WordPress plugins can change how your website operates — typically, that’s why you want to install them in the first place. If you need to add a form or a video player on your WordPress site, you’ll probably look for a plugin before attempting to code your own solution.
But unfortunately, some plugins can alter your content in unpredictable ways and create accessibility barriers. Needless to say, you’ll want to avoid those issues if possible. Fortunately, WordPress is a fairly accessibility-friendly platform — and by following a few simple tips, you can reach a wider audience.
Why is WordPress accessibility important?
Every website has users with disabilities, and every content creator has a responsibility to provide those users with the best possible experience.
By testing your website for accessibility, you can fulfill that obligation (and enjoy the benefits of accessible design). You’ll also improve compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other laws, reducing your legal exposure.
And since accessible websites have a clear, consistent structure, you might enjoy enhanced search engine optimization (SEO) and higher customer retention rates.
However, even if you’ve followed all of the requirements in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) — considered the international standards for accessibility — a third-party plugin could compromise your efforts. Here’s how to prevent WordPress plugins from causing accessibility errors.
1. Consider how the plugin will affect the user experience
Before installing a plugin, think about how it will affect usability. Think about the experiences of your users and try to avoid making assumptions about their behavior.
This is a much easier process if you understand WCAG’s four core principles of digital accessibility: Content must be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. Read about these four principles and use them to ask questions when adding content.
For example, if you’re installing a video player plugin, you might ask:
- Is the plugin perceivable to all users, including people with vision or hearing disabilities? To make sure that the feature works for as many users as possible, you might look for a plugin that supports closed captions and audio description tracks.
- Is the plugin operable? What controls does the video player provide, and are those controls sufficient for all users?
- Will users understand how to operate the video player?
- Is the video player robust enough to work with different types of web browsers and assistive technologies?
Asking these questions can help you decide which features are most important for your audience.
2. Be aware of common WordPress plugin accessibility issues
Some WordPress plugins are more likely to create accessibility barriers than others. For example:
- Form plugins might introduce keyboard traps and other accessibility barriers. You’ll also need to set up your forms carefully to make sure you meet WCAG’s requirements for error messages, labels, and instructions.
- Many video player plugins have limited accessibility features and may not support captions or basic keyboard controls.
- Sliders (also known as product carousels), pop-ups, and other moving content might create issues for people who use screen readers and other assistive technologies (AT).
- Site builder plugins might introduce low-contrast text, which introduces accessibility issues for people with color vision deficiencies (CVD) and other vision issues.
If you’re looking for a plugin that changes your website’s presentation or introduces interactive elements, do your research. Look for developers who discuss accessibility and read the plugin’s documentation to make sure you set it up correctly.
3. Test your plugins thoroughly before publishing the changes
Even with research, you’ll need to test your website — ideally, before and after you’ve installed the plugin. Automated accessibility tests can be effective for finding keyboard traps and other common issues introduced by inaccessible plugins.
The Bureau of Internet Accessibility offers a free graded report that uses WCAG 2.1’s Level AA guidelines, which can provide an overview of your website’s current level of conformance.
You can also use tools like Google Lighthouse for a basic accessibility check, but remember that automated tests aren’t perfect — you should also manually audit your plugin for keyboard accessibility and screen reader accessibility.
4. Don’t rely on a plugin to make every accessibility improvement
You’ve tested your content and discovered that one of your plugins creates an accessibility issue. No problem — you’ll just install another plugin to fix the problem. Simple, right?
Not quite. In recent years, accessibility plugins have become a popular option for addressing certain barriers (for example, out-of-order subheadings or empty hyperlinks). Accessibility plugins can be helpful, especially on larger websites.
However, they can’t fix issues that require human judgment. For example:
- Automated tools can determine whether a form has labels, but might not indicate whether those labels are descriptive enough for human users.
- An accessibility plugin can identify images with missing alternative text (also called alt text), but can’t determine whether the alternative text is accurate.
- Depending on how your page is designed, automated tests may not be able to determine whether your website maintains appropriate color contrast for all elements.
Accessibility plugins can play a part in your remediation strategy, but they’re not sufficient for addressing every type of issue. In order to provide every user with the best possible experience, we recommend a hybrid strategy that combines automation with manual testing and remediation.
To create a long-term strategy for WCAG conformance, contact the Bureau of Internet Accessibility or get started with a free and confidential website analysis.