SharePoint 2007 accessibility

Sharepoint screen shotI attend my first Microsoft (MS) oriented user group meeting yesterday, the SharePoint User Group on search and accessibility. Unfortunately our developers werre either too busy or on holiday, so I got volunteered.

The meeting was at an LBi office in London, and had a great start with free pizza’s & beer, which after my three hours of travel was a very welcome sight. The topics up were SharePoint 2007’s (SP) search, and creating an accessible web site.

The first part on search went mostly went over my head, not due to the presenter (Riaz Ahmed), but because I’m really not an MS developer. It was quite funny though when Riaz asked the audience how many people used MS’s Live search, and three people put their hands up (out of around 50 MS developers?).

The presentation is up now, and the main thing that struck me in this part was how many damn servers you need to use, the minimum in any of the diagrams was three (web site, search & database). The example used was for LBi’s intranet, where SharePoint 2007 enterprise search was used to index about 6 million documents on a file system, several thousand wiki pages, some blogs, and the ‘people’.

One relevant (to me) question at the end of the search presentation was whether you could filter the search terms to prevent SQL injections. In this example it wasn’t really an issue due to being an Intrant, but they had used JavaScript to filter the search terms. This lead onto ‘is sharepoint reliant’, to which the reply was Yes and no, it depends how you architect it.

Method for Creating an Accessible SharePoint Site

After outlining their typical development team, Riaz suggested that it should be the ‘Experience Architect’ (aka Information Architect, Usability person, Interface designer etc.) who after suitable training should own the:

  • Site content types and Page layouts
  • Site structure
  • Navigation

These are all things in SharePoint with relatively easy interfaces to control, and this represents quite a good direction for things to go.

Their development environment includes:

  • Visual Studio 2005
  • VS2005 extension for WSS
  • Source control (TFS), because the expected source control method isn’t really up to it.
  • SharePoint designer (not to create templates, but to validate the SharePoint aspects.
  • WSS/Sharepoint SDK.
  • Reflector

Apparently you also need you own SP farm!?


The main issues they had found with the default output from SP were complete lack of valid code, custom attributes, and inline styles.

I have to say, I really got the impression that for them, accessibility = valid HTML. This might be unfair, I’ll wait until the site goes live before commenting further (about structural code, alternative text etc.). This is not the new site yet.


They looked at several ways of controlling the code, and after an unsuccessful attempt with ‘Web Parts’, settled on filtering the output. Andrew Lister was quite funny and approachable, despite the obviously depressing content of the topic.

So, for any non-authenticated user, the content goes through a filter that strips out the rubbish. Obviously this put some overhead on the system, so they instituted caching, and asked Microsoft about a better solution.

Apparently Microsoft said wait until the next version, to which an audience member said They’ve been saying that since version 1!. (Alun David has been asking for about 6/7 years.)

The implications of this approach (and I certainly don’t have a better approach, this isn’t a critisim) are:

  • You can’t use any out-of-the-box functionality. Nothing. Or at least nothing that goes to the front-end site (they weren’t concerned with authenticated users).
  • The output is only as good as your filter, so if a user puts in unusual code to the content, it may cause unexpected effects.

For functions like the survey, they wrote a module from scratch, which is what you would have to do for any function. The normal SP functions are used for back-end functionality, but Riaz estimated it was 80% .Net development, and 20% SP development.

They will be doing another session in the near future that will go into more of the technical details.

I also have to wonder about the interface of the content editor, does anyone know how configurable that is?

Q & A

In the questions and answers it turned out that some people were working on making accessible Intranets, and had been talking about the issues with Microsoft. Apparently there have been some rumblings going up the food chain at MS in the last few weeks, I wonder if Molly’s post had anything to do with that?

Most people were pretty hacked off that MS hasn’t done anything about this, and if people using SP are hacked off, perhaps MS will listen. From the comments the best way to register complaints is through SharePoint NVPs (whatever they are).

Most CMSs started working on making sure they could output decent code a couple of years ago (with various level of success), but since SharePoint 2007 is now Microsoft’s primary CMS product, the question is: when will they start trying to catch up?

Further reading

11 contributions to “SharePoint 2007 accessibility

  1. Nice post and a well balanced report of what happened.

    I’m looking forward to thier next promised, much more technical, look at SPS and accessibility.

    I’m also looking forward to seeeing thier site go live so we can test it as I had a similar feeling to AC with regard to accessibility meaning valid code.

    We’ll see.

  2. They are probably talking about accessibility in the W3C “anyone, anywhere, on any device” sense. In which case valid code would very much be the first thing to get right. We might normally call this “device independence” or “interoperability” or (dare I say it?) “universality”. Depends on the audience.

    In the “usability for people with disabilities” sense then yes, structural markup, text alternatives and keyboard access are more priorities over strict conformance. But it’s best to have both if you can.

    Alastair, have you seen Juicy Studio’s Choosing an Accessible CMS article from a couple of days ago? Seems you’re not the only one giving the CMS market a prod. 🙂

  3. Hi Ben,

    Yes I did see that. It’s a good article, but from my point of view would be a little frustrating to use helping me pick a CMS (plus they didn’t try ours!). I suspect that you might get quite different results with some configuration of the interface.

    Having said that, I know how much work it is to test these things, especially for the multi-layer aspects of accessibility (of the CMS, of it’s output, of the usability of the interface that affects the output…)

    It took me 6 months just to draft what I wanted to check on just the editor part!

  4. Hi Ryan,

    It looks like good progress, but I wouldn’t say they are quite there yet. Btw, what’s a “W1” site?

    Both wrap the whole page in a form (potentially very confusing for screen readers which employ a ‘forms mode’), and both use fixed-width content.

    Fifteen seems to use quite a bit of inline styling (e.g. font face="Verdana" color="#E0078C"), and seems stuck with using only h3s within the content area. I guess this is due to limitations of the content editor? Neither site seems to use h1s.

    Wise Woman uses XHTML 1.1, which (in spec terms) ‘must’ be sent as XML. (So you really want to use XHTML 1.0 at most, unless you don’t care about Internet Explorer.) The country drop-down fire’s onchange, which makes it fairly difficult for keyboard users.

    Also, Fifteen’s top nav doesn’t seem to appear in Firefox? That’s not an accessibility thing as such, although it seems tied to font-sizing from a glance.

    In terms of functionality, the presentation suggested that you basically have to re-write any controls that you use. Was this the same experience for you? There don’t seem to be many of the other functions from SharePoint.

  5. Hey Alastair,

    That’s a brilliant write-up, well done 🙂

    I hope you enjoyed the meeting at LBi last week, we hope to do another session soon, so keep an eye out for that.

    I’ll let you know when that accessible site goes live.


    p.s. just sent over the presentation from last week, so it should be on the SUGUK site very soon!

  6. Ryan
    Your wise woman link doesn’t work.

    Also I cannot see how you claim that either of those sites is functionally rich in the same way that sharepoint is. These are both skinned sites and nothing more IMHO. I’ve been doing that sinse sharepoint v1.0.

    Lets see an accessible sharepoint site with rich functionality then I will be impressed. ( user customisation of page, discussion forums etc etc etc )

  7. Hi Alastair,

    As Riaz said thanks for the write up and thanks for attending!

    In terms of accessibilty and validity I hear ya. The site we demoed is both valid XHTML Strict and also accessibilty tested (manually and automatically via online tools) to double A compliance.

    We’ll give you all a shout when it goes live.



  8. Thanks for this!

    I have to say that MS, at least their developers, have made some significant strides with the 2.0 release of They seem more aware of the fact that there are more browsers than IE, and that developers actually like to have SOME control over the HTML that is spit out.

    Alas, I have to agree, MS is just way behind the curve in terms of standards compliant, semantic and accessible output.

    Granted, that’s true of most CMSes. *sigh*

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