Developing accessible portals and portlets with IBM WebSphere Portal

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1 Developing accessible portals and portlets with IBM WebSphere Portal Level: Introductory IBM Human Ability and Accessibility Center Austin, Texas February, 2006 Copyright International Business Machines Corporation All rights reserved.

2 Contents Introduction 2 Understanding accessibility 3 Understanding disabilities 4 Why accessibility is important 5 Accessibility standards 6 Web portlet development 6 Testing portlets for accessibility 7 Standard practices 7 IBM WebSphere Portal 8 Why IBM? 9 Summary 9 For more information 10 Introduction A portal serves as a user s single point of access to information, applications, processes, and people. By providing targeted, relevant information to users, presenting a consistent user interface, and offering new ways to access applications, portals deliver the business value of improving productivity and lowering the cost of deploying applications to end users. The building blocks of a portal are portlets. Portlets are Java code and possibly Java Server Pages (JSP ) that access data, provide program logic, and generate HTML fragments, which the portal aggregates into a single, cohesive, and complete HTML document. Portlets can be linked so that a user action in one portlet can generate a request that results in an update to another portlet. The layout of the final page is customizable by the user and the portal administrator, including the number of columns and the positioning of the portlets within those columns. A portal Web page is composed of HTML fragments that are generated by the top-level portal page and each portlet placed on that page. The top-level page layout is generated by the portal server after being customized to the site s look and feel. An accessible portal page is one in which all of the generated HTML fragments are accessible. The deployment team s task is to ensure the accessibility of the top-level portal page when customizing the site s look and feel. The portlet developer s task is to make sure that the portlet s Web page fragments are compliant too. Incorporating accessibility for people with disabilities into portlet development need not be difficult or costly. With help from IBM, you can create accessible portlets easier and faster than you thought was possible. IBM has the software, knowledge and industry leadership to help you create and deploy an accessible Web portal. This article addresses Web portlet accessibility, with a focus on IBM WebSphere Portal. It discusses the importance of accessibility and provides you with development and testing approaches to ensure the accessibility of your Web portlets.

3 Understanding accessibility At the highest level, accessibility is the practice of ensuring that people with disabilities have meaningful access to the information and function provided by computer and information technology. An accessible portal page is one that meets accessibility guidelines, including: Lets users navigate by using only the keyboard Lets users select font sizes, colors and color contrast combinations Supports assistive technologies (AT), such as screen readers and closed captioning Assistive technologies are hardware devices and software applications that are used to increase, maintain, or assist the functional capabilities of people with disabilities. They consist of: Alternative output mechanisms that enable users with sensory or perceptual disabilities to perceive computer output that otherwise they would be unable to see or hear. Alternative input devices that enable users with mobility impairments to operate a computer using alternatives to the standard mouse or keyboard. In short, assistive technologies remove or reduce barriers to enhance productivity. Some examples of assistive technologies are: Screen readers that use text-to-speech synthesizers to read the screen s content Screen magnifiers that enlarge the text and objects displayed on the screen Closed captioning of the speech and audio portion of multimedia content On-screen keyboards that provide virtual keyboard input using the mouse or other pointing devices

4 Assistive technologies (AT) are effective only when applications support the facilities that the AT depends on. For example, a screen reader cannot read a Web page unless the developer follows certain standards to generate accessible HTML, such as providing alternative text descriptions for graphics. One specific example is providing an alternative text description of an image icon of a Next button. Without the text description, a screen reader cannot inform the user that the Next image is really a button for accessing the next page. Understanding disabilities Building accessibility into a Web portal requires an understanding of accessibility standards and guidelines, and how the needs of users with visual, hearing, mobility, and learning disabilities are met by accessibility standard practices. Visual disabilities Visual disabilities include blindness, low vision, and color blindness. People who are blind, and some people with low vision, can only use the keyboard for input; they depend on a screen reader to understand the application s screen output. People with low vision need screen magnifiers to enlarge text and graphics, and possibly a high-contrast color scheme. People who are color blind need information conveyed in ways other than through color differences, for example, by changing visual contrast or pattern, or by using textual labels. Hearing disabilities Hearing disabilities range from deafness to less severe forms of hearing impairment. People who are deaf or hard of hearing require visual representations of auditory information. A suitable accommodation for these people is to provide visual alerts in addition to audio alerts. Mobility disabilities Mobility disabilities include physical impairments that substantially limit movement and fine motor control. People with mobility disabilities might have limited use or no use of their hands, or problems with speed or strength. These individuals might have difficulty using a mouse or keyboard. Portlets that provide larger selection targets can assist people with mobility disabilities.

5 Learning disabilities People with learning disabilities, such as dyslexia and short-term memory deficit, have difficulty reading, writing and comprehending information. For these individuals, more general types of solutions that benefit all users are needed, such as the use of consistent, organized design and simple language. Redundant sources of output (hearing text read aloud as well as seeing it displayed on the screen) are also helpful to users with learning disabilities. Portlets enabled for screen readers and those that can be customized by the user can assist people with learning disabilities. Why accessibility is important There are many compelling reasons for making your Web portal accessible. First, there are many regulations in effect that drive accessibility. For example, the United States government has passed the following laws: The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and (the most stringent of all) the 1998 amendments to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of Section 508 requires U.S. Federal government agencies to acquire accessible solutions, which means that a provider of accessible solutions, including Web portal solutions, have a competitive advantage. The United Kingdom and Australia have regulations requiring Web sites to be accessible. Most European countries also have regulations requiring government Web sites to be accessible. Outside the U.S., the commonly adopted standard for Web accessibility is the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). WCAG pre-dates Section 508 and the minimum level of WCAG conformance is similar to the Section 508 standards, but not identical. Furthermore, WCAG defines two additional levels of conformance that go beyond simple accessibility and provide guidance for increasing accessibility and ease of use for users with disabilities. Second, according to the World Health Organization, over 750 million people worldwide have a disability. Furthermore, today people are living longer. As the population grows older, the number of people with changing needs due to aging will increase significantly. From a competitive standpoint, your company simply cannot afford to overlook this growing market segment.

6 Finally, portals are becoming increasingly important within organizations for communicating with company employees. There are increasing numbers of people with disabilities or with changing needs in the work force. Employers must accommodate these employees by providing accessible intranets. Accessibility standards It is very important that you know the accessibility standards set forth by Section 508 and the WCAG and follow these standards throughout the development process. You can learn about these standards at the following Web sites: Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act: Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards: W3C Web Accessibility Initiative Web site: The IBM Web Accessibility Checklist, which consists of 16 checkpoints, addresses all of the Section 508 requirements and most, but not all, of the WCAG priority 1 requirements. The checklist includes both implementation and testing techniques. For detailed information about each checkpoint, refer to the developer guidelines for Web accessibility page of the IBM Accessibility Center Web site at You can use this checklist to develop your own checklist to ensure that everyone in your organization involved in designing, developing and testing Web portals comply with accessibility standards. Web portlet development Currently, attention to the checklist items, including the implementation and testing techniques, is required to develop accessible portlets. You should work toward the goal of automating the development process to the greatest extent possible. Automating portlet development will reduce development effort and time, and increase efficiency and consistency. Moreover, you should take advantage of testing and debugging tools to help shorten the development cycle and pinpoint any remaining noncompliant HTML fragments and portlets. For example, to verify that any

7 code that you add during development is accessible, you can configure your testing tool to check the code automatically on a daily basis. Remember, if you start testing early in the development process, before accessibility problems multiply as a result of code reuse or interactions, you can save yourself a great deal of time and frustration. This is true for both automated and manual testing. Testing portlets for accessibility Accessibility testing should be incorporated into normal user interface test procedures. Accessibility testing requires the use of both accessibility checking tools and manual procedures. See the IBM Web accessibility guidelines at for details on testing procedures. See the W3C Web site at for a list of some of the accessibility checking tools available today at. Standard practices Conforming to standard practices has several tangible benefits, including: Lower development costs Faster development An increased user base Compliance with accessibility regulations Following are some standard practices for developing accessible Web portlets. Follow the accessibility checklist throughout the entire development lifecycle (concept, plan, develop, test, and qualify phases). This checklist will help make it clear what needs to be done early in each stage of the development cycle. Learn how to use accessibility checking tools and assistive technology tools to aid in developing and testing your portlets.

8 IBM WebSphere Portal WebSphere Portal rationalizes and simplifies IT infrastructure through an enterprise portal platform that provides a unified user experience and a single point of interaction to applications, content, business processes, and people. WebSphere Portal is the industry s leading portal platform and the only solution to deliver a complete set of portal platform services integration services, portal framework services, portal application services and collaboration services. Additional advantages of WebSphere Portal include: A large network of software vendors has developed portlets that have been tested to work with WebSphere Portal and simplify the integration of enterprise applications into your portal infrastructure. These portlets and other portal solutions are available from the WebSphere Portal Catalog. IBM provides a rich development platform for the development of portlets and portal pages with IBM Rational Application Developer for WebSphere Software and IBM Rational Web Developer for WebSphere Software. These tools allow you to quickly add business value to existing WebSphere Portal deployments. WebSphere Portal supports a variety of hardware platforms and operating systems, so your portal deployment has the scalability and availability to meet your changing business requirements. WebSphere Portal supports open standards, such as the Java Specification Request (JSR) 168 Portlet Specification standard that enables interoperability between portlets and portals. This specification defines the contract between portlet and portlet container, and a set of portlet APIs that address personalization, presentation and security.

9 Why IBM? IBM WebSphere Portal is one of the leading enterprise portal solutions in the market and a key component of the IBM Software Group portfolio. IBM provides organizations around the globe with secure, scalable, open, industry-specific software that helps meet the unique challenges of on demand business. At IBM, we define an on demand business as one whose business processes integrated end-to-end across the company and with key partners, suppliers, and customers can respond with speed to any customer demand, market opportunity, or external threat. WebSphere Portal quickly gets you started on the road to becoming an on demand business by integrated your people with your business applications and processes. The result is that they are more productivity and you can react faster to market conditions and changing customer demands. Summary Accessible Web portals and portlets provide your business a clear competitive advantage by giving you the potential to reach many new customers and new markets. Taking accessibility into account during developing and testing should be a normal part of your portlet development activities. IBM WebSphere Portal provides the flexible, open and extensible framework to help you build comprehensive, integrated, accessible portlets and portals.

10 For more information For more information about accessibility, accessibility standards, accessibility testing tools, WebSphere Portal and other IBM Software Group offerings, refer to the following sites: Accessibility IBM Accessibility Center IBM Systems Journal, Vol. 44, No. 3, 2005 "Managing usability for people with disabilities in a large web presence", by M. King, J. W. Thatcher, M. Bronstad, R. Easton Accessibility standards Section 508 W3C Web Accessibility Initiative Accessibility tools IBM Home Page Reader WebKing WebSphere Portal WebSphere Portal product documentation ml developerworks WebSphere Portal zone WebSphere Portal family

11 IBM WebSphere Developer Technical Journal IBM Software Group offerings IBM Software home page

12 Copyright International Business Machines Corporation 2006 IBM Corporation Software Group Route 100 Somers, NY U.S.A. Produced in the United States of America All Rights Reserved IBM, the IBM logo, Rational and WebSphere are trademarks of International Business Machines Corporation in the United States, other countries or both. Java and all Java-based trademarks are trademarks of Sun Microsystems, Inc. in the United States, other countries or both. Other company, product or service names may be trademarks or service marks of others.

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