WAVE goodbye to accessibility errors. Maybe.

WAVE tool test report
We put a string of our own and client sites through the WAVE Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool (WAVE) tool. It got ugly.

As we saw from the results, the combination of platform, theme, plugins and hosting plan makes a huge difference to the accessibility of each site and also determines what you can and can't fix.

Looking over our results table, we concluded:

Blogger's older themes get a D-minus, must try harder. The newer themes rate better but are far from perfect - more on this when we look at our re-run of the tests.

WordPress.com gets a solid B, needs more work. Full customisation is in the paid plans, so the free templates are more or less untouchable beyond some basic skinning that may or may not achieve any benefit.

Neither Blogger nor WordPress.com allow you the kind of access to code that will let you 'fix' markup 'errors' and 'alerts' (basically poor practice), such as redundant links and 'duplicate' links, as examples. Either of template layout, the rules for meta data and linking, or both can dictate the kind of markup for which WAVE find fault.

WordPress self-hosted results vary widely according to the theme deployed and how far you mess with it. A careless or over-zealous site admin can always wreck just about anything the theme developers can code. The question is, how compliant was that code to begin with? And how much can a non-developer do to fix it? The combination of WordPress platform, the theme and additional plugins is nothing less than a miracle of workable code that you mess with at your peril.

In trying to produce something that looks attractive and has accessibility, I messed with one of our templates. I broke it. I re-instated it. I persevered. I haven't yet dared re-run the test.

What can we do about it?

Contrast errors can always be fixed with the right colour scheme - if you have access to change it. Accent colours can be one thing, in-built colour changes for menus, links, hover and visited states can be well away from sticky fingers.

Overlaps, layered content and hidden content that springs out the hedge in front of the screen-reader bus are often impossible to unpick.

Markup 'errors' may be beyond your capability even when you have full edit access.- These may be in the DNA of the code and fixing someone else's PHP is not in most people's skill set.

So what do you do?

Try to change the template in the hope that some of the others have a better accessibility report? How to we know without trying them? Ask Blogger? Ask Automattic? Ask every one-man band developer and software house? Who do you ask? Do they even keep that information on record?

Switch to a paid theme in the hope that it's better? Some templates are peddled as accessibility-friendly. You can always WAVE-test the demo version to find out if it's as good as the developers say it is. But the workload is all on you.

Supposing you do get a triple-AAA rated template. how far can you customise it for branding, layout and content before you do more harm than good?

The current state of most platforms is there is no legal enforcement of the accessibility legislation, therefore no technical validation to stop you butchering whatever templates and layouts you're using. The standards are like the Pirate Code - not rules exactly, more like guidelines. RC