How Drupal Helps with the GoC's New Standards on Web Accessibility & Usability



November 14, 2011

OpenConcept has been participating working in the work of building a Drupal theme for the Treasury Board Secretariat's Common Look & Feel (CLF) for a number of years now.  We started distributing one in 2008 based on the Zen theme & Drupal 6.  It was pretty simple and relied on a great many modules to be downloaded & configured before it would work as expected.  We didn't get many contributions to improve the theme after providing it to a number of departments we and releasing it on IRCan, so we didn't invest much more in it.  At the very least it needed an install profile to allow the basic configurations to be set up so that it would be easier to get started.  

Then the CLF Office brought us in to look at the Web Experience Toolkit (WET). Admittedly, at first I wasn't a big fan, but the big picture initially presented by the CLF Office has become much more realistic in the last few months. A great deal of work has gone into improving & testing the code presented by WET (which was based at IRCan). I love both that this framework is "Unless otherwise noted, computer program source code of the Web Experience Toolkit (WET) is covered under Crown Copyright, Government of Canada, and is distributed under the MIT License." I think it's equally brilliant that the team behind this is reaching out to the Government of Ontario, Australia & is actively working to collaborate with other organizations to strengthen this framework.

However, simply having a open source license doesn't mean that people or departments will devote any time or effort to doing so. Fortunately an innovative team at Statistics Canada is pushing forward with an extremely promising initiative that promises to meet the needs of many departments struggling to meet WCAG 2.0 AA requirements. As with any community driven initiative you need at least one core member with a strong vision to push ideas and keep a project moving.  

The theme developed by StatsCan is using the Government of Canada's new Standard on Web Usability. This theme was only officially released earlier this month, so it is great that there is a solid implementation already available with a free software license. The theme is also an extension of the Drupal theme Genesis, which has done more than any other Drupal 7 theme to meet accessibility requirements. This allows for the new WET theme to be more closely tied to the Drupal way, which will reduce costs & increase security.

Now StatsCan didn't develop this in isolation and worked with the RCMP, OpenPlus, LiquidCMS & OpenConcept to produce a very good Beta implementation. It's going to need greater contributions from other government departments who are already using Drupal or who are seriously considering deploying it.  This shouldn't simply be within the federal government, and hopefully the Government of Ontario is able to start contributing more as they start launching more sites with this platform (a big site is about to be launched soon I understand). It takes more collaboration to make this as robust as I'd like to see it. 

The core structure of this is based on the recommended HTML5 version WET which has undergone a considerable testing.  There are also a number of jQuery widgets which are recommended by the WET community.  As stated in the fact sheet, "A new version of WET will be released every six months to keep pace with technological change, add new features and enhance existing features." This commitment to keeping up with technological change & ensuring that this is an evolving best practice is critical. The next release of WET is in February, and this will include two months of beta testing of the code & the framework variants (what different CMS specific expressions are being called).

Although the mobile & Intranet standards have yet to be released, the Drupal community is already very well prepared to serve up interactive content to both. Drupal's always been flexible enough to deliever an organization's Internet site, campaign specific sites, as well as Intranet sites.  There is also considerable interest in the mobile space within the Drupal community. There are many modules and themes available to work with and a community that is working hard to establish best practices with this rapidly moving technology. Simply starting with HTML5 will ensure that mobile sites will be better served, but there are a number of jQuery libraries (jQTouch and jQueryMobile being the big ones) which are being built which can be used to extend Drupal.  

When these get released it shouldn't take too much more time to have additional themes developed for for use. Having one piece of software that can be used for many different functions will substantially reduce costs for different departments. The training costs alone will present a significant savings, especially since there have been so many usability improvements in Drupal 7. 

Being built with Drupal 7 is a huge advantage.  The accessibility enhancements that have been built into Drupal 7 put this CMS far ahead of the competition when you need to meet WCAG 2.0 AA compliance.  This will be the platform for government website development, and will be able to serve adopters for the next 5 years.  This is the right time to adopt Drupal and take advantage of the estimated $8 million dollars of development that have gone into Drupal core. 

It makes it easy for new users to set up a site to evaluate Drupal and provides experts with a great starting point to begin the actual customizations required for the client. If you're interested in finding out more about this, consider registering for the A11yYOW Unconference where William Hearn will be presenting it.  If you aren't able to attend the December 2nd conference, please contact us and I can arrange to provide an overview of our sandbox implementation.part of what is being developed. There's work on ensuring that internationalization is properly set up to meet the federal governments bilingual requirements.  There's also a number of other modules which have been added to ensure proper workflow, security & usability.  It's a strong enough base that we are starting to use the new StatsCan profile in a number of non-government contracts. The install profile & related features provide a 5 minute install to a powerful, very accessible, bilingual CMS that's built to meet the needs of many organizations. 


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.