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Dreamweaver 8 first impressions

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From: Jared Smith
Date: Sep 13, 2005 4:40PM


Dreamweaver 8 is now available. I thought I'd put together my first
impressions regarding new accessibility features (or the lack thereof).
This is not meant to be critical of Dreamweaver, which has come a long way
in regards to accessibility, but is intended to be helpful for those of
you who may be interested in how it supports accessibility.

- In very preliminary testing, it appears that the authoring environment
is MUCH more keyboard and screenreader friendly, with expanded shortcut
keys for environment navigation.

- The accessibility options are now enabled by default. The prompts for
forms, frames, media, and images now display by default when you insert
these objects. A dialog displays to allow you to easily disable these
options if you choose to. The burden is now on the developer to disable
them, rather than to somehow discover that they are there and then enable
them.

- In an improvement over MX 2004, the accessibility dialogs now display
when certain elements are added when in Code view, rather than only when
in Design view.

- DW still prompts for and inserts labels for form buttons and image form
elements. These elements should not have and do not need labels.

- DW does not prompt for labels when inserting form elements in code view,
except for when inserting a textarea, in which case it inserts it as
<textarea label="***"> which is invalid HTML.

- The accessibility dialog still prompts for Access key and Tab order for
form elements. Access key and Tab order are also options when you insert
hyperlinks and media objects (why media?). For accessibilities sake, these
things should probably be left to those that understand how to use them
(and those that do, usually don't use them) and not provided as an option
to everyone.

- The table accessibility dialog allows the same accessibility options as
MX 2004 - caption, summary, and headers (using scope) for rows, columns,
or both. There are no additional options for headers and id groupings for
complex/nested table headers.

- If you indicate that your table has both row and column headers,
Dreamweaver will designate the top-left cell as a column header. In some
instances, this cell may actually be a row header or not a header at all.

- You can now add title when inserting hyperlinks, form elements (even
hidden ones!?!), and media objects, but not images.

- The UsableNet accessibility reference appears to be pretty much the same
as in previous versions (errors and all). While a succint and easy to use
reference, it is only listed by RULE type, rather than by element type or
standard (e.g., section 508). This means that if you don't understand what
the rule means, it is not of much use. The ability to search the reference
would be wonderful.

- The accessibility report now includes WCAG priority 2 (as well as
Section 508 and WCAG P1, as in previous versions) . In general, the report
still requires a deep understanding of accessibility in the first place
(in which case, you probably wouldn't be using this reporting mechanism
anyways). While the report lists items as being relevant to Section 508 or
WCAG, it provides no information about what Section 508 or WCAG is. Nor
does it provide links to or descriptions of the actual guidelines.

The report format lists items as FAILED or MANUAL. The list of MANUAL
items is often so long as to quickly make the report overly daunting. Some
reported items are rather extraneous and not very important. For instance,
EVERY image on the page returns warnings for each of the following:
* ensuring sufficient contrast
* "non spacer IMG with equivalent ALT" (why does the report think that
only spacer images should have alt=""?)
* "non spacer IMG needs LONGDESC"
* "use markup rather than images" (with a description that talks about
MathML and stuff)

I ran the report on a very simple (100 words and a dozen or so images)
document with 0 accessibility issues and it returned about 300 MANUAL
checks (and a few false FAILED elements too). Perhaps a more user-friendly
reporting method would benefit users who are not already familiar with
accessibility standards and guidelines? Repair features would also be very
welcome in future versions.

- While the direct accessibility features in version 8 have not expanded
much, the authoring environment now supports much easier and better
development of semantically correct, properly structured, CSS driven,
standards compliant Web sites. The CSS support is AMAZING and will greatly
enhance my ability to quickly design pages to accessibility, CSS, and
XHTML standards.


In all, Dreamweaver 8 is a step forward in regards to direct accessibility
support, albeit a baby step - especially when compared with the vast
accessibility improvements introduced in Dreamweaver MX (since which only
minor changes have been made). While it is easy to be critical, I also
realize that I, as a developer, have not volunteered my feedback and
suggestions to the Macromedia development or accessibility team. Perhaps
this feedback (and any others you can provide) will be of use to them, and
to those of you who are using Dreamweaver.

Sorry this is so long. I'll probably comprile this into an article for our
site, but thought it might be of interest to you now.

Jared Smith
WebAIM.org