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WordPress Accessibility

WordPress Accessibility


WordPress has an Accessibility Team whose mission is:

The Accessibility Team works to make WordPress accessible to everyone, including the more than one billion humans with disabilities. This means making sure people are not just able to read webpages but also to make websites. You are a part of this mission. You benefit from this mission. So in the spirit of one of the largest open-source communities in the world, let’s fight for universal accessibility.

The Accessibility Team created a handbook that explains how to implement accessible HTML, such as multimedia alternatives and use of color. The handbook also includes pages with some accessibility tools that users, designers, and developers may find useful. They also include information about projects they are testing, guidelines for theme developers, accessible themes, and how to get involved with the Accessibility Team.

On March 21, 2016, the WordPress Accessibility Team announced that “all-new or updated code released into WordPress core and bundled themes must conform with the WCAG 2.0 guidelines at level AA.” This is wonderful because WordPress runs 27% of the entire internet.

(You can follow the WordPress Accessibility Team’s updates if you want to know the latest news.) And this means that any new default theme that WordPress creates will be accessible right out of the box. Twenty Seventeen is accessibility-ready. It has the accessibility-ready tag, which is necessary if a theme wants to be filtered under Accessibility Ready in the WordPress repository. Themes that want to have that tag must undergo an accessibility review. WordPress’s announcement is very important because many WordPress users stick with the default core theme. The Twenty Seventeen theme has over a million installs, which means over a million users, whether they use their site or not, have a site that’s accessible at its core.

Moreover, the Accessibility team has compiled a list of plugins as well that can help make a site accessible. They also have development tools to help you make an accessible theme and/or plugin. I tried some of the plugins, and here are a few I recommend:

  • WP Accessibility – allows a user to toggle to high contrast mode and desaturated (grayscale) mode, and make the text larger. In addition, it allows you to have skip links and remove title attributes, and more.
  • SOGO Accessibility – adds accessibility features to the site front end. It also allows users to toggle to different contrast modes and different text sizes. You can also add custom CSS.   
  • wA11y – The Web Accessibility Toolbox – provides a plethora of tools to help you evaluate and improve the accessibility of your site.
  • WP Accessibility Helper – provides a sidebar on your site that allows users to choose different accessibility options.

In addition to using built-in WordPress features and WordPress plugins to make your site accessible, you can also run your site(s) through accessibility evaluation tools. One, ACE: the Accessible Colour Evaluator specifically checks color schemes for your site and shows you what people with different kinds of color blindness may see. Another is SortSite – Accessibility Checker and Validator from Powermapper that checks for WCAG 2.0 (118 separate tests), WCAG 1.0 (86 separate tests), and Section 508 (55 separate tests). This is not the only one-stop accessibility checker, but it seems to work well. The same tool also tests the accessibility of various file formats such as HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PDF, GIF, and Flash.


The primary guidelines and standards for accessibility on the web are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). For lack of better phrasing, Wikipedia offers a concise explanation of what WCAG is:

“The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are part of a series of web accessibility guidelines published by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the main international standards organization for the Internet. They are a set of guidelines that specify how to make content accessible, primarily for people with disabilities—but also for all user agents, including highly limited devices, such as mobile phones. The current version, WCAG 2.0, was published in December 2008 and became an ISO standard, ISO/IEC 40500:2012 in October 2012.”

WCAG is geared toward, but not limited to:

  • Web content developers (page authors, site designers, etc.)
  • Web authoring tool developers
  • Web accessibility evaluation tool developers
  • Others who want or need a standard for web accessibility, including for mobile accessibility


WCAG provides information on how to make web content, such as “text, images, sound, and code or markup that defines structure, presentation, etc.” more accessible to people with disabilities. WCAG 2.0 takes accessibility further by having 12 guidelines that are organized under 4 principles: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. Furthermore, each guideline is subject to testing and categorized into three levels: A, AA, and AAA. For more, you can check out W3C’s quick reference to WCAG 2.0. Lastly, WCAG 2.0 was also added Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (amended 29 U.S.C. 794d), which protects US Federal employees with disabilities by stating that should have access to information comparable to US Federal employees without disabilities.

Making a site or transforming a site to be accessible may seem overwhelming, but there are tools out there to help. The ones I listed above are a great start. And the process is iterative, so you shouldn’t feel like you have to fix everything at once. Ultimately, creating a site that is accessible to individuals with disabilities is something we should all strive to do, and gradually making adjustments will allow more people to access the content on your site.

Choosing Themes and Plugins

Choosing Themes and Plugins

There are thousands and thousands of plugins and themes in the WordPress repository. It can be kind of overwhelming.

    • When browsing for plugins or themes in the WordPress repository (where WordPress takes you when you click on Add New) there are two criteria to look for before installing and activating them:
      • The plugin or theme is rated four stars and up. There are many plugins and themes with lower star ratings that may work, but they may have lower ratings because they stop working, are too complicated for their own good, or have vulnerabilities. If a lower rated plugin is the only plugin out there that is going to do what you need, then try it out! Just be skeptical.
      • The plugin or theme has a significant amount of active installs. The more active installs, the more people using the theme or plugin. A good start is to try to find plugins or themes with a minimum of several thousand active installs. However, newer plugins and themes may only have a few hundred installs. When the number of active installs is low, cross reference it with the star rating, and then decide from there. Again, you can try out any plugin or theme, but getting one that works the first time is awesome!
    • When browsing for plugins in the WordPress repository look to see if the plugin has been updated in the last two years. This ensures that the developer(s) of the plugin are fixing bugs, keeping their plugin compatible with the current versions of WordPress, and potentially adding features requested by users.
    • When browsing for themes in the WordPress repository try using the Feature Filter to narrow down your results. Know that the thumbnail picture of the theme is not always accurate. Many times developers will submit the theme with a picture of the site all built out and customized. These thumbnails can be misleading since more often than not when you first activate a theme your site is not going to look like the thumbnail. It usually takes a fair amount of customization to get your site to look like the repository thumbnail.
    • When browsing for plugins and themes outside of the WordPress repository, see if there are any reviews on them. There are some really great themes and plugins out there that have not (yet) been submitted to the WordPress repository. Go ahead and try them, and just know you can’t really ever break your site! (Well maybe there’s like a 3% chance.)

    Now..onto actually choosing a theme.

    Parks and Recreation Gif

    1 am 100% certain that I am 0% sure of what I’m going to do.

    Sure, you can filter each theme by tags or features, but even then the results list can be large. It’s not that the task of setting a theme is difficult, it’s because I like choosing the visual tone, the aesthetic of my sites.

    If aesthetics are not an interest of yours, then here is my quick advice for choosing a WordPress theme:

    • Don’t waste your money on a premium theme. It’ll take up too much of your time trying to figure out how to use it.
    • Pick a well-rated theme. 4 stars or above in the WordPress repository is a safe bet.
    • Try to steer away from WordPress’s default themes as you don’t want your site to get swallowed up in the sea that is default WordPress sites.
    • I highly suggest you include the term “responsive” in your searches (on Google, Bing, etc. but who uses Bing?) because the narrow down themes that should look good, or at least scale well on mobile devices. In addition, including “accessibility” in your search should bring up some themes that are better equipped to be accessibility-ready, which could have features such as higher contrast between the background and the text, toggles to make text bigger, and notifications when there isn’t alt text for a piece of media.

    However, sometimes trying to choose a theme is like falling down rabbit-hole…which is perfectly understandable, considering there is so much undiscovered potential – fascinating colors, layouts, typography, etc. There are themes that are easy to customize, themes that have demo content, themes that use custom plugins, accessibility-ready themes, and there are child themes, which are offshoots of other themes! With all of the choices out there, it can become overwhelming to decide on a design for your site. The WordPress theme repository doesn’t have the best organizational structure and be somewhat difficult to narrow down specific features, so if you have an inkling of what you’d like your site to look like, search the keywords. “Minimalist,” “dark,” “grid layout,” “free, responsive,” whatever you’re envisioning. From there you will likely get a bunch of lists with themes that include some of those keywords. This is where the investigative work begins.

    The lists of themes that may have qualities similar to your vision of your website are great for inspiration. You may even find a theme you’re happy with there. However, when I find a few themes I like across the lists, I continue to research them. If there isn’t a link to a live demo of the site, I find one. I want to see the theme in action. I wouldn’t say that screenshots lie…but most screenshots lie. The screenshots of themes are usually taken after every square inch of the theme’s potential has been used, which is not going to be a reality of many users.

    In addition to seeing the theme live, I also want to know what people think of the theme. I’ll look up theme ratings with a search engine, or more specifically on a site like themeforest. Crowdsourcing can be very helpful (like Waze!) and if a WordPress theme has a lot of positive reviews, then it’s likely that the theme is easier to use and doesn’t have bugs. Contrastly, if a theme has a majority of one-star reviews, and the developers don’t appear to be providing support, then I’d wouldn’t try using the theme.

    In the event that you find a theme you somewhat like, but aren’t entirely happy with, you can always customize it! Besides the customization options that come with the theme, there are a few ways to customize your theme even more, such as using plugins. In my opinion, the best way to use a theme as a starting point, and then turn it something into new, is to create a child theme. Child themes are the best to work with because you start with the parent theme (the theme you picked out), and then you change whatever you don’t like about it. Furthermore, whenever the parent theme updates, the changes you’ve made in your child theme will not disappear.

    The last piece of advice I’ll share about WordPress themes and choosing one is to try hard to not get lost in the weeds. I’ve spent hours looking at themes for my sites only to have ended up back at a theme I thought was decent in my early searches. No site is perfect, no theme is perfect, but yours can look the way you want (although sometimes it takes some custom coding)!