AEM 101-58: Optimizing Web Accessibility with Adobe Experience Manager: A Comprehensive Guide

Adobe Experience Manager (AEM)
Adobe Experience Manager (AEM)


Welcome back to our ongoing AEM 101 series, where we dive deep into the capabilities and features of Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) and how it can transform your digital experiences. In our previous posts, we’ve explored the basics of AEM, from setting up environments to leveraging its robust content management features. Today, we shift our focus towards a critical and increasingly discussed aspect of web development: Web Accessibility.

Web accessibility ensures that websites and online tools are designed and developed so all people, including those with disabilities, have equal access to information and functionality. This is not just a courtesy but a legal necessity in many parts of the world, governed by standards such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The goal is clear: to create an inclusive web environment that does not discriminate against those with visual, auditory, cognitive, or physical challenges.

Adobe Experience Manager offers a unique advantage in this realm. With its built-in tools and compliance-ready features, AEM makes it easier for developers to create content that meets rigorous accessibility standards, enhancing user experience and broadening audience reach. The benefits of using AEM to enhance web accessibility include streamlined compliance processes, improved site usability, and a better overall user interface that accommodates diverse user needs.

As we delve into the specifics of optimizing web accessibility with AEM, we’ll look at how AEM facilitates these improvements, not just in theory but through practical, actionable steps. This series aims to not only inform but also empower you to implement these practices, ensuring your AEM sites are as accessible as they are dynamic.

1. Understanding Web Accessibility

Web accessibility refers to the inclusive practice of removing barriers that prevent interaction with, or access to websites, by people with disabilities. When sites are correctly designed, developed, and edited, all users have equal access to information and functionality. This concept is not only about aiding people who experience disabilities but also about providing a seamless user experience for all users, including older individuals and those in developing regions with limited internet bandwidth.

1.1 The Relevance of Web Accessibility

In today’s digital landscape, the internet is a crucial resource in many aspects of life: education, employment, government, commerce, health care, recreation, and more. Ensuring that the web is accessible to everyone, regardless of their physical or cognitive abilities, is fundamental to making these necessary services available to all. Furthermore, as mobile usage continues to surge, accessibility means ensuring content is usable across a wide range of devices, including smartphones and tablets with various screen sizes and input methods.

Web accessibility is not only a best practice but also a legal requirement in many jurisdictions. Various laws and standards have been developed to ensure compliance:

  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): In the United States, the ADA mandates that all electronic and information technology, like websites, be accessible to people with disabilities. This has led to a significant number of high-profile lawsuits, pushing U.S. companies to prioritize accessibility.
  • Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG): Developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), WCAG is a set of guidelines that are internationally recognized as the standard for web accessibility. WCAG guidelines are regularly updated to accommodate new technologies and are used as the basis for many national laws, including the ADA.
  • Additional Global Standards: Other regions and countries have their own standards and laws, such as the European Union’s EN 301 549, Canada’s Accessible Canada Act (ACA), and the UK’s Equality Act 2010, all of which underscore the importance of accessibility.

These legal requirements are not just about avoiding litigation; they are vital for fostering an inclusive digital world. By complying with these standards, businesses and organizations not only enhance their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) but also expand their market reach to include the one billion people worldwide who live with disabilities.

As developers and content managers using Adobe Experience Manager (AEM), understanding these accessibility standards is crucial. AEM’s tools are designed to help meet these legal standards easily and effectively, ensuring that accessibility is baked into your digital products from the start.

2. Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) and Accessibility

Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) is a comprehensive content management solution that enables brands to build websites, mobile apps, and forms while managing marketing content and assets in a unified platform. As an enterprise-grade web content management system (WCMS), AEM provides robust tools that help organizations create, manage, and optimize customer-facing digital experiences.

2.1 Overview of AEM as a Content Management System

AEM’s architecture is designed to simplify the management and delivery of content across different channels. The system integrates digital asset management (DAM), a powerful content management system (CMS), and digital enrollment capabilities. This integrated approach ensures that all assets, from text and images to videos and interactive elements, are centrally accessible and optimizable across all customer touchpoints.

AEM is favored by large organizations due to its scalability, robust infrastructure, and comprehensive support structure provided by Adobe. It allows for streamlined workflows, collaborative opportunities, and advanced deployment capabilities which are critical for large-scale digital environments.

2.2 How AEM Supports Building Accessible Websites

AEM’s commitment to web accessibility is evident in its suite of features designed to assist developers and content creators in adhering to accessibility standards like WCAG and ADA:

  • Accessibility Checker Tool: AEM includes built-in tools such as the Accessibility Checker, which can automatically review content against accessibility standards. This tool provides feedback and suggestions for improvement directly within the content editing workflow, making compliance easier for content creators.
  • Templates and Components: AEM’s out-of-the-box templates and components are designed with accessibility in mind. These resources comply with accessibility guidelines, which means that any digital experience built with these templates and components inherits these properties by default.
  • Customizable Framework: Beyond the standard offerings, AEM provides a customizable framework that developers can use to enhance or adapt the existing components to meet specific accessibility needs. This flexibility ensures that organizations can go beyond basic compliance to offer a truly inclusive web experience.
  • Training and Documentation: Adobe offers extensive documentation and training materials focused on best practices for creating accessible content using AEM. This empowers teams to understand the nuances of accessibility and apply them throughout the content development and management processes.

By leveraging these capabilities, AEM not only supports but promotes the development of web solutions that are accessible to all users, regardless of their abilities. As organizations continue to recognize the importance of accessibility as a critical component of user experience and compliance, AEM stands as a pivotal tool in the creation of inclusive digital landscapes.

3. Key Features of AEM for Enhancing Accessibility

Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) is equipped with several key features that significantly enhance the accessibility of digital content. These tools and components are integral to meeting compliance standards and ensuring a seamless user experience for individuals with disabilities.

3.1 AEM’s Accessible Components and Templates

AEM provides a variety of out-of-the-box components and templates that are built according to the accessibility guidelines, such as WCAG and ADA. These include:

  • Accessible Navigation Menus: These menus are designed to work seamlessly with screen readers and other assistive technologies, ensuring that users can navigate the site effectively.
  • Form Components: AEM’s form components are accessible by default, featuring labeled fields, error handling, and keyboard navigability that adhere to accessibility standards.
  • Content Structures: The templates used to structure content on AEM sites include roles and ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications) attributes that help define the type of content for accessibility tools, ensuring content is more comprehensible and navigable.

These components and templates not only comply with legal standards but are also customizable, allowing developers to enhance accessibility features based on specific user needs.

3.2 Tools within AEM for Testing and Ensuring Accessibility Compliance

To support developers and content creators, AEM includes several powerful tools designed to facilitate the creation of accessible content:

  • Accessibility Checker Tool: Integrated directly into the AEM authoring environment, this tool automatically scans content for accessibility issues, offering real-time feedback and suggestions for improvements.
  • Guided Procedures: AEM provides workflows that guide users in creating content that meets accessibility standards, including reminders to add alt text to images and to check color contrast ratios.
  • Simulators: These tools allow developers to view how content will be experienced by users with various disabilities, such as visual impairments or cognitive limitations.

These features underscore AEM’s commitment to building accessible digital experiences that comply with the most stringent legal requirements.

4. Implementing WCAG Guidelines Using AEM

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are developed with the goal of providing a single shared standard for web content accessibility that meets the needs of individuals, organizations, and governments internationally.

4.1 Explanation of WCAG Guidelines and Their Importance

WCAG guidelines are organized under four principles: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust (POUR). These principles ensure that content is accessible by as many people as possible, which is crucial for creating equitable user experiences and complying with global legal standards.

4.2 Step-by-Step Guide on Applying These Guidelines in AEM

Implementing these guidelines within AEM involves several key steps:

  1. Start with Accessible Templates: Begin by selecting AEM’s accessible templates for your project. These templates are pre-configured to meet basic accessibility standards, providing a solid foundation for your content.
  2. Use AEM’s Accessibility Checker: As you add content, regularly use the Accessibility Checker to identify and resolve any accessibility issues. This tool is invaluable for ensuring that your content remains compliant throughout the development process.
  3. Customize and Extend Components: If the default components need adjustments to meet specific accessibility needs, customize them using AEM’s development environment. Ensure that any custom components or new templates follow the accessibility guidelines detailed in WCAG.
  4. Conduct User Testing: In addition to automated tests, organize user testing sessions with individuals who have disabilities to get firsthand feedback on the accessibility of your site.
  5. Document Accessibility Features: Maintain documentation of all accessibility features implemented in your project. This documentation will be useful for both compliance purposes and future site audits.

By methodically applying the WCAG guidelines using AEM, developers can ensure that their websites are not only compliant with international standards but are also universally accessible and user-friendly.

5. Best Practices for Accessibility in AEM Sites

Ensuring that websites are accessible to all users, including those with disabilities, is not only a matter of legal compliance but also a best practice that enhances user experience and broadens audience reach. Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) offers a robust framework for creating accessible content, but it is crucial for developers to follow best practices to make the most of these features.

5.1 Practical Tips for Developers to Enhance Accessibility

  1. Utilize Semantic HTML: Use proper HTML5 semantic elements (<header>, <footer>, <article>, etc.) to structure your content. This helps screen readers and other assistive technologies understand the layout and navigate the site more effectively.
  2. Implement ARIA Landmarks: Use ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications) landmarks to identify regions of the page (like navigation, main content, and sidebars). This is particularly useful for users navigating with screen readers.
  3. Ensure Keyboard Navigability: Make sure that all interactive elements are navigable using only a keyboard. This includes custom dropdowns, modals, and form controls that are often missed.
  4. Provide Sufficient Color Contrast: Color contrast is crucial for users with visual impairments. Use tools like the AEM Color Contrast Analyzer to ensure that text stands out against background colors.
  5. Use Alt Text for Images: Provide descriptive alt text for all images. This not only aids users who use screen readers but also helps in scenarios where the image fails to load.
  6. Maintain a Consistent Layout: Consistency in the layout helps users familiarize themselves with your site’s structure. Use AEM’s templates and components to create a uniform experience across pages.
  7. Test with Real Users: Involve people with disabilities in your testing process. They can provide invaluable insights that automated tools cannot.

5.2 Common Pitfalls in Web Accessibility and How to Avoid Them

  1. Overlooking Mobile Accessibility: Often, accessibility efforts focus solely on desktop experiences. Ensure that mobile versions of your site are just as accessible, considering factors like touch targets and screen reader compatibility.
  2. Neglecting to Label Forms Properly: Forms are a common feature on websites and need clear, descriptive labels which are often omitted. Ensure every form element in AEM has a label and a description if necessary.
  3. Ignoring Loading Times: Accessibility isn’t just about on-page elements. Ensure that your site loads quickly, as users with certain cognitive disabilities may struggle with long wait times.
  4. Skipping Content Updates: Regular content updates may bypass initial accessibility checks. Establish a routine to review and maintain accessibility standards for new content.
  5. Using Automated Checks Alone: Automated tools are helpful but not infallible. Complement them with manual testing and user feedback sessions to catch issues that automated scans may miss.

6. Tools and Resources for AEM Accessibility

Ensuring your Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) sites meet accessibility standards can be streamlined using a range of dedicated tools and resources. These can help you audit, implement, and maintain accessibility across your digital properties.

6.1 Tools for Improving AEM Site Accessibility

  1. Adobe Accessibility Checker: Built directly into the AEM platform, this tool automates the evaluation of content against accessibility standards, providing immediate feedback and recommendations.
  2. AEM Developer Tools for Eclipse: Use this plugin for Eclipse to develop AEM projects with accessibility in mind from the ground up, including testing and debugging features that help maintain compliance.
  3. ChromeVox: A Google Chrome screen reader extension that can be used to test how accessible your AEM site is for visually impaired users.
  4. WAVE Evaluation Tool: A browser extension that provides visual feedback about the accessibility of your web content by highlighting potential issues directly on the page.
  5. Axe Accessibility Checker: This browser extension is useful for quick assessments and deeper dives into the code of your AEM site to ensure compliance with accessibility standards.


Throughout this series, we’ve explored the crucial role of Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) in building accessible web environments. From leveraging AEM’s accessibility-ready components and templates to utilizing specialized tools and embracing best practices, we’ve outlined how to enhance site accessibility effectively. The importance of making web experiences accessible cannot be overstated—it is not only a legal mandate but also a moral obligation to ensure that everyone, regardless of their abilities, can access and benefit from digital content.

I encourage you to apply these insights and integrate accessibility into your development processes. By doing so, you contribute to a more inclusive digital world. Feel free to share your thoughts, experiences, or questions in the comments below to help foster a community of learning and improvement.

If you’ve found value in this post, I invite you to explore the other entries in our AEM 101 series, which delve deeper into various aspects of Adobe Experience Manager. Implement the practices discussed here and share your progress with the community. Your experiences can inspire improvements across the industry and help others understand the impact of accessible design. Together, let’s build a more accessible web for everyone.

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