"Love All, Serve All" is one of Tom Woodward's signature WordPress Multisite mantras. In order to live up to this mantra, accessibility needs to be at the forefront of our considerations when configuring an efficient and successful WPMS.
What's considered "accessible"?
Most institutions will be using WCAG 2.0 as the standard for accessibility. Take some time to familiarize yourself with this resource; it is extremely thorough and is a great standard.
In its most basic sense, accessibility, in a web context, refers to making web programs and projects more usable for people with disabilities. But, for those of us who ascribe to the notion of universal design, we know that accessible standards and principles are key to creating a better digital environment for everyone, regardless of their abilities.
While there are plenty of resources already out there on this topic, this guide will help walk you through these considerations in a Reclaim-hosted WPMS context.
Top accessibility considerations
There are several things you should take into consideration when approaching accessibility in your WPMS. From the more practical, directly applicable steps like assessing WordPress themes, WordPress plugins, and external tools, to the more strategic method of planning general education around accessibility concepts, this next section will prime you for tackling these considerations.
Use themes which meet the WordPress accessibility-ready benchmarks. You can easily search for themes that are ready to go in this regard by filtering the WordPress.org themes page by the "Accessibility Ready" category. You can read more about what WordPress considers when evaluating themes for accessibility readiness in their handbook under the Accessibility section of the "Review Process" chapter.
While using an accessibility-ready theme alone doesn't guarantee that your multisite will be fully accessible and up to the WCAG standard, it can provide you with a solid foundation to start.
Plugins are always a tempting solution to any WordPress need you might have, as there are so many out there. That being said, it's important to approach plugins with caution. As many WPMS admins are aware, plugins can be the #1 cause of your biggest headaches, and taking a minimalist approach to them is always advisable.
There are really two ways that you can think about plugins when it comes to accessibility: 1) reviewing the plugins themselves in terms of accessibility concerns and 2) using plugins as a solution for accessibility needs.
Reviewing a plugin for accessibility generally would consist of looking at the content it produces and making sure there is correct HTML nesting, color contrast, and so on.
Using plugins as a solution for accessibility is possible, but it’s important to choose the right one. One plugin that we have heard people have some success with in this area is the WP Accessibility plugin. Themes alone won't always optimize your site for accessibility, so a plugin like this could help you reinforce accessibility in a relatively hands-off way while your team bolsters its expertise, or works to streamline accessibility configuration.
Choose a tool or tools to help you evaluate accessibility outside of WordPress. There are a variety of browser-based options and paid services that will help you assess your sites:
- WAVE: "a suite of evaluation tools that helps authors make their web content more accessible to individuals with disabilities."
- Different browsers have built in tools or extensions, such as Chrome's Accessibility Extensions or Firefox's Accessibility Extensions.
- Your institution may pay for Siteimprove or a similar service which will scan your site and generate a report.
Consider what resources you want to provide your faculty and students around accessibility education. Consider also the knowledge level of your team and how you want to progress. Do you have someone with expertise in accessibility you can utilize? Or is this something your team is still learning and exploring yourselves? If so, don't reinvent the wheel; there are places you can point people to!
Here are some example resource sites for students/faculty:
- Web Accessibility Quick Guide | VCU
- Electronic Accessibility | SUNY Oneonta – SUNY Oneonta’s Accessibility guidelines aren’t specific to WordPress, and instead focus on 5 basic principles of accessibility:
- Identify content types
- Provide text equivalents to multimedia content
- Use color carefully
- Provide descriptive hyperlinks
- Use clear language
While this is by no means an exhaustive guide on accessibility in WPMS, it will hopefully get you thinking along the right lines, and provide you with some strong places to start.