GUEST OPINION: When building a WordPress site, accessibility is usually not the first thing that comes to mind. Instead, people prioritize aesthetics, SEO, and even the plug-ins they wish to install while deferring UX and navigation to a later date.
However, as our global society grows more focused on social justice issues, accessibility is gradually becoming one of the most important aspects of digital content strategy. Moreover, failing to enhance the accessibility of your websites can have severe ramifications, ranging from handing your competitors a competitive advantage to facing an expensive lawsuit.
What is digital accessibility on WordPress?
Being accessible means that the information held within your WordPress site is provided in a consistent and open format, ensuring open access to everyone. As such, digital accessibility is the inclusive practice of ensuring that all forms of digital media are made available to all individuals, regardless of their level of ability. This includes disabilities such as blindness, deafness, motor and cognitive impairments, and more.
The WCAG 2.1 is the universally accepted set of guidelines detailing the criteria websites must meet if they are deemed accessible. If a website fails in any of the four main categories of accessibility (understandable, operable, perceivable, and robust), then it could be at risk of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act Title III (ADA).
How to make WordPress sites more accessible
With that said, let’s now take a look at a few ways you can improve the accessibility of your WordPress site so that you can offer an inclusive experience for all users.
Choose an accessible WordPress theme
There are thousands of WordPress themes out there. Some of them are more accessible than others. If you plan to prioritize accessibility, then you need to choose a theme that is accessible right out of the gate. In general, this means options for simplicity and minimalism over fancy designs. This is because users that rely on assistive technology, will have a much easier time navigating your website if it isn’t littered with unnecessary web elements.
Include alt text for images
Alt text must be provided for images so that screen reader users can gain access to the same information as everybody else.
Include captions on video and other visual media
Following on from the previous point, all visual media must include captions or transcripts. Furthermore, videos mustn’t be set to autoplay, as this can interfere with assistive technology.
Be mindful of colour contrasts
It’s estimated there are over 300 million colour-blind people in the world. Many of them will have difficulty reading text online with poor colour contrast. You should generally strive for high contrast, such as black text on a white background. WCAG 2.1 requires a minimum of a 4.5:1 ratio for normal text and 3:1 for larger text. You should also avoid utilizing colour as a primary differentiating factor within your website.
Structure content logically
Screen readers typically have a difficult time navigating through content that is structured poorly. In light of this, remember to label all of your headings correctly (H1, H2, H3). In doing so, you will ensure that your content is compatible with assistive technology and that users will be able to interact with your website easily.
Don’t forget about your documents
If your website uses any type of digital document to engage with users, then these also need to be made accessible. This could include documents such as menus, handbooks, e-books, and so on. However, Excel, PowerPoint, and PDF accessibility do not come as a standard with these documents, which means that you will need to get them remediated manually.
Why accessibility matters
Aside from being the right thing to do from a moral and ethical standpoint, web accessibility is important to your WordPress site for several reasons. Let’s dive into a few of the core benefits below:
- Reaching a wider audience – A more accessible website means that your products, services, and the content will be open to a much wider audience. According to the World Health Organization, 15% of the world’s population is disabled. Therefore, if you fail to implement measures, you could inadvertently exclude millions of people from your site. Conversely, an accessible site could grant you access to a largely untapped portion of the consumer market.
- Mitigating costly lawsuits – Web accessibility lawsuits hit an all-time high in 2021. Now that the precedent has been set, it is likely that plaintiff law firms will continue to target businesses that operate inaccessible websites. Therefore, striving for compliance with the WCAG and ADA may help to keep your business out of the courtroom.
- Providing a better user experience – A more accessible website will benefit all users, not just those with disabilities. Features such as improved navigation, readability, colour contrast, and captions will make your website more user-friendly, which will only assist in providing a better user experience for everyone.
While it is easy to become sidetracked with other aspects of your WordPress site, it is critical that you keep accessibility in mind. As previously stated, many laws and guidelines regulate online accessibility, and failure to fulfil the appropriate criteria may subject you to legal action. Aside from the legal ramifications, everyone should aim to promote accessibility and maintain an open and inclusive website. Not merely for the sake of the business benefits and also because it is the right thing to do.