Rasslin' with Accessifying a "Dreamweaver" Site

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You may have heard recommendations that a site in Dreamweaver is 1) more prone to being inaccessible and 2) difficulty to accessify. There are some nice accessibility benefits to using a CMS like Plone, Drupal or Movable Type. BUT if you are tied to a Dreamweaver-based environment DON'T PANIC.

Under the right conditions, a Dreamweaver site can be made to be 100% accessible...because at the end of the day its the code being created, not the tool that really counts.

Accessibility Advantages of a CMS

With a good CMS, you can get two huge advantages.

  1. The templates out of the box often generate accessible code. For instance an accessible CMS includes an accessible search box and properly tags site navigation with appropriate list/header tags and often uses CSS to boot. That is a lot less work for a Web developer.
  2. A good CMS also include a good WYSIWYG editor that supports accessibility in content from people who do NOT know HTML. It should be easy to insert sub headers, lists and ALT tags on images. A killer CMS will even give you good tables. That means accessibility can be accomplished without looking under the hood - yeah!

So...Why Dreamweaver?

With all the advantages listed above - why would anyone remain in Dreamweaver. One answer is the ability to customize code and CSS. A CMS can be customized, but a user has to investigate the CSS closely. Dremweaver is essentially a blank canvas.

If your scenario is one experienced Web person maintaining a relatively small set of pages, Dreamweaver can work.

The other advantage is the accessibility tools. To this day, I have not seen a better tool for generating accessible tables and forms quickly and cleanly. Dreamweaver also does a good job at CSS maintenance and other important tasks.

I'm on a lot of CMS platforms, and as crazy as it sounds to some, I use Dreamweaver to edit more complex content portions than cut and paste. Sure, I could use Notepad, but I've killed a lot of data tables that way. Dreamweaver has nice dual views that help keep track of WYSIWYG and code.

Static Site Tricks

if you are a Webmaster ready to migrate to a CMS (yet), you can manage to get some accessibility implemented with a few of these tricks.

  1. Remember Global Search & Replace - Dreamweaver will let you replace one snippet of code with a more accessible one on multiple pages in one shot.
  2. Consider Server Side Includes (SSI) - You can get some of the benefits of a CMS by using server side includes to insert template headers, footers and so forth on multiple pages.
  3. Master your CSS - Dreamweaver will readily allow you to use CSS, but you have to follow through with it. CSS mastery is equally important if you want to tweak a CMS theme. Whenever possible, replace an inline formatting command with a link to a style sheet and you will go a long way towards a cleaner and more accessible site.
  4. Use the Dreamweaver accessibility tools they gave you - Include an ALT tag when you insert an image, a caption and headers when inserting tables and all those IDs and LABELs if you are designing a form. It will never get any easier than at that time.

Why I Keep Advocating Dreamweaver

Far from being an accessibility barrier, Dreamweaver has the potential to be a powerful tool for a lot of Web developers semi-familiar with HTML but not quite comfortable with Notepad or BBEdit.

In fact, Dreamweaver is the platform of choice for the Lynda.com seminar on accessibility as well as is a platform for a WebAIM accessibility plugin. I'm glad I'm not totally alone on this one.

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