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.
- 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.
- 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!
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.
- Remember Global Search & Replace – Dreamweaver will let you replace one snippet of code with a more accessible one on multiple pages in one shot.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.