Tag Archive for: WordPress

Websites and ADA Compliance

Accessibility is almost routine in public life. Handicapped parking, wheelchair ramps, curb cuts, accessible bathrooms, and Braille signage are in public places and many private ones, too, thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Wheelchair ramp along a wall

Photo: Andrzej Rembowski/Pixabay

Of course, there were no websites back then. It wasn’t until 2008 that new legislation was added to the ADA to instruct them to adopt accessibility tools.

But ADA compliance is far from a reality for most websites – even those owned by government agencies.

Many Websites are Required to be ADA-Compliant but…

Your website should be ADA-compliant do if it represents a government or receives funding from a government, according to AudioEye, a business with the goal of “eradicating every barrier to digital access.”

The reality, though, is that this hasn’t happened everywhere. A 2021 article in WP Tavern detailed how Colorado became the first state to require state and local websites to be ADA-compliant. Clearly, states haven’t been focused on this, which is a little surprising considering how many offices closed during the COVID-19 pandemic and still require people to go online to access services including, ironically, disability support.

Each agency in Colorado was instructed to submit an accessibility plan by July 1, 2022, and be fully compliant with the ADA by July 1, 2024. Those agencies that don’t meet the latter goal can be sued by a person with a disability for a $3500 fine.

Does that sound disturbing? Sometimes it’s the only way to get compliance going.

President Biden had WhiteHouse.gov relaunched to be compatible with current ADA standards according to its accessibility statement. His predecessor declined to enforce ADA deadlines ad even withdrew guidance. That action has been reversed.

ADA-Compliant Websites are Better for Everyone

Why would I say this? It’s simple:  we all will eventually need some kind of support as we age.

We will all need some kind of support as we age. We can thank ADA for taking us there.

Let’s at least agree to make these steps a normal practice for websites:

  • Add tools that enlarge fonts or allow a black/white contrast
  • Add alt text to images that are read out loud on screen readers
low vision magnifier for reading text

Photo: bspence81 /Pixabay

These are pretty minimal steps, and it’s worth noting that search engines read alt text to understand images, which adds a little bit more SEO muscle to your website.

Many people with low vision use magnifiers to read newspapers and magazines. And guess what: taken as a whole, people with disabilities and their families and friends are potential customers. They work, buy stuff, go out to eat, and enjoy the same entertainment as the rest of us.

Why lose an opportunity for more sales?

These Tools Can Help You Get Your Website Moving Toward ADA Compliance

If you use WordPress, your site probably isn’t compliant but a few hours of your time can bring it closer to the goal. It’s relatively easy to improve accessibility for people with visual disabilities, if not actually meet ADA compliance goals.

A Google search for “ADA website tools” will identify articles, tools, and experts to help you understand what to do to make your site more accessible.

I’m a small business and do not run a place of public accommodation, so I don’t have to concern myself about ADA rules. But that doesn’t mean I can’t take a few steps to make my website a friendlier place for a person with limited vision to visit and think, hmm, I wonder if I should contact her for my blog or to freshen my stale site content? (Yes, please contact me.)

I’ve added a few tools that help low-vision visitors get around my site a little easier. The most obvious one is a little toggle menu off to the left that provides larger fonts and greater contrast. It came from a free WordPress plugin I’m testing and I’ll happily make a donation to its designer if all goes well.

WordPress has a number of plugins that provide everything from testing your site to identify ADA gaps to providing general and very specific fixes. You can search the WordPress theme repository for ADA-compliant themes. (Be sure to refresh if you use this link.) WordPress’s own accessibility team posts updates, news, and recommended tools. I use one myself.

ADA Website Compliance Tools

I’m not in a position to recommend tools, but I know these come from reliable sources.

Making websites fully compliant isn’t easy for those of us who aren’t techies. But making them easier for people with low vision to navigate is pretty easy.

Accessibility Toolbar

I installed this WordPress Accessibility Toolbar that allows my visitors to create a black/white contrast or enlarge font. You’ll find it on the right side of every page on this site.

And of course, I add alt content to every image and link on my website.

The toolbar also comes with a menu that lets you select additional features to fix potential accessibility issues, such as forcing underlining on links and preventing links from opening in new windows, which can make browsing difficult for people with low vision.

The ADA Changed America for the Better

The ADA, of course, literally opened American doors to persons with disabilities. And that’s a good thing.

  • Curb cuts and wider doors let people who use wheelchairs (and later, scooters) get around more easily.
  • Braille readouts on ATMs, elevators, and directories allow people with low or no vision to more fully participate in commerce.
  • Use of close-captioning tools brings more deaf people into worksites, cinemas, and theaters.

Curb cuts are helpful to parents pushing strollers and kids learning how to ride a bike. And many of us have used the larger accessible restroom stall not only for its purpose but to also to keep a little one close by and change clothes and/or diapers.

ADA also made us work more intelligently.

Think about innovations like IM, texting, and other person-to-person communications that helped office communications and cut down on chatter that makes it hard to write. They also reduced the instances of the embarrassing or annoying “reply to all” on email.

I remember reading about a deaf colleague in New Orleans who was stranded during Hurricane Katrina. She worried about using up her cell phone battery as she tried to contact a sister outside the state via the TTY tool. Mobile communications were jammed and calls couldn’t get through—but texting used minimal power. She eventually got through to her sibling as she walked (yes, walked) to the airport to catch a flight out. Guess who came for dinner?

Woo-Hoo! WooCommerce for E-commerce!

Over the past several months I’ve been working with WooCommerce experts who work with e-commerce businesses.

WooCommerce, a popular e-commerce software that's also open source.

WooCommerce is the most popular open-source e-commerce software.

For those who aren’t familiar with WooCommerce, it’s a plugin from WordPress that turns a website into an e-commerce powerhouse. The Australian firm BuiltWith, which provides website profiling, lead generation, analysis, and other support services for e-commerce, reported that 12% of all e-commerce sites use either WooCommerce or use the WooCommerce Checkout tool.

On its own, WooCommerce powers nine percent of all e-commerce sites, just behind market leader Shopify and just ahead of Magento, two other popular e-commerce options.

WooCommerce Is Open to Developers Who Create E-Commerce Tools

Like WordPress, WooCommerce is a free, open-source platform, meaning that people who do things like develop website applications can easily integrate their products to work with WooCommerce. (For more information about how application interfaces work, see this article from ModeEffect.) While it offers plenty of free and paid or fee-based tools (called extensions), being open source means it’s easier for developers to create customized solutions for e-commerce site owners. I think this benefits both developers and e-commerce businesses.

WooCommerce is so extensive, it’s easy to forget that it’s a WordPress plugin so it can run other WordPress plugins as well. However, many WordPress plugin developers have developed extensions specifically for WooCommerce. Yoast, an SEO tool that virtually all WordPress users (myself included) consider vital, has a WooCommerce extension.

WooCommerce Is (Almost) as User-Friendly as “Closed” Platforms

I don’t have any direct experience maintaining a WooCommerce site myself but I’ve seen enough to be confident that as a longtime WordPress user to know I could learn it pretty quickly.  I had the opportunity to leaf through a pre-launch WooCommerce site a few years ago and liked what I saw.

WooCommerce generally scores points for being user-friendly although reviewers often point out that sites like Shopify and Etsy are friendlier. They probably are, especially for e-commerce business owners who “don’t use” computers. Shopify, Etsy, Weebly, and other “instant websites” are all-in-one website builder packages that also include hosting in their costs. I think this is why they are seen as more user-friendly than WooCommerce and Magento, which put the hosting decisions on site owners.

Moreover, WooCommerce requires first building a WordPress website, adding another step to the process.

However, setting up a basic WordPress site is pretty easy. Once you decide on a host—WordPress endorses BlueHost and SiteGround, the host I use—you have access to WordPress for free, and many hosts will help you set up a site as well. You aren’t limited to these hosts, either: there are tons of other excellent WordPress hosts including GoDaddy, which I personally think has the best customer service anywhere, of any business.

Like most website services, WordPress has an installation wizard that makes setting up a basic site a low-stress task. Your host can also help with setup, and there are lots of videos on YouTube and WordPress itself that can guide you along as well if you’re doing it on your own. Frankly, there’s nothing like working hands-on with a new tool to help you find it less threatening; remember, you’re not launching warheads or anything!

Once WordPress is set up, go to the Plugins menu and look for WooCommerce. Once you upload and activate it, you can use its setup wizard to guide you through it.

WooCommerce Hosting and Domain Registration

Hosts can also transfer an existing e-commerce website from another platform to their own, even from “closed” sites like Etsy. A clever host will know a few tricks like downloading a CSV file or figuring out an application interface (API) solution. At the very least, a CSV will preserve the content.

Domain registration works the same way for WooCommerce as it does for any other website. In the early days of the web, this was often done by separate companies but more hosts are providing domain registration as well and closed, all-in-one services take care of this as well and may be another reason why WooCommerce and Magento are written off as requiring “expert” knowledge. But today, many hosts like BlueHost and GoDaddy, do both. I work with clients who use GoDaddy for both hosting and domain registration.

I use GoDaddy to register and keep my domain. It didn’t offer WordPress back when I started my own website, so it didn’t make sense to use it for hosting. Plus, I got free hosting from a friend for many years—a sweet deal for which I will always remain grateful

I’ve read that it isn’t a good idea to use the same service for both hosting and registration. But if it’s a reputable site, with good reviews from places like TechRadar, I don’t see why there would be a problem. If you’re using a really cheap host who’s new or is small but you personally like the people behind it, it may make sense to separate hosting and registration just in case something does go wrong. At the very least, you want to hang on to your website registration!

In addition, some hosting sites are starting to specialize in WooCommerce. Large WooCommerce sites may want to look into these options as there are differences between hosting a WordPress site and a WooCommerce site, particularly where traffic management is concerned.

Tips for Launching a WooCommerce Website

I haven’t actually set up a WooCommerce site but I know people who do!

I also had the opportunity to sit it on Chris Lema’s presentation on setting up WooCommerce at Phoenix WordCamp in February 2018. Lema is an e-commerce expert and works extensively with WooCommerce. He literally set up a dummy site and showed the highlights seen in the setup wizard.

Interestingly, WooCommerce is a little less logical than WordPress. Here are a few tips Chris shared with us:

  • Be sure to go into the settings section because the wizard skips over most of them. US-based e-commerce businesses are required to list a physical location so be sure to ask your client what address to use. You can also use a fake one and change it later. Do not, however, list your address as you will then start receiving all kinds mail you don’t want or need!
  • The first content section you see in the software (right under the page title) is not where you add content about the product! This is a major stumbling block and the guy next to me at Lema’s presentation told me this cost him a lot of time. Look for the product description section, a small area which is what Google will see first as it conducts searches. The large content area is for details you may or may not want to add, but will probably help with search engine optimization.
  • Always choose PayPal as a payment option. Not only is it wildly popular, Chris says, many people view money in their PayPal accounts as “free” money to use for shopping. I know that I often leave a few bucks in my PayPal account for inexpensive purchases like pizza or discounted books/ebooks.

Chris’ presentation was quite entertaining and was well worth the time and extremely affordable cost to attend WordCamp even in my case for just one morning. To see Chris’ favorite WooCommerce extensions, check out his slide presentation Launching Your WooCommerce Store Workshop.

WooCommerce is Great for Blogging!

WooCommerce is its own little world but it’s still a WordPress plugin and retains the blogging DNA.

Blog on WooCommerce just as you would on WordPress: create a new post, add categories, tags, media, and metadata. Yoast, a popular SEO tool (I used it all the time) has an extension for WooCommerce that builds upon its WordPress version. It supports Pinterest and ties in with the the WordPress version to coordinate and boost breadcrumb trails. There’s also a Local SEO version for those e-commerce sites that also have a local brick and mortar presence.

What should you blog about? Well, what do your customers care about? Look at your emails for clues. Typically, they are interested in:

  • New products
  • Product care
  • Special offers
  • Staff introductions
  • Customer testimonials
  • Photos and videos

Depending on your customers, it’s usually ok to share a little personal information such as how you dealt with a Noreaster (something we don’t worry about here in Arizona), a kid going away to college, a new puppy. As the great big shoe company says, just do it!

And if you can’t find the time—hire a professional writer!