5 ways to improve the accessibility of your SharePoint intranet

SharePoint is Microsoft's answer to a Content Management System (CMS), used by organizations to collaborate and share documents on a browser-based platform. In recent years, Microsoft has made efforts to improve the accessibility capability of their CMS by adding a number of new accessibility features in SharePoint 2013 and much more recently in the beta version of SharePoint 2016. While these improvements are excellent steps forward, organizations still need to be wary that their SharePoint intranet may not be configured to have the best accessibility available. Here are 5 features that you can use in Sharepoint 2016 that will improve the accessibility of your CMS:

Access to "More Accessible Mode"

Microsoft as implemented what they call a "More Accessible Mode" which can be activated by users by opening a SharePoint webpage, and pressing the TAB key until you find the "Turn on More Accessible Mode" link. This feature recreates the webpage in standard HTML, making it friendlier for screen-readers. By ensuring that users are able to press the TAB key to focus on this link, users are able to create a more accessible version of your SharePoint webpage. This includes JavaScript-based drop-down menus being converted to hyperlink lists and objects are converted to simpler HTML to allow screen-readers to understand the content.

Skip to content links

SharePoint allows the use of skip to content links to navigate past reoccurring buttons and links on every webpage. The initial focus order of every webpage should be the "More Accessible Mode" link, the "Skip Ribbon Commands" link, and then the "Skip to main content" link. Ensuring that users can access these simple content skips will create compliance with the 2.4.1 Bypass Blocks WCAG 2.0 success criteria, and save users of keyboard controls a lot of time and effort.

Heading order

While SharePoint does have accessibility features, this does not mean that your SharePoint website is fully accessible when poorly designed. The use of appropriate heading structure is important to consider when creating the SharePoint website. Blind and vision impaired users rely on appropriate markup on headings to enable them to paint a picture of the structure of the webpage. When headings are out of order (such as a heading level 2 before a heading level 1) or when a heading level is skipped (Heading level 1 followed by a Heading level 3), the structure of the webpage can become confusing, and vision-impaired users may think that they missed content.

Use of landmarks

The current beta version of SharePoint 2016 allows developers to introduce landmarks to your CMS. Landmarks are programmatically determined markers in your webpage that allow users of screen-readers to understand where they are currently located in the webpage. Screen-reader software may also be able to create a list of all landmarks on a webpage, allowing a user to quickly navigate between them. Ensuring that keyboard-users can make use of these landmarks will be a great asset to your SharePoint accessibility.

Alternative text

SharePoint of course allows support for the "alt" attribute to be added uploaded images. Alternative text is required for non-text content to be readable by screen-readers. When uploading an image, the "Site Image Web Part" has a field to enter custom alternative text. When adding images to the picture library, you can define custom ALT text for the pictures. Alternative text is also added to links and images that open in a new window, allowing screen-reader users to understand that a new window will be opened.

Microsoft has made great effort in attempting to make their CMS more and more accessible with every revision, and overall the SharePoint website is accessible. However, there are still a few issues with inaccessible calendars and odd link purpose issues. These 5 tips are useful for both developers and end-users of SharePoint, and it's useful to keep these points in mind when creating an accessible SharePoint CMS.