Web Accessibility and Content Management: When Less is More

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Ben Rometsch, Technical Director of Solid State Group believes that less is more when it comes down to the control of content. Allowing users to have too much control of content can lead to degrading accessibility. This can also have a detrimental impact on website usability. So can WCAG 2, Web 2.0 and content management systems improve this situation?

Many websites on the Internet focus simply on being glitzy. Good looking web designs are great, but there is often insufficient consideration about whether these sites comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), and the obligations of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) to make them reasonably accessible to the UK’s 8-10 million registered disabled people (a market estimated to be worth £80 billion per year).

Historically accessibility has been low on the list of priorities for websites as large web projects have been very expensive to build and difficult to prove the return on investment. Accessibility usually has a limited budget and was treated as a “nice to have” rather than essential.

More recently, new technologies are allowing websites to be built much more easily. The advancements in ICT platforms like Microsoft .Net, Java technologies like Webwork, Hibernate, Spring as well as Ruby on Rails, allow websites to be constructed in less than half the time and cost. So with extra budget to play with and the government pushing the accessibility issue slightly harder, many companies are keen to upgrade their existing sites to comply with the guidelines.

The growth of the web, and the proliferation of content management systems, has led to even non-technical personnel having the ability to manage content for corporate websites, making the process much easier and faster within a controlled and managed environment. These systems can permit a significant amount of content manipulation, which could include changing the font colours, sizes and other attributes. Trenton Moss of Webcredible agrees that this can lead to degrading accessibility, he says:

“If you are going to allow people to change colour, layouts and font sizes, then yes it can. I mean really from a style point of view you shouldn’t allow people to have too much control over everything. You should have to follow a pre-defined set of styles. If you give people too much, then you can lose control of accessibility.”

Websites powered by content management systems are often compliant when they start life, with templates that meet the Web Accessibility Initiative’s (WAI) guidelines, but as content is added the levels of compliance to accessibility can rapidly deteriorate unless it is managed properly and constantly with such considerations in mind. It is crucial to train web content managers to provide content that fully complies with the required accessibility guidelines, alternatively implement a content management system which forces accessibility whilst creating content.

There should only be one standard

WCAG 1 lacked clarity in terms of what accessibility really means, and this has led to a number of very diverse interpretations of the guidelines, and indeed of the DDA. Professor Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web as we know it today and director of the W3C since it was founded in 1994, highlights another issue that is dogging everyone’s understanding of web accessibility compliance in The Register’s article, ‘Berners-Lee applies Web 2.0 to improve accessibility’, of 26th May 2006...

About Solid State Group

Solid State Group is a content management, web applications and services consultancy, who focus on making your online presence dynamic and easy to manage, at a reasonable price. Our primary goal is to complete innovative and robust websites for our clients whilst maintaining a service second to none.

WebDeck content management system

Solid State Group’s products allow you to completely control your company’s brand on the internet. WebDeck is a complete accessible content management system but it’s easier to think of it as the remote control for your website.

It is accessible - WebDeck produces WACG level A, Double-A, and Triple-A websites.

It is flexible - WebDeck can work with any kind of website design.

It is multi-user - WebDeck enables teams to work securely and seamlessly on a site.

It is secure - WebDeck has been tested by Deloitte consulting for FSA accreditation.

It is sticky - WebDeck comes with interactive tools such as forums, polls, quizzes, etc.

It has management tools - WebDeck has real-time integrated web statistics.

It has marketing tools - OutReach is an email marketing plug-in for WebDeck.

It uses open standards - WebDeck uses open standards like XML, RSS, CSV, SOAP.

It is platform independent - WebDeck runs on Java with a web front end.

Bespoke build services

Solid State Group also offer bespoke systems design and development. Some websites need a little extra functionality that simply won’t be available out of the box from any product. We specialise in capturing the exact requirements and translating them into a working site with stylish design.

Our special offer

We offer a free consultancy meeting to capture requirements and give a no strings attached estimate for systems design and construction. If nothing else, you will at least gain a well documented specification of your requirements, so if you are interested in our services, please do get in touch.

Contact us

Call us on +44 (0)845 838 2163

Visit our website at http://www.solidstategroup.com

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Matt Evans
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