Guidelines on Making Websites Accessible (for Persons with Disabilities)

This week, I started creating a WordPress theme for our website, and in doing so, spent a lot of time reading on making a website accessible for persons with disabilities. While we do have legislation stating that all university websites need to be accessible by next year (?) (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)), our university and library take pride in being accessible. For some reason though, our website is not all that accessible.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

Now on version 2.0, most government and public organizations are being held accountable in being compliant with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The guidelines divides up the requirements into three levels: A, AA, AAA. While the guidelines themselves are a little hard to decipher, w3 provides a customizable quick reference to break the guidelines down into a more readable document.

The Design

When it comes to the general design of the website, it’s actually fairly simple.

  • Order and use of elements should make sense even in text only (1.3)
  • Minimum contrast (1.4.3)
  • Text resize up to 200% in the browser without lost functionality (1.4.4)
  • Keyboard accessible and easy to navigate (2.1, 2.4.1, 2.4.5) – have different ways to get to your content
  • Make your site predictable (3.2)
  • Provide error identification, suggestions, and instructions (3.3)
  • Make it compatible with assistive technologies (4.1)

The bottom line: your website should work (and make sense) even without JavaScript and CSS, and in text-only mode.

The Difficult Part: Making A/V Content Accessible

I don’t think a lot of people realize that designing a website to be accessible is not the hard part. The hard part in an organization is making sure that the content posted on the website is accessible. In particular, audio/visual elements should have text alternatives, whether that be closed captions, alt text or transcripts.

In order to ensure that content is also accessible, web developers need to work with other staff whether inside their own department or in the greater institution to educate staff who are creating content, because even something as simple as images need text alternatives.

At a college or university, best to contact the accessibility centre/unit on campus to work with them. They might already have the tools or know-how to make a/v content accessible.

Making a WordPress Accessible Theme

So, why reinvent the wheel? That’s what I thought anyway, but there are some issues with using an existing theme and modifying it. I wanted one that was in HTML5/CSS3, and then I later discovered that it should also be using the WordPress Settings API (which was difficult because it was only added in 2.7 so not everyone is using it).

Long story short, I didn’t find any, but then in looking through the files, it turns out the built-in/sample WordPress theme TwentyEleven fits all of these requirements! They do not tout that the theme is accessible, but many of the elements are present in the theme.

I will be posting more once the theme is done (or mostly done anyway) with more details on any changes I will have to make, but I’m thinking they will be very few if any.

A Few Tools

You can find a rather extensive list of tools for evaluating accessibility on the w3c website, but one of the most useful I found was: WAVE, which provides different views of a webpage with alerts and errors (there is also a browser plugin version). There are also a number of good colour contrast checkers browser plugins.

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