Today I’m looking at how you can improve the experience on your website for people with disabilities by using WordPress accessibility plugins.
Accessibility is often overlooked by people when creating a website. However, as you will see, it is essential for several reasons.
A Word About Disabilities
For many, disability is a very emotive subject. Even the term ‘disabled’ ruffles feathers, deemed divisive and undiplomatic. Unfortunately, as it is still commonly used, I will be using it in this article, although I am aware that other terms such as ‘differently abled’ are now in use.
Sadly, some people believe “you can’t please everyone all the time.” They think only the masses should be catered for, and the disabled ignored for being the minority. That is an incredibly selfish viewpoint. People certainly don’t choose their disabilities, and anyone can become disabled at any time through no fault of their own.
Unless you have a disability yourself or are close to someone who does, you are unlikely to fully understand how challenging life can be for people with disabilities.
I don’t claim to be an expert on this topic. Other than relatively poor eyesight (age-related), I’m lucky enough not to have other impairments. However, my niece, Misha, was struck down with Parkinson’s Disease at 30. Ten years on, she cannot walk more than a few steps or speak properly, plus she needs full-time help to do basic tasks like shower or put on clothes.
Misha has opened my eyes to how difficult things are for the less abled and how frustrating it is for them to do everyday tasks we take for granted. She is now more reliant on her computer and mobile phone than ever before for communication purposes, although using those is usually a massive struggle.
My point here is, please be mindful of who may be using your website and ensure it is as accessible to them as possible.
What is Accessibility in Websites?
In simple terms, website accessibility refers to:
- making your website accessible to everyone, and does not exclude people with disabilities, or
- optimizing it to ensure as many people as possible can use it.
The fundamental question you should ask yourself when assessing your website’s accessibility is, are people with blindness, impaired vision, hearing loss, reduced motor skills, or any other disabilities able to use it?
Article Continues Below
Remember, disabilities may not always be obvious, often because they are not classified as such. For example, many people have rheumatoid arthritis affecting their hands which makes using a keyboard or mouse challenging.
Why You Must Make Your Website Accessible
Time for a reality check: if your website is not accessible, you could be land up in court.
One high-profile case involved a blind man who took Domino’s Pizza to court. Guillermo Robles alleged he could not place an order online through Domino’s website, and the judge ruled in his favor. The financial compensation awarded was not massive, but the legal costs were.
Cases like Robles vs. Domino’s Pizza have significant repercussions for website owners everywhere. People are now aware they may have a valid case should a website be inaccessible to them, and the outcome of lawsuits like these has set a precedent.
As a result, accessibility-related lawsuits are increasing, with ADA Title III Website Accessibility Lawsuits in Federal Court rising from 814 in 2017 to 2,523 in 2020. In my eyes, that is a good thing, as it is heralding a much-needed change in attitudes towards people with disabilities.
The legalities of website accessibility are complex and sometimes vague. I’m no legal expert, so I won’t be discussing those here. However, the subject is very well covered on the internet. I recommend reading HubSpot’s article titled “A Web Accessibility Checklist to Make Your Content 100% Compliant,” which explains some of the regulations and guidelines, and suggests what your website needs to cover to be compliant.
If you would like to check your site’s compliance, head over to the WAVE Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool, which is free.
How To Make Your Website Compliant Using a WordPress Accessibility Plugin
WordPress as a platform continues to evolve and now goes some way to being more accessible to people with disabilities. However, it’s not perfect, and websites created with it won’t necessarily be fully compliant.
As WordPress is open-source, one option is to improve accessibility using code. However, that is not a solution for people with no coding knowledge, particularly given how much coders charge.
However, it is also possible to improve the accessibility of a website using WordPress accessibility plugins. These augment your site with additional accessibility tools. That goes partway towards helping ensure the site does not exclude anyone and complies as much as possible with applicable legislation and guidelines.
Typical features of WordPress accessibility plugins can include:
- Screen readers (text-to-speech)
- Voice recognition, e.g., speech-to-text conversion
- Epilepsy safe
- Missing alt text detection
- Font resizing
- Color contrast adjustment
- Hyperlink underlining
- Scans for accessibility issues
- Warning where links open in new windows or tabs
Please be aware that no ‘one size fits all’ plugin exists to solve every accessibility issue. Therefore, you may need a combination of plugins or other solutions to make your site fully accessible to all.
Suggested WordPress Accessibility Plugins
Below you will find ten accessibility plugins that you can add to your WordPress site. There are ones to help you add features to enhance accessibility and others for analyzing your site for deficiencies. Furthermore, there are free and premium options also.
Accessibility Checker is a plugin for identifying accessibility problems on WordPress sites and checking for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) compliance.
The plugin removes the need to use the external WAVE tool I mentioned earlier, as it integrates similar functions directly into your WordPress dashboard. As a result, you can quickly assess accessibility for individual pieces of content, all without having to leave WordPress.
Furthermore, where the plugin identifies issues, it also suggests suitable fixes.
Please take a few moments to read WPLift’s full review of Accessibility Checker.
- Automatic scans on both published or draft content
- The free version allows you to scan unlimited posts and pages, with reports shown on the edit screen
- Paid versions add many extra scanning and reporting features
- Checks for ADA, Section 508, AODA, and WCAG compliance
- Detailed documentation
- 30-day moneyback guarantee on paid plans
- Entire site scans are only available with the paid versions
- The core Accessibility Checker plugin is free. Prices of the paid version range from $15-$180 per month, depending on the number of sites you need to cover (maximum of 25 before special pricing is required.) If you purchase an annual plan, the monthly cost reduces to $12-$150.
One Click Accessibility
One Click Accessibility is another free WordPress plugin that, like WP Accessibility, enhances your site with accessibility features it may otherwise lack. The most notable one is the accessibility toolbar which you can add to your pages. This gives users access to tools like font resizing, grayscale, negative and high contrast, light background, and more.
Also, as with WP Accessibility, you can add skip links and outline the focus for focusable elements
- Completely free
- The accessibility toolbar is a nice feature
- Useful feature set
- Some find the enable/disable interface rather confusing
- One Click Accessibility is a free plugin with no premium options available.
WP Accessibility does not claim to make your website fully compatible with accessibility regulations or guidelines. In all honesty, no single plugin can do that. However, it fills some of the accessibility ‘gaps’ inherent in WordPress themes. Best of all, no specialist knowledge is needed to do it.
This free plugin has extensive features, each of which can be individually enabled or disabled. For example, it is possible to add skip links that only appear when triggered by the keyboard or an assistive device, allowing users to bypass irrelevant content.
Other great features include adding post titles to ‘read more’ links, a tool to pinpoint images with missing alt attributes, plus a facility to add an outline to the keyboard focus state for focusable elements to enhance their visibility.
- A no-cost way of adding several accessibility features to themes that do not have them out of the box
- Detailed reports
- Useful feature set
- A proactive and supportive development team
- None found
- WP Accessibility is entirely free.
WP Accessibility Helper
WP Accessibility Helper is a freemium WordPress plugin with great functionality, even the free version. It includes a Document Object Model (DOM) scanner to check your posts and pages for accessibility issues, plus an impressive array of tools to help you fix them.
Both the free and Pro versions include features like font resizing, skip links, animation removal, link underlining, and sortable widgets. The Pro upgrade adds plenty more, including visibility settings, Polylang support, shortcodes, a small bar with settings for contrast, font resize, and greyscale, plus a web speech API
- The free version has some useful features
- Both the free and Pro versions scan for accessibility issues
- Includes web speech API for text-to-speech (Pro only)
- ADHD, vision impaired and cognitive disability profiles (Pro only)
- Good documentation, including video tutorials
- Pro is good value considering the extra features it adds
- Some complaints of poor support for the Pro version
- No free trial or moneyback guarantee with Pro plans
- The WP Accessibility Helper core plugin is free. However, Pro upgrades cost $199 per year for one domain, rising to $1,819 per year for ten sites.
AccessibleWP Toolbar is a simple WordPress plugin that allows you to add an accessibility toolbar to your website. From that, users will have access to a range of accessibility options, including keyboard navigation (with enhanced keyboard functionality), disable animations, resize fonts, dark contrast, mark titles and links, and more.
- Basic, but adds a helpful accessibility toolbar to your website
- Completely free
- Settings do not persist between pages
- AccessibleWP Toolbar is free.
Zeno Font Resizer
Zeno Font Resizer is a basic but nonetheless useful plugin for allowing visually impaired users to adjust the font size of text on your WordPress site.
- Entirely free
- It is possible to configure which content can be resized by visitors
- You can use the widget as a standalone, or if you are more tech-savvy, you can embed the code into your theme
- None found
- Zeno Font Resizer is a free plugin.
BIALTY Bulk Auto Image Alt Text
Many people add images to their websites without adding ALT text. I used to be guilty as charged because I never quite understood what it was. In a nutshell, ALT text is what screen readers use to tell blind or visually impaired users what an image contains. That’s important when it comes to accessibility.
If you only have a few images on your website, it’s not a huge deal to go back and add the necessary ALT text. However, it will be a significant headache if you have tons of pictures to do. This is where BIALTY Bulk Auto Image Alt Text can help.
BIALTY Bulk Auto Image Alt Text is a free WordPress accessibility plugin with one sole purpose – automatically generate and add ALT attributes to images that don’t have them. To do that, the plugin uses post titles and focus keywords.
The only downside of machine-generated texts is they may not be as good or detailed as those written by humans. But they are better than nothing.
- Entirely free
- Provides a fast way of adding missing ALT attributes to images
- The generated ALT text may not be perfect, although it will be sufficient until you get round to writing better, more detailed texts
- BIALTY Bulk Auto Image Alt Text is free. No premium option is available.
You’d be forgiven for assuming that Screen Reader is only a text-to-speech plugin for WordPress that verbally reads screen content. However, it also includes a host of other accessibility features aimed at the visually impaired.
For example, it can add high contrast rendering, an enlarged cursor, a focused elements outline, hide images, skip links, and much more. It even has Dyslexic Font transformation to help people with dyslexia.
- High text-to-speech audio quality
- Can read text in fifty different languages
- Good feature set
- Well supported
- The free version is virtually useless, with few features and a 100-character text-to-speech limit
- Screen Reader costs $49 per year. A free version is available, although it’s rather pointless.
WP ADA Compliance Check Basic
WP ADA Compliance Check Basic is a freemium WordPress scanning plugin used to identify accessibility issues on your website.
The free version is ideal if you only have a small, low-traffic site and no budget available. It allows you to scan for 51 error types, although you can only do fifteen pages or posts. A detailed report is generated once the scans are complete.
If you need tools to help you fix issues identified by the scans, you will need to upgrade to the Pro version. With that, you can run unlimited scans for 76 error types. What’s more, it continuously monitors your entire site and will inform you by email if any errors occur. Finally, it also includes a good selection of tools to help you fix many accessibility problems.
- The free version is an excellent way of running accessibility scans on your posts and pages
- Pro is worthwhile as it adds full-site and continuous scans, plus lots of tools to help you fix issues
- Good documentation, including video tutorials
- Excellent documentation, including video tutorials and an eight-hour online accessibility training course
- 30-day moneyback guarantee on Pro
- None found
- The core WP ADA Compliance Check plugin is free. Pro upgrades begin at $179 per year for one domain or $565.99 for a lifetime license.
Accessibility New Window Warnings
Like many people, I generally set links to other pages or sites to open in a new tab. However, unless they have been forewarned, that can be disorienting for people who find it difficult to perceive visual content or those with cognitive disabilities. Accordingly, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) now require web pages to appear and operate in predictable ways.
Accessibility New Window Warnings provides the necessary alerts to users. The plugin will inform them that clicking on a link will navigate them away from the current tab or window. Additionally, the plugin advises users that hitting the ‘back’ button may not work from the new tab or window.
Furthermore, Accessibility New Window Warnings integrates with Accessibility Checker (the first plugin in this list) as they are both from the same developer.
- Completely free
- No setup required – the plugin starts working to find links that open in a new tab or window as soon as it is installed and activated
- It gives a quick solution to one specific accessibility issue
- Some CSS styling may be necessary, depending on the third-party plugins on your site and the links those add
- Accessibility New Window Warnings is available in the WordPress plugin directory free of charge.
A Final Word
I hope I’ve given you a good flavor of what accessibility is and why it is essential. I also hope to have shown you how WordPress accessibility plugins can help ensure your website does not exclude people because of impairments.
I’m intrigued to know if you have ever checked your site’s accessibility. If you have, what issues were identified, and how did you correct them? If you haven’t, will you do so soon, now that you know its importance?