The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association finds a CMS

Written By: Peter Abrahams
Content Copyright © 2006 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

When The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, in the UK, needed a new content management system (CMS) accessibility was obviously high on the list of requirements. It was equally important that the solution was accessible to content creators and content consumers.

Having started with a long list of potential CMSs, Rhythmyx from Percussion was chosen. It was seen to be an excellent CMS but was finally chosen because Percussion said yes to two crucial questions:

  • Can you demonstrate the solution using JAWS as a screen reader and be able to operate all functions without requiring a mouse?
  • If in production a user finds that they cannot use any feature with JAWS, will Percussion accept this as a product defect?

Percussion has been building accessible solutions for some years based on the requests and requirements of some major public sector customers. The use of JAWS during testing greatly assisted this process as it:

  • Provided a proof point for accessibility.
  • Made developers aware of the issues of inaccessible design. Listening a few times to JAWS saying ‘link, link, link …’ with no explanation or ‘htttp://’ and developers soon did things right first time.

Resolving accessibility issues also brought wider usability issues into to focus and resolving all of these creates a better user experience for all. In particular abiding by the W3C standards for HTML and for accessibility (WCAG) ensured a much higher level of browser compatibility. Access to all functions is through a browser and some users wanted to be able to use Apple Macs. This turned out not to be a problem at all as compliance with standards ensured that the system worked with Safari just as well as with Internet Explorer.

This testing method ensures that the interface for the content providers will be accessible but it is more difficult to ensure the content providers develop accessible content. Percussion have built in a variety of functions to help ensure that the content provided is accessible, including:

  • Templates that include basic accessibility features and that will prompt for specific information.
  • Content, such as individual images, can be stored with the relevant tag information, such as the alternate description (alt tag), and this will be include automatically when the image is used on a page.
  • An automatic checker is included with the product and this can be invoked any time the content provider wishes to check a page, it can also be built in to a workflow so that it is automatically run before content is promoted to production.
  • Help is included that explains the accessibility requirements so content providers can understand the issues and why they are being asked to do certain things.

It is still possible for a content provider to create inaccessible content if they try hard enough; but instead of this being the norm, as it has been in the past, it will tend to require some forethought or malice or plain stupidity.

If all software developers and particularly web designers would use the same testing methodology as Percussion the industry would be producing higher quality, more usable and obviously more accessible solutions.