There has been an awful lot of fanfare on the Joomla! forums about the newfangled Beez template, developed by the "accessibility" side of the Design & Accessibility team, in the hope that it provides the correct path for accessibility within Joomla!. The obvious question remains - does it live up to its claims ?
The real risk when dealing with a content management system is that the CMS produces malformed, invalid code. Some CMS products fail at this more gracefully than others. Joomla!, by and large, is one of the more graceful ones. The core template for Joomla! 1.5, Milkyway, manages to pass a mechanical Section 508 test, which demonstrates the apparent limitations on a mechanical test.
Did Beez raise the bar, or is it turning into a hornet's nest ? Well, the findings are interesting, if nothing else. Beez, in it's current state, meets the exact same bar as Milkyway. The only foreseeable difference is that Beez was constructed without tables as part of the templates overrides whereas Milkyway didn't have the overrides and so the core system spat out tables as part of the core content management processes.
Both templates automatically default into the most ungainly 'Quirks Mode' for Internet Explorer 6 and below. Beez also has internal hidden links which have no semantic context in relation to content or control. And for what end ?
Now accessibility is more than just passing some online mechanical script for validation. Accessibility is primarily about the user experience that is engaged through the use of a web site. It becomes personal to the needs of an individual the minute someone claims they can deliver accessibility. Passing a mechanical test, whilst good in theory, can lead to the false conclusion that because a site has passed all the mechanical check lists, the code, design and implementation is valid, sound, accessible and stable. So what really needs to happen is that Joomla! 1.5 as an entire product, not just a single template, needs to pass the relevant mechanical tests in the right way, without the need for false and deceptive marketing that is currently traded for Joomla! 1.5 as an accessible content management system. And once it has passed those mechanical tests, which remain small tools in a much larger skillset dealing with accessible and usable websites, then and only then should Joomla! be marketed the way it currently is. For without advancement beyond the dependence on these mechanical tools, developers, designers and users are given a false sense of security thanks to the marketing supplied from the Joomla! Teams.
Am I surprised ? Not really. What has been displayed here is represented industry wide, through discussions like A List Apart, The Sleeping Point and others. Validation, in other words, the use of basic mechanical scripts to make sure code and design is well-formed and constructed in a sound matter, isn't readily adopted as a standard practice by those inside the web industry, leaving it up to web professionals to raise the cause of making the online experience a better place for all involved. And validation is only at the beginning of the accessibility process, not at the end.
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