Drupal and Accessibility - 5 Things to Know

1. Why is it important to make websites accessible?

The ultimate goal of web accessibility is to enable access for as many people as possible. For a website to be accessible, certain principles and techniques must be taken into account to produce understandable content, build a markup suitable to be consumed via assistive technologies and render a visual output suited to a wide range of users, such as persons with low vision for example. Assistive technologies to facilitate interaction with web content might range from a keyboard (e.g. for keyboard-only navigation) to screen magnifiers, screen readers, Braille displays, voice recognition software, head wands, sip and puff devices and much more. The basic technical requirements these assistive technologies need to ensure they can make web content consumable and operable to assistive technology users are quite similar all around. 

Worldwide, approximately 20% of the population, around 1 billion people, have disabilities. Some of these disabilities are invisible or not immediately apparent. Some of them are temporary (such as an arm injury or cataract) or situational (like holding a baby or looking at a screen in glaring sunshine). In truth, web accessibility benefits all users by enhancing usability. Moral reasons for ensuring accessibility, plus upcoming and existing legal regulations and a clear business case all speak for putting a focus on accessibility.

2. Is Drupal an accessible CMS?

Much like any website, accessibility is a relevant aspect for Drupal’s user interface as well. From a regulatory point of view, the goal is often set at complying with a defined level of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). For authoring tools, the relevant standard is the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG). Although Drupal has a good reputation with regards to accessibility, it is not fully accessible – there currently aren’t any open–source CMS–es on the market that are, according to W3C’s recent research.

But the Drupal community has made a commitment to making sure that Drupal becomes an accessible tool for building websites, also for people with disabilities. The initiative has been going strong since version 7 (Drupal’s core is currently on version 9). Since the start of the initiative, enhancements have been implemented on the accessibility front, such as optimising colour contrast, keyboard accessibility, adding skip links, proper form labelling and a clean heading structure in the Drupal administrative interface.

As an open-source project, community contributions are the foundation of the Drupal project. The Drupal community encourages its developers to implement accessibility, and developers who have pledged to ensure that their modules and the content produced by them are accessible can mark their modules with the hashtags D7AX, D8AX, D9AX (depending on the supported core version).

3. Why is the CMS in use relevant for the accessibility of my website?

The goal of a CMS (Content Management System) such as Drupal is to facilitate content creation and management. To sum it up, CMS-based websites are sewn together from content arriving from the CMS and carefully crafted markup and styling definitions placed around it. Depending on the architecture, the CMS might produce the frontend output – the website – itself or this can be handled by a separate tool, such as Gatsby, for decoupled websites. 

Although the content coming from the CMS can be altered or processed before it will be output on the website, how the CMS hands it over is important. A robust semantic structure for rich text content – text blocks coming from an editor – and the existence of necessary attributes for accessible content, such as alternative text for images (which is mandatory to add in Drupal!) are naturally essential contributions. 

4. Will my website be accessible if I use Drupal as a CMS?

If only it was that simple! As mentioned previously, content originating from Drupal plays an important part in the process, but a deciding factor will be the markup and styling placed around the content when the website is built. Drupal websites with a frontend produced directly by Drupal rely on themes. Some themes – core or custom – promise to deliver some accessibility features. Simply choosing a theme is unfortunately not a quick-fix solution to guaranteeing that a website will end up being accessible. Even themes with high standards of accessibility have to rely on editors creating accessible content and other modules in use complying to accessibility standards as well. Decoupled websites take their markup and styling definitions from outside of Drupal’s system and therefore Drupal has less influence on the accessibility level of the rendered website. 

5. How does Drupal support the creation of accessible content?

The team behind Drupal’s accessibility initiative has been actively raising awareness for the topic, which, along with Drupal’s commitment to accessibility is a much-welcomed approach. Other than continuously enhancing the accessibility level of Drupal’s own interface, one notable feature is that in Drupal defining alternative text when adding an image is a must! Some contributed modules offer further support in creating and managing accessible content and analysing, improving and maintaining accessibility levels on Drupal websites. While these modules can be of help, it is advisable to treat their promises with caution. Automated tools can only do so much for accessibility: they will be able to catch some of the accessibility issues, but for ensuring accessibility, a more holistic approach is necessary.

If you have any other questions we didn’t cover in this article, let us know! And if you’re ready to get started with accessibility, get in touch with us today – we look forward to chatting with you about your goals!


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