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Selecting and Using Authoring Tools for Web Accessibility

introduction - checklists for tool selection - working around limitations - product reviews


Note: This document is an initial draft [see change log in progress] and should not be referenced or quoted under any circumstances. This document is under development by the Education and Outreach Working Group (EOWG), and will be offered to other W3C groups and the public for review.

As of the last revision of this document, we were unaware of any single authoring tool that fully supports production of accessible Web sites. Some developers are improving the support of accessibility in their authoring tools, and some utilities may help supplement gaps in existing authoring tools.

This document provides information which may help find improved authoring tools and/or work around the gaps in existing authoring tools. It includes questions to ask software vendors regarding accessibility support in current and upcoming product versions according to their conformance with W3C's Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (ATAG 1.0).

ATAG 1.0 addresses all kinds of authoring tools, including WYSIWYG ("What You See Is What You Get") tools, save-as-HTML conversion tools such as word processors, database-generation tools, site management tools, etc. ATAG 1.0 has a companion set of techniques to help software developers implement ATAG 1.0 in their products. ATAG 1.0 explains to authoring tool developers how to make their products:

  1. support accessible authoring practices;
  2. generate standard markup;
  3. support the creation of accessible content;
  4. provide ways of checking and correcting inaccessible content;
  5. integrate accessibility support into the overall look and feel of the product;
  6. promote accessibility in help and documentation; and
  7. ensure that the tool is accessible to authors with disabilities.

Checklists for Authoring Tool Selection

Evaluating software currently in use by an organization:

Selecting new or replacement software:

Reviewing software procurement practices:

Questioning software vendors about product support:

Working around Limitations of Existing Authoring Tools

Until authoring tools that more fully conform to ATAG 1.0 are available, it is helpful to develop strategies to work around the limitations of existing tools. Steps to developing such strategies include:

Examples of strategies to work around limitations of existing authoring tools:

  1. If the templates provided with an authoring tool do not conform to WCAG 1.0 [ATAG 1.0 Checkpoint 1.4], develop WCAG-conformant templates appropriate to your organization's needs, and distribute throughout the organization.
  2. If an authoring tool does not create valid markup [ATAG 1.0 Checkpoint 2.2] according to a published Document Type Definition (DTD), use it in conjunction with a clean-up tool such as HTML Tidy.
  3. If a multimedia authoring tool does not support the creation of captions for audio [ATAG 1.0 Checkpoint 1.1], use it in conjunction a caption editor such as Magpie.
  4. For authoring systems primarily designed to produce print media (for example, Acrobat, PageMaker, Quark Express), rich media (Director, Flash, ToolBook), word processing (Word, Word Perfect), presentations (PowerPoint, Freelance, Visio), go back to the original source material where possible and generate an accessible HTML or XHTML version from the source; or run file through a converter if available (for instance, a PDF to HTML Converter) then check the accuracy of the conversion; or recreate the materials in a known accessible format ; then also post the accessible format on the site [ATAG 1.0 Checkpoint 2.1].
  5. If an authoring tool being used to retrofit an existing site doesn't prompt for missing alternative text [ATAG 1.0 Checkpoint 3.1], use an accessibility-retrofitting tool such as A-Prompt which both prompts for missing accessibility information and provides a means to insert the missing information.
  6. If an authoring tool does not insert a Document Type Declaration (DTD) (necessary for validation of markup, and for conformant HTML, XHTML, etc.) [ATAG 1.0 Checkpoint 2.2], look for an extension which inserts the appropriate DTD, or insert the DTD by hand.
  7. If an authoring tool does not support cascading style sheets [ATAG 1.0 Checkpoint 3.2 & ATAG 1.0 Checkpoint 4.5], use it in conjunction with a compatible style sheet editor.
  8. If an authoring tool does not display a linearized version of tables [ATAG 1.0 Checkpoint 3.2] and techniques for [WCAG 1.0 Checkpoints 5.1 - 5.4], use it in conjunction with the WAVE, or with Lynx or Lynx-me, or some other text browser or text browser emulator.
  9. If an authoring tool does not preserve all accessibility information during authoring, transformations, and conversions [ATAG 1.0 Checkpoint 1.2], either edit by hand and save straight to source, or get a new authoring tool.
  10. If an authoring tool automatically generates equivalent alternatives [ATAG 1.0 Checkpoint 1.3], e.g. by inserting file name as alternative text, turn off that function, or manually check and correct all alternative text.

Product Reviews

The Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines Working Group (AUWG) periodically reviews authoring tools to test their conformance with ATAG 1.0. As of the last revision of this document, the reviews available from the AUWG home page were not up-to-date and therefore may not represent the latest progress in ATAG conformance. The AUWG updates these product reviews on a collaborative basis with developers; assistance and feedback on reviews is helpful.

In some cases developers have information on their own sites describing the degree of accessibility support in their products. WAI maintains links to accessibility pages for many developers. Developers' accessibility pages may contain links to plug-ins which enhance the capability of an authoring tool to support the production of accessible Web content.

Last updated 11 February 2002 by Judy Brewer ( with assistance from members of EOWG.

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