"The power of the Web is in its universality.  Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect."
- Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web


Accessibility should be a key requirement for any website project. Unfortunately, it is often regarded as an add-on with low priority for most businesses and developers.

The biggest mistake is assuming that the proportion of people with accessibility requirements is low and insignificant, and that focus on accessibility will only help a 'tiny' subset of users. However, this is definitely not the case, and ignoring accessibility is missing an opportunity for all of your users.

Why is Accessibility Important?

Almost 1 in 5 people in the US have a disability, and more than half of adults with a disability currently go online (Interactive Accessibility, 2012). Disabilities include little to no use of senses like seeing and hearing, and also difficulty with motor skills such as lifting and gripping. This means that some of your users won’t be able to see or hear what’s going on in a webpage, whilst others will have difficulty navigating it without some sort of assistance.

BUT, accessibility isn’t only about users with disabilities. To put things into perspective, all human beings have accessibility requirements. We are all limited by our bodies and our minds, and need human interfaces to interact with our computers. Even if you consider yourself to have no disabilities, there will be a point where text and images are too small or do not have enough colour contrast to allow them to be readable.

Feedback sounds and audio in video clips, are not only inaccessible to those who are deaf and hard of hearing, but also not heard by users with devices on silent or volume turned down.

Users can also become 'temporarily disabled' due to injury or medication that they are taking, which can hamper their ability to navigate the web. There are also situations where able people are restricted, such as mothers holding their newborns or carers who cannot afford to spend time and focus on complex interfaces.

The best thing about designing and developing with accessibility in mind is that you will be forced to create websites and apps that are easy to understand and use for everyone (including robots - more on that later).

Accessibility in Drupal 8

Drupal 8 has had significant effort put into creating it to ensure that the websites developed with it are universal and accessible. Many improvements to both default settings as well as tools for developers create a strong foundation to create websites for everyone.

WAI-ARIA attributes have been included to provide semantic meaning to elements where HTML5 does not suffice, allowing for screen readers to be able to distinguish and identify sections and components better.

Images uploaded by content editors, whether through image fields or WYSIWYG editors, require Alt tags by default, encourage developers to enforce accessible image content.

Drupal’s Form API sees improvement to radios and grouped checkboxes, which now use fieldsets to improve output from screen readers, as well as error messages which, through an optional, experimental core module, can be placed inline with fields.

Several tools are available to developers to allow them to improve user experience, including Announce, a means by which direct output can be sent to screen readers to replace more visual cues, and a JavaScript alert for audible announcements so that audio cues aren’t missed by those with hearing difficulties.

Developers can also help screen readers and power users navigate by taking advantage of the new TabbingManager and declaring the logical order by which users should navigate through the page’s dynamic elements.

Drupal 8 strongly encourages the integration of libraries so that existing technologies can compliment each other and share their efforts in achieving an accessible world. Examples include Drupal’s replacement of it’s autocomplete functionality with that of jQuery UI, whilst also borrowing their modal dialogs for Views UI.

Other steps have also been taken towards framework unity, where Hidden / Invisible / On-focus declarations have now been standardized with HTML5 Boilerplate, and work well in Firefox as well as Safari on Macs, iPhones & iPads.

Not just Web Accessibility

Drupal 8 does more to make the web more accessible than just focusing on core tent-pole features of "Web Accessibility". Making the web accessible worldwide also means delivering content to people in all locations, in any language, surpassing any technological restrictions there may be.

New to core Drupal in version 8 are modules for Translation and Localization, as well as performance improvements in the form of faster page loading and responsive websites. Enchancements have been made to site translations and language maintenance, including an incredibly simple interface for translating content.

With every default theme being made responsive and a strong focus on allowing efficient mobile-first design flows, Drupal 8 is now a great place to start with a project that is accessible to every device, especially in areas where mobile device access is more common than traditional computers, and internet connectivity and power is limited.

Robots, Cars and Fridges

Whilst we may not have artificial intelligence yet, nor robots running around doing our bidding, the machines that we have today and will have tomorrow are already learning how to interpret our data to compliment our experience online and improve our lifestyles.

Search engines like Google are learning to interpret more of our content to help find us the information we want faster, and social networks and news feeds can determine what content we want to see the most.

With in-car media systems always improving, with large displays and more computational power, it would make sense that whilst a driver is focusing on the road, they could be using accessibility tools to order something from a website without having to look at a screen.

In the same way, refrigerators which already nowadays can come with screens and the ability to reorder items from your favourite store, could potentially scan other websites when your regular store is out of stock, and suggest alternatives or even make the order for you.

So the next time you think about accessibility, remember it’s not just about helping the less abled, but also about improving experiences for everyone … even robots.


Additional Resources

  • http://www.w3.org/standards/webdesign/accessibility
  • https://www.drupal.org/documentation/modules/inline_form_error
  • https://www.drupal.org/docs/8/accessibility/drupal-8-accessibility-features
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