Chris’s SharePoint Reflections

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  • Chris Zhong

    IT consultant Australia








Archive for May, 2008

A tragic week

Posted by chrissyz on May 17, 2008

This week, I took 70-541 WSS3.0 – Application Development exam and luckily passed it. To say it is lucky is because I am in control of it. There are things in the world that we don’t have controls at all and sometimes..they bring us to our knees.

I am totally hit by 5.12 Earthquake in Sichuan, China. Until today, 22069 people dead in the earthquake, most of them are primary school and middle school students. It crashed me, it broke my heart. My heart was full of sorrow for the people who lost their lives, their homes, their beloved ones during the earthquake.

 Besides donating money, I don’t really know what else I can do for the people in Sichuan.  I pray for the determination to change the things we need to change, and also, the courage to accept the things we cannot change..It is an absolutely down week with a lot of tears.  

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MOSS accessibility part 2- How to avoid “eggs on the face” situation

Posted by chrissyz on May 10, 2008

Well, here comes to the fun part.  How to make your SharePoint site more accessible? Well, there are various products in the marketplace that can tell you when a site is out of compliance, according to that product’s particular interpretation of  accessibility standards. That’s good, but not good enough, since a list of the non-compliant code is much easier to generate than replacement code that compiles with accessibility standards. J

Although it is not all doom and gloom, to make a SharePoint accessible would take a lot of effort. Management really needs to justify the investment before make the requirement. I am not a UIdesigner, but there are some general suggestions I feel like to share:

1.       Right purpose

I would suggest using WCM features ONLY in your SharePoint publishing site. I understand Content Management is just one small part of MOSS, but it is the essence of many publishing sites. Many SharePoint Collaboration features generate a lot of non-W3C validating code and you are not going to get your fully featured intranet to be conformant as I really couldn’t justify the cost for doing that.

 

2.       Keep it simple

Here are some successful SharePoint Websites which did a great job on accessibility

http://www.equalityhumanrights.com
http://www.nhs.uk
 http://www.plymouthhospitals.nhs.uk
 http://www.wise-woman.net

One common thing among them is simplicity. I believe that delivering a site that is visually attractive and navigates well for browsers as well as “Screen reader” is really hard. There is a trade-off between accessibility and rich UI.

  

3.       Don’t use OOTB Master Pages and CSS

On our project, we have gone through the pains of tweaking the OOTB master page.  And at the end of the day we have to give it up and use our own master pages. It is really good practice to start fresh with Minimal Master Page or AKS’s master page

 

4.       Use third part solutions for content edition

Some publishing web controls like PublishingWebControls: RichHtmlField control doesn’t generate xhtml compliant makeup, so even if your master page is xhtml compliant, the content created through the authoring UI creates non-compliant markup. I would suggest to use Telrik RAD Editor (W3C WAG Level A) or AKS accessible rich text editor.

 

5.       Minimum use of Web Part

As a mentioned in my last blog, web part generates a lot of non-compliant markup and the only way to fix it is to override the render method.  I recommend keeping web part use to a minimum. Web part zones should definitely not to be used; they introduce a large amount of layout tables and non-compliant HTML

 

6.       AKS

I would definitely recommend AKS and it should be installed on every developer’s machine. Its development tool is free to download from codeplex. It addresses some major issues regarding the accessibility of SharePoint and provides workarounds. However, like its own CEO Kurt Mueffelmann said “AKS is not a magic pill, but more of a methodology in starting to create a more accessibility site.” It is not a solution but will definitely make your life a lot easier.

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MOSS 2007 Accessibility Part One – Is it going to be a Waterloo?

Posted by chrissyz on May 4, 2008

 

I do take a serious consideration before I write down this title. Have to admit, I am a big fun of SharePoint. Like I mentioned in my first blog, the unlimited possibilities SharePoint brings fascinate me. From usability point of view, SharePoint is an absolutely powerful enterprise development platform. But when it comes to accessibility (which is regarded as guideline for a lot of governments), developing MOSS 2007 publishing portal is a quite different story.

Recently I have been working on conducting a W3C AA accessibility analysis for an Australian government department’s pilot MOSS Publishing portal.  I revisited the all the priority 1 and priority 2 check points of web standards and used a three – factors validation methodology: validate Master Page, Validate Page layout, Validate content. Although compared to SP2003 a lot of effort was made around accessibility for MOSS2007, the findings are still not satisfactory.

The major issues are as followed:

1.   SharePoint relies on a lot of java script. (Check Point 6.3)

 

This issue attracts a lot of debates. The problem with java script or any other active script is that some ATs (Assisting Tools) have difficulties to interpret java script.

Back in SP2003, there was inaccessible java script all over the place. For example, mouse-over menus are script-oriented. Once the active script is disabled, they became inaccessible. In MOSS 2007, Microsoft delivered the accessible mode (accessed via an invisible link at the top of each page) and it will replace many inaccessible aspects of products with more accessible alternatives. However, the OOTB UI logic to flip to Accessibility mode in SharePoint still relies on Java script. From this perspective, SharePoint no doubt fails this priority one check point.

 

Personally, I don’t think in the next version of SharePoint, java script will be totally abandoned. (Microsoft has no intention at all). Plus, there are concerns around form server, which renders InfoPath forms as web pages. (Rely heavily on Java script). Considering nowadays most screen readers and ATs do a great job interpreting java script, finger across that WCAG 2.0 can be more tolerant regard to the use of script.

 

2.   SharePoint uses tables for layout purpose, therefore the use of CSS for layout is broken (Checkpoint 3.3)

 

As far as I am concerned, tables and frames belong to a previous era and no longer serve any purpose in modern web design. The problem with tables is that screen readers have difficulties when dealing with TABLE and prefer DIV. However, SharePoint does lean on HTML tables for layout. Its master pages and lots of OOTB web parts spit out HTML tables all over the places.

 

3.    If you use OOTB rich text editor,  it is unable to define headings (h1, h2, etc) (Checkpoint 3.5) and generates invalid and semantically incorrect

 

4.   Inability to differentiate Font size (Check Point 3.4)

Sharepoint uses a ‘fixed size’ font, so visually impaired users cannot make it bigger or smaller in the browser.

Well, there are still small issues like color contrast, titles  etc in SharePoint accessibility. Seems like Microsoft did a good job of making SharePoint being accessible for people using AT, but not being WCAG 1.0 compliant… However, accessibility is not optional. No matter how powerful the platform is, how cool and efficient the features are, if they are not accessible to everyone, Deployment of Sharepont will be largely limited in the growing number of companies and countries that have strict accessibility requirements. And that’s what AKS is going to address. However, AKS is not a solution. It is only a tool that helps the situation.  I am going to talk about how to make the SharePoint publishing site more accessibility in detail in part 2  – “How to avoid ‘eggs-on-the-face” situation”  🙂

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