At a Glance
Ensuring that a Web site is accessible to people with physical disabilities is a longtime concern for Web designers and programmers. The rise of more-complex Web pages, a proliferation of Web browsers, and the federal government's Section 508 accessibility guidelines make designing and testing Web sites for maximum accessibility a great deal of work.
UsableNet eased this burden with Lift Onsite ( February 2002 ), and the company's latest product, Lift for Macromedia Dreamweaver -- Nielsen Norman Group Edition (Lift NN/g), promises to make ensuring accessibility even easier. The program helps you implement the accessibility standards of the Nielsen Norman Group, founded by design pundits Donald Norman and Jakob Nielsen. Their guidelines form the basis of the tests you can use to determine whether your Web site is accessible. The real benefit of the NN/g guidelines is that they incorporate criteria from two sets of accessibility recommendations -- the W3C's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and the Section 508 requirements -- as well as the results of the Nielsen Norman Group's research, in one simple set of rules.;
The Key to the Castle
Installing Lift NN/g is a snap, provided you use Macromedia Dreamweaver UltraDev 4.01 or later, or Dreamweaver MX. If you don't, you're out of luck; while other UsableNet products offer accessibility testing, Lift NN/g is the only one that comes with the Nielsen Norman Group's guidelines.
Lift NN/g adds its eponymous menu to Dreamweaver, so you can access all of Lift NN/g's functions from the menu as you create or test a Web site. Using Lift NN/g is easy; you open a page in Dreamweaver, select the Evaluate option from the Lift NN/g menu, and choose the set of guidelines by which you'd like to evaluate the site. You can select the Nielsen Norman Group's guidelines or another option such as the Section 508 guidelines or WCAG. Users can also customize their guidelines if they want to set up their own accessibility criteria.
You then set the scope of your evaluation, from a single file to a folder to an entire site. Once Lift NN/g has evaluated your code, you can click on individual test messages; in a reference panel to the messages' right, a concise explanation for the error appears. Testers who want to learn more can continue to read through any of the reference materials available in the panel. You can then fix the error with the Fix wizard, which is useful for on-the-fly corrections but not as helpful when you're trying to puzzle out how one correction will affect your entire site. For example, the WCAG and Section 508 test results both advised us to eliminate a style sheet in our sample site, but none of the tools offered an aesthetically feasible alternative.
In testing our site, we would have liked a way to display comparative accessibility tests for one site, which would let people see exactly how much work they'd have to do to make the site optimally error-free. You can run a report based on each evaluation run, but if you want to compare the results, you must do the legwork yourself.
Macworld's Buying Advice
Fans of the Nielsen Norman Group's Web-accessibility guidelines will benefit greatly from this thorough and useful testing tool, as will Dreamweaver buffs. The references are invaluable, as are the tools for tracking and fixing errors found during testing.