New wA11y Plugin Scans WordPress Sites for Accessibility Issues

Last week WordPress plugin developer Rachel Carden released wA11y, a new plugin that offers comprehensive feedback on web accessibility issues. wA11y was created to provide a toolbox of resources for site owners and currently includes support for two well known web accessibility evaluation tools: Tota11y and WAVE.

“You know that saying ‘Information wants to be free?'” Carden said. “I wholeheartedly believe that information needs to be accessible. And, in my experience, when people don’t place emphasis on accessibility it’s because they don’t realize its impact. But, once they do, they’re on board.”

Carden said that she built the plugin because she knows that implementing accessible websites can be tough, even if website owners are already on board. wA11y was created to help site owners evaluate their progress as they make improvements.

“What’s more is that the basis of good accessibility is good markup, so by improving your website’s accessibility, you’re also improving its structure and SEO,” she said.

Once installed, wA11y’s settings page offers checkboxes for enabling the tools and identifies how each is best used. Tota11y, an accessibility visualization toolkit, was created by Khan Academy to make it easy to see violations. It also offers instant feedback for improving the site’s interaction with assistive technologies. It loads as a single JavaScript file and can even evaluate pages that have not yet been published. The tool is launched from the glasses icon on the frontend.

tota11y

Tota11y provides feedback for headings, contrast, link text, labels, image alt-text, landmarks, and also includes an experimental screen reader wand that views elements as a screen reader would.

The WAVE evaluation tool loads the page offsite, so it only works with publicly-accessible pages. It’s a bit less intuitive compared to Tota11y but still provides valuable feedback along with the ability to filter the evaluation by different accessibility standards: Full, Section 508, and WCAG 2.0 A and AA. WAVE also includes a code viewer for examining the page’s markup directly from the evaluation screen.

WAVE-tool

wA11y Plugin to be the Basis of a Broader Initiative to Improve Web Accessibility

With wA11y 1.0 released to the public, Carden said she looks forward to feedback and suggestions from users who have ideas for additional tools and functionality.

“The wA11y plugin is pretty simple right now, but what’s included, tota11y and WAVE, are amazing tools,” Carden said. “I’m already working on version 2.0, which will include a way for you to evaluate the status of your content’s accessibility while you’re editing.”

Carden is also in the early stages of building wA11y.org, a new initiative to contribute to web accessibility by providing information, education, resources, and tools. She said she hopes to bring together developers, writers, educators, and other web professionals who are passionate about accessibility. Together they will advocate for its importance and increase its visibility in education. Anyone interested in contributing can subscribe at wA11y.org.

“Data shows 1 in 5 people have a disability,” Carden said. “If your site is not accessible, you could be excluding 20% of your potential users, customers, students, etc. You could be restricting your information from 20% of the world. If you place importance on web accessibility, you’re saying that you want your information, products, and services to be available to everyone. And not just those who can see, or who can hear, or can control a keyboard and mouse.”

Carden will be bringing her passion for accessibility to WordCamp L.A. next month and will be presenting on “Tools and Techniques for Evaluating Accessibility.” She hopes to connect with others who are interested in supporting the wA11y initiative.

After testing wA11y, I was amazed by how much instant feedback is available for improving accessibility, even when testing a vanilla WordPress site with the Twenty Fifteen default theme. wA11y makes it easy for the average WordPress site owner to perform an accessibility checkup and make a list of improvements. Both tools are convenient to access and don’t require any major configuration beyond checking a box. wA11y is available for free from WordPress.org.

5 Comments


  1. Very nice to see tools like this available within wordpress to help make identifying accessibility issues easier.

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  2. So great! Would love to see this in combination with the Theme Check plugin so Theme Authors are shipping #wa11y compliant themes.

    Thanks Rachel!

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    1. @Robert – a11y is written that way for two reasons – it follows a development practice of abbreviating long terms to save space ( a + 11 other letters + y) and pointing out why accessibility matters (1’s and l’s can look deceptively similar).

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      1. I understand how the abbreviation works. It just seems ironic to me that unless you’re in the know, it’s utterly opaque.

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