The WordPress Theme Review Team (TRT) met today and agreed to put new accessibility requirements in place for themes hosted in the official directory. These include some of the items that are required for theme authors who want to add the accessibility-ready tag. A handful of these requirements will soon be added to the standard requirements for all themes. The initial focus will be on items that do not have a major visible impact on a theme’s design, as the team anticipates some pushback from designers.

“We’ve long made the argument that WCAG can’t easily be applied to a theme which has no content; I don’t think we want to break that,” Accessibility team member Joe Dolson said. “For the purpose of theme testing, I think it’s still better to target a customized set of criteria that are content-independent. But if we can incorporate the first four items in the guidelines, I’d be super happy. The rest of the criteria, while important, are harder to assess and implement, and have greater impact on design.”

The Theme Review Team has agreed to start gradually rolling out new accessibility guidelines every other month while educating developers to help them get on board. The first requirement will be Skip Links, followed by the other three that are outlined in the Theme Review Handbook:

  • Skip Links
    Themes must include a mechanism that enables users to navigate directly to content or navigation on entering any given page. These links may be positioned off screen initially but must be available to screen reader users and must be visible on focus for sighted keyboard navigators.
  • Keyboard Navigation
    Theme authors must provide visual keyboard focus highlighting in navigation menus and for form fields, submit buttons and text links. All controls and links must be reachable using the keyboard.
  • Controls
    All theme features that behave as buttons or links must use button, input, or a elements, to ensure native keyboard accessibility and interaction with screen reader accessibility APIs.
    All controls must also have machine-readable text to indicate the nature of the control.
  • Form Labeling
    Comment forms must have appropriate field labels and all content within form tags need to be explicitly associated to a form control. Post-submission responses (errors or confirmations) must be perceivable. If you are using the default WordPress comment or search forms, these pass the accessibility-ready criteria.

“The changed requirement wouldn’t encompass all the accessibility-ready requirements to be present on the standard themes, nor would it automatically make them accessibility-ready, but by incorporating one by one requirements, through longer time period, the idea is to encourage theme authors to write accessible themes out of the box,” TRT member Denis Žoljom said.

The team is also re-examining the efficacy of the Trusted Authors program and whether there is evidence for discontinuing it. They are considering removing the child theme queue, which was incentivizing authors to submit more child themes since the queue moves faster than the regular one.

Imposing stricter accessibility requirements for themes is one suggestion that theme authors discussed over the weekend as a potential response to’s growing problem with crippleware. The expectation is that stricter requirements would shorten the queue of themes ready for review and perhaps even motivate companies to invest in accessibility testing to improve that process. While it may not have a direct affect on theme companies’ ability to produce crippleware, it makes the barrier for entry higher so that reviewers have more time to focus on improvements to the directory and the review process.

The new accessibility requirements will apply to all themes hosted on, not just new ones entering the directory. Existing themes will be expected to meet the requirements as they pass through the review process for updates. However, the team will not be actively hunting down old themes to suspend them. Today’s decision marks an important turning point that has the potential to have a ripple effect across the entire theme industry, as sets the standard for theme development. These new requirements give legs to WordPress’ commitment to accessibility in what TRT member Justin Tadlock called “a small but major step toward accessibility for all in the directory.”