Content management systems and accessibility


In a recent post on Roger Johansson’s excellent 456 Berea Street site, the subject of Content Management Systems (CMS) and accessibility is discussed.

I have recently been involved in the selection of a CMS and accessibility was at the forefront of the decision-making process. Regular visitors to this site will notice just how much I bang on about the subject, but it is important.

Roger’s post is more about the accessibility of CMS user interfaces (UI) than the accessibility of code produced by CMSes; however, it was painfully obvious that most modern commercial CMSes aren’t geared up for accessible code output.

One of the main contenders I examined was Microsoft’s “state-of-the-art” MOSS 2007 which, suprisingly for a “bleeding edge” web 2.0 CMS, seemed to have very little accessibility built in. In the normal course of events, Microsoft often wait until Service Pack 2 before providing a complete product, so the current offering is a little underfeatured, but it was quite shocking to be told by a Microsoft developer that they had written “modifications” to MOSS2007 which produced the “first accessible website in the UK using MOSS2007″.

Very few [CMS developers] seem to actually understand what accessibility (or web standards, for that matter) is

Roger Johansson,

Perhaps it’s not so difficult to understand Microsoft’s arrogance about accessibility. After all, this is the company who said in 1994 they had no plans to produce a web browser and then swiftly changed their mind when they saw how Netscape was cornering the market. They’re big. They don’t follow trends, they set them!

In fact, only one of the candidates we examined had anything near an appreciation of accessibility issues, including an accessibility checker function to scan for the most obvious issues: Ektron’s CMS400.

Personally, I believe there are two major reasons for the lack of attention to accessibility in current CMS platforms: accessibility is labour-intensive to get right; CMS developers don’t understand just how important it is.

Accessibility is labour-intensive: It’s quite a difficult process tagging content (and layout) to make it accessible, not least because much of the accessibility standard is contradictory.

CMS developers don’t understand: Everyone thinks of the internet as being young and fresh and innovative, especially because much of the industry is composed of young and fresh (and cheap) designers and programmers and account executives. In reality, the fastest growing markets are among the so-called “Silver Surfers” with time on their hands and money to spend. Coupled with this is the fact that as a result of falling birthrates, the demographic is changing to favour the oldies with their poor eyesight, low technical grasp and nostalgic hankerings.

I’m sure it will all change, not least because accessibility goes hand in hand with the “semantic web“; the ability to use one set of code on an infinite number of browser platforms. It’s a happy coincidence that the theory that says code should work equally well on your laptop as your iPhone means that it also works on your JAWS screen reader for the visually impared.

And I’m not being PC, it’s not just blind people who use screen readers!

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