When most people build a WordPress site, one of the oft-overlooked elements is accessibility. They work hard on writing quality content, installing the best plugins and using a beautiful theme. But most don't even know about the accessibility aspect. If you are serious about your users, designing your website for accessibility is one of the best things you can do.
Accessibility is about making a site as easily navigational as well as accessible. Nowadays, it has also gained a priority for giant companies like Google and Microsoft. It may be hard to take care of this aspect 100% without changing the theme or hiring a professional, but using the free WordPress plugins is another best option you have.
In this post, you will learn what is accessibility and WordPress plugins can you use to make your site more usable.
What Is Accessibility in WP?
Website accessibility refers to the act of making your website accessible to everyone. It's about making your sites accessible for people with disabilities. Alternatively, it is the optimization of your site, so it's useful to the largest number of people possible.
Can people with blindness, low vision, hearing loss or photosensitivity or other general disabilities, use your website? It can even come down to a simple use case of if your site is completely useable without using the mouse or trackpad? Yes, by pressing TAB key.
A11Y or A11y Representing "accessibility" as "a" followed by 11 more letters, followed by "y."
The more abnormal people can use your site, the broader your content reach becomes. There is a collection of guidelines called Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, which need to be complied with for better web accessibility. The document in question is focused on websites in general, not just WordPress sites. A few general principles for better usability are as follows:
- Keyword support: Visually impaired visitors should have the ability to use the keyboard to navigate the page.
- Text alternatives: Visually Disabled visitors should have text alternatives on non-text content.
- Reading mode: Cognitively weakened people should have the ability to toggle between reading vs. normal mode.
- Compatible with ARIA: Making your site compatible with ARIA means to include necessary landmarks that tell assistive technologies what's on the page, where the user is on the page and what's next.
Importance of Making Sites Accessible
Why make your site accessible? Does it improve search rankings? Is it absolutely mandatory? Here's why.
Optimizing for web accessibility, in essence, is to not alienate visitors with disabilities. The blind, deaf, visually impaired or cognitively impaired, all visitors, should be able to effectively navigate, operate and access your content. While there's no entity imposing web accessibility as a law and apparently, it's not a ranking factor. However, it's in your best interest to make your site more usable.
Because the more people can access your content or adjust site settings (like contrast, text size, etc.) per their preference, the better your reach. Here is a Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool to check your site accessibility.
“Data shows 1 in 5 people have a disability. If your site is inaccessible, you could be excluding 20% of your potential users, customers, students, and more.” — Rachel Carden.
Ways of Making Sites Accessible in WordPress
While following WCAG guidelines is not always possible with WordPress, but the solutions listed on this page should help a lot. There are two ways to make your site more accessible.
While you can manually improve your site accessibility, it's not always the most time-saving and easy way. There are many accessible WordPress themes, which abide by W3's guidelines by default. Themes like Author and Tiny Framework are the popular choices. You can find an accessibility-ready free theme as well.
Several WordPress plugins add core elements of web accessibility. While these plugins won't magically make your site completely accessible, it's better than nothing. Let’s have at it then.
WP Accessibility provides many features that help meet W3's standards. It fixes the most common usability issues. Although, it cannot fix every issue, but it suggests useful tools identify and fix accessibility issues. It also enables you to activate or deactivate any of its features. It's completely customizable.
- Skip links: It adds skip links, which aid screen readers navigate the current page rather than to new pages.
- Customization: Customize user-defined skip links' targets and how they look.
- Keyword focus: It adds a useful outline by keyword focused to the focused elements.
- No title tags: It removes title tags from images of posts and pages.
- Useful toolbar: Adds a toolbar to change contrast, text size and grayscale view of your theme.
There are many other relatively helpful features of the plugin.
Genesis Accessible is a plugin made for Genesis Framework users. It enables you to implement the accessibility features of a Genesis theme. It can work well with WP Accessibility. However, some features of the given plugin become redundant with Genesis Accessible. No harm happens from the features that become redundant, though.
- Limited: It only works with the Genesis themes, which cost, but are worth it.
- General usage: It adds skip links, adds their CSS and adds keyword accessibility for drop-down menus.
- Remove titles: Title attributes on links are redundant for screen readers, so this plugin removes them.
- Add titles to read more: For better usability, it adds title attributes to read more links.
Zoom is another WordPress accessibility plugin, which helps visitors resize predefined areas of your website. The zooming is particularly useful for older and visually challenged people. It is one of the best tools to possess, especially if your site typography is somewhat unusual. Check out this demo of Zoom.
- Plug and play: The plugin in question is completely free. All you need to do is just install and use it.
- Configuration: You can configure which semantic elements (headings, paragraphs, CSS classes, etc.) can be zoomed.
- Zoom styles: There are more than 40 styles for zoom in and out elements.
- Reset zoom: Too zoomed in or out? You get a Reset button to resize the text size back to their original size.
- Premium version: Zoom plugin offers multiple paid packages of the plugin with different features.
Yoast SEO is undoubtedly one of the most popular WordPress plugins. It offers a comprehensive list of features to optimize your site SEO. A significant portion of SEO depends on the clarity of content and logical navigation. Yoast SEO addresses certain parts like contextual linking, descriptive image tags, etc., helping site accessibility too.
- Headings: Helps you use clean and easy-to-understand headings.
- Alt tags: Suggests you to continually use add alternatives texts to images.
- Content analysis: Its content analysis functionality analyzes your content and gives useful prompts to improve it.
- Better readability: One of its effective features is that it helps you improve the readability of your content.
- XML sitemaps: These sitemaps are for search engines and help visitors find your content.
wA11y - The Web Accessibility Toolbox
One of my WordPress developer friends, Rachel Carden quite recently built a wA11y plugin for WordPress which provides a toolbox of resources to help you improve the accessibility of your WordPress website.
According to her, the mission for the wA11y plugin is to provide a plethora of tools to help you evaluate and improve the accessibility of your website.
Web accessibility has always been here. Whether you already knew its importance or just realized it now, it's going to pave the way for better user experience now more than ever.
Do you think site accessibility is important? Let's discuss in the comments.
As usual, don't hesitate to leave any questions or comments below, and I'll aim to respond to each of them.