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WordPress accessibility and beyond 🚦

Being around WordPress accessibility is a tough job.

We all remember how Rian Rietveld retired from the WordPress accessibility team in 2018 because of the accessibility ignorance in Gutenberg.

As of today, Gutenberg and WordPress are still far from being perfect for people with disabilities.

Yet, it is fair to say, that none of the popular WordPress page builders will help you either.

Accessibility requires time and resources. A privilege that WordPress page builders don't have due to the race for new features and Gutenberg. 

It all comes down to the sad truth that web creation in WordPress is not for everyone. But we already knew that.

While things will hopefully change in the future. There is another side of the coin that affects even more people.

Sites created with WordPress. How accessible they really are? 

My name is Raitis Sevelis and I work as a product manager at Visual Composer. In my free time, I enjoy doing research on WordPress plugins and businesses around them.

Today, I want to look into WordPress accessibility and how WordPress plugins handle it.

WordPress core accessibility 👮‍♀️👮‍♂️

WordPress can be proud of having a dedicated accessibility team. Something that is almost exclusive if we look into other content management platforms. 

The goal is simple - make WordPress accessible for as many people as possible. But what instruments do they have to make it happen?

The accessibility handbook of WordPress lists multiple tasks handled by the team:

  • Providing support
  • Contribute to documentation
  • Communicate accessibility issues (talks, meetups, etc.)
  • Develop standards for themes
  • Run tests and audits
  • Extend WordPress with accessibility plugins

Overall, it all looks good. And, if you install WordPress and pick a theme that passed the accessibility audit, you will have a fully accessible website.

Still, there is a catch.

Your site rarely consists of a WordPress theme alone.

WordPress plugins and accessibility

An average WordPress site has around 15 plugins installed. This means there is a high probability that some of your output will be affected.

raccoon helping GIF

If we look into the page builder market, the vast majority name themselves as accessibility-friendly.

To be honest, I haven't tested all page builders on the market, but that's not the point. Let's imagine that all page builders are in compliance with accessibility standards.

Problem solved? Not really.

People love to extend page builders with add-ons that give them additional content elements. The same applies to Gutenberg, there are tons of plugins offering blocks.

This is where things get ugly.

A massive 90% of all major add-ons are not able to pass the Google Core Web Vitals test for accessibility.

The numbers, for those who fail, vary between 68 and 92 which is not bad. At the same time, it leaves room for your site not to be fully accessible.

Plus, we are talking about demo sites which are usually polished for higher scores. Give these plugins to a novice user and you will see numbers sinking.

WordPress plugin ranking for accessibility

With all of the above, no matter how good WordPress accessibility is, a wrong choice of plugins can ruin your site.

Things need to change. ⏰

Unfortunately, asking plugin authors to introduce accessibility does not work. See the part where I talk about time and resources.

This is why a more drastic approach may be needed.

Recently, I spend time looking into the publicly available trunk of WordPress.org with a focus on the plugin search algorithm.

And this is when it hit me.

As you know, there are several factors that the search algorithm takes into account when it comes to plugin search. Apart from obvious keywords in titles, descriptions, and so on, there are more:

  • Last update
  • Compatibility with WordPress versions
  • Number of active installs
  • % of resolved support issues
  • Average ranking

What if accessibility would be added as a ranking factor for plugins? What if it would allow to sort out the plugins that have passed the accessibility tests?

Such an approach would be a powerful trigger for any WordPress plugin author to think twice.

Of course, the process of accessibility tests and if they can be automated is a topic to discuss. At the same time, with WordPress plugins being at the core of the content generation, this feels like an interesting approach.

Conclusions

Accessibility has always been a fragile topic and WordPress is no exception.

We tend to postpone addressing accessibility issues the way it happened to Gutenberg and many other plugins.

What are your thoughts on WordPress accessibility? Join the discussion and share your thoughts on how to make WordPress available for as many people as possible.

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