WordPress: Is it Accessible?

WordPress: Is it Accessible?

This week I’m going to take a look at some issues relating to WordPress and accessibility. Are you aware that by using WordPress you are already doing wonders for your site’s accessibility?

Or have you never really thought about it?

If you haven’t you must be one of thousands of people who pay no attention to accessibility standards when designing, customizing or using a WordPress theme. However, since you’re reading this you’re already on your first step to learning more about web accessibility.

An aside: I wrote an article about web design for someone once – I included a big section on the importance of web accessibility and design standards. He asked me to take those bits out as they were “boring.” Guh! Some people just don’t get it, do they? I’m afraid that there are probably more people who don’t get it than those who do.

Why Accessibility?

Web accessibility standards are in place to ensure that the internet is accessible for everyone, including people with a wide range of disabilities – vision impairment, hearing impairment, learning disabilities, limited movement, speech disabilities, and photo-sensitivity, amongst others. We can also extend this beyond people with physical or mental impairments to those with technological impairments – people whose server was built some time in 1980, people in developing countries with slow internet speeds accessing the web on low-resolution netbooks, and those whose main mode of access is through a handheld device or a smartphone.

To name just a few…..

You can see things are getting complex already, can’t you?

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) were drawn up as a set of standards to make the web accessible to everyone. If you’re a web designer and you aren’t familiar, start reading them.

Think that no one using your websites has any disabilities?

Time for some statistics!

  • 15% of adults in the USA are affected by hearing impairments
  • 8.6% of adults in the USA have some sort of visual impairment
  • 16% of adults in the USA have a physical functioning difficulty
  • 2% of adults in the USA need some sort of personal care
  • 10% of all men (yes, ALL men) suffer from some form of color blindness

Now that you’re convinced we can take a look at what you’re already doing right.

WordPress: What’s right?

WordPress is the best CMS for web accessibility. Check out websites such as AccessSites.org and Access for All which are using WordPress to build their own websites.

I emailed Access for All to ask them about why they used WordPress as opposed to a different CMS. Karel from Access for All said that WordPress

“is in fact one of the few that really allow to have fully accessible interfaces. Solutions like Joomla have inherent flaws that do not allow for good and easy accessibility compliance.”

This is good news for WordPress users, who are already one step ahead.

He did, however, say that a major issue is with the calendar widget which is not at all accessible.

When it comes to WordPress we, as end users and designers, often, rather thoughtlessly, take 10 steps back when it comes to developing our site. This is the major flaw when it comes to WordPress and web accessibility. While WordPress itself is pretty well set up for accessibility, it tends to fall down when it comes to its themes.

In the spirit of using tools to find stuff out, I’m going to use the Firefox Accessibility Extension to take a quick look at the top five themes in the WordPress Directory to see how they do when it comes to accessibility. I’ll install each of them on my test site with the same images and placeholder text and see what each of the reports say.

But first, here’s how TwentyTen did:

TwentyTen Accessibility Report with no fails
Not bad. There’s no failures, just a few warnings. However, Twenty Ten can be improved – you can see below how.

1.    Platform – downloaded 9,147 times

Screenshot of Platform Accessiblity Issues with 5 fails

Number of Fails: 5

2.    Atahualpa –Downloaded 8,359 times

Atahualpa Access Issue report with one fail

Number of Fails: 1

3.    Lightword – Downloaded 8,185 times

Lightword accessibility issue report with one fail

Number of Fails: 1

4.    Arras – Downloaded 6,654 times

Arras Access Report with two fails

Number of Fails: 2

5.    Suffusion – Downloaded 6,342 times

Suffusion Accessibility report showing 3 fails

Number of Fails: 3

Accessibility standards do start to slip once you stop using Twenty Ten. Obviously, this doesn’t mean that you should stop using any other theme except for Twenty Ten, but both end users and designers should be aware of ways that they can improve their website’s accessibility.

The Firefox AccessibilityExtension is just one among many tools that you can use to look at your website’s accessibility. Here are some others:

A Quick Fix for Twenty Ten

If you’re looking for an accessible theme you could think about using the Accessible Twenty Ten Child Theme. This Child Theme builds on the improvements in Twenty Ten and takes them even further. As it is a child theme you get all of the functionality of Twenty Ten while getting an even more accessible site.

Screenshot of TwentyTen Accessible ThemeHere are the improvements it adds to Twenty Ten:

  • Accessible colors and contrast to meet WCAG AAA
  • Accessible and visible link focus for keyboard use
  • Optimized link hover and active states
  • Skip links have been added after the content and the footer to go back to the top
  • Hidden headlines added for sidebars
  • Customization of WordPress TinyMCE
  • Translation ready

This is a great step forward for WordPress accessibility. But as I said, any accessibility issues that arise tend to come from the WordPress theme as opposed to any inherent problems in the WordPress core.

Later this week I’ll take a look at 25 steps that you can take to improve your WordPress website’s accessibility.