. If a user doesn't know that there is accommodation, they probably won't make use of it.

We also worked with the CKEditor community to see that this interface was implemented in a way that it could be most beneficial to people with disabilities. There are a lot of items which can be improved though, if you are interested, consider keeping an eye on ATAG issues in Drupal.

For those who want to learn more, about this W3C standard, check out our post Web Accessibility is Complicated, ATAG is Necessary.

See more about this series on Drupal 8.

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.

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