Why WordPress Accessibility Matters (And How To Make Your Site Accessible)


Is your WordPress website accessible to all types of users? If one of your visitors were, say, to rely on a screen reader, would they be able to have a great experience on your website?
Web accessibility is an important consideration for all webmasters, but it’s also something that many WordPress users overlook when they’re building their site.
That’s problematic, because beyond making your website more accessible to everyone (including both those with impairments and without), not properly implementing accessibility standards might also put you on the wrong side of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

2018 Was A Record Year For Website Accessibility Lawsuits

First off, making your WordPress site accessible is just plain a good thing to do. It lets everyone – including people with disabilities and those without – enjoy your website. And that’s unquestionably a great thing.
But while that’s the carrot, there’s also a stick when it comes to website accessibility:
If your website isn’t accessible, it might be in violation of the ADA.
In fact, in 2018, there have been significantly more lawsuits over web accessibility than ever before.
Title III of the ADA “prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the activities of places of public accommodations”.
While the ADA was made into law in 1990, long before the Internet became such a central part of daily life, recent court cases support the idea that websites count as “places of public accommodations”, especially websites “where a ‘nexus’ exists between the physical place of public accommodation and the particular website or mobile application” (source).
This has led to a surge in federal ADA lawsuits over web accessibility. According to Seyfarth Shaw (a law firm specializing in ADA Title III), there were 814 such lawsuits in all of 2017.
But in just the first half of 2018, there have already been 1053 ADA Title III lawsuits over web accessibility, which suggests that website accessibility lawsuits are set to almost triple in 2018:

web accessibility lawsuits

Most notably, Apple is in the process of being sued because their website is not accessible to visually-impaired visitors.
According to Goulston & Storrs PC, these lawsuits typically force sites to implement the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Though the WCAG standards are not law themselves, the “court can appropriately accept the present [WCAG] guidelines as presently adequate.”
In their final analysis, Goulston & Storrs PC notes that “a proactive approach to accessibility should help businesses reduce the risk of being targeted by a lawsuit”.
And that is indeed a good rule of thumb to follow for your WordPress site.

Why WordPress Sites Often Have Poor Accessibility

Accessibility is especially tricky with WordPress sites because of how many sites use pre-made, off-the-rack extensions.
It all starts with your WordPress theme. Most theme developers just aren’t versed in what needs to be done to make a theme accessible. As a result, all the websites using that theme lack basic accessibility features as well.
Additionally, because developers try to make these themes as flexible as possible, they can unwittingly help the end user make the site even less accessible!
All those options for configuration settings like layouts, colors, fonts, etc. can make accessibility issues even worse if the end user makes poor choices. Similarly, the WordPress text editor also lets users unknowingly implement poor accessibility choices and many of these same issues apply to the plugins that so many WordPress sites rely upon.

Common Issues With WordPress Website Accessibility

Here’s how those accessibility issues commonly manifest themselves on WordPress sites:

  • No keyboard support – accessible sites should let visitors navigate using their keyboard and should not require a mouse. For example, if you have a date select field in a form, your visitors need to be able to type in their date, even if you offer a calendar picker.
  • No ARIA landmarksARIA landmarks are HTML attributes that help you define key areas of your page (e.g. “main”, “form”, “complementary”, etc.). They help users with screen readers quickly jump from one section to another.
  • Insufficient color contrast – your site needs to always have sufficient contrast between the text color and the background color. This helps users with low contrast sensitivity or color blindness use your site.
  • Too many pop-ups – popups, especially those that open in a new window, make it more difficult to browse your site for people using assistive technologies.
  • Unclear button text – using generic button text like “Learn More” or “Read More” doesn’t provide enough context about what happens after clicking a button.
  • No image alt text – using accurate image alt text makes it possible for visitors to understand your images even if they’re using a screen reader, voiceover tool, or other assistive technologies.

How To Test Your WordPress Website For Accessibility

When it comes to website accessibility, the WCAG 2.0 AA standards are the most commonly used. Additionally, for many of the ADA Title III lawsuits, the court’s resolution is to have the website implement the WCAG standards.
So how can you tell if your website follows WCAG standards?
One of the easiest ways is to run it through an automated testing tool. For example, the PowerMapper tool can test your site against the WCAG standards.
All you do is enter your site’s URL and the tool will give you a deep look at any issues that it finds. You can view both an overall summary, as well as a line-by-line look at your site’s code.
For example, here are some of the issues that the tool found with Apple’s homepage:
Example of web accessibility checker
While these automated checks are by no means 100% comprehensive (nothing can beat real user or expert testing), they can catch the most glaring issues for you and give you a good idea of where your site stands with respect to accessibility.

How To Make Your WordPress Site More Accessible

If you find that your site is not following accessibility standards, there are some free plugins that can help you retroactively add some accessibility functionality to your theme. The most notable option is the free WP Accessibility plugin.
These plugins are better than nothing, but it’s difficult to retroactively add accessibility to a WordPress theme. A more effective and comprehensive approach is to use a theme that’s been built from the ground up with accessibility in mind.
If you’d like some help to make your WordPress site accessible, we have deep expertise with WordPress accessibility here at Materiell.
Three of our team members attended the AccessU conference workshop and we’re ready to apply that knowledge to make your WordPress site accessible to everyone.
Get in touch and learn more about how we can help.