Accessibility is often thought of as an issue relating to people with various types of disabilities. In fact, it is relevant to all sites, and all users. Your aim should be to make your site as easy as possible to use for everyone to use, and this includes using language which as straightforward as possible, given the nature of the material which is being discussed.

What is Accessibility?

Accessibility, as applied to web sites, is the process and practice of ensuring that material on the site is available to as many potential users as possible, and particularly to those who have a range of handicaps.

In the UK, the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 makes accessibility a legal requirement for all web sites - though the level of enforcement appears currently to be minimal.

The issue is particularly pressing for the sites of community organisations, partly because such organisations have a particular interest in being inclusive, and also because, if their sites are funded by government, the conditions of that funding will normally include a requirement for compliance with the appropriate standards - or at least a requirement for a vague accessibility.

What are the standards?

The appropriate standards are developed by the W3C (the World Wide Web Consortium) in its Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). The two key documents are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, versions 1 and 2

These are very technical documents, not in themselves especially accessible.

There are 3 levels of conformance, of decreasing importance: A, AA and AAA. Levels A and AA are generally what government web sites aim for, although, even so, they often do not manage to achieve full compliance.

While the bulk of the recommendations relate to technical design issues which should be solved by the time your site is on-line, many of the most important will require you to continue to pay attention to accessibility issues as you add content to your site.

TYPO3 and Accessibility

TYPO3 is fundamentally a tool that outputs HTML. It does not, by itself, make that HTML accessible.

However, it does not put any barriers in the way of implementing accessibility.

It is based in the right technologies and standards to empower developers and users to produce sites which are highly compliant, and a number of developers have contributed extensions which ensure that a high level of compliance is possible, and that much of the compliance process is applied automatically.

Accessibility is not just a function of the system

Although a TYPO3 site can be set up to provide the possibility of accessibility, many of the standards involved need to be applied by content producers.

For example, while the site can have an accessibility glossary (acronyms, abbreviations and terms that may be unfamiliar are automatically flagged in the text, expanded by moving the cursor over the term, and further defined in a list), editors need to be aware of the terms they are using, and add the relevant ones to the glossary - they will not add themselves.

Therefore, the people who will be contributing content need to be aware of the issues involved, and follow appropriate guidelines.

Web Site or Browser?

Current thinking tends to suggest that a number of issues that tended previously to be resolved by the web site - modifying text size, for example, are better dealt with by the browser, and modern browsers are increasingly well equipped to resolve a range of issues for people with disabilities.

The base reasoning is that if the user equips her browser with the appropriate tools, they will apply to all (or al least, many) web sites, making them all accessible, rather than just the few which are equipped with specialist gizmos.