Chris’s SharePoint Reflections

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  • Chris Zhong

    IT consultant Australia

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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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