On December 12th, 2013, WordPress 3.8 was released. With that release, the accessibility-ready tag was added to the WordPress theme repository. This addition was the result of over a year of planning and organization to make sure that we had buy-in from the WordPress theme review team, a set of guidelines to follow that the WordPress accessibility team could get behind, without creating demands on theme developers that would make conformance impractical.

It’s been one year today since finding WordPress themes for accessibility came available: how’s it been going? What’s happened during the last year of theme development?

In the beginning

Number of themes available: none.

The accessibility ready theme review process got off to a rough start. The process to figure out how to track whether themes needed the review and make sure that the theme review team was actively watching for the tag wasn’t easy. With some customizations to the themes system (courtesy of Otto), reviews got automatic tagging, and the process started to fall together.

It’s never 100% accurate to say that there were no accessible themes available, but there weren’t any that had gone through anything resembling an official process, so that’s what I’m counting.

Developing a process

Number of themes available: 14 but there are problems!

Still, every once in a while a theme would slip through the process – going live without getting reviewed. In June, we concluded that it was necessary to have a way to handle these live themes that failed to meet the accessibility-ready requirements.

We came up with a policy to provide theme authors with 72 hours to rectify the situation – either by uploading a new version without the accessibility-ready tag or by beginning the process to meet the accessibility requirements. If this didn’t happen, the themes would be suspended from the directory – and this is the standing policy for accessibility-ready themes that don’t meet the requirements but are live in the directory.

Buzz about theme accessibility

Number of themes available: 11 – now they’re legitimate!

On June 18th, WP Tavern published an interview with Morten Rand-Hendriksen about the essential suck factor in the accessibility of WordPress themes, following up from an earlier article by Morten. These articles did a lot to raise the profile of accessibility in WordPress themes.

Morten himself published Simone, his own accessible WordPress theme, which was approved by the WordPress theme review team on May 9th, 2014.

In June, I gave a talk on building accessible WordPress themes at WordCamp Chicago. In that talk, I demonstrated my own accessible theme project, which is focused on my own accessible WordPress theme, Universal, while also providing a direct comparison child theme Inaccessible Twin Cities designed specifically to demonstrate the differences between an accessible and inaccessible experience with a theme.

Release of WordPress 4.0

Number of themes available: 14

With the release of WordPress 4.0 on September 4, 2014, I updated the accessibility review guidelines to better reflect the issues actually encountered in theme reviews. These new guidelines provided improved guidance for theme authors, examples of best practice choices, and included a differentiation between required and recommended accessibility practices.

Accessibility-ready featured on Themes homepage

In the month of October, Morten Rand-Hendriksen’s theme ‘Simone’ was one of the 15 themes featured on the front page of the WordPress.org Themes directory. This is a huge boost for usage of any theme, so it’s a huge opportunity to bring an accessible theme to a larger audience. (For full disclosure, I nominated the theme to be featured, so this wasn’t without influence from the accessibility team.)

WordCamp San Francisco 2014 & the WordPress Community Summit

Number of themes available: 15

Accessibility was prominent at WordCamp San Francisco in 2014. Two members of the accessibility team spoke on web accessibility topics (myself, on coding best practices, and Joseph O’Connor, on user experiences with WordPress.) In addition, Morten Rand-Hendriksen addressed accessibility in his talk, and several tracks in the community summit discussed issues surrounding WordPress themes, plug-ins, and the accessibility of WordPress events and WordPress.tv. All in all, it was a productive week!

Coming up with a roadmap for Theme Accessibility

Number of themes available: 18

Coming out of the WordPress community summit in San Francisco was wild goal: to require all WordPress themes hosted in the WordPress repository to meet accessibility requirements. It’s a wild and crazy idea, and there’s a lot of work ahead to get there – but we’re pushing the idea forward. We’ve published an initial roadmap, and met to discuss the issues. The kick off is now!

Zero to 18 in just 12 months. It may not sound like much of an accomplishment, but that’s 18 ready-made options for meeting accessibility standards that didn’t exist a year ago – the improvement is infinite.