Throughout the first half of this month, the WordPress Accessibility team has been working together with the Theme Review Team to discuss the possibility of requiring the accessibility-ready tag for themes hosted on WordPress.org. The team will need to create an official proposal to submit to the Theme Review Team in order to make this happen.
In preparation, the Accessibility team is increasing efforts to educate theme authors on accessibility best practices. Joe Dolson published a post with tips for making WordPress themes accessible, which includes basic instructions for making themes work with a keyboard, creating event triggers as accessible controls, and adding supporting text for images.
The Accessibility team also created a GitHub repository for sharing WordPress-specific code examples for accessibility and plans to add resources in the near future. The theme handbook and reviewer’s handbook will potentially need to be reworked in order to account for the new guidelines. “The goal is for those documents to explicitly correlate to the theme accessibility guidelines, so that theme authors have specific guidance on what to do to meet those requirements,” Dolson said at a recent meeting.
The Accessibility team hopes to announcing new guidelines for theme developers in April 2015, which would then be required as of November 2015. Once the guidelines are finalized for both required and recommended items, the Accessibility team will also need to train the Theme Review Team on reviewing for accessibility.
For most traditional WordPress sites, the active theme is the face of the website, and accessibility-ready themes undoubtedly improve the experience of WordPress for users with disabilities. However, making accessibility required for themes is a long and difficult path. The possibility of the requirement already has opposition among Theme Review Team administrators.
When we published about WordPress.org’s newest requirement for themes to be translation-ready, several readers chimed in on the comments to advocate for accessibility to be required. Justin Tadlock, a TRT admin, replied, “As an admin of TRT, full compliance with our current accessibility guidelines is something I’d fight to not make a requirement.
“Unfortunately, making a theme accessible can sometimes mean not respecting a designer’s artistic vision. This is particularly an issue with color contrasts. Anything that would hinder design decisions like this is not something I would support. That’s beyond the scope of what TRT’s role is.”
Even with more education for theme authors, additional guidelines pose another hurdle to overcome in the rigorous review process. Tadlock believes it would stifle submissions from new theme authors. “Requiring accessibility-ready themes would be such a huge barrier to entry for new theme authors that it would be detrimental to the system.”
The Accessibility team is highly motivated to push for this new requirement and is currently working on a precise proposal that will be voted on by the Theme Review Team. “The important thing with the proposal is clarity,” Dolson said, recognizing that it could be blocked if the two teams are unable to communicate effectively about the issues at stake. The decisions made in the first part of 2015 will determine the immediate future of theme accessibility in the WordPress.org Themes Directory.