Stepping forwards with accessibility in Umbraco

Headshot of Rachel Breeze

Senior Software Engineer

Our Rachel Breeze recounts the Umbraco accessibility team's progress in 2019 and making the back office more inclusive and accessible.

It’s been almost a year since Umbraco v8 was launched on 26th Feb 2019, with a whole host of new features, including:

  • For back office users, a revamped back office and support for multilingual sites
  • For people who want to contribute to the #umbmazing open-source project - a cleaner, restructured codebase

The Umbraco community is incredibly friendly, welcoming and supportive. It’s one of the things that makes it stand out as an open-source piece of software, with a friendly informal code of conduct. If you're interested in learning more about it, you can contribute to the Umbraco CMS.

Coming together for Umbraco's accessibility

In April last year, I joined a group of Umbraco developers (Umbracians), and we formed an accessibility team. The team is focused on improving the accessibility standards of the Umbraco back office. Our goal was to reach Level-AA of the WCAG guidelines.

Following an accessibility audit by our Danny Lancaster, the goal was to submit 5 accessibility pull requests (PRs) before Umbraco’s annual conference, CodeGarden 2019. We more than beat that goal with 13 PRs being submitted! And for those of you going cross-eyed at terminology… a pull request is where a developer asks for a code change to be committed back to the codebase.

The stats speak for themselves...

To date, since the project has started, there have been 105 accessibility pull requests made to the Umbraco codebase, with 93 being pulled into the core codebase. There were 35 pull requests made as part of Hacktoberfest 2019.

In mid-2019, Umbraco committed to prioritising accessibility requests.

The community-led accessibility team attended the Umbraco UK Festival Hackathon to support accessibility pull requests. By attending the Hackathon, we were able to answer questions on accessibility, and support community members who were making requests.

Accessibility improvements across the board

The accessibility work has gone a long way to improving accessibility within the back office. Also though -

  • Overall keyboard navigation is much better
  • Support for screen readers has improved
  • General flow being much better.

There is still work to do, with the latest Trello board detailing this work. Still, the team have received this feedback from Umbraco HQ:

"The keyboard navigation improvements are super helpful even if you don’t have any disabilities. There’s much fewer need to grab the mouse while doing your Umbraco work which can help a lot in productivity!"

Umbraco HQ

The ngAria pull request and its impact

One of the key changes to the codebase (made by Matthew Wise) was the addition of ngAria. This one pull request could potentially have a large-scale impact on accessibility across the CMS; the ngAria module provides support for common ARIA attributes. These attributes convey state, or semantic information, about the application for users of assistive technologies, such as screen readers.

This, in theory, could allow screen reader users to be supported throughout the process and fix many of the identified current issues. This a great start to the changes which we can now build on.

As well as this, we did a side by side comparison of Umbraco, both prior to and after the ngAria module was added. The addition of the ngAria module clearly worked in some cases, but in a lot of other areas, we found the same results as the original testing. Moving forward, ngAria will definitely help with improving accessibility.

What's next?

If you’re interested in working with the Umbraco accessibility team, please feel free to check out the latest Trello board or get in touch with any of the members for more information.

With thanks to all the Umbraco accessibility team members:
Meetup coordinator: Mike Massey
Tester: Danny Lancaster
Core Team Members: Mike Massey,Tiffany Prosser, Matthew Wise, Jan Skovgaard, Florian Beijers, (and indeed, myself, Rachel Breeze!)
Contributions by: Shane Prendergast, Paul Seal, Poornima Nayar, Kenn Jacobsen, Bjarne Fyrstenborg, Kasper F. Christensen, and Søren Kottal, and others.