Web Accessibility, ATAG & Drupal 8



February 05, 2016

Push button for accessibility in LCBO.Drupal 8 was released in December and it provides - by default - accessibility that is better than any other enterprise content framework. For the last 8 years we have been working on implementing defaults that are good for everyone, but this is only possible if you think about your website’s ecosystem.

Adapting To The Ever Changing Web

Web accessibility is a difficult challenge. When WCAG 2.0 came out in 2008, people hadn’t really starting thinking about how mobile devices would impact user behavior. Since then we’ve also seen the W3C release HTML5, WAI-ARIA and ATAG 2.0, which are huge changes in the way materials and best practices can be used for eliminating barriers for people with disabilities. This is all within a competitive market in which browsers and assistive technology fight for user adoption.

More rich interfaces are becoming common in websites. Back in 2007 when Google Docs was first released it was revolutionary in that it gave people an experience which made many realize that the days of a desktop application may be limited. Since then we have seen a great many other complex applications delivered through HTML, CSS & Javascript.

These more complex interfaces require more semantics in order to allow users with disabilities to properly perceive, operate and understand them. The great thing about Drupal 8 is it’s built to make process this easier.

Deep Accessibility

With Drupal Core (7 & 8), we’ve built in accessibility by default. Users with disabilities can view, edit and administer sites with Drupal. In Drupal 8, we’ve added Views to Core, which was the number one used Drupal 7 module. This powerful query builder needed upgrades to it’s interface and output so that it followed WCAG 2.0 AA. With Drupal 8, we have achieved this goal.

Drupal 8 has been actively working to engage with other open-source communities. Integrating CKEditor is a good example of both encouraging this WYSIWYG to enhance its accessibility and engage with best practices with others. By engaging with CKEditor’s developers we worked and continue to work together to fix bugs that not only enhance Drupal, but also the thousands of other projects that use this software library.

Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG)

Although it is a new standard, ATAG 2.0 does promise to make its way into government policy in the near future. ATAG is ultimately about making it easier to produce accessible content. Half of ATAG 2.0 is just ensuring that the administration side complies with WCAG 2.0, which Drupal largely does. The next half is working to encourage authors to make it easier to produce that accessible content.

A simple thing that we did in Drupal 8 to meet with ATAG 2.0 was to require alt text by default. Now this is a controversial issue, as there are some instances when alt text isn’t a best practice for an image. That being said, right now, lack of alt text is the most common accessibility error on websites. If we make it easier to add the alt text than it is to leave it blank, we’ll find that authors are defaulting to creating more accessible content.

Accessibility Discussions

Being able to have open discussions about accessibility really helps see that the right solutions are made. When done in an open and transparent way, ideas can be critiqued, enhanced, and improved on by anyone on the Internet.  If we want more accessible sites to be the default, we have to think about the systems and influence them strategically.

People struggling for an accessible pattern for their project will seek out the best options available to them on the web. If/when they come across yours they may be able to add to it or test it in a way you didn’t, ultimately making it more robust.  

Why You Should Consider Drupal

Many government agencies are currently implementing Drupal 7 and more will adopt Drupal 8 in the near future. Accessibility is just one reason why this is happening.

It is also good to keep in mind that Drupal is not just useful for an organization's front facing website. Many organizations are effectively leveraging its flexible design to fulfill roles such as corporate Intranet, CRM, multilingual survey, eLearning base, knowledge repository, wiki, membership forum and more.

If you anticipate that you may need an interface that is accessible on both the front & back-end, please consider Drupal.

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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