Here's wA11y, checking your WordPress accessibility

Wordpress powers 75 million websites and its plug in architecture encourages innovationWordPress is a website creation platform that powers a huge proportion of the internet - the current estimate is that 75 million websites use Wordpress which makes it the biggest platform on the web. Which makes it big news when a new accessibility checker comes along to make sure that as many of them as possible work for people with disabilities.

Making accessibility easier

The best time to get help with accessibility is when you are working on your web pages. Many people build their site then check for accessibility, when it's much easier to build it in from the start.

WordPress plugin developer Rachel Carden recently released wA11y - a new plugin that offers valuable feedback on the accessibility of your web pages BEFORE you publish them.

“One in five people have a disability,” says Carden. “If your site is not accessible, you could be excluding 20% of your potential users, customers, students, etc. You could be restricting your information from 20% of the world. If you place importance on web accessibility, you’re saying that you want your information, products, and services to be available to everyone. And not just those who can see, or who can hear, or can control a keyboard and mouse.”

“What’s more is that the basis of good accessibility is good markup, so by improving your website’s accessibility, you’re also improving its structure and SEO,” adds Carden.

The right tools for the job

Intended as a ‘toolbox’ of utilities and resources, it currently includes support for two well-known web accessibility evaluation tools: Tota11y and WAVE.

Tota11y

Totally logoCreated by Khan Academy, Tota11y is an accessibility visualization toolkit that makes it easy to see violations. Launched by clicking the glasses icon and loading as a single JavaScript file, it offers instant feedback for improving the site’s interaction with assistive technologies - such as magnification or screen-reading software used by people with a vision impairment.

Tota11y provides feedback for headings, contrast, link text, labels, image alt-text, landmarks, and also includes an experimental screen reader ‘wand’ that views elements as a screen reader would.

Running ‘real-time’ within your browser, Tota11y can even evaluate pages that have not yet been published.

Totally highlights accessibility issues on live pages

Wave

WAVE is a web accessibility evaluation toolThe WAVE evaluation tool is another useful aid to ensuring that your pages are accessible. Unlike Tota11y, however, it can only analyse pages from a live website and thus only works with publicly-accessible sites.

Wave is perhaps also less intuitive to use than Tota11y but still provides valuable feedback along with the ability to filter the evaluation by different accessibility standards: Full, Section 508, and WCAG 2.0 A and AA. WAVE also includes a code viewer for examining the page’s markup directly from the evaluation screen.

Of course neither tool will provide the full picture. No automated process can tell whether an image’s alternative text is appropriate, for example, or whether a particular instance of JavaScript will work with the full range of assistive technologies. Whatever the tools can check there will always remain the need for human input – and perhaps even the expert services from organisations such as AbilityNet.

Make your content freely available to everyone

Carden will continue to develop the wA11y toolbox of utilities to help WordPress users all over the world make their content more usable and accessible by as many users as possible. She looks forward to feedback and suggestions from users who have ideas for additional tools and functionality.

“You know that saying ‘Information wants to be free?'” says Carden. “I wholeheartedly believe that information needs to be accessible. And, in my experience, when people don’t place emphasis on accessibility it’s because they don’t realize its impact. But, once they do, they’re on board.”

Where's wA11y?

Download the tool for free from the wA11y WordPress.org plug-in page

Footnote – get your comments for WCAG2.1 in before 1 November

For just over a year now the Working Group have been inviting public feedback into the development of WCAG 2.1 which will help make the accessibility guidelines more relevant for mobile. Nearly a decade after their finalisation, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) remain as relevant today as they have ever been - perhaps even more so where the needs of those with a disability are arguably identical to the needs of every user in this mobile-first world.

For example, trying to use a small screen under the glare of the midday sun or one-handed as you walk down the street with a take-away coffee, you have exactly the same requirements as someone with a vision impairment or motor difficulty - exactly the same. However, this proliferation of devices with small screens and primarily touch-based interfaces has led to challenges making content that conforms to WCAG 2.0 accessible.

The next iteration of the guidelines is open for comment now. The deadline for submissions is looming (1 November) so be sure to get any feedback into the working group on time by emailing public-comments-wcag20@w3.org.

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