In this day and age, it’s imperative web professionals like designers and developers ensure the websites they create are accessible. For the uninitiated, this basically means doing everything within your power to ensure the broadest spectrum of global internet users can enjoy whatever your client’s website has to offer. Many of us have the luck and privilege of never needing to consider the accessibility of the websites we browse. We just fire up our laptops or smartphones, head to Google, and plug in our search. But you would be amazed at the vast array of hurdles that thousands of people all around the world have to overcome to surf the web.
- Poor health
- Old age
- A lack of access to a fast internet connection
This is why you, as a website manager for your own site or clients, should take it upon yourself to combat issues surrounding website accessibility. And when you consider that WordPress powers as much as 37% of the net, it makes sense that getting to grips with accessibility for WordPress websites will help you open up a wide spectrum of the web to those who need it.
By creating an accessible site, you’ll:
- Provide more customers with a better user experience (which is crucial for building trust, loyalty, and encouraging repeat custom from your client’s target demographic).
- Better optimize your client’s site for SEO and consequently rank higher in search engines like Google and Bing.
- Avoid potential fines and lawsuits.
That being said, lots more goes into creating an accessible site than just compliance. So, in light of that, we’re going to explore what WordPress accessibility actually is, why it’s important, and what you can do to boost the accessibility of the sites you develop.
There’s a lot to cover, so let’s jump straight in!
What’s WordPress accessibility? Why’s it so important?
As we just hinted, web accessibility is all about creating websites and platforms that everyone can use — whatever their location, disability, economic status, etc. The more people who can use your website or your client’s website to the fullest, the better its accessibility.
If you’re building or managing websites for clients and want to stay ahead of the curve, accessibility needs to be at the forefront to ensure you’re creating something truly inclusive.
Types of accessibility
Accessibility is a multi-faceted term. Below we’re breaking down some of its aspects as you embark on your website creation process.
Auditory, visual, motor & cognitive impairments
For many, the heart of web accessibility is about ensuring websites are entirely accessible for those with disabilities, most notably the:
- 285 million people around the globe living with visual impairments who may need to use screen readers to surf the web
- 466 million people living with disabling hearing loss who won’t hear audio or video content
- Those living with conditions limiting their motor skills, including cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, spina bifida (to name a few), who may have to use voice commands or other non-standard methods to navigate their way around websites
- The 5% to 10% of the global population living with dyslexia, and others who struggle to read specific fonts and smaller-sized text
All in all, it’s predicted that 15% of the world’s population, — some 1 billion people — live with a disability of some sort. By making websites accessible, you’re having a positive impact on the lives of a massive number of people.
This may involve reevaluating your design strategies to ensure your web page layouts are simple, menus are easy to navigate, and your client’s content is easily scannable.
Many people around the world aren’t able to access the web on brand new or high-powered devices, despite the fact that a lot of web content is designed only with the newest devices in mind. In light of that, you’ll want to create a version of your or your client’s site that relies on simplified code. It might not be as sophisticated as the main website, but it should have all the same content.
It’s also worth noting that websites with custom CSS and/or sophisticated plugins and widgets often don’t function as well on older web browsers like Lynx and Opera. You’ll need to design sites with this in mind to ensure the majority of web visitors can access all the info they need from the website.
Multi-device accessibility refers to the fact that websites should look and perform the same no matter the device the visitors use.
After all, as of 2019, desktop internet usage sits at 46.5%, while mobile users comprise 48.33% — very nearly a 50/50 split. This stat highlights how imperative it is to cater to every device from a user experience vantage point.
This is where responsive design comes into its own.
These days, most WordPress themes are responsive from the get-go – so this shouldn’t be too much of a problem. But it’s always worth conducting an audit to ensure your or your client’s website works consistently across different device sizes, as every now and then small glitches arise. This is especially true if the template’s code has been modified, and plugins have been downloaded that aren’t written with accessibility in mind.
Usability vs. accessibility
Before we dig any further into this overview, it’s worth noting that there are two aspects to usability that play an equally important role in how accessible a website is:
- The accessibility of the website theme, i.e., How the site looks
- The plugins and custom coding, i.e., What the site does
Accessibility regarding how a site looks usually pertains to poor color contrast or fonts that are tricky to read, etc. This is somewhat different from accessibility concerning how the site functions. For example, specific plugins or widgets might not be compatible with keyboard-only use, voice input, and so on.
To offer visitors a truly accessible experience, it’s worth considering and fulfilling both aspects of website usability and accessibility.
Section 508 of the accessibility guidelines
Regulations for website accessibility vary. However, US government websites have to adhere to Section 508 Accessibility Guidelines, which states that websites must:
- Offer built-in accessibility support like keyboard navigation
- Support screen readers and other assistive technologies
- Work with hearing aids and other assistive listening devices
- Ensure videos, images, or any other multimedia files include captions and audio descriptions
While we’re on the subject of compliance, it’s worth mentioning that you may have to publish an accessibility statement on the website. Usually, this is something that explains the site is compliant with all relevant local regulations surrounding accessibility.
This will depend on the jurisdiction you fall under. Do some research to double-check you or your client aren’t inadvertently breaking the law by not having an accessibility statement.
Human and SEO benefits
Accessible websites mean that a wide array of those living with some form of disability are far more likely to enjoy a website and everything it has to offer. But they are also (usually) quicker to load, offer a better user experience, and are adequately optimized for SEO. With that in mind, here are some of the human-related and SEO benefits to boosting a web accessibility:
As previously established, a vast proportion of the global population experiences some accessibility issue or another. So, failure to ensure websites are accessible could result in them missing out on an entire section of society that otherwise their brand could easily engage with.
Catering to specialized needs isn’t just an act of generosity; it’s also good for your or your client’s bottom line.
Improve the website’s usability
As you go about making the site more accessible, you’ll most likely find that you’ll enhance its general usability, which works wonders for improving the user experience.
This will most likely include:
- Simplifying overly complicated code (which should boost the speed of the website’s load time)
- Creating a clean and easy-to-use navigation menu (if on eCommerce, this should encourage shoppers to browse through the products and actually purchase something)
- Adding image alt text to all the photos (which isn’t just great for assisting the visually impaired, but it’s also fabulous for the website’s SEO)
Which leads us nicely onto our next point…
Appear higher in search engine rankings
Providing searchers with the most relevant and user-friendly experience is Google’s priority. Its algorithm is increasingly focusing on website accessibility. Consequently, it’s rewarding accessible websites by ranking them higher in its search results.
This is one reason why all new and updated WordPress code must conform to the WordPress Accessibility Coding Standards.
While we’re on the topic of SEO, it’s worth highlighting that certain ranking factors undoubtedly overlap with accessibility, for example, adding transcripts and image alt tags. Not only are these adjustments crucial for enhancing the overall accessibility of the website, but they’re also an excellent opportunity to insert the keyword the website is trying to rank for.
The potential risks of creating a poorly accessible website
It’s easy to become cynical about web accessibility and view it as just another hoop you have to jump through to enhance your website’s SEO. However, the heart of any website accessibility strategy should be offering the best possible experience for each and every user.
By doing this, you’re leading by example and showing that your web design/management company wants to impact the world positively. Accessible content is more than SEO — it’s about leveling the playing field for everybody.
For those living with disabilities, internet shopping could be the easiest way for them to interact with your or your client’s brand. When you consider this, the need for an accessible website is all the starker.
Not providing an accessible site isn’t just a failure to produce an inclusive consumer experience; it could also (potentially) break the law.
It’s not unheard of for website owners to face lawsuits after failing to abide by the guidelines published in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The number of cases of this nature is skyrocketing!
Accessing online information should be a right enjoyed by everyone. By focusing your attention on accessibility requirements, you do your small bit for transforming this ideal into a reality.
Take Domino’s, for example. The international pizza giant had a case brought by Guillermo Robles, a man who lives with blindness. After he wasn’t able to place an order on either their website or mobile app – despite using screen-reading software – he sued the company in a case that made it all the way to the Supreme court.
The Court rejected Dominos appeal and sided with the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which stated that ,“…alleged inaccessibility of Domino’s website and app impedes access to the goods and services of its physical pizza franchises — which are places of public accommodation.”
Which website elements need to be accessible?
If you’ve never considered web accessibility before, it may feel like a daunting task lies ahead of you. But there’s a core set of features to keep in mind, and if you stick these, you shouldn’t go too far wrong:
Images and alt text
As previously mentioned, visually impaired internet users often utilize screen readers. These read aloud the alt text assigned to the images on the website to provide the user with context. In light of that, any website imagery (unless it’s purely decorative) should be given alt text that describes the image.
Unfortunately, screen readers can struggle with these, which can (sometimes) result in incorrect interpretations.
Communicate the meaning of these acronyms and any necessary subtext for the website visitor to understand the abbreviation properly.
If the contact forms on the site don’t have clearly labeled form fields, consider changing this. Otherwise, again, screen readers can struggle to provide an accurate interpretation. When this occurs, it almost goes without saying that it’s harder for the user to insert the correct info into each field.
Screen readers empower users to flick between web pages using hyperlinked text.
But if the anchor text for a hyperlink or skip link is ‘click here,’ that doesn’t explain where the link takes the user. Instead, try to write more descriptive anchor texts to enable the user to navigate their way better. Perhaps you could use ARIA labels? Or screen-reader-only text?
Unusual fonts may look good, but fancy fonts can be challenging for many users (especially for visitors just wanting to scan through the content).
It’s usually best to opt for serif or sans serif fonts and avoid cursive fonts. You also want to steer clear of fonts that overly lean on the uppercase or alternating case and write in at least a 16px font size.
If you’re unsure how accessible a website currently is, you can use the aCe accessibility checker. It’s a completely free solution for finding out how far sites are towards ADA and WCAG compliance.
How an accessibility solution like accessiBe can help
If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’re acquainted with the headache that comes with managing lots of different clients and websites, but might have run up against a wall trying to make sense of all the different testing tools available.
To ease that burden, you could use an accessibility platform like accessiBe. This enables you to rest easy, knowing accessibility problems are taken care of.
You may think that because you’re using an accessible theme, you’re good to go. But unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. For instance, if you install inaccessible plugins or alter the template’s code, you can render a genuinely accessibility-ready theme utterly useless.
With that in mind, let’s explore some of accessiBe’s core accessibility testing features:
accessiBe works directly with the website’s code
accessiBe’s AI-fueled plugin boasts a contextual understanding of websites. It then automatically makes all the necessary changes directly inside the website’s html code. For instance, it’ll ensure website users can navigate the entire site using just their keyboard.
This empowers internet users who might not have access to (or be able to use) a mouse or touchpad to navigate their way around a website. With these instant modifications, all website visitors can handle everything from pop-ups to CTA buttons and everything in between.
accessiBe’s interface is designed to give you the easiest out-of-the-box experience to make the changes that matter to sites. The Accessibility Adjustments interface comes with a range of pre-defined Accessibility Profiles, such as Visually Impaired, Epilepsy Safe, Cognitive Disability, and so on.
Turning any one or more of these profiles on will immediately make the full range of adjustments necessary to make the site accessible to any users fitting those profiles. You’re also able to fully customise and fine-tune any profiles however you need to.
Automatic screen-reader and keyboard navigation adjustments
accessiBe’s artificial intelligence is continually running in the background to automatically optimize websites for screen-readers and keyboard navigation. These adjustments can often be pretty demanding, so you’ll undoubtedly save yourself some time in this department!
Daily compliance monitoring
As we’ve already said, accessiBe uses AI to scan and evaluate websites automatically. Then it makes all the needed tweaks to ensure your clients are fully ADA and WCAG 2.0 and 2.1 compliant.
When you first install accessiBe, this can take up to 48 hours. But after that, the software continues to scan the website for new and revised content every 24 hours. The entire process is automated, so you don’t need to do a thing!
Monthly compliance auditing
Once a month, accessiBe runs a compliance audit of the website’s accessibility and sends you an email detailing its compliance. This comes in handy for tracking the changes made to a website and the positive effect on the website’s performance.
Are you ready to start getting WordPress accessibility right for your clients?
Unfortunately, designing a fully accessible website isn’t always a walk in the park.
Especially when you consider the incredible freedom WordPress gives you to download whatever plugins you want. Not to mention the sheer breadth of coding that you can write to make your site your own.
In light of that, it’s near-on inevitable that you’ll end up veering away from the framework showcased in your accessible theme.
But, although a bit of effort might be required to ensure everyone, no matter their disability, economic status, or the device they’re using, can enjoy a website — it’s worth it.
Don’t just leave it to chance that coding, design, and plugins are accessible. You’ll need to double-check to make sure everything’s compliant. With the right accessibility tool you can take a load off your shoulders and ensure websites are always accessibility-ready.