Website administrators are slowly becoming more aware that ADA compliance is a requirement, not an option. But where do you start?

WordPress, as a platform, offers a large number of plugins to help report on what needs fixing from a technological standpoint; but it doesn’t do much of the under-the-hood optimization that your disabled users are more likely to need. Bringing your WordPress theme and plugins in line with accessibility standards can improve experiences for visitors, offer better usability for all, and establish brand loyalty. Continue reading to learn how to make your WordPress website compliant with ADA guidelines.

Improving your WordPress site’s accessibility

In order to become compliant, your website will require updates to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act Title III; which more or less means making sure that your website is accessible to all users. Because there is no legal standard for ADA, we default to WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) 2.1 guidelines, combined with strategic planning and common sense for who is using your site and how they are using it.

WordPress, itself, is a highly-configurable tool for content management; but if your visitors can’t interact with your website or if certain areas of the site offer more challenges to disabled people than help, you may want to continue reading. Limiting access to content by disabled people is, in effect, a violation of Title III of the Act.

Making your WordPress website ADA compliant

Your WordPress theme houses your template code and most of the markup for your website. This is the majority of where your work will be if you’re using a custom theme and needing to make accessibility updates. ADA compliance is all about how things happen in the browser for the other person, and your theme is a huge part of that.

You aren’t done at launch

One of the biggest benefits of WordPress is that it allows people of all skill levels to edit their own sites. Unfortunately, that generally means your compliance score will likely go down over time. Regular testing and maintenance are required to keep a site in compliance.

See our previous article about this.

Major areas of focus for your theme

  • The developer should use proper, semantic HTML elements for controls. Examples of these include <input>, <a> and <button>
  • Navigating through menus can be complicated for someone who is disabled. Create ways on your website that allow for navigation of the website without a mouse.
  • Offer links that allow a user to skip directly to what they want; bypassing navigation funnels and other large-content issues in your website.
  • Make sure your web forms all include the appropriate field labels and markup.
  • Ensure that your HTML heading organization is appropriately used. They should follow a hierarchical structure and not skip levels within the hierarchy. An example of this would be to not place an <h4>after an <h2>. The correct element to follow would be an <h3>
  • Ensure that all images have alternative text for people that cannot see the images depicted.
  • One of the major issues we’ve seen is the need for content scaling of up to 200% for people with visual disabilities. This requires some unusual testing of your site with extreme zoom on desktop and phones.

Be more particular of your plugins than usual

For any plugins that modify the experience on the front end, of your site, new markup is being sent to the browser to add whatever element or widget is being added to your website. If those plugin developers haven’t accounted for accessibility and ADA compliance in their plugin, those elements on your website could be working you away from your goal. Take care and use caution in what you’re putting onto your website.

When considering to include a new plugin, wonder the following:

  • Does the developer claim that their plugin has been crafted with accessibility in mind?
  • Is there a demo you can check out for yourself before purchasing?
  • Is the plugin current and recently updated?
  • How responsive is the plugin developer to inquiries to change the plugin if accessibility is not met?

WordPress plugins that can help you achieve ADA compliance

Some plugins are all about helping. And while the majority of them don’t report on 100% of the ADA problems with your WordPress site, they’re still quite helpful in some cases.

Here are a few of the well-known WordPress plugins that help with accessibility and get you closer to ADA compliance:

  • WP ADA Compliance Check Basic
  • Accessibility Widget
  • One Click Accessibility
  • WP Accessibility Tools & Missing Alt Text Finder
  • WP Accessibility
  • WP Accessibility Helper (WAH)
  • ResponsiveVoice Text To Speech
  • Accessibility Suite by Online ADA

How can I test for ADA compliance?

In addition to whatever work you do in planning and building your site, testing is a must. There are a number of solutions available for testing your website for accessibility compliance. A few of them include:

  • WAVE Web Accessibility Tool is a suite of evaluation tools that helps authors make their web content more accessible to individuals with disabilities. WAVE can identify many accessibility and Web Content Accessibility Guideline (WCAG) errors, but also facilitates human evaluation of web content.
  • Lighthouse by Google can help generate a report on potential issues.
  • Contrast Ratio can help you test contrast ratio
  • Popular screen readers:
    • NVDA (Windows)
      Serotek System Access (Windows)
      Apple VoiceOver (OS X)
      ORCA (Linux)
      BRLTTY (Linux)
      Emacspeak (Linux)
      WebAnywhere (all OS’s and web browsers)
      Spoken Web (Internet Explorer)
      ChromeVox (Google Chrome)
      ChromeVis (Google Chrome)
  • Manual testing with keyboard-only navigation isn’t a bad idea.
  • Consider a usability test, ideally with affected populations (see our work with NWABA)
  • One of the major issues we’ve seen is the need for content scaling of up to 200% for people with visual disabilities. This requires some unusual testing of your site with extreme zoom on desktop and phones.

For the most part, the automated testing tools will catch many issues to be fixed by a web developer or content author. However, manual testing is often still going to be required for the majority of all websites you’re attempting to optimize if you want to ensure you are meeting ADA requirements. At the end of the day, it helps to pause and think about how a disabled person might interact with your website. Are there any places on your website that a disabled visitor cannot get to? Is there a feature that they aren’t able to interact with? Can they consume all of your content?


While tools have continued to improve, ADA compliance is still challenging to implement and maintain in the real world.

Ultimately you have to remember that ADA isn’t something where you can use a one and done solution. The standards of ADA compliance are constantly changing, and you need to stay up to date with the latest guidelines.

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