An unimportant hole in Section 508?

Mike Paciello recently pointed to an article that says Section 508 inefficient for CMS and web development tools. This matches what I would expect, however, I discovered the article has it the opposite way round.

According to Peter Abrahams, Section 508:

only considers the accessibility of the product and not the accessibility of any outputs of the product. This means that website development tools, Content Management tools, document creation tools or any other tool that produces output that may be viewed electronically can conform to section 508 but none of their outputs do.

A few years ago most CMS products were atrocious both front and back end, providing hard-coded tag-soup and inaccessible interfaces. (From a personal point of view, that is what lead to the development of Defacto, consider that my bias.)

However, most CMSs have improved on the front-end, allowing developers to create websites that don’t break all the WCAG guidelines. (Although often they put a lot of obstacles in the way, and developers don’t always manage to get around them.)

What is almost a universal failure in the CMS market is the authoring interfaces. I’ve tested many, and the bigger the name, the worse the accessibility of the back-end is.

Maybe things are different in the US market, but somehow I doubt it. CMS vendors have conglomerated quickly in the last few years, and interface quality does not seem to be the deciding factor in which survive. Generally the accessibility of the authoring interface is overlooked by almost every buyer, except the more stringent Government or Disability Charities, who then discover they have no choice but to buy inaccessible software.

Perhaps there is a hole in the Section 508 laws, but the result isn’t what Mr Abrahams has suggested, and I’d recommend checking into the lesser know but just as important Authoring Tools Guidelines.

The article implies that CMS vendors have no need to worry about the websites that are produced by their product. However, what has been effective is the commercial pressure of their clients demanding the ability to create accessible websites. Publicly facing websites are highly visible, if only that sort of pressure could be applied to the back-end interfaces, we’d have many better CMS products.

5 contributions to “An unimportant hole in Section 508?

  1. We have to differentiate between two things. If a CMS allows you to create accessible content, and if the user decides to create accessible content. The first is much easier to regulate and enforce. The second will always be a problem, just because the CMS allows you to make a site accessible, designers will have to make the conscious decision to use it properly, and decide if what they put out is accessible or not. Certainly content management systems could do a better job prompting designers to make elements of a site more accessible.

  2. Hi Tom,

    You’re right, but both those things fit into the ‘output’ side of things.

    The article suggests that CMS vendors aren’t concerned with the output side at all, compared to making the interface of the CMS accessible.

    In my experience, it’s the output side that’s been tackled, not the interface.

  3. I don’t see where this is a “hole”. Firstly, Section 508 is a law which mandates that the government procures products which are the most accessible while meeting their defined business need.

    Peter Abrahams article was a discussion of the VPAT. Or, more specifically, a discussion of the VPAT documents submitted by vendors. The VPAT, or ‘Voluntary Product Accessibility Template’ is, as the name implies, voluntary in nature. Unfortunately, the level of detail and accuracy of these documents is also “voluntary” as well.

    Regardless of whether the vendor’s VPAT discusses the product itself or the content produced by the product, the onus of compliance with the law rests upon the shoulders of the procuring agency. Therefore, in order to comply with the law, the procuring agency will need to perform their own due diligence (i.e. the market research as required by FAR Part 10) to ensure the product *and* its output is accessible.

  4. Well having been the PM implementing a very large selection of CMS products over the years I can say with one exception ( AC that already mentioned ) I have never come across a CMS that has a “user” interface that is evenly remotely accessible.
    It is possible these days to put accessible templates in most CMS’s and bolt down, to varying degrees, the content publishing areas of the CMS to enforce some level of out put accessibility.
    However it is still very reliant on the training of the publishers to know what they should do to create quality content.

    So I suspect that 508 isn’t accievable……….

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