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Web site accessibility

Just wondered if Fog Creek (and people here in general) have given any thought to making CMS tools like CityDesk produce accessible content - specifically, adhering to WAI Level One guidelines as a minimum?

I'm currently working on a number of Microsoft CMS 2002 projects that all require the output from the CMS to be accessible, and if you've ever looked at the so-called WYSIWYG editors in MCMS or most other CMS products, they produce HTML that is so far from accessible that it's not funny. My current job is building a filter that will take the crappy ContentEditable output and make it WAI Level One accessible, and it's far from easy!

Surely, given that it will be legally required in the EU from October 1 for all businesses to have accessible Web sites, and I'm sure the US will not be too far behind in making it compulsory, companies like Microsoft have given some thought to making their tools produce accessible output?

My employers is a Certified Partner and we've tried to bring this up with our Account Manager, but we're just getting fobbed off. It's scandalous. Hopefully Fog Creek is more enlightened :-)

Neil Hewitt
Saturday, April 10, 2004

Making a web site accessible is not a simple matter of having a tool which magically generates accessible content or a magic filter.

Very few of the WAI guidelines can be enforced by software or done automatically -- they require the content creator to understand what's involved. To take one tiny example, if somebody embeds a Flash animation in a web page, there's no way for CityDesk to say, "oh, gosh, the WAI guidelines require that there be equivalent non-Flash content for accessibility purposes." What would CityDesk do here? Refuse to publish? Automatically generate equivalent non-Flash content? There is no known algorithm for doing that.

That said, CityDesk does generate clean xhtml transitional that has been through a round of HTMLTidy. That helps a little bit and it's probably all you can do automatically.

Joel Spolsky
Fog Creek Software
Monday, April 12, 2004

A small step in the right direction would be to modify the GUI so that the Insert Link dialogue supports the HTML title attribute.

John Topley (
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Yup, round-tripping through XML via HTMLTidy is about all I can do thus far.

We're lucky in that the sites we're building will all be locked down to some extent in terms of what can and cannot be added - only some formatting will be allowed, for example, and only static images, no Flash. Beyond that I guess it's going to be a matter of user training.

Given that XHTML is by no means new, you'd think that Microsoft would at least have updated the TriEdit functionality in IE to produce valid XHTML rather than HTML that wouldn't have looked out of place in 1997. I guess it's a symptom of the fact that IE has won the browser war and doesn't need to be developed further. Attitudes like that, though, are not what I usually expect from Microsoft.


Neil Hewitt
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

You might find this article useful:

Clay Whipkey
Tuesday, April 20, 2004

This might sound cliché, but one of the best tools for testing accessibility (particularly for the visually impaired) is the Lynx browser. Opera comes in a close second.  It can do several things, including zooming:

Zomming in: to see how your image-based navigation looks to those who use magnification software

Zooming out: to see how your content looks on monitors with ridiculously high resolution.  Try navigation your website at  If you can’t easily navigate your website at 30% zoom level, people with cognitive disabilities won’t be able to navigate it at normal zoom.  Not everybody has precise control over the cursor.

Matthew Saul
Friday, April 23, 2004

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