Drupal Website Accessibility, Part 1: The problem, and why it matters…

Website Accessibility: ...the inclusive practice of removing barriers that prevent interaction with, or access to websites, by people with disabilities. But how can we achieve this? Follow Tim Thomas on his blog series on Website Accessibility to learn more.

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Drupal Website Accessibility, Part 1: The problem, and why it matters…

"The power of the Web is in its universality.  Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect."

- Sir Tim Berners-Lee, W3C, Director and Inventor of the World Wide Web

In the coming weeks, I’ll be taking a look into one of the hot topics in the Drupal community, as well as the wider world of digital experiences: website accessibility.

As a digital solutions provider, and expert Drupal development company, Appnovation is always looking to lead rather than follow…but that does not mean there is no room for improvement when it comes to drupal website accessibility issues. That said, as Drupal experts and creators of outstanding digital experiences, we are continually striving to build websites that are as accessible as possible. This fact is highlighted in a recent blog post, titled Drupal 8 accessibility.  

So, let’s start with the basics: It’s fairly common knowledge that, when building a new premises, making it accessible to those with disabilities is something incorporated into the plans. In the case of older establishments, it’s fair to say that improving accessibility is one of the most common reasons for renovations or alterations.

Imagine that the the same level of accessibility directives and considerations for constructing an office space where used when building a website…and consider that it is just as important to be virtually accessible, as it is to be physically.

As a company, and as open digital devotees, we believe a physical disability should not stop a person’s digital odyssey. Essentially, nothing should affect a person’s right to access online services, and that is exactly the issue at hand…and website designers are sitting up and taking notice.

By way of an example, consider the case of a visually impaired user:

-If a site is coded with semantically meaningful HTML, with textual equivalents provided for images, and with links named meaningfully, this helps blind users using text-to-speech software and/or text-to-Braille hardware.

It seems simple, intuitive, elementary…but there are instances where these, and other basic elements of usability and accessibility are neither implemented nor evident.

In general terms, ‘web accessibility’ refers to the inclusive practice of removing barriers that prevent interaction with, or access to websites, by people with disabilities. When sites are correctly designed, developed and edited, all users have equal access to information and functionality, with specific consideration being given to the following:

1) Visual: Visual impairments (including blindness, various common types of low vision and poor eyesight, various types of color blindness)

2) Motor/mobility:  examples of this include: difficulty or inability to use the hands, including tremors, muscle slowness, loss of fine muscle control, etc., due to conditions such as Parkinson's Disease, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, stroke.

3) Auditory: Deafness or hearing impairments, including individuals who are hard of hearing.

4) Seizures: Photo epileptic seizures caused by visual strobe or flashing effects.

5) Cognitive/Intellectual: Developmental disabilities, learning disabilities (dyslexia, dyscalculia, etc.), and cognitive disabilities of various origins, affecting memory, attention, developmental "maturity," problem-solving and logic skills, etc.

As the Web Accessibility Directive clearly shows, the list of priorities is vast, but it also has a gradation system of 1-3, in order of most critical, to most desirable. This effectively attempts to guide developers and their developers, and outline the most critical accessibility features and functions, without which the site would not even achieve the most basic standards of accessibility.

Appnovation is actively working with clients to achieve drupal website accessibility (as well as constantly looking to improve our own site). Clients such as the University of Phoenix, for example, are looking at ADA website accessibility compliance (ADA, Americans With Disabilities Act, 2010, Standards for Accessible Design). Changes and improvements on their site, for example, include:

  • Images (i.e. seeing how images are being displayed--dynamically, through controlled content or hard-coded and ensuring alt text is included)
  • Headers (i.e. H1, H2 tags, etc. in the page markup, ensuring they were set up properly)
  • Navigation - tabbing through content, left to right, top to bottom
  • Visual contrasts - an example of this was the calendar page, previous months and those had a grey background and text to indicate it was in the past...the contrast had to be increased between the background and text to meet compliance standards

As design and development continue to incorporate accessibility features, either as standard, or in terms of retroactive improvements, more companies, institutions and organizations are looking into website accessibility compliance.

Another example of Drupal website accessibility in action, is another of our clients, the University of California. As Appnovation was responsible for both the design and implementation, the designs had web accessibility and screen-reader considerations incorporated up front, another reason for selecting Drupal.

During the design stage, University of California stakeholders were already performing contrast testing on the design mockups to ensure the development and implementation would comply with WCAG 2.0 guidelines as proactively and smoothly as possible. The portal site is currently in User Acceptance Testing stage with a version 1.0 launch targeted for November 2017.

Not all companies are as proactive, however, and with the frequent failure of companies to ensure that their websites are accessible for those with disabilities, this new development consideration is more important than ever, with Drupal leading the open technologies charge. Naturally, very few sites are perfect in this regard, ours included, and there are always improvements that can be made, as technology enhances our ability to deliver upgraded accessibility.

Ultimately, various acts across the US, and globally, are being brought into law to ensure that all sites, both desktop and mobile, are attaining a decent standard of web accessibility as a matter of course, making this an essential part of the development, rather than a casual, post-launch afterthought. This is important to the Drupal community, which makes website accessibility such a critical part of why people would chose Drupal to start with.

Appnovation’s research team and, ultimately, our developers always see development as a process, leading to an optimized user experience, regardless of who that user may be.


This blog post was originally posted on Appnovation's website on November 10, 2017 by Tim Thomas.

Drupal Accessibility