WordPress and Accessibility – a11yLDNmeetup December 1st 2011

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Here is my ‘script’ from a lightning talk I gave to the inaugural a11yLDNmeetup in London on 1st December 2011.

There are no slides as such, but used this test site to demonstrate points during the presentation.

Introduction

WordPress LogoWordPress is a very popular tool worldwide for building websites. In the two years since I started using it it’s grown from a blogging engine to a fully functional CMS (content management system).

But is it possible – and easy – to create accessible websites with WordPress? The answer is a resounding “It depends”.

A WordPress website’s accessibility is influenced by 3 key components:

  1. Themes
  2. Plugins and Widgets
  3. Content

Before we explore these in a bit more detail I should point out that this talk is not about the accessibility of the actual WP backend – that is a huge area and will be the subject of a future presentation. The backend will be changing in the now imminent release of WorPress version 3.3.

Themes

There are thousands of free and paid for WordPress themes available. And acquiring them and switching between themes is very easy.

A theme’s potential for accessibility will depend on the theme author’s knowledge of accessibility and how much of that knowledge they’ve put into the theme.

WordPress default themes

Example of a site using the twentyten WordPress theme

Example of a site using the twentyten WordPress theme

A brand new installation of WordPress will give you two default themes ‘twentyten’ and the newer ‘twentyeleven’ – the latter a truly HTML5 theme. These themes are updated from time to time with new WordPress releases. New versions will be released with 3.3.

Many people use the default themes as the basis for their site as there are a number of customisation options available. Pic of Church site

Good news

The default WordPress themes are not too bad from an accessibility perspective and they’re gradually getting better.

Bad news

Unfortunately there are still some issues that could be better. Examples:

  • Fixed font size in content in twentyten
  • Some colour contrast issues in twentyten
  • Keyboard accessibility – menus still true in both
  • Search box label missing in twentyten but OK in twenteleven
  • Continue Reading links on blog page
  • Title attributes on almost all links
  • And others…

Accessible twentyten

Accessible twentyten was released early in 2011 and corrects some of the features noted above – although not all. Many of these accessibility improvements have now been included in the twentyeleven theme.

Plugins and widgets

I’ve grouped plugins and widgets together as I believe they are just different implementations of the same thing – custom enhancements that can be enabled and manipulated.

As with themes, the accessibility of  plugins and widgets is down to the accessibility knowledge and application of the author.

Popular plugins like lightboxes and carousels are almost always going to provide accessibility issues – usually with keyboard accessibility

A quick search on accessibility in WordPress plugins yields few results. However there are some ‘after market’ accessibility plugins:

  • Remove title attributes – configurable, and can remove most title attributes
  • Accessible tag cloud – the author has been responding positively to suggestions for improvement
  • Long Description
  • Font Controller – adds a font resizer to a widget area
  • Make Me Accessible – oops. Sounds like the holy grail of accessibility plugins but actually only the font resizing works.

I have put together my own plugin to make dropdown menus in the default WordPress themes keyboard accessible. Read about, and download the Keyboard Accessible Dropdown Menus Plugin.

The page/post content

Adding an image to a post in WordPress

Adding an image to a post in WordPress

The final piece in the chain. Accessibility here relies on the content author’s understanding of what makes a site accessible.

Plain text is OK but need to think about the following:

  • Inserting images – alt text
  • Inserting links – meaningful wording, opening new window/tab
  • Using headings properly
  • Lists

Make WordPress accessible forum

In my (so far) limited exposure to the Make WordPress site, work to make the WordPress default themes and the admin screens more accessible has been fragmented and sporadic. It is good however that progress is being made.

There have been calls recently from the WordPress developers for accessibility testing to be done on the beta versions of 3.3. Now 3.3 is into Release Candidate it’s too late for accessibility enhancements to be included but work will start on 3.4 soon once 3.3 is launched.

I intend to be more involved in this process than I have been up to now, and if you want to see WordPress become more accessible why not submit some ideas of your own. It’s not totally clear to me exactly where to put these ideas but I offer these links.

Resources

Fancy coming to an accessibility meetup?

a11yLDN LogoMoving forward we’re going to try to run the a11yLDNmeetup events on a monthly basis. There is a growing swell of interest in accessibility in London and you can be part of it too by coming along and taking part in the discussions.

Full details can be found on the meetup page at the a11yLdn website. You can also follow @a11yLDNmeetup or the hashtag #a11yLDNmeetup on Twitter.

If you’re not in London or can’t get there maybe there’s a group nearer where you live or work. We’re aware of accessibility meetups starting to happen in other cities.

Got something to say?

If you have any comments on this post why not leave a comment below.

Some other accessibility posts

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