Free Accessible WordPress Themes


I remember that only five years ago there were very few accessible WordPress themes. There were fewer than a handful in the WordPress Theme Directory. This was shocking to many people, some of whom were asking me where the free accessible themes were. There must be some, they said.

Deploying WordPress in education was difficult. We rolled our own accessible themes but took a beating from site owners who were used to using static website designs created by graduate students (who then left without giving anyone the password). Having a science site design with a black background with the rings of Saturn and yellow slanty text was very important compared to the needs of people who just wanted to get the information.

Finding that there were limits on the number of themes they could deploy within the system users naturally rebelled. With apologies to Cole Porter: Oh, give me themes, lots of themes, under starry skies above, don’t fence me in. “Cause whatever it is, I’m against it!” sang Groucho Marx. As for the way the university web team felt, the words of the proud and very useful line engine Gordon of Thomas the Tank Engine come to mind, “Oh, the indignity.” I’ll just throw in a reference to Cicero’s “fluctus in simpulo exitare” —to raise a tempest in a ladle— and that will suffice to cover my twenty-one year career in education.

Content First

When it came to my own blog about disability rights, only one theme was accessible and met my needs, and I don’t remember if it was even in the WordPress Theme Repository. I think not, I seem to remember downloading the files and installing them via FTP. I generally tend to favor themes that put the content first and keep the needs of the users in mind. Blaskan, by Per Sandström was released in the spring of 2012 and it met my needs and is now in the Theme Directory.

When I worked on for Anne Forrest in the 2014 Knowbility Open Accessibility Internet Rally (OpenAIR) it was all about Anne’s needs as a traumatic brain injury survivor balanced with the needs of those using the site, some of whom were also traumatic brain injury survivors. This resulted in a very spare design using a color scheme that wouldn’t exacerbate cognitive dissonance. I can see some accessibility issues have cropped up but I’m glad to see that Anne is still using the theme.

Accessibility Team

In the autumn of 2012 I decided to devote some time to working on WordPress. I’d been using or administering WordPress since 2005 and I felt I had to give back. For anyone who has not worked on open source software I highly encourage it. I’ve met so many smart dedicated people during the time I’ve worked on WordPress and I learned so much. It was a very valuable experience and I thank the Accessibility Team for counting me as a member. If you are curious about helping with WordPress accessibility then the best place to start is Make WordPress Accessible.

Accessible Themes

Clearly we needed to encourage the creation of free accessible WordPress themes but first there was work to do. This took a while, as things can with only an hourly weekly meeting and day jobs and families needing attention. First we had to define what was meant by accessibility in terms of a theme and this took a while. It took some thought and discussion to create the tag to affix to accessible themes.

The thing about a theme is that the first use of the theme by an untrained administrator has the potential to make it less accessible. I once did extensive one-on-one training for a colleague for whom the university web team had built an accessible WordPress university staff news site only to find years later that she wasn’t writing alt-text for any of the hundreds of photos she had uploaded.

A theme can only be as accessible as it is finally approved and uploaded to the WordPress Theme Directory so the tag accessibility-ready was devised. The team worked to create a well defined list of accessibility specifications for theme creators and for theme checkers. At WordCamps and online the Accessibility Team did training for theme checkers. At last the process was in place but it did need some ironing out.


While this process was happening I began speaking at WordCamps about the need for accessible themes and explaining what that meant in as simple a fashion as possible. Instead of waiting for the community to respond I thought I’d start things rolling by asking people in the accessibility community if they would contribute a theme and that would lead by example. I called the project Cities as the idea was to encourage people in various cities where accessibility meetups existed to support the project.

I was very pleased when several people responded and said they’d build themes. The first theme was built by Anna Belle Leiserson, A11 Y’all, representing Nashville, and it took months to get it through the process and make it into the WordPress Theme Directory with the accessibility-ready tag. My apologies to Anna Belle for patiently waiting, but that theme really helped point out the bottlenecks in the process.

Though the Cities project only yielded a few themes the publicity from it went far and wide. Only this year at the 2017 CSUN conference I was asked how the project was going. So it had an effect on the community.


Today if you do a search for accessibility-ready tagged themes in the WordPress Theme Directory the number is one hundred and thirty four including this year’s theme from WordPress, Twenty Seventeen. I switched to it a few days ago and was so proud to see the accessibility-ready tag.

I look forward to experimenting with Twenty Seventeen. For instance, I really need to understand the logic of the hero picture. Support forums are full of comments about the issue. I love the WordPress community! Congratulations to the WordPress Accessibility Team and much thanks to the WordPress community for continuing to make great progress on accessibility. Oh, and if you have an idea for an accessibility-ready theme you’d like to build, it can’t hurt to have one hundred and thirty five!

Formatting WordPress Content

A Simple Question

On March 29, 2015, I asked a simple question on Twitter:

“When writing a post to use on a WordPress site, what do you use to write it, a text editor, a word processor, the new post screen?”

Different Approaches

I really didn’t expect to get such a multiplicity of approaches. It seems there is one major hallmark of the approach people take: ingenuity and improvisation. Oh, that’s two approaches. Bother. Well, let’s press on and see all the ways folks are formatting new posts, even including using the Add New Post screen! I’ve taken the liberty of slightly rearranging the order of the Tweets to make the narrative flow better.

  • @LeonieWatson: Write in HTML in a text editor, then cut/paste into WP (where the WYSIWYG editor is disabled). HTH.
  • @LeonieWatson: In the WP user profile settings it’s possible to disable the visual editor, which is what I do.
  • @fitzpatrickd: @LeonieWatson Exactly the same workflow here. I also do the same for Drupal stuff by the way.
  • @heydonworks: @LeonieWatson Same as Léonie normally. Sometimes in an external markdown editor like
  • @vavroom: I write in MS Word. Spell check there. Then copy/paste into Dreamweaver. Adjust HTML. Then copy/paste in WordPress.
  • @vavroom: I apply styles in Word. Dreamweaver translates it into proper html.
  • @A11YChi: I code in the New Post window, Text tab.
  • @vdebolt: Sometimes BBEdit, sometimes Dreamweaver, most often the WP new post screen. Never a word processor.
  • @Accessible_Info: Jarte, a free and open source wordprocessor. Then, cut and paste.
  • @GWocher: The only problem with Jart is that you cannot read tables with a screen reader.
  • @GWocher: Sometimes Jart won’t report the correct formatting when using insert plus F in either JAWS or NVDA. Its rare though.
  • @Unuhinuii: I write it in the WP editor, using text controls from my keyboard. “html” / “visual” is #useless for me. #a11y.
  • @Unuhinuii: Sigh – Twitter has the same type @a11yteam #a11y issues for me. #visual #voiceoveruser issues huh? fn-cmd-f5 3clk.
  • @ewaccess: If typing: plain text editor, proof and publish using Marked 2. If Dragon: compose in Word, paste into new post screen.
  • @aardrian: I write as HTML in the text view. I disable the WYSIWYG editor altogether on some sites while building.
  • @steveofmaine: Struggling with that very question. I just discovered I can write and publish directly from MS Word.
  • @steveofmaine: That said, nothing, absolutely nothing beats @MarsEdit for Mac. It’s like the bestest best thing ever.
  • @awoods: @steveofmaine Instead of Word, use Windows Live Writer, and you’ll get better results. I write my content in plain text files.
  • @jaczad: Live Writer in source mode, #Markdown in admin panel. Sometimes WYSIWYG editor #TinyMCE.
  • @prakesh369: Text editor.
  • @csrinivasu: New post screen but as HTML.

Different Strokes

Clearly there are different approaches to creating content for your WordPress site. Here are the text editors and other tools mentioned in the Tweets plus some additional text editors:

Tools Mentioned in Tweets
Additional Text Editors

My Experience

Dreamweaver was created by Macromedia in 1997 and I started using it while it was in beta. I continued to use Dreamweaver every day, all day, through the Adobe takeover of Macromedia in 2005 and up until 2012 when I stopped using it as an every day tool. At the moment I format my posts using the WordPress admin post screen, working exclusively in the text tab. I type out the few bits of HTML I need, but now that I’ve heard from friends about how they use text editors I’ll probably try TextWrangler again. I used BBEdit for years in addition to Dreamweaver and TextWrangler has a subset of the features of BBEdit, just enough for me. Interesting to hear what others are doing.