All Content Management Systems Are Not Created Equal

Share on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on Twitter

All Content Management Systems Are Not Created Equal

July 11, 2006, Washington, DC

CMSs used by public sector websites lacking in accessibility

A recent survey conducted by Verva, a Swedish development agency, has brought to light the inadequate extent to which Content Management tools adhere to guidelines for accessibility. These popular CMSs are used in many U.S. government agencies that fall under the accessibility guidelines of Section 508. Likewise, an article titled "Government web standards usage: USA" posted on standards-schmandards website (external link) puts hundreds of government websites to the web standards test. The result: 13 of 546 U.S. government sites use valid HTML.

Many government organizations rely on Content Management Systems as a web content compliance tool. But CMS products are not always up-to-date concerning web standards, accessibility, or usability. Often, accessibility is used as a buzzword by CMS vendors to sell their product.

The June issue of .Net magazine (External link) provides insight into the issue of website accessibility. Andy Budd, author, accessibility advocate and managing director of Clear:Left states, "There is still a large amount of ambivalence regarding web accessibility from both developers and clients. Many clients are either unaware that the disability discrimination act covers them or they simply don't care. It is the responsibility of the web development profession to educate clients about their legal responsibilities and build accessibility into their projects...".

Although it is possible to build accessible, standards compliant websites using a CMS, doing so is not ideal because of the amount of patching and fixing necessary. To meet the accessibility criteria of Section 508, W3C-WCAG and other worldwide accessibility guidelines, here are some starting suggestions:

-Default templates should be accessible and web standards compliant-many developers utilize templates.

-Be aware that the HTML, CSS and JavaScript produced by the IDE used by your back-end developers may not yield valid markup.

-Plan for accessibility compliance by hiring client side web developers with web standards and accessibility experience.

-Devote some of your budget to upgrading your developers skills and awareness.

Since it is possible to create invalid html using a CMS tool, there is a need to check the site regularly. Large collections of pages composing a complex site with numerous editors contributing content necessitates a validation tool. Using a program to crawl a web site and log all page URLs can reduce the tedious, error prone checking of manually validating a site. As accessibility guidelines evolve to create a more citizen-centric government, organizations need to be aware that CMS products do not give a one-size fits all solution to creating and maintaining an accessible website.