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Open source solutions offered through Canada's web experience toolkit

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When Canadian government departments weren't meeting accessibility requirements, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, the Canadian equivalent of the Office of Management and Budget, decided to create a web experience toolkit.

"It actually became much easier for everyone to meet their requirements and a lot less costly by everyone pooling their resources into a common solution that everyone could repurpose," said Paul Jackson, project lead for Canada's WET, during an April 17, DigitalGov University webinar.

The toolkit is a code library and framework for web design with a heavy emphasis on accessibility, usability, interoperability, and mobile-friendly and multi-lingual features. The WET is open source, so it can be used commercially or for government, and is on GitHub, allowing it to be constantly updated, improved and added to, said Jackson.

The central government does not require departments to use WET, but many do since complying with the government's web standards on their own can be costly. Many of the government websites that leverage WET look nothing alike, but function using all of the WET components. That's because departments can load custom theme files and override certain aspects of the WET template to achieve their own look and feel. The important part is that responsive design and accessibility are built in to the basic website templates.

The WET offers many widgets that department web designers can plug into their sites, such as HTML5 video players that provide an alternative to Flash. Sites using WET can also benefit from built in table and graph creation tools and mapping tools that use open source geospatial data, said Jackson. All map information is also rendered in a table.

"The intention is to make it easier for people because maps don't necessarily work for everyone. It's important to have an alternate means of providing this type of information," he said.

The WET also has "polyfills," or javascript code snippets that are triggered to load in browsers that don't support HTML5. This means those using older browsers can still experience the same behavior as an HTML5 feature but it's really javascript.

"So, that's how we integrate with HTML5. We try to take advantage as much as we can with HTML5 first-- because that's definitely beneficial performance wise especially when you take into account mobile devices--but then we also want to ensure a consistent experience for the older browsers that are still supported by replicating that same functionality," said Jackson.

The Canadian government has several working groups, some focused on usability or interoperability, for example. Jackson said the WET templates fit naturally for departments using Drupal, but many of the widgets can be plugged into other web content management systems as well.

Jackson encouraged U.S. federal web managers on the call to get involved with the WET and feel free to help with testing, development or design on GitHub.

"It's all free. It's community resources. So, there's no request for any funds to do any work. It comes down to who's available to work on it. If you're able to contribute people to help develop a solution they will help speed up the development," said Jackson.

For more:
- go to the webinar page (includes archived webcast, transcript and presentation slides)

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