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An Intro to Accessible WordPress Themes

I’ve talked a lot about web accessibility lately, especially as it relates to WordPress Themes. The feedback I got from this podcast told me that web developers want to embrace better accessibility, but aren’t sure how.

Enter this 5-part series specifically dealing with accessibility-ready WordPress themes and small, tangible steps developers can take to make their websites a little friendlier for the masses.

Over this series we’ll discuss:

A Starting Point

If the idea of web accessibility (or even the term) is new to you, then you’re in the right place. For starters, let’s define the general idea of accessibility:

Web accessibility refers to the inclusive practice of removing barriers that prevent access to websites by people with disabilities. When sites are correctly designed, developed and edited, all users have equal access to information and functionality. Wikipedia entry for “Web Accessibility”

Why does accessibility matter (and why should you care)?

If you’re reading this site, chances are high you’re a WordPress user. Here’s a fun fact about the WordPress Foundation, the charitable organization behind WordPress. Their mission is: to democratize publishing through Open Source, GPL software. The mission of WordPress is to equalizing publishing for everyone.

(On a tangent, but still related, spend 5 minutes checking out Paul Clark’s lightening talk on How WordPress Saves Lives and Moves Governments)

If the purpose of WordPress is to make it possible for anyone to publish content, doesn’t it stand to reason that anyone should be able to consume that content? I won’t go into a long monologue about why making content accessible is just a good thing to do, but let’s just say it is.

And, if you’re not moved from the goodness of your heart (seriously, I rarely am), then consider this: Accessibility nets FANTASTIC results for business websites (that’s the topic of the last post in this series).

So, for now, just know that accessibility is a good thing with positive results for everyone.

Accessibility is a good thing, with positive results for everyone. #a11y Click To Tweet

How many accessible WordPress themes are there?

To be deemed “accessibility-ready” by WordPress (for some reason, I’m envisioning Patrick Stewart being Knighted), a certain set of standards must be met. You can view them here.

As of this writing, there are 3,007 themes in the WordPress theme repository. Thirty of them meet accessibility-ready requirements… less than 1%. Believe it or not, that’s a 100% increase in the number of accessibility-ready WordPress themes in the past 6 months.

As we say in the South, pickin’s are slim.

Even so, it’s encouraging to see such positive growth in a short period – that means developers like you are taking note and changing some habits.

How many accessible Genesis themes are there?

If you want to talk slim pickins, they get even slimmer when you niche down into accessible themes for the Genesis Framework. To my knowledge, there are two: Leiden (free theme based off of Genesis Sample theme) and Utility Pro (paid theme made by yours truly).

Note: If there are themes out there I’ve missed, please leave a comment as I’d love to include them here.

The bottom line? There’s a huge gap in the market for accessibility-ready themes, WordPress in general or Genesis specifically. If you’re a theme developer, there’s an opportunity for you in this arena. Please come over and play, I welcome competition (alternatives) in this space.

Stay With Me

I’d love for you to continue this series with me and learn more. I’ve found accessibility is not so much about willingness as it is about education.

Making the web accessible is not so much about willingness as it is about education. Click To Tweet

Check out the next post in this series: How to check a website for accessibility.

12 thoughts on “An Intro to Accessible WordPress Themes”

  1. Definitely starting to look into accessibility for themes. For whatever reason, it was always the last thing I thought about when building them. For TimberBit, though, I’m probably going to make it a standard feature.

  2. Hi Carrie, I will definately follow this series(actually, I follow all your posts anyway :-)). As from
    July 2014 accessibility is required for every new commercial website in Norway. But almost no information available about how to achieve this with WordPress. I’m so glad you are willing to share your knowledge. Thanks!

  3. I’m really looking forward to this series. (“Click here needs to die” – oh yes!) I’ve been banging on about accessibility for years but am constantly amazed by how little awareness is out there… and I know that I’m still learning myself. I’d never thought of themes being intrinsically accessible (or not) so thank you so much for sharing this!

  4. I love how the web delivers what I need exactly when I need it! I’ll be in touch about using your theme for an accessibility project.

    The issue is that the accessibility tag in WordPress is not monitored for accuracy. I looked at free themes and purchasable themes that specifically said they were accessible and found in many instances that the most basic element, the carousel or slider, did not have Pause/Stop controls.
    When I communicated with the developers about the issues that were immediately visible on these “accessible” themes I was almost met with hostility.

    Compliance with the WCAG2.0 guidelines, while open to a little interpretation, is pretty cut and dry. When we audit sites, website passes or fails each succes criteria.

    The thing for developers to note is that a theme, out of the box, might be accessible. But it’s what you do to it afterwards that can affect the accessibility conformance. So educating yourselves is key.

    Making WordPress themes accessible is actually one of the most important steps in ensuring that our economy continues to function believe it or not. WordPress enables millions of small (and not so small) business owners to have a web presence. With the rapidly aging population, increased numbers of people will experience a visual, audial, physical or cognitive impairment. They will increasingly rely on the digital economy for continued engagement with organisations.

  5. Hi Carrie. Basic WP seems to do it fairly well. But where it doesn’t it’s a lot of work to have to change.

    Also, accessibility not only means front end.

    There are a lot of people who need accessibility features to manage content. Some of them develop awesome skills and can create totally unexpected features, like graphics for example, yet stumble around with simple (for us) back end navigation.

    It’s something we should all think about more, and thanks Carrie for putting it on the agenda.

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