My company needs to incorporate some CMS software into their public web site. We want software that produces semantic markup to maximise accessibility. Can anyone suggest any?

At the current time, we don't need to limit the technology platform - it could be PHP, Ruby or ASP.NET, for instance.

Accessibility is just one of the criteria we will be looking into when we are choosing the CMS.

  • 3
    There is a pro webmasters site. They will probably have more info about CMS there. webmasters.stackexchange.com
    – Sruly
    Aug 10, 2010 at 7:55
  • @Sruly - thanks for the comment and pointing me in the right direction. I'd still be interested in UI professionals opinions based on just the accessibility/semantic mark-up criteria though.
    – Sniffer
    Aug 10, 2010 at 8:36
  • See also our sister site: Software Recommendations (with a cms tag).
    – unor
    Aug 6, 2014 at 17:03

8 Answers 8


As mentioned above, there are different aspects of accessibility when discussing a CMS:

  1. The presentation/theme/skin layer
  2. The system that outputs data/code to presentation layer
  3. The content itself

(in addition the accessibility of the content entry tools may also be a consideration)

Each of the aspects listed above can be built to encourage or discourage accessibility. While I applaud your effort to consider accessibility so early in the process, I would actually recommend identifying a few tools that meet all of your functional requirements and then evaluating them for accessibility.

To get some better recommendations, a few details on your requirements might be helpful. For example, for basic CMS needs WordPress might even be a good fit and has a good track record regarding accessibility: http://codex.wordpress.org/Accessibility


I'd like to chime in and point out that Drupal has put a ton of work into making their product accessible out of the box. You may wish to consult their accessibility statement; and they have a very active Drupal accessibility discussion group, which may also be of interest.

That said, I'd just like to add that regardless of which CMS you use, accessibility is more cultural than technical. It does not matter whether your CMS starts accessible if it does not stay that way. Anybody who touches code for the web needs to be trained on what accessibility means, what works, and what doesn't. They don't necessarily need to become experts, but if you do not attend to the training side of the equation, you're very likely to wind up with poorly coded content that breaks accessibility because the writer simply never stopped to consider how well it works for people who can't see, or hear, or who are paralyzed, and so on.

I did an accessibility review of a site for a large library once, in which I came across this piece of code:

<!--don't know why "hiddenNav" is here - rh 3/21/08
<div class="hiddenNav">
<a href="#navigation_w">
<img src="/exhibitions/web/woodstein/images/spcr.gif" border="0" alt="Go to the Top" />

This is one of the saddest things I've ever seen in the world of coding. At some point, the site had a coder who know how screen readers worked. The "hidden nav" was put there to provide a convenient method for screen reader users to return their cursor to the top of the section. But the institution failed to internalize the practice of accessibility, and after that knowledgeable coder left, their successor disabled this accessibility feature -- not out of malice, but out of puzzlement. "RH" had certainly never used a screen reader, if indeed they had heard tell of such a thing, and the code really doesn't make sense unless you realize that it's supposed to be read aloud.

So -- I applaud your efforts to pick an accessible CMS. But please, please don't imagine that the job stops there. If you neglect the human side of the equation, your good work will slowly but surely decay over time.

  • +1 Accessibility is always about people, including developers, interface designers and project managers. Everyone needs to be on board for it to work. Jul 3, 2011 at 20:32

I have good experience with Drupal, a open-source CMS written in PHP. If you interested you can have a look at their Accessibility Statement. The development of Drupal is quite active.

  • +1 Especially as they greatly improved the UX in version 7 as it was one of the major goals of the new version.
    – wildpeaks
    Jul 2, 2011 at 23:27

The reason that most CMS produce web sites with horrific HTML and CSS and semantics and accessibility is that most CMSes aren't very good at content management, and then try to make up for that by being 'design management'.

The best CMS will have absolutely no automated templating. Templating should be left to the competent web developers and designers.

If the CMS highlights 'easy page layout' or 'robust templates' assume that it's going to take full control of our output and it will suck at it.


Normally the part of the cms that produces the semantic mark-up is the theme or skin of the cms. you can use almost any cms as long as you get a high quality theme that has what you are looking for.

  • I think it is not about skin and template. it is all about generating semantic contents in markup related to the content on the page and templates don't know any thing about page's content. Aug 11, 2010 at 21:32

Umbraco is an open-source CMS. Their forms product, Contour, follows WCAG guidelines.

One thing to note that WCAG are just guidelines and like HTML specs, each products interpretation can be different as there are not black and white rules on the spec. You'll get "accessible" sites but ultimately in the end, its up to you and your users to determine what's enough.

Umbraco: http://umbraco.org/

Contour: http://umbraco.org/products/umbraco-contour


GraffitiCMS makes your markup as semantically correct as you want it. It all depends on the quality of your theme code. The content itself is semantically correct if you use their WYSIWYG editor for generating the content.

I can provide you with several examples of great sites using Graffiti if you are interested.


SharePoint 2007 is actually pretty much W3C WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) Compliant.

In my research, I've discovered that a MOSS 2007 website will satisfy 15 of the 16 WCAG Priority 1 requirements and the vast majority of Priority 2 and Priority 3 requirements.

Here's the WCAG Checklist: Full checklist

Here's a list of accessibility features in MOSS 2007: Accessibility features

Of course a lot also depends on how you create your skin, and how users enter their content, as Scott M. pointed out.

  • Oh good lord, NO! They may adhere to some sort of technical accessibility guidelines, but SharePoint is anything but semantic markup. It's also incredibly bloated and clumsy as a CMS.
    – DA01
    Jun 30, 2011 at 20:34
  • I have to second @DA01. As someone who needs larger fonts and gentler color schemes, I've had no end of trouble with SharePoint, at least as it's used in my company. Some functions only work in IE (which has its own accessibility problems), the standard layouts are very wide (= horizontal scroll), and some things are hard to see in reverse video (I think they hard-wired some black text or something). Jun 30, 2011 at 20:54

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