Static or dynamic
When creating an accessible site, one of the first decisions that needs to be made is whether the site should be static or dynamic. A static site does not change as the user loads it. To edit static pages, developers/designers must open the HTML document and edit the pages individually. A dynamic site connects a web page to a database. Information on the page may change depending on the user. To edit dynamic pages, developers/designers must edit the database that stores the information.
When deciding whether to make a site static or dynamic, developers/designers should consider the capabilities of the organization. Dynamic pages are more complex to set up, but easier to maintain. They also require an application server, such as Adobe® ColdFusion® 10 software. The staff’s level of expertise, the availability of hardware and software, and the availability of staff for maintenance will play a part in this decision.
The following three site design models span a continuum from completely dynamic to completely static. As expertise and experience with accessibility and data-driven design evolve, every organization needs to find the model that best fits its own needs.
Data-driven websites are sites where the site content is stored in a database. Each web page is dynamically generated by retrieving content from the database. The data-driven model allows the process of accessible design to be streamlined in two ways. First, a web content designer/developer can enter content into the database using a form on a web page. This allows individuals throughout the organization to add content to the site without learning HTML or an authoring tool. It is an ideal solution when there are numerous content developers with little or no experience actually building web pages.
Second, a data-driven model automates the process of page creation and allows visitors to the site to select the content format that best serves their needs. Thus, the same page can be delivered dynamically in a text-only format, a full-graphics HTML version, or a rich media format using Adobe Flash® Professional CC software. When a static HTML site has multiple versions, the typical problem is that only one version is actively maintained. Maintaining multiple versions of a static site requires much more work than maintaining a dynamic site. With dynamic sites, all versions are dynamically updated to reflect the latest content.
An organization should choose a data-driven model only if it has the hardware and software infrastructure to support it. This infrastructure should include a server running ColdFusion 10 or another dynamic server application. In addition, there should be sufficient resources to maintain the server as well as to develop dynamic pages.
Until an organization has a sufficient level of expertise, the website administrator must be able not only to maintain the web server but also to support web content developers.
Static site model
A static website offers more simplicity up front than a dynamic site but requires a bit more maintenance in the long run. It is helpful to use the Template and Library Objects features in Adobe Dreamweaver® CC software to streamline the process of accessible static content design. Another useful authoring tool is Adobe Contribute® 6.5 software. In Contribute 6.5, website administrators can specify accessibility settings.
Using templates involves creating a set of pages in Dreamweaver CC that cover common page types within the site and incorporate accessibility features. Using templates enables the website administrator or senior designers to resolve a problem or make a design change across an entire site by fixing only the template. Templates include all the standard elements on a page, such as organization logos, navigation bars, and copyright notices. These elements are locked; novice web content developers can then add content, using Contribute 6.5, to the other parts of the page while maintaining consistent and accessible pages.
It is particularly important to provide accessibility training for the front-end web content designers and developers who will develop the templates.
Dreamweaver CC libraries provide a means of storing page elements such as images and text that will be reused or updated frequently throughout a website. When a page element is saved as a library item, it can be placed on multiple web pages, and all copies can be updated automatically from the library. Using libraries, it is easy to create and edit a full range of accessibility features across multiple pages. For example, an accessible navigation bar with the desired alt text can be created and saved in a library. The designer/developer can then drag the navigation library item onto multiple pages or templates while retaining the ability to edit them all at once.
In circumstances where knowledge or experience with dynamic design is limited but the necessary hardware and software are available, an approach combining data-driven and static elements may be appropriate. The designer/developer should begin with a single instance of dynamic design. For example, a single page that needs frequent updating can be developed by a novice or an inexperienced designer. As organizational expertise with data-driven models increases, so can the site’s reliance on dynamic pages. Additionally, the sophistication and maturity of the dynamic techniques used in a site may increase as well. Ongoing training for both the website administrator and web content designers and developers is essential to the success of these models.