How to Make Your WordPress Website Accessible

Abstract illustration of man and woman building a website with tools and gears

You’ve likely heard about accessible websites and may be wondering how to make your WordPress website accessible.

If you are just starting down this path, take a moment to read my earlier post on why you need an accessible website.

In that post I cover:

  1. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) 
  2. Web Accessibility in Mind (WebAIM)  
  3. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
  4. Levels of Compliance
  5. Four Principles of POUR 

And I also provide a framework to help you deepen your understanding as to why accessibility is not an option but a requirement for all website owners.

My hope for this second post is to guide you on how to make your WordPress website accessible.

We’ll look at a few tools that can help, and we’ll discuss a solid approach to identifying and fixing compliance issues on your website.

QUICK LINKS

What is an Accessible Website?
Disclaimer
Website Accessibility Testing and Tools
Getting Started
ADA Checklist
Simplified Checklist
Additional Considerations
Additional Reading
Using the Web Accessibility Tools
WAVE Browser Extension       
Web Accessibility Plugin       
WP Accessibility Plugin
Accessibility Checker Plugin
Screen Reader Text Format Plugin

What is an Accessible Website?

A website is accessible if it can be used by people of all abilities.

This includes any type of disability that limits a person’s movements, senses or activities including blind, vision impaired, deaf and more.

That’s why it’s important to do our part to make the internet usable for everyone.

WCAG 2.1 has provided us with four functional accessibility principles called POUR.

In short, these four POUR principles help us make our websites accessible with technology that is:

  • Perceivable
  • Operable
  • Understandable
  • Robust

I cover these principles in depth in my article on why you need an accessible website.

So if you haven’t already done so, please make sure to read that post first and then come back here.

Later in this article we’ll cover each of these principles as they apply to our websites. I’ll:

  • Show you how to approach making your website accessible.
  • Provide a checklist and resources to guide you through your site.
  • Provide additional reading so you can explore topics in greater depth.

Disclaimer

In full disclosure, I am not ADA certified. But I will make every effort to achieve reasonable effort towards compliance.

You can read my disclaimer in that earlier post.

Website Accessibility Testing and Tools

My accessibility testing is done with common tools such as WAVE and other plugin-assisted ADA tools as well as manual checking.

I’ve heard from many expert sources that no website will EVER be 100% compliant.

In addition, I have learned that no one tool will guarantee 100% compliance.

The tools and tests I use will get you reasonably close to compliance within a reasonable budget. But again, I cannot guarantee that you will achieve 100% compliance.

Additionally, if you are a web designer/developer, you will definitely want to have your clients sign a website accessibility release of liability.

Here is a sample release of liability template that you can use as a starting point.

Getting Started with Accessibility Testing

I heard a lot about the Userway free plugin and its paid subscription service, which does continuous real-time accessibility monitoring.

But I decided I’d rather try to fix the underlying issues on my site instead of relying on a plugin.

And if I could get my site reasonably compliant, I wouldn’t need any service to remediate my web pages.

After setting up a development site, I installed the WAVE Browser Extension.

This web accessibility evaluation tool parses your page and reports errors, warnings and alerts. It locates contrast errors, skipped heading levels, empty ALT text, missing form labels and more.

I did my best to fix what I could, then moved on to find additional resources to help.

The remainder of this article will cover what basic checks you need to do to make your WordPress website accessible. And it will guide you on what to correct to get minimum compliance.

ADA Checklist

The following checklist is adapted from WebAIM’s WCAG 2 Checklist. I have modified and simplified it for basic use.

Going through the checklist will help you achieve Level A to Level AA compliance.

As a reminder, be advised that this checklist is not official policy but rather a list of guidelines and recommendations to help you make your WordPress website accessible.

Start with making your Homepage compliant, then work on your inner pages. 

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Simplified Checklist

Perceivable: Make web content available to senses of sight, hearing, touch

  • Unless an image is decorative, provide ALT text for images, form image buttons, and image map hotspots as well as other non-text content. Decorative text can be given empty ALT text.
  • Complex images should have equivalent alternatives provided in context or on a separate linked page.
  • Use meaningful CTAs. For example, buttons and links should be more descriptive than “READ MORE” or “LEARN MORE.” (NOTE: Until WordPress fixes this in its core, you can use WP Accessibility to add the post title to “more” links.)
  • User forms should have appropriate input and aria labels. For example, WordPress search and comment forms need input labels. (NOTE: Until WordPress adds this into its core, this can be fixed with the WP Accessibility plugin.)
  • Provide captioning for videos and multimedia content.
  • Frames and iframes must be titled. (NOTE: Frames should be avoided altogether.)
  • Provide audio description for all non-live videos and multimedia content.
  • Provide a transcript for non-live audio only content (audio podcasts, MP3 files). This is required if there is relevant visual content that is not presented in the audio.
  • If audio plays automatically, provide a way to stop, pause, mute or adjust the volume.
  • Heading levels should have a correct hierarchy with no skipped levels.
  • Tables should have column headers and cell information.
  • Instructions should not be conveyed only through sound, shape, size, or visual orientation. For example, “Click square button to continue” is not compliant.
  • Instructions should not rely solely upon sound. For example, “Continue when you hear the bell” is not compliant
  • Allow for portrait or landscape orientation unless a specific orientation is essential.
  • Don’t convey instructions or information only through color.
  • There should be an adequate contrast ratio between text and background colors.
  • Users should be able to resize text without affecting page layout. Test this by increasing text size to 200% in your browser.
  • Use actual text not images of text.

Operable: Interface forms, controls, and navigation are operable

  • Users should be able to tab to all elements on a web page including media player controls.
  • Tab order should be in a logical order.
  • As user tabs through the site, each element with focus should be clearly visible.
  • Avoid keyboard traps so users can navigate the entire page using the keyboard.
  • Page specific shortcut/access keys shouldn’t impact browser and screen reader shortcuts.
  • Provide adjustable time limits. That is, the user has the option to turn off, adjust, or extend a time limit.
  • Give users control over moving, blinking, scrolling or auto updating of info.
  • Auto updating of content (chat messages, news tickers) can be paused, stopped or hidden by the user.
  • Make sure nothing flashes more than three times per second.
  • Web page titles should be unique and adequately describe page content.
  • Web pages must have skip navigation links or a way to bypass repetitive content so screen readers can get to the content. (NOTE: WP Accessibility plugin has a setting to do just that if not native to your theme.)
  • Links should be descriptive. For example, don’t use “Click Here.”
  • Make headings and labels descriptive.
  • Allow for cancellation or reversal of an action taken. For example, if the user tabs forward, the user should be able to tab backward.

Understandable: Information and operation of user interface must be understandable

  • Make sure that menu navigation is consistent each time it’s encountered.
  • Make sure that the components having the same functionality are identified consistently.
  • When a page element receives focus, it should not result in a substantial change to the page. For example, no pop-up windows should be triggered or any such action that could confuse the user unless the user is informed ahead of time.
  • Ensure that input errors are adequately described in the text to the user.

Robust: Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies

These items mostly pertain to the theme but listed here for completeness:

  • Don’t require a specific browser to make use of your website’s features. Some users don’t or can’t use all browsers so won’t be able to use your site.
  • Document formats need to be accessible to screen readers that run on all operating systems.
  • Online training videos should not require an inaccessible plug-in to play in the web browser.
  • Make sure your website is a single data structure with properly nested elements and unique IDs.
  • All of the user interface components’ names, roles, and values can be programmed and notifications of the changes made available to the user agents like assistive technology.
  • Status messages that can be presented to the user by assistive technologies without being the focus.

Additional Considerations

  • Don’t link to a PDF unless you are sure it is accessible. Learn how to create accessible PDFs with Adobe. Or search for free PDF accessibility checkers online.
  • Add the “MENU” label on the mobile menu. 
  • Captcha forms are nearly impossible for blind/visually impaired to use. According to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), there isn’t an ideal solution for detecting humans vs. robots. Therefore, it is important to be careful when you implement CAPTCHA technology so that people with any type of disability can identify themselves as human.
  • Hero images should be compliant. Ensure any text overlay passes the contrast check.
  • Add an Accessibility Statement to your website.
  • Various plugins will have various issues. Report anything that is not compliant to the appropriate plugin developer.
  • Don’t depend on a plugin’s default settings to be accessible. For example, many foodie sites use WP-Recipe-Maker. WP-Recipe-Maker defaults may not have sufficient contrast for Servings, Nutrition Facts, and Tried This Recipe. If that’s the case, you’ll need to adjust those settings and this video on using the Template Editor can help.
  • Newsletter sign up forms will likely have missing or skipped heading levels. You should report any type of issues like this to the vendor so they can fix them.

Additional Reading:

Easy Checks – A First Review of Web Accessibility
Free PDF Accessibility Assessment
A WordPress Accessibility Checklist to Improve Your Site for All Users
20 Web Accessibility Testing Tools & What They Test For
WebAIM’s WCAG 2 Checklist

Using the Web Accessibility Tools

The remainder of this post will explain how to use a few of the web accessibility tools that I have referenced in this post. These tools will guide you as you make your WordPress website accessible.

WAVE Browser Extension

Install the WAVE Browser Extension

I recommend that you install the WAVE Browser Extension instead of running the WAVE Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool online.

That’s because some hosts have a wildcard block which might block the WAVE URL crawl.

And if that happens, you’ll get a 403 permission error. So just install the extension instead and save yourself time.

Once WAVE is installed, you will see a “W” icon in your browser bar. Click that and the tool will open a panel on the left side of your web page.

The extension will parse your website page, which will be marked up to show the various errors, warnings, and alerts it found.

Please refer to the screenshot below to see an example.

Codefetti home page marked up by WAVE

The summary on the left of your web page will report errors and alerts as well as structural elements and aria labels as seen in the screenshot below:

WAVE Summary tab

Please note that when you are logged into the WordPress dashboard, you will likely get contrast errors within the dashboard itself.

Those are safe to ignore. What you want to focus on are the errors that the public will see.

Click the Details tab to drill down to the errors:

WAVE Details tab

The colored icons shown in the detail tab will correspond to your webpage elements. You can click on any icon in that tab, and it will take you to that element on your webpage and give further information.

Next click the structure tab to make sure your heading levels are correct:

WAVE heading structure screenshot

Then click the contrast tab to test color values that are not compliant and adjust them as needed:

WAVE contrast checker screenshot

Depending on the underlying theme code, there may be reports of contrast errors that are false positives. In this case, you need to do a manual check of the foreground and background color values.  I found this to be especially true with white text on a colored or gradient background.

ACCESSIBILITY PLUGINS

In addition to WAVE, I worked with the following WordPress plugins to help with my remediation:

  1. Web Accessibility
  2. WP Accessibility
  3. Accessibility Checker
  4. Screen Reader Text Format

And I’ll give a brief overview of these next.

Keep in mind that features of WAVE and accessibility plugins will overlap, so you will not necessarily need every feature of every tool. Find what works for you.

Web Accessibility Plugin

Download the Web Accessibility Plugin

This plugin is quite comprehensive and can be a good tool for finding any missing ALT text.

Once installed, go to Settings > Accessibility Tools to find this interface:

Screenshot of Accessibility Tools Plugin tab settings

Find Missing ALT Text

Start by clicking the “Missing Alt” green button to identify non-decorative images in your media library that are missing ALT text.

Provide the missing ALT text and click the update tab to make sure the text is saved.

Screenshot of Accessibility Tools Plugin missing alt text

Contrast Checker

The contrast checker tab has a tool where you input background and foreground text colors. The checker will report whether the contrast ratio passes compliance.

Screenshot of Accessibility Tools Plugin Contrast Checker

ADA Checklist

Next is the ADA Checklist tab. Here you will find a plugin checklist. Note how the checklist adheres to the four POUR principles we discussed earlier and is an adaptation of WebAIM’s WCAG 2 Checklist.

Screenshot of Accessibility Tools Plugin ADA Checklist

Run an Accessibility Audit

When you install the Web Accessibility plugin, it has a setting to start an accessibility audit.

You can find that setting in the dashboard under Settings > Accessibility Tools:

Screenshot of Accessibility Tools Plugin Accessibility Audit Tab

A small icon as shown below is placed in the lower left corner of your web page:

Screenshot of Accessibility Tools Plugin Accessibility widget icon

When you click on it, the following audit menu will display:

Accessibility Audit Menu

Screenshot of Accessibility Tools Widget

Let’s go through each of these options.

Headings

Click on “Headings” and a report will pop up in the lower right corner of your web page.  It will evaluate page hierarchy and report on invalid heading levels:

Screenshot of Accessibility Tools Plugin headings structure

Contrast

Click “Contrast” and the contrast checker will report on items that do not have sufficient contrast:

Screenshot of Accessibility Tools Plugin contrast checker details

Link Text

Click “Link Text” and get reports on unclear link text.

Many reported errors were outside of my control. 

I will update this article as I learn how to deal with this.

Screenshot of Accessibility Tools Plugin link text errors

The remaining choices are self-explanatory.

Click “Labels” and any inputs with missing labels will be reported upon.

Click “Image alt-text” and any images within the page without ALT text will be flagged.

Click “Landmarks” to get a list of all ARIA landmarks. These landmarks are simply attributes which are added to page elements that allow users of assistive technologies to “skip to” sections of the page more easily. 

WP Accessibility Plugin

Download the WP Accessibility Plugin

I highly recommend that you install the WP Accessibility plugin by Joe Dolson.

This plugin covers the gap with accessibility functions currently missing in the WordPress core.

Until these issues are corrected in WordPress core, this plugin will be a valuable tool for you.

It will help you fix issues on your site such:

  • configuring skiplinks
  • adding an accessibility toolbar with font size adjustment and contrast toggle
  • adding the post title to “more” links so context is clear to visually impaired
  • automatically labeling WordPress search form and comment form input fields
  • removing target attribute from links (i.e. don’t open in a new window)
  • adding an outline to elements on keyboard focus with a color you choose
  • checking color contrast
  • and more

Plugin Settings

Once you’ve installed and activated WP Accessibility, go to Plugins > WP Accessibility > Accessibility Settings.

There are five settings sections with a multitude of options, which we’ll look at next.

But be advised that there is no “one size fits all” so you will need to do your own research and apply the settings that pertain to your WordPress theme and site features.

The remainder of this post shows you what options are available.

Add Skiplinks

This section will let you enable and configure your skiplinks, if needed.

Creating skip navigation links is important for screen reader and keyboard users.

Usually a single skip link to main content is all that is required. That’s because this skip link will give users the ability to navigate directly to the main content. 

However, I’ve seen a trend where sites have 3 specific skip links: skip to navigation, skip to content, and skip to footer.

And that’s what I’ve implemented on my site.

Note in the below screenshot how many options you have for enabling and configuring your skip links.

WP Accessibility plugin skiplink settings

Accessibility Toolbar Settings

This settings section lets you add an accessibility toolbar, which allows your visitor to adjust font size and contrast.

I don’t believe that this is a requirement for ADA compliance, but it might be useful for low vision users of your site.

Screenshot of WP Accessibility Toolbar Settings

Miscellaneous Accessibility Settings

This section has some great defaults that you may or may not need to use.

As I mentioned earlier, these settings depend on your theme and website features.

For example, if you run WAVE on your website page and it reports missing labels on your WordPress search or comment form, you will want to check the box to automatically label these forms.

If you have a big site with links opening in a new window, you will want to check the box to remove target attribute from links.

WP Accessibility plugin miscellaneous accessibility settings

The last two sections provide a way to remove title attributes on tag clouds and check color contrast.

WP Accessibility plugin screenshot of title attribute and contrast check settings

So you see how helpful this plugin can be to help bridge the gap until certain accessibility features are included in the WordPress core.

Accessibility Checker Plugin

Download the Accessibility Checker Plugin

What I like about this plugin is that it reports a score of “passed tests” to help you identify common accessibility errors on a website page.

If you scroll down to the bottom of a page you’re editing, it will display the following report:

Screenshot of Accessibility Checker passed tests report summary

A score of 95% is great!

You’ll note that there are also 5 errors which are explained in the Details tab.

In this example, there were 5 broken skip links and 5 contrast errors that needed to be manually checked.

But the plugin also reports a 12th grade reading level, so this page did not pass the readability test.

WCAG at the AAA level requires a simplified summary that is at the 9th grade level or below.

Note I did say “AAA” level, so this is not relevant for Level AA compliance. However, I am mentioning it here so you get in the practice of keeping your content readable and “simple.”

The plugin lets you compose and add that simplified summary, which appears after the content.

Here is an example of my accessibility statement with a simplified summary. My accessibility statement is a work in progress as of this writing.

Image Long Alternative Text

This plugin also reports images with excessive ALT text that could annoy users or be too long for the screen readers.

It quickly identifies this issue on a page-by-page basis and reports it while you are editing a page. That makes it simple to fix!

Screen Reader Text Format Plugin

Download Screen Reader Text Format Plugin

While I didn’t use this plugin for my site, it may be helpful to you so I thought it worth mentioning here.

This plugin adds a screen reader only text format control to the block editor, which lets you markup certain types of text content.

For example, strike-through text can be seen visually, but a screen reader will not mention it.

Or perhaps you have a button that says “Learn More.” In this case, you could add screen reader only text to provide a more descriptive link.

See an example of why you might need to use screen reader text.

Need Help?

If you feel overwhelmed or have any questions, please feel free to contact us.

Remember, if you run a WordPress site, you’ll want to learn how to check your site periodically to ensure that it is ADA compliant.

Wrap Up

I hope that this document has helped you understand how to make your WordPress website accessible.

We discussed the WCAG guidelines and recommendations provided for ADA compliance.

And you were provided with a checklist to help guide you through your site to identify issues that need to be fixed.

I also demonstrated a few helpful tools that I use. But there are many others out there that may suit your purpose, too.

Next you’ll want to make sure you improve website accessibility for low vision users.

I will continue to update this document as more relevant data, tools, and guidelines are forthcoming.

In the meantime, please feel free to post your questions and comments below and I will make every attempt to help you.

Special Thanks

I want to give a special thank you to MaAnna Stephenson of BlogAid and Marcy Diaz of Amethyst Website Design for their help with reviewing, contributing to, and editing this document for completeness.

Their help was invaluable to me as I assembled my research and documentation for this post.


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Jaz
Jaz
2 months ago

Thanks Michelle for such a comprehensive and valuable post! It saved me tons of time in understanding ADA compliance and how to work on it.

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