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How To Improve the Accessibility of Your WordPress Site

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The last year has been one of increased eCommerce, with businesses moving most of their operations online in order to survive lockdowns. As we emerge from the pandemic, you should still be looking for ways to scale your online business and continue to grow. And this means always striving to provide the best user experience possible.

Accessibility is a crucial part of UX design, helping businesses reach more people and show their customers that they’re prioritizing their needs. In this article, we’ll offer some things to look out for when optimizing your site accessibility and tools you can use to make the process easier.

Why Prioritize Accessibility?

User experience is one of the more challenging aspects of web design for developers to master because it involves so many nuanced, often subjective factors. Issues like slow site load times and unintuitive navigation are annoying enough for users, but if someone can’t even read or click on your content, you have a bigger problem. 

Accessibility is an important part of any website audit for both the intrinsic value of inclusivity and the impacts on your bottom line. By prioritizing accessible content and layouts, you ensure that users with physical and intellectual disabilities, elderly users, etc. are not precluded from engaging with your content. 

Accessibility also intersects with other design strategies like mobile optimization, multimodal interaction, and search engine optimization (SEO). Multimodal interaction is a big trend lately with the rise of voice assistants like Alexa, and SEO experts are focusing on voice queries as well as written ones in their efforts to appear at the top of SERPs. There’s no doubt that accessible sites perform better in Google rankings, so an accessibility audit will help boost your web traffic and increase your range of prospective customers. 

As you prepare to conduct a website audit, consider hiring a freelance web developer to help you. You can expect to pay a front-end developer from $40 to $80 per hour for junior or intermediate candidates, so hiring a freelancer can be a good way to save money instead of hiring full-time staff. Look for developers who have experience working on on-site accessibility projects before to make the transition as seamless as possible.

Key Accessibility Considerations

Accessibility should not simply be a requirement, but rather a design trend to improve user experience and help you reach more people. This is not an exhaustive list of accessibility considerations, but here are a few big ones.

Cater to Visual or Auditory Impairments

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You should provide transcripts for any audio content and closed captioning for any video content to serve the needs of users who can not hear or read the content. Closed captioning is important both in terms of catering to users with auditory impairments and for ease of use, such as if someone is watching a video without headphones or in a crowded location. Transcripts will help people who can’t hear the audio, and they also make it easier for search engines to index your content, which helps with rankings.

Additionally, you should never rely on color as the sole way to differentiate things on a web page, since almost 10% of the population is color blind. And, your fonts should be sufficiently large and contrasted from the background to make them easier to read. 

Make Mobile Interfaces Physically Accessible

Accessibility isn’t just about reading or listening to content but interacting with it as well. This is particularly important with the prevalence of touch mouse pads and touchscreens on mobile devices. Mobile accessibility can cause major UX issues and even have legal implications if not carried out properly. 

As a good rule of thumb, no clickable area should be smaller than 40×40 pts, as this will provide barriers for people with limited mobility or those using assistance tools. You should also avoid ​​functionality dependent upon complex gestures like repeated button clicks or multi-finger swiping. If gesture-based interactions are absolutely necessary, provide alternatives for less-abled users. For example, if a pinching motion is used to zoom, consider adding buttons that also zoom in and out. 

Be Equipped for a Screen Reader

Combining the two above, you should ensure your site can be navigated with a screen reader. Screen readers are important for multiple types of accessibility, including visual impairments, learning disabilities, non-native English speakers, elderly users, etc. This technology reads the page for the user, letting them navigate directly to different sections. For this reason, it is important to provide appropriate HTML tags, such as <alt> tags for images. 

Also, your web page should not rely on an on-screen navbar. With a screen reader, the user should be able to navigate the page with only the keyboard or mouse, for example, hitting Tab to advance to the next section without having to interact with the on-screen elements. Navigation can also be optimized to work with voice control systems for easier use. 

Tools to Make Your Site More Accessible

Now that you know some of the basics to look out for, let’s see how to implement accessibility standards in practice. 

Choose accessible themes

One of the easiest ways to make your WordPress site more accessible is to use only WP themes approved for accessibility. As you peruse the Themes menu, you can filter the directory. Under ‘Features’, look for ‘Accessibility Ready’, and stick to those options. There are many factors that go into verifying the accessibility of themes, so developers can consult the handbook to see what makes a page accessible if you want to learn more about the specifics. 

In order to build an accessible website, you must also ensure all aspects of your site work together to provide a user-friendly experience. According to industry expert Alex Williams of Hosting Data, you will need a hosting platform that’s optimized for WordPress in order to bring all the pieces together. 

 “SiteGround has a long-standing reputation and alliance with the WordPress community, and takes a participative role,” says Williams. “They’re one of only three web hosts who come recommended by WordPress.org.” 

As Williams also notes, Bluehost and DreamHost are the two other WP-recommended hosts.

Make use of free plugins

If you’re not making use of pre-made themes, you will need to implement some accessibility checks yourself. Fortunately, there are plenty of WP plugins to help with UX in general, and accessibility specifically.

WP Accessibility is one such plugin, which offers accessibility enhancements without having to write any code. This plugin can enable and disable features via a settings menu, making it very easy to use. For another simple choice, One-Click Accessibility allows you to effortlessly resize fonts, adjust contrast, link to a sitemap, etc. There are plenty of other plugin options as well, but some of them aren’t free, so keep that in mind when choosing.  

Do an automatic audit

Instead of wading through accessibility handbooks to check that your site meets the mark, you can use automated checkers to do it for you. Look for free options that scan your content for violations of accessibility standards. 

Accessibility Checker by Equalize Digital is one good choice. It provides real-time warnings about your content so you always know whether your new posts are accessible (and where the issue is, if not). Tota11y by Khan Academy is another option. It’s a simple JS file to add to your site for click-and-view auditing of accessibility violations. 

Conclusion

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The eCommerce market is more competitive than ever, and for your business to thrive, you can’t afford to make mistakes with user experience design. Accessibility is a critical consideration to make sure all users feel included, and it will give your site a boost in terms of web traffic and SEO. Use these tips and tools to help make your site accessible and widen the net to reel in prospective customers. 

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