Accessibility in Drupal: Making the Dream a Reality

Catharine McNally, Associate Product Manager
#Accessibility | Posted

At Phase2, accessibility isn't just a box we check on website clients who ask for it -- it's a part of what we do, how we think, and how we approach every project. What we know is that 54 million U.S. citizens live with disabilities, and that means that more than 10% of web users are left out due to accessibility issues. That's not acceptable. In the past couple of years, we've learned a lot from clients in the U.S. federal government agency space who need best-in-class accessibility. So our team of strategists has developed practices for including accessibility considerations into our design and build processes, as well as a robust testing system for accessibility that covers not only 508 compliance, but also WCAG best practices.

So when we came across Drupal community member Vincenzo Rubano's campaign to come to DrupalCon Portland so that he can continue his contributions to the Drupal 8 accessibility team, we had to learn more about what he was doing. Our own accessibility strategist, Catharine McNally, sat down with Vincenzo to learn more about work and future goals for accessibility in Drupal.

Q. Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? And how did you become involved in accessibility work?

I am Vincenzo Rubano and I am 19 years old. I am a high school student living in a small village at about 2 kilometers from Lecce, a small town in Southern Italy. I've been blind from birth and I've been interested in computer science since I was 9. I've started learning web-programming languages as a hobby when I was 13.

Surfing the Internet and using various computer programs, I noticed that various programs and websites have too many accessibility issues for me, a blind person who thinks that an accessibility issue is discrimination. So, about two years ago I launched my website "Ti tengo d'occhio", whose goal is to encourage developers to make their programs and websites as accessible as they can be in an innovative way.

Q. Cool. A site to help developers know whether what they're building is accessible. How does it work?

A. When an application/website with accessibility issues is discovered, a "report" will appear on Ti Tengo D'occhio's "Blind List" (the "blacklist" of applications and websites not accessible to blind users). A request for improving the reported application/website accessibility will also be sent to its developer. Websites/applications (for Windows, IOS or Mac OS X) with accessibility issues can be reported by other users through a form on my website.

Q. How did you get started with Drupal? And what made it the right choice for you?

A. When I was building my website, I was looking for an open source CMS that could be powerful, flexible and accessible at the same time. I tried using various CMS, but Drupal really impressed me for its great accessibility.

Q. Tell us a little more about your commitment to accessibility in Drupal.

A. I became part of the Drupal accessibility team in November last year. I've contributed to a number of issues by performing accessibility reviews and giving feedback on Drupal UIs from my blind-user perspective. And recently, my first patch (a little accessibility improvement to the Overlay module) was committed!

Q. What are the achievements for accessibility in Drupal that you're most excited about?

A. Well, there are lots of new features in Drupal 8!

Views, for instance, will be included in Drupal 8 core. And this is a great opportunity to perform a thorough review of Views UI to fix eventual accessibility issues. Also, some members of the Drupal accessibility team worked hard with the JQuery UI and now we have an accessible Dialog API in core based on JQuery UI dialog. This means that JQuery UI dialogs are now completely accessible to screen reader users, even if not used in Drupal. Drupal 8 will also support ARIA landmarks by default and Drupal core will switch to HTML 5.

And then recently, we've had some big progress. The Overlay tabbing management has been abstracted into an utility so that other core and/or contrib modules can leverage it. Second, the Drupal.announce() utility has been significantly improved. The goal of this utility is to give core and/or contrib modules the ability to let blind users know about dynamic changes to the page and, in general, make screen readers say something through an ARIA live region. And finally, contextual links are now accessible to blind users!

Q. What are you hoping to learn or do at DrupalCon?

A. Well, currently I am a person who knows what accessibility is and what surfing a website or using an application that is not accessible means. I am just using my knowledge to give feedback and perform accessibility reviews in my free time. But I'd like to increase my involvement in the Drupal community by being able to write patches and/or perform reviews of patches created by other contributors. Before doing it, though, I need to learn many things and Drupalcon is a great opportunity to learn so many things!

You can find Vincenzo's campaign here at IndieGoGo, and we hope you'll help get him to Portland. We're excited to see community members like Vincenzo pushing for accessibility wins in Drupal 8. We believe it will help all of our projects reach a greater number of citizens -- and that's impact that benefits us all.

Want to hear more about Phase2's accessibility work? Interested in helping us build more accessible websites?  Learn more here.

Catharine McNally

Associate Product Manager