Getting ready to do accessibility reviews

The scope of this post is reviewing accessible themes submitted to Updated December 6 2017.

The accessibility-ready tag has been available in the theme directory for over 2 years. Themes that include the tag are not set live until the theme has had a full review plus an additional accessibility review.

While most agree that accessibility is important, the number of theme reviewers who are comfortable reviewing it is still very low; no more than 4 people at any one time.

Some of the reviewers are members of the accessibility team and their main focus is on improving the accessibility of WordPress as a whole, and they only have limited time to help out with theme reviews.

This means that:

  • The waiting time for accessible themes are even longer than for regular themes.
  • Author’s remove the tag because the waiting time is too long.
  • Authors submit accessible themes without adding the tag, so it becomes more difficult for users to find accessible themes.

I personally believe that the low number of reviewers is because of lack of confidence: Reviewers does not want to promise that a theme is accessible if they are not 100% sure.

So how can we encourage and make it easier for active reviewers to start reviewing accessibility (and usability)?

First of all I would like to assure you that:

  • It is not more difficult to do an accessibility review than to do a regular theme review.
  • It does not take longer than a regular review.
  • You do not need to test the theme with a screen reader.
  • The members of the theme review or accessibility team can help answer your questions.
  • The world will not end if you missed something during the review*.
  • The theme author is responsible for making the theme accessible, not the reviewer.

The requirements for using the accessibility-ready tag each have a section named “How to test” and suggestions of tools to use, so I could even argue that the accessibility requirements are easier to test than some of our other requirements.

You can literally open the accessibility requirements page, read the first requirement and start testing it simply by tabbing through the selected theme. -If you can’t see the focus, then the theme needs to be updated.

But it is important to remember that as with any part of the theme review, it becomes easier and much more valuable for you as a developer if you also have a basic understanding of why something is required. 

The accessibility requirements are based on a guideline from W3C called WCAG 2.0, or Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (I am sure that you have heard of this guideline before).

WCAG has 3 levels: A, AA, and AAA. The theme accessibility requirements mainly refer to level AA.

Even when we have a list of requirements, everything cannot be covered, and we need to use both our own judgement and our collective knowledge as a team. This is true for all kinds of reviews that we do. But in cases where the accessibility requirements does not cover everything, we don’t need to rely on trends or vague and varying “best practices”, instead, we can go back to read the WCAG.

I understand that trying to read and make sense of the official documents can feel overwhelming, and luckily for us, there are several other people who have recognized this and has written some helpful guides.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines—for People Who Haven’t Read Them

Mozilla: Understanding the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

How to do an assessment -From Duke University

The first thing to be aware of is that using an accessible WordPress theme does not automatically mean that a website is accessible, because the content must also be accessible. That a theme passes the review does not mean that the website is compliant with WCAG 2.0, or with the U.S section 508, which is sometimes believed.

Steps to get ready

I recommend the following steps to get ready to review accessible themes. If you need to skip a step, you can always save the resource and refer to it later.

  1. Read the WordPress accessibility coding standards.
  2. Read the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. 
  3. Visit and subscribe to the blog of the Accessibility team:
  4. Join the accessibility team channel on Slack (Please be respectful and remember that it is not a support channel).
  5. Read about the requirements, recommendations and review process for accessible themes.
  6. Take the WordPress accessibility course by Joe Dolson on Joe is a member of the accessibility team, a plugin and theme developer and the one who has done most of the accessibility theme reviews.
  7. Sign up for A11yweekly, a newsletter by David A Kennedy. It includes a section called “New to A11y” and has a lot of good tips and links to resources.  You can also find the previous issues here. David has helped us with accessibility reviews in the past and is one of the maintainers of the default WordPress themes.
  8. Read and learn from other reviews:
    1. All open tickets with the accessibility-ready tag are in a separate queue on Trac:
    2. You can read old reviews by listing accessible themes in the directory and using the Trac Tickets link on the themes page.
  9. Don’t forget to test and improve your own themes! Submit a theme with the accessibility-ready tag to go through the process yourself.

I also recommend the following videos on

Adrian Roselli: Selfish Accessibility

Rian Rietveld: The Accessibility-Ready Tag for Your Theme – Why and How

Rachel Cherry : Understanding and Supporting Web Accessibility

Graham Armfield: Designing for Accessibility

*-The process in case you happen to miss something during an accessibility review is the same as for any other requirement: If we find out that a live theme does not pass a requirement, the author will be notified in ticket and we will ask them to submit an update. If the problem is not solved, we can ask the author to remove the tag, and ultimately in a worst case scenario, the theme can be suspended from the directory.