To-do list for the WaSP ATF
The recently formed and announced Web Standards Project Accessibility Task Force
will work with accessibility organizations, technology vendors and others to help promote Web accessibility. An excellent initiative that I hope will turn out well.
The Task Force members also want suggestions on what they should accomplish, and I've been thinking a bit about this for a couple of days now. Joe Clark has already posted ATF: Not 'Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms', a comprehensive list of areas to work on. I've tried to avoid repeating what he has already said, so here's my slightly shortened to-do list for the WaSP ATF:
Unite the people
If you've been following some of the recent discussions on accessibility, web standards, and validation, like me you probably feel that there is a bit of tension within the fields of web accessibility and web standards. There are several reasons for that tension:
Many screen readers users are stuck with old versions because they are too expensive to upgrade and don't benefit much from semantics and structure.
Labels that certify web sites as being "blind friendly" can give the wrong people the impression that web standards are unimportant when certification is given to sites that do not follow best practices in modern web development, accessibility, and usability.
Standardistas that want to promote both web standards and accessibility sometimes forget (or don't realise) that validity alone is no guarantee for accessibility.
Some accessibility evangelists focus more on specifically supporting people with disabilities than device independence and accessibility interpreted as "for anyone, regardless of any disabilities they might have and no matter which device they use to access the web".
All of these views, needs and opinions have to be taken into account and made to work together. Fighting each other won't improve things. The WaSP ATG could help here.
Make CMS vendors fix their software
Really heavy pressure needs to be put on CMS vendors. Most (nearly all) CMSs are lagging way behind and need to be brought into the 21st century. We need content management systems that produce valid, well-structured, and strict-flavoured markup instead of presentational tag soup that only IE/Win can eat without getting sick.
CMSs should also make it impossible for content authors to enter markup that is not well-formed and warn authors of any validation problems. See XStandard for a good example.
And then there's the backend: CMSs should be able to run on servers other than Microsoft IIS, and their administrative interfaces need to start working in other browsers than Internet Explorer for Windows. Come on now, it's not that hard.
Educate content authors and editors
We need to make content authors and editors aware of and understand web accessibility. Putting pressure on CMS vendors to improve their tools is important, and better tools will help but won't be enough. Content management software should assist and guide authors as much as possible, but by itself it won't be able to make content accessible.
The humans entering content into a CMS need to understand what they are doing and why. The same goes for those who actually write the content. Writing text that everybody can understand is no easy thing, and very few content authors even know that it's something they need to think about.