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Creating an Accessible Multilingual Site

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Making your website accessible can be a complicated process. When you throw translating your website into multiple languages into the mix, you can find yourself presented with a unique set of challenges. 

If this is a dilemma you’re familiar with, you’ve come to the right place. In this post, we’ll be looking at how to make your WordPress multilingual site accessible using accessiBe and Weglot.

What is Accessibility? Why is it Important?

Making your site accessible is essential to demonstrate your commitment to empowering those living with disabilities to navigate the web, as well as being compliant with relevant disabilities legislation. Accessibility is all about making your website as user friendly for as many people as possible. Traditionally, our thoughts might first lead to those living with auditory, visual, motor, or cognitive impairments. However, accessibility also extends to those in differing economic circumstances trying to access your website using mobile devices, slow internet connections, and anyone using older hardware. 

There is a wide body of legislation worldwide mandating web accessibility. In the USA, for example, your website must be compliant with both the Americans with Disabilities Act 1990 (ADA) and Section 508 of the Amendment to the Rehabilitation Act 1973, which contains sets of technical standards you must adhere to when working on:

  • Software applications and operating systems
  • Telecommunication products
  • Videos and multimedia products
  • Web-based Intranet and IT and apps
  • Desktop and portable computers
  • Self-contained closed products

Increasingly, then, accessibility cannot be an afterthought; it must be foundational to your thinking at every stage when creating a website.

Accessibility Factors to Bear in Mind

WordPress has designed its own Accessibility Coding Standards, stating that: ‘The WordPress community, and the open-source WordPress project, are committed to being as inclusive and accessible as possible. We want users, regardless of device or ability, to be able to publish content and maintain a website or application built with WordPress.’

Any new and updated code released in WordPress has to conform with their Accessibility Coding Standards

This includes:

  • Implementing best accessibility practices when creating a WordPress theme (how your site looks) or a plugin (what your site does)
  • Publishing an accessibility statement on your site

Failure to comply with accessibility standards comes with its fair share of risks. Most notably:

1. Excluding huge demographics of people from using your site. Morally and ethically, there’s no argument here. Optimizing your site so that everyone can use it is a demonstrable way of committing to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) compliance. As of 2019, fewer than 1% of website homepages currently meet these accessibility standards (link to the source of the statistic)

Yet, according to the World Health Organization:

2. The risk of a lawsuit: It’s essential to understand the accessibility laws of your own country but also the country’s where your target audience resides. At the time of writing, over 20 countries implement worldwide accessibility laws and policies, including the US, UK, Finland, Australia, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, and Spain (link to the source of the statistic)

Multilingual Accessibility 

If you’re committed to reaching a global audience by translating your website into multiple languages, creating an accessible multilingual site should be priority number one. 

English may be the most commonly spoken/written language on the internet, but it’s also a minority – with just 25.9% of users speaking English as their first language. This is followed by Chinese (19.4%), Spanish (7.9%), and Arabic (5.2%). (link to the source of the statistic)

In 2014 non-English downloads of WordPress, the web’s leading Content Management System, surpassed English ones. These stats alone show that a multilingual website is essential for ensuring global accessibility, inclusivity, and growth. 

This is even more important for businesses with physical and eCommerce retail outlets. Namely, because many consumers will only purchase products with descriptions written in their own language:

  • 65% of consumers prefer to buy in their own native language
  • 40% of consumers won’t purchase from a platform written in another language 
  • 73% want to see product reviews in their native language
  • 30% never buy from websites written in just English

(Link to the source of the above statistics)

Before you dive in and start translating your site, you’ll need to identify the languages your customers and prospects speak so that you can communicate with them effectively. A quick look around Google Analytics should bring this information to light, but you can also use your own data, user surveys, or just common sense.

How to Make Your Website Accessible

You need to consider several things to create a truly accessible site, both generally and when creating a multilingual site. The purpose is to make each of the following categories easy to see, read, and use:

Images: Writing Alt Text tags that accurately describe any illustrative pictures (that is, those that are necessary for understanding your site) will provide visually-impaired users with some much-needed context. Decorative images, such as backgrounds, don’t necessarily need alt-text if they aren’t providing relevant information, and such alt-text can confuse screen-readers. 

Acronyms and shorthand: Screen readers can struggle to interpret these, so if you’re not already, expand acronyms and shorthand when using them the first time. 

Contact Forms: These are commonly used to encourage visitors to drop you a message and interact with your site. As such, these need to be easy to see, read, and type into. Forms should be short; otherwise, you risk scoring a high user abandonment rate. You could also include instructions on how to complete the form and send the user a notification when they’ve successfully completed it. 

Links: Tell users where the link will take them. As well as that, the link text should describe the resource it’s linking to. This applies even if it’s read standalone and out of context. The point is, the user has to know what to expect. Also, give your website visitor the option of opening a new page when clicking on the link, rather than just taking them there. 

Fonts and text: Although there’s no law that states which fonts you should use, the US Department of Health & Human Services unofficially recommends that the following fonts are the easiest to read: Arial, Calibri, Helvetica, Tahoma, Times New Roman, and Verdana. As for blocks of text, make them easier to read by aiming for a Flesch score – which assesses the readability of your prose –  of 60-70. You should also break the text down using subheadings, short paragraphs, and quotes. 

Store pages: If you run an eCommerce store, you need to make your product pages accessible for those with sight difficulties, mobile-only users, and those with slow internet speeds, old hardware, and so on. The easiest place to start is with an accessible and mobile-friendly eCommerce theme – although, as we’ll see below, this alone probably won’t be enough to ensure the creation of an utterly accessible website, it’s a good starting point.

Colors: People see colors differently. That’s why it’s crucial you check the color contrast of the text against your background. Avoid garish colors such as neons or bright green/yellow, and ensure you offer a choice of either dark font on a light background or light font on a dark background. If it’s the latter, use a larger font to make it easier to read.

Accessibility Plugin + Translation Service = Total Accessibility Solution

As you can see, there’s a lot to juggle. However, the simplest, most intuitive way of making your WordPress site accessible is using a WordPress accessibility plugin like accessiBe alongside a first-rate translation service like Weglot. 

If you and your developer(s) are sitting down to map out this project, bear in mind what WordPress Accessibility Team Contributor, Joe Dolson, has to say about the current state of WordPress accessibility:

‘The front-end of WordPress is pretty much in the same place it’s been for years: perfectly capable of being accessible, but it entirely depends on the developer building the site. A poor theme or inaccessible plug-ins make all the difference. The admin has continued to improve—it’s been a hard road to move the Gutenberg editor along towards better accessibility, but progress is being made. That said, it’s a constant battle to avoid accessibility regressions with any new interface component.’

It’s a common mistake to assume that just because you’ve chosen a theme that’s ‘accessible’ that it actually will be. Suppose you install plugins that turn out to be inaccessible, or you change your site colors, contrast, and design. In that case, you can render a good theme useless. 

The Benefits of Using Weglot with accessiBe 

There are tons of benefits to using Weglot alongside accessiBe:

Let’s start with the accessibility side of things; with accessiBe, you’ll unlock automatic screen-reader adjustments, which works wonders for engaging visually impaired users.

You’ll also get automatic keyboard navigation adjustments. This ensures those who cannot use a mouse or trackpad can navigate your website using just their keyboards. 

On top of that, you’ll get user interface and design adjustments, which helps to guarantee that your website is easy-to-read.

accessibility adjustments

Lastly, you’ll get daily compliance monitoring, so if you make any changes to your site, there’s no need to worry about complying with accessibility laws. Any infringements are brought to your attention so that you can act fast and make the necessary amends. Every month you’ll be emailed a thorough compliance report so that you can track your progress, and again, make any necessary improvements. 

accessiBe compliance

Now, let’s focus on what Weglot provides in terms of translation. With Weglot, you’ll get access to an all-in-one translation service. This means you’ll benefit from automatic content detection and machine translation. 

translated website

You can then use the power of human translation by inviting your own translation team to collaborate inside your Weglot dashboard. Alternatively, you can hire a professional translator from one of Weglot’s vetted partners.

On top of that, there are loads of SEO benefits in translating your website using Weglot. This solution adopts all the multilingual SEO best practices, including translated titles, metadata, hreflang, etc. So over time, you’re far more likely to rank higher in international search engine results. 

Last but not least, your website visitors are also auto-directed to the most appropriate language version of your site. This helps ensure you engage with them from the moment they land on your website. There are no awkward redirections or toggling between sites; they can start enjoying your website from the outset.  

Are You Ready to Launch an Accessible and Multilingual Website?

Having read this article, we hope you now have a better idea of what it means for a website to be both accessible and multilingual. As you’ve probably realized, there’s a lot to balance. This is why having the right tools at your disposal is essential for doing a thorough job of creating a fully accessible and multilingual website. 

Why not give both these tools a try and see for yourself? To give Weglot a spin, click here, and to check out accessiBe, click here.

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