About a month ago on July 31st, HiSoftware issued a press release, announcing an agreement with Microsoft to develop the Accessibility Kit for Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007. The kit will provide templates, master pages, controls and Web parts along with technical documentation to advance the accessibility of MOSS based web sites and applications for people with disabilities, especially those who are vision impaired. All of the source code will be provided via the Microsoft Permissive License and will be available on CodePlex and/or another (more accessible) web site later this year for customers and other Microsoft partners to download, reuse, and extend. This e-mail provides more details about the announcement.
Microsoft has hired HiSoftware as a vendor to develop the Accessibility Kit for MOSS 2007, also known as Accessibility Kit for SharePoint or AKS. The decision was made primarily based on HiSoftware’s in-depth expertise and broad industry experience in providing tools and services for improving software accessibility to the point of compliance with key industry and goverment standards and beyond. The contractual Statement of Work calls for HiSoftware to deliver a kit that can significantly reduce the time, knowledge, and effort required to implement a SharePoint-based web site that conforms to the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 Priority 1 and 2 checkpoints, which are collectively known as WCAG 1.0 AA. The AKS can also be used to address the exceptions that have been identified in the U.S. government’s Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act’s Voluntary Product Accessibility Template or VPAT documents for MOSS 2007. While most of our customers find the improvements in accessibility (more info at Office Online) over previous versions of SharePoint to be adequate for their needs, a growing number has asked us to provide even more. The AKS is our near term response. Longer term, we plan to make significantly further improvements in accessibility in the next version of SharePoint, but we don't have any details to disclose at this time.
The AKS is being developed as a set of building blocks rather than an end-to-end solution. We expect many SharePoint partners to take various pieces of the kit and integrate them into their respective product or service offerings while some customers will integrate particular components of the kit into their SharePoint deployment processes. Furthermore, HiSoftware and Microsoft will jointly establish and nurture a community of SharePoint site designers and developers that's focused on accessibility advancement and standards compliance.
To ensure optimal prioritization and completeness of features and documentation, the AKS project team is planning to work with a small group of partners and customers in a private beta program that will kick off within the next couple of weeks. If you are very seriously interested, please contact Dana Simberkoff, VP of Business Development at HiSoftware, but be forewarned that the acceptance criteria will be quite stringent due to the aggressive timeline of the deliverables described below.
These deliverables were established based on customer and partner feedback that we’ve received thus far and prioritized based on the scenarios that would impact the most end users of a MOSS-based web site down to the least.
The Microsoft product teams for Windows SharePoint Services, Office SharePoint Server, and Office SharePoint Designer are committed to improving accessibility and enabling everyone to utilize the power of SharePoint. More details about the AKS will be forthcoming as the project progresses over the next few months. In the meantime, if you have any questions, suggestions, or concerns about accessibility, please post them in the SharePoint - Accessibility forum.