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Design for Accessibility is a PITA

Posted in AX Accessibility

I strive to build web sites that pass the most basic accessibility guidelines because ethically this is the right choice for the best user experience for every visitor.

But, the reality is that with the ease of tossing up a website theme in WordPress, or any CMS (Content Management System), the whole idea takes a back seat to conversions, digital marketing and finding the best plug-ins. And let’s not forget mobile.

I’ve been auditing web sites since 2001 or somewhere in there. When I was starting out I partnered with SEO’s like Jill Whalen and Christine Churchill who provided site audits for their search engine marketing clients.  They were strong supporters of usability during the years when UX was considered taboo by SEO’s. Knowing the advantages of adding usability heuristics to audits, they sub-contracted me for that and I added several accessibility checkpoints as part of the audit.

Today, with the spike in accessibility lawsuits by people who try to use web sites and are unable to, accessibility can no longer be ignored. But it is, because marketing, mobile and application development are hotter.  And accessibility is said to be “so hard to do.”

Themes and Plugins for Accessibility

The guidelines for accessibility were updated this year to WCAG2.1.  Most accessibility testing tools are not updated yet but I went and created my own test plan with all the updates and new rules.  The spreadsheet is huge. Of the over 130 checkpoints I have to apply for accessibility testing, only about 10 are desired by the companies who hire me for audits. They simply have no idea what they need to do and they don’t have the skilled staff to implement the code.   Compounding this are software applications in the financial, educational and government verticals that may or must meet standards, from WCAG2.1 to the new Section 508 Refresh, and you have companies that are sitting ducks for lawsuit hungry ADA lawyers.

The only way to know if your web property is not at risk for lawsuits, or angry tales of woe on the Web by disgruntled customers, is to have the site audited and tested.  Yet, even with this, most companies don’t have anyone to implement the needed repairs.

If you want to take a stab at D.I.Y. for accessibility and you are using WordPress, search for “accessibility ready” themes. The one I use for this website was one of the easiest and fastest for me to set up. It is called “Unlimited”.

I installed a plug-in built by my friend, Joe Dolson, a volunteer for WordPress who helps makes the software accessibility compliant. He offers a free plug-in that provides a menu of settings that increases the accessibility user experience. It is called WP Accessibility.  

While the only way for 100% accuracy is to burrow into source code and learning accessibility guidelines, ARIA, and more, it’s a relief to know that some of heavy lifting can be handled quickly with a little help and the right themes and tools.


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