In this episode, we talk about contributing to WordPress and how community members can get involved in making the core platform more accessible. We are joined by special guest Joe Dolson, a longtime member of the WordPress Core Accessibility team and author of the plugin WP Accessibility, which has more than 40,000 active installations.
Mentioned in This Episode
>> CHRIS HINDS: Welcome to Episode 020 of the Accessibility Craft Podcast, where we explore the art of creating accessible websites while trying out interesting Craft beverages. This podcast is brought to you by the team at Equalize Digital, a WordPress accessibility company and the proud creators of the Accessibility Checker plugin.
In this episode, we talk about contributing to WordPress, and how community members can get involved in making the core platform more accessible.
We are joined by special guest Joe Dolson, a longtime member of the WordPress Core Accessibility team and author of the plugin WP Accessibility, which has more than 40,000 active installations.
For show notes and a full transcript go to AccessibilityCraft.com/020.
Now on to the show.
>> AMBER HINDS: Hi, everyone, it’s Amber, and I am here today with Steve.
>> STEVE JONES: Hello, everybody.
>> AMBER: And we have a special guest subbing in for Chris and it is Joe Dolson. Hey, Joe.
>> JOE DOLSON: Hey, Amber. I’m Joe Dawson. I’m glad to be here. I’m a long-term WordPress Core contributor.
>> AMBER: And you also do accessibility outside of just contributing to WordPress Core, right?
>> JOE: Yes, I do. I’m pretty much accessibility and/or WordPress all day long. So it’s all there.
>> AMBER: Yes. And violin. We talked about that a little bit before we started recording. [crosstalk ] maybe you could give us an intro first. [laughs]
>> JOE: Yes. I mean, I am a violinist. I play Baroque violin and modern violin. And it’s actually been a fairly intensive concert couple of weeks for me. I’ve had two performances in the last two weeks and I have another one tomorrow, so it’s been intense.
>> AMBER: So you need a drink?
>> STEVE: Yes.
>> JOE: I do.
>> STEVE: It’s the perfect segue.
>> AMBER: Yes. Steve, do you want to introduce our drink? We don’t have Chris this week.
>> STEVE: Yes. So in Chris’s absence, I’m going to do my best to describe the drink. I’m sure I will not be able to come anywhere near as close as Chris does to describing these things. But today, our drink is the Island-brewed Maui Brewing Company. Coconut… How do you say it, Hi-wa? He-wa? H-I-W-A.
>> AMBER: Yes, Hi-wa, I would say.
>> JOE: I’d just be guessing. I would have gone with Hi-wa.
>> STEVE: Hi-wa? OK.
>> AMBER: We should have looked up the…
>> STEVE: The pronunciation.
>> AMBER: Hawaiian native pronunciation. We’d probably find one on Google.
>> STEVE: So it’s the Coconut Hiwa Porter. “A robust dark ale with hand-toasted coconut and hints of mocha.”
>> AMBER: I’m excited to try this one.
>> STEVE: It says that it has an appearance of deep brown black. I don’t know if either of you brought a glass to pour into, but we could… And then it has an aroma of a sweet coconut with a coffee and roast aroma.
>> JOE: Oh, wow.
>> AMBER: So I already think this sounds really good.
>> STEVE: You do?
>> AMBER: Yes.
>> JOE: Coconut, coffee, chocolate? You know, I think it’s a pretty good mix.
>> AMBER: I am a dark beer person. We’ve talked about that in episodes before. You are too, Joe?
>> JOE: Oh, yes, definitely.
>> STEVE: Yes. So I like coconut, period.
>> AMBER: [inaudible]. Yes, you don’t drink coffee and you…
>> STEVE: And I don’t drink bears.
>> AMBER: Well, this will be interesting.
>> JOE: Well, at least two of us will enjoy this, right?
>> STEVE: Yes. Let’s crack it open.
>> JOE: All right.
>> AMBER: It is in a can, not a bottle.
>> STEVE: All right.
>> AMBER: It might come in bottles if you are in Hawaii, but when they have to mail it to you… I didn’t bring a glass today, so I’m enjoying watching you pour, Joe.
>> STEVE: Yes, Joe’s doing a…
>> AMBER: What’s your impression on the pour?
>> JOE: It’s a very nice pour. Very easy pour.
>> AMBER: Not too foamy.
>> JOE: It’s not too foamy. You know, there’s a little bit of a head, but it’s not extreme. It’s nice.
>> AMBER: Yes.
>> JOE: And I’m pouring it into my WordCamp Minneapolis 2013 pint glass so…
>> AMBER: Oh, that is a very appropriate glass.
>> STEVE: It’s very dark.
>> JOE: It is quite dark, yes. I mean, it’s definitely brown.
>> AMBER: Do you smell coconut?
>> STEVE: No, I smell porter.
>> AMBER: [laughs] I don’t know if I can smell the coconut.
>> STEVE: I cannot.
>> JOE: I’m not getting a lot of coconut in the nose, for sure.
>> AMBER: All right, I’m going to see if I taste it.
>> STEVE: I’m not getting coffee. Are you getting coffee, like mocha?
>> JOE: There’s a little bit of chocolate-iness.
>> STEVE: OK.
>> AMBER: Yes, I kind of do get that.
>> JOE: There’s not a lot. I mean, it’s not strong on either coffee or coconut, which, honestly is fine. I mean, I consider too much coffee flavor in a beer to be a little bit over the top.
>> AMBER: I don’t mind if they’re, like, coffee-bitter. I don’t really like hops-bitter, but, like…
>> JOE: Yes, I know what you mean.
>> AMBER: There’s like a difference there. I don’t mind that. I’m a little disappointed in the coconut because I don’t think I taste any at all.
>> STEVE: No. No.
>> AMBER: It’s a good beer. I enjoy it. Like, it’s tasty, but it’s kind of disappointing because I was hoping it would have a stronger coconut flavor.
>> JOE: Yes. I mean, when you get a beer that’s named Coconut Hiwa, you’re, like, obviously, coconut should be a strong note. Strong it is not. I agree, it’s a good beer. The flavors are subtle, which is not a bad thing in a beer. Strong flavors just mean that it’s really focused on people who particularly like this flavor.
>> AMBER: Yes. You know, the missed opportunity here is that we should have had, like, a coconut ice cream. And we could be having porter floats right now [chuckles].
>> STEVE: [chuckles] That does sound pretty nasty.
>> AMBER: Oh, no. It’s actually really delicious.
>> STEVE: Is it, really?
>> AMBER: I mean, do you like root beer floats?
>> STEVE: Yes.
>> AMBER: Only it’s with real beer.
>> STEVE: With beer.
>> AMBER: I don’t know. Maybe you have an opinion about that, Joe. Do you do ice cream and beer ever?
>> JOE: I don’t do ice cream and beer, no. That’s an interesting idea. It does not appeal to my mental palate. I can’t speak to how it might actually appeal to my palate, having not tried it, but.
>> AMBER: Well, for people who have listened to other episodes, we did make good, Chris and I, on doing vanilla milkshakes with the Stroopwafel Liqueur, and that was pretty darn tasty. [laughs]
>> STEVE: Yes. Yes, that sounds good. So I don’t really taste much coconut, and very little mocha, if any. So it’s basically a porter, like a dark beer to me.
>> JOE: Yes.
>> AMBER: I get the coffee on the end. Like, I don’t know if I get it while I’m tasting it, but I taste in my mouth after I’m done drinking, that’s when I get the coffee.
>> JOE: I’m getting a tiny bit of the coconut mouthfeel.
>> STEVE: Really?
>> JOE: I mean, I don’t really get so much of the flavor, but there’s a little bit of that kind of after feel?
>> AMBER: Oily?
>> JOE: Oily, yes. I mean, it’s subtle, but it’s there.
>> STEVE: Hmm.
>> AMBER: Oh, maybe. OK, now I’m going to take another drink and see.
>> STEVE: But I will say, on the face of it just being like a porter dark beer that it’s not that bad. It’s pretty smooth. I mean, like…
>> JOE: Yes. I would absolutely drink it again. I wouldn’t buy it because I wanted coconut.
>> AMBER: Would you drink it again, Steve?
>> STEVE: You know, I’m not going to go with a porter by choice. [laughs]
>> AMBER: [inaudible].
>> STEVE: But it’s not bad. I mean, for not being a beer drinker. It’s not bad. It’s not, like, super bitter or anything like that. It’s really smooth.
>> AMBER: Yes. I would probably drink it again if someone gave it to me, but I don’t think I would buy it. There are other beers that I’d just rather buy.
>> STEVE: It’s a very pretty can. The design is very unique. You know, it’s got a very Hawaiian feel, like a palm tree with some line art. And it’s like black and white and bronze, kind of, with a little bit of green.
>> AMBER: Yes, it’s from Maui Brewing. So if I was sitting on Maui, I would probably get it again. I would buy it there. [laughs]
>> STEVE: There you go.
>> AMBER: Maybe if they serve it in a coconut shell, that would, like, give you more coconut flavor.
>> JOE: That would enhance the coconut flavor for sure.
>> STEVE: Yes, totally.
>> JOE: It might overdo it, but.
>> STEVE: Cool.
>> AMBER: All right. So, Joe, I know you probably get asked this question on every podcast, but could you briefly tell us a little bit… Because this is Accessibility Craft and kind of like the art of accessibility, like, I’m sort of curious what brought you to accessibility and how you got started with it.
>> JOE: Yes, you’re right. I do get asked that a lot.
>> AMBER: So it can be short. [chuckles]
>> JOE: It can be short, yes. So I started straight into accessibility when I started my business, which was in 2004. And I didn’t have, like, any strong design skills. I didn’t have a programming background. My background was in music. But I did when I was just setting out on my own because I started out as a freelancer right from the beginning. I was, like, you know, “What can I offer that is a unique selling point for my services?”
>> AMBER: And they were primarily development focused versus, like, design or marketing or something?
>> JOE: Well, I mean, if we’re talking about 2004, it was very much everything. I would do anything somebody would pay me to do, I mean, within reason.
>> AMBER: I know that feeling.
>> STEVE: Yes.
>> JOE: I mean, it’s been 20 years, so my business has shifted a bit. But at that time, I was doing everything from the ground up,
>> AMBER: How’d you hear about accessibility to know that it was a way you could make yourself stand out?
>> JOE: Well that’s what I was getting to. My background in accessibility actually comes from the work my mother did. My mother was the executive director of a nonprofit in Montana that provided arts programs for people with disabilities. It went through numerous name changes. I think, at the time it was called VSA Arts of Montana. Previously, it had been called Very Special Arts, and they rebranded that to remove the word “Special” from their name.
It no longer exists. But it meant that I had this kind of background and understanding of how accessibility worked in the world, and what people with disabilities needed. And just having that grounding in what matters and how people use… Not use. It wasn’t really about how people use websites; it was about how people live.
I think so many people coming into accessibility are coming into it out of, you know, a personal connection, out of a legal obligation, out of all these various things that are outside of themselves, and that’s absolutely true for me. But being able to build that empathetic sense of, “People with disabilities have lives just like everybody else. They have wants, they have desires, they need to use things, they need to live in the world, and creating things that serve everyone is just a good thing to do and a responsible thing to do.” And I already had the grounding in just how that fundamentally works, which was really helpful for learning.
I was able to better distinguish between bullshit recommendations and good recommendations, which is absolutely still one of the big problems in accessibility.
>> AMBER: Yes. I’d be curious, like, what is one of the top bullshit recommendations that you hear? Also, I have no idea… Will we get an exclusive podcast? [laughs]
>> JOE: Well, so it’s my fault.
I started it off. I mean, there’s no question that the number one BS recommendation is accessibility overlays. I mean, that is hands down across-the-board number one. But there are all sorts of other little things.
I recently heard about somebody… And I can’t give context for this, because it’s not something I heard myself; I only heard about it secondhand. But it was a recommendation specifically for accessibility, for adding a handler onto links that are styled to look like buttons so that they will work on the space bar. Basically saying because it looks like a button, it should interact like a button.
>> AMBER: No, yes, that’s weird.
>> JOE: And they were offering this up as an accessibility recommendation. And I’m, like, “You know, just because it looks like this doesn’t mean it is this.” I mean, it’s the same thing that a lot of page builders have added, you know, role equals button, on links that are designed like buttons. I don’t know if Elementor still does that, but they have for a long time. And it’s just terrible.
>> AMBER: You know, total shout out to Beaver Builder. They had that for a really long time.
>> JOE: Oh, did they finally remove it? Oh good.
>> AMBER: We talked about it in our podcast, and someone who uses that flagged that for them, because we talked about it, and they removed it, like, two or three weeks ago, which made me really happy.
>> JOE: That is good.
>> AMBER: Yes.
>> JOE: See, to me, that’s one of those great examples of a really easy fix. Because the only thing that was doing was creating bad communication between the user and the interface. It didn’t change functionality. It didn’t change anything visual. The web is complicated, and anytime you remove any attribute, you have to assume it’s possible somebody has written a CSS selector that’s getting all of the links with role equals by button.
>> STEVE: Yes. I think that’s the big implication with these page builders. They’re creating content, and producing plugins. And we’re on the face of it, it looks like something as simple as that to us, like, “Oh, yes, just remove it.” Right? But like you said, how many millions of websites is this used on? How many people are selecting based on that role? Yes, it’s huge.
>> JOE: As a plugin developer myself, I mean, that is always one of the biggest problems I have, which is, you know, I have built something into my plugin, it’s being used by thousands of websites, and now changing it becomes something I have to be really, really cautious about. Because no matter what it is, if I change the HTML structure, somebody has tied their design to that HTML.
>> STEVE: Right.
>> AMBER: Do you think there’s an argument for, though, some accessibility fixes are so important that it is worth breaking?
Let’s say Elementor fixes something that’s used on, I don’t know, a millions or however many millions of websites, is that a good breaking change? Like, as a plugin developer, should you just be, like, “Well, no, I always have to have that versus compatibility”?
>> JOE: Oh, no. It’s definitely worthwhile to change it. And I’m not in any way saying that you shouldn’t change these things. I’m just saying that you have to be pretty cautious about it. You have to really do the research to find out what is the scope of problem this is going to cause so that at least you’re prepared.
I mean, when you break things, you want to be able to justify it, you want to be able to provide people with an alternative, and tell them how to fix it.
This is one of those things that has been a pretty big criticism of the release of WordPress 6.2.1, which is the fact that there really wasn’t, right from the start, good information about what the consequences of removing shortcode support and blog templates were going to be. And, wow, that caused a lot of problems.
>> AMBER: Well, I don’t even know if there was advance notice, really.
>> JOE: There wasn’t. Well, then there couldn’t have been. I mean, there is some element where some of those complaints are people being, like, “Oh, you needed to tell us about this advance.” Like, “Well, it’s a security update.” If you tell people about it in advance, you’ve basically just zero-day yourself. “We’re going to remove this because there’s a security problem.” “Oh, there’s security problem? Wow.”
>> AMBER: Yes. That was like ACS. It was announced there was a security problem, go update. And then, like, all these websites, you know, within hours, they were saying they didn’t even have time to update. [chuckles]
>> JOE: And that’s one of those big things about these big issues. You know, you can’t give people warning because you can’t only warn the good people. Any warning will go out to the bad actors just as much as it goes out to the people who just want to get their stuff fixed.
I think accessibility and security have a lot in common, in that you sometimes just need to make changes that will break things from perhaps a visual standpoint or just make changes that need to be adapted for but have to be done. Because otherwise, you’re just deciding that because it’s inconvenient for this potential group of people, we’re going to make it impossible for that group of people.
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>> STEVE: Yes. I think, like, what you said about being measured about it and how you go about it… I mean, I know we both make plugins, both of our companies have plugins. I think that yours probably touches a little more of the front end than ours does.
>> JOE: A lot more of the front end.
>> STEVE: Yes. But, like, you think at scale with, like, Elementor, right? I think Elementor are taking steps to be more accessible in their product, but I think they’re probably being methodical in that. And if you’re at scale, if you have a plugin on millions of websites, probably 10s 20s, maybe hundreds of millions of websites, when you release that breaking change, you’ve got to be prepared for what comes from that, right?
>> JOE: Absolutely.
>> STEVE: The support…
>> AMBER: Yes, giving support. Yes, that’s what I was just thinking. Can you imagine having to respond to all those?
>> STEVE: Now, Elementor probably has the infrastructure to handle the support, but, you know, smaller companies like ours, you know…
>> JOE: Right.
>> AMBER: Yes. You have, like, 40,000 plus installs on one of your plugins; is that your biggest plugin, WP Accessibility?
>> JOE: Yes, that’s the biggest one. But I mean…
>> AMBER: And you’re a team of one, so I can only imagine.
>> JOE: But I have two other plugins that have more than 30,000.
>> AMBER: Oh, OK. Yes. So you have to be cautious on breaking changes.
>> JOE: Yes. I just really have to be careful. And I’ve absolutely made horrific mistakes, one of which was… Well, it was a terrible mistake. I kind of am not disappointed in the consequences. So I released an update to my calendar. It was only available very briefly, but it wiped out people’s settings.
>> STEVE: Oh.
>> AMBER: Oh, no. [chuckles]
>> STEVE: Yes.
>> JOE: It basically just overrode whatever settings they had with the default settings.
>> AMBER: Oh, yes, that sounds frustrating. [chuckles]
>> JOE: I mean, it was frustrating for a while. But on the one hand, it cleared out a bunch of cruft from old settings that I wasn’t using and maybe got some people away from some old settings that I’ll rather, they weren’t using and they just want to get rid of. But it was definitely not intentional. And that was like, “Oh, wow. Whoops.”
>> STEVE: So did you do anything to fix that, or did you just let it ride?
>> JOE: Oh, I mean, I fixed it so that future updates wouldn’t reset. But I mean, I couldn’t restore the settings. I had actually wiped them out.
>> AMBER: Yes. There’s no, like…
>> JOE: They were gone.
>> AMBER: I mean, the only thing they could do is, probably if they had a backup, open it on a different site, then maybe import and export settings, if you have that available.
>> JOE: And the thing is, even if it’s only available for like, say 12 hours… And I don’t remember how long it available, but 12 hours, for my calendar, is going to be like 5000 updates, so it’s not trivial.
>> AMBER: How do you handle support when that comes in?
>> JOE: I just respond to every message.
>> AMBER: As quickly as you can. [laughs] Yes.
>> JOE: Yes.
>> STEVE: Yes.
>> JOE: Ultimately, it wasn’t that bad, because the majority of settings are either automatically derived anyway, or people were using defaults. So not that big of a deal. But… thankfully.
>> STEVE: Cool.
>> AMBER: So you contribute to WordPress Core, and you’re on the accessibility team. Could you talk a little bit about how you got started doing that work, and what kind of work you do for WordPress Core?
>> JOE: Sure. I got started pretty early on. I mean, I would just occasionally participate in a conversation around like, 2011, 2010. My first fairly major entry into WordPress Core contributions was in 2012 when I proposed the Accessibility Ready tag for themes.
>> AMBER: Oh, that’s cool. I didn’t even know that was your idea.
>> JOE: Yes, that was my idea, my proposal, I wrote all of the guidelines for it. I did all of the testing for it in the first couple of years. And then finally I had to step away because I couldn’t do it anymore. It’s too much.
>> AMBER: Are there still volunteers that are doing that? Because actually, Steve, was it at WordCamp Birmingham? There was someone who told us that he was waiting.
>> STEVE: Oh, yes. Yes.
>> JOE: There are. There’s a real shortage of people who really understand accessibility and are doing theme reviews, just like everything else. I mean, everything in the WordPress accessibility world is underrepresented. And I know why that is, fundamentally.
>> AMBER: Why?
>> JOE: It mostly has to do with demand. There’s a huge amount of demand right now for accessibility practitioners. Huge, like, anybody who’s doing accessibility is in high demand. And when you’re balancing, you know, “I have this job that needs me full time all the time.” And/or, “I could try and contribute to this project where things might get in or not, who knows.”
It’s really hard to figure out how you can spend just a little bit of time contributing. I think the hardest thing with contributing to WordPress, is how do you spend just a little bit of time?
>> STEVE: Yes.
>> AMBER: I’ll say, like, that has been one thing for me. I have really wanted to be more involved, but it’s like when I think about, could I just do, you know, an hour or two a week… I mean, I’m balancing a lot with our company, I have four young children, and, you know, like, dogs, [chuckles] and, like, everything that is requiring attention all the time. And so I’m, like, you know, could I do a couple hours a week? And then I sometimes have had moments where, like, I’ll go look at Trac tickets or something and be, like, “Is there something I could test?”
Maybe the themes is actually easier. [crosstalk ]. But I see this and I’m just, like, “I don’t even know.” And I know, there’s like two or three things where I’ve been, like, I have in my backlog that I need to go open Trac to issue tickets for them.
>> JOE: Yes.
>> AMBER: Or Gutenberg issues. But you can’t just be, like, “Here’s a sentence about this thing I saw.” [laughs]
>> JOE: No. You need enough context, that whoever comes to look at it can figure out [crosstalk ] what is it you’re actually looking at. Right. Yes. Because it is complicated.
I mean, it’s so hard. There are so many facets to it. You have to figure out, should this be on Trac, or should it be in GitHub? Is this a Core issue or a Gutenberg issue? Has it already been reported? Perhaps, has it already been fixed, but not yet released? It’s hard to find all of those things and keep them all straight, and it’s just gotten bigger and bigger over time.
I think that’s one of the biggest issues, which is that there are so many people who they’re really busy, they’re really overloaded. They’d love to contribute, but how do you spend just one or two hours a week and have it be useful?
I do think, actually, theme reviews is a good candidate. I used to do trainings on theme reviews at, like, contributor days. And I haven’t done one of those for a long time.
>> AMBER: Maybe we can do that at WordCamp. Are you going to go to WordCamp US this year?
>> JOE: I’ll be at WordCamp US, yes.
>> AMBER: That’d be cool. I would sit in and have you trained me on doing theme reviews. [chuckles].
>> JOE: Yes. The last time I was at a community summit, I trained some people from ThemeForest on accessibility reviews, which was interesting.
>> STEVE: Yes. I think one of the persons that I talked to him at WordCamp Birmingham about being Core contributor was, like, that, you know, he had opened some tickets and fix some things, and they’ve been sitting open for years.
>> JOE: Yes. So now I’m going to reveal something, which is your pre-prepared questions. One of them that was really interesting to me is actually the question about, what is the general state of accessibility in WordPress Core and Gutenberg right now. And this very much comes back to that question. And effectively, as I see it, right now we’re at the stage where we’re just starting to recover progress from five years ago.
>> AMBER: How so?
>> JOE: Because basically, Gutenberg came in and basically decimated the accessibility team and everybody else’s teams’ time for putting time in on Core. We had tons of big issues that we were trying to get fixed and addressed in Core, and they just got completely derailed.
>> AMBER: Because they released Gutenberg, and Gutenberg had so many problems.
>> JOE: Well, it got derailed before Gutenberg was even released because there were so many things. It was moving so fast. We were just trying to catch up and keep it from being a completely unusable mess. And that was all we could put any attention on, because, you know, every two weeks there’ll be a new version of it. It would be like, “Oh.” Two weeks ago is now irrelevant, because they’ve completely revamped the interface again.
>> STEVE: Yes.
>> JOE: It was incredibly frustrating. And it’s why there are a lot of people who were huge contributors to accessibility in Core five years ago who are gone. It was draining, it was too much.
>> AMBER: Like burnout?
>> JOE: Yes. I mean, I think I took 18 months off from, like, 2017 to 2019, or something like that. It was really brutal.
>> AMBER: So I’m curious. And, you know, outside of this, right, I’ve had a lot of conversations with my friend Alex Stine; you’re friends with him also, and some other people that are blind about Gutenberg and all that. And hearing what you’re saying, I’m curious… And I might be putting you on the spot. You might be, like, you don’t want to answer this in a public fashion. But I’m curious if you think introducing the block editor to WordPress was a good choice from an accessibility perspective.
I know there’s this whole other conversation we could go about, “Are we trying to build like a Squarespace or something?” I don’t know. I’m curious what you feel about that.
>> JOE: I think it has a lot of potential to be a good thing. I think there are a couple of complicated issues there, one of which is that there’s a total separation here between whether we’re talking about people who are administering WordPress websites and creating content or people who are consuming WordPress websites.
From the standpoint of building a website that is accessible, I think Gutenberg has added a lot of potential for people, as has full site editing, to easily create a website that overall has better accessibility than just the average theme would have given you.
There’s a baseline, where, for example, the navigation in a full site editing theme is fundamentally accessible, and it’s got a number of different options for configuring it, and they all have been designed with accessibility in mind. So that is a good thing because there are so many themes, historically, where the navigation was completely unusable.
But it’s terrible from the standpoint of trying to administer a website because it is so complex, and because it’s so visually oriented. I mean, this huge bias in the block editor about things… In the editing Canvas, you should be seeing something like what you’ll actually have on the website. And that is just so totally visually biased, and it creates a lot of barriers when you’re trying to edit from the keyboard or edit using a screen reader because there’s such a mess of things moving around; and this control is available sometimes, but not other times. And it’s really, really difficult.
However, as long as there still is a classic environment available, I don’t really think it matters. It’s fine. You can have a full site editing experience that’s not very accessible as long as you can also create the important aspects of it classically.
>> STEVE: Yes.
>> JOE: So I think one of the biggest disservices is, you know, if you lose the navigation menu interface because now you have to create them in blocks, that interface is really hard to use.
>> STEVE: Yes.
>> JOE: I find it really difficult to use as a sighted user with a mouse. I find it even harder to use from the keyboard or with a screen reader because it’s so confusing.
>> STEVE: Yes. I’ve even had a little bit of like an introspection on, like, the block editor in the backend, right? So from like a development standpoint, we try to make the back end look like the front end for our client websites, as closely as possible. But there’s still a utilitarian part of that block, right? Like, it still needs to do stuff, you still need to be able to interact with it.
Even in auditing some other accessibility plugins and how they scan websites and stuff, you know, one of the plugins would interject. They would wrap the blocks and style them and put overlays on the blocks. I even had a little bit of a, you know, “Is that the right thing to do?”
If the block editor is supposed to resemble the front end pretty close, should we be modifying the design to show them accessibility issues? Or should we be utilizing, like, the sidebar or things like that?
>> JOE: I think, in my mind, that should be viewed kind of in the same way that you would view something like the wave toolbar or other things that will give you feedback overlaid on the front end of a site. Because you’re giving a specialized view. This is not a view of the website as it should look.
>> STEVE: Right.
>> JOE: But I also think that this idea that the block editor should actually look like the website is, in many cases, a disservice to the user. It makes certain things much harder to actually work with.
Last week, I built a TabPanel block, because I was just trying to find one that was accessible, right? I was just, like, “I can’t find one, so I’m just going to have to build it.” And that was the first time I…
>> AMBER: Are you going to release it?
>> JOE: No.
>> AMBER: Can we all look forward to the TabPanel block coming to WordPress [inaudible]?
>> JOE: Well, first of all, even if I did release it, with the backlog on plugin releases right now, that would be, like, six months out. But I don’t really want to release plugins anymore. Like, I have too many already. So it’s available. It’s on GitHub. You can use it if you want.
So I was just kind of, like, “You know, I don’t need to follow that guideline at all.” So I’m, like, “You know what, I’m going to put a visible label in the block editor on the field that’s supposed to hold the tab label.” Because that way, I can really clearly tell which one it is without depending on a placeholder. And I did it, and I’m, like, “I like that. That interface works for me.”
>> STEVE: Hmm.
>> AMBER: Yes, I think…
>> JOE: And I think we should be more like that.
>> AMBER: I don’t know if you’ve ever tried the screen reader text format plugin –
>> JOE: I have, yes.
>> AMBER: – That Nick Croft and Reactive released. I think the way they’ve handled it with blocks is, you can either only see the screen-reader texts when you click into the block to edit it, or they have a setting that’s kind of in the top right, like, near the “publish” button that is another button that you could turn on that would toggle them all. So you could just see them all whether or not you’re clicked in a block. And maybe for accessibility warnings or something, it’d be something similar, like…
>> JOE: Yes, you could do something like that.
>> AMBER: Yes, they’re, like, “We’ll see it all or not.”
>> JOE: For me, for, like, the content management of, like, a TabPanel, the problem is, with trying to make it visually the same in the editor as it is in the front end is that you have to combine your controls for editing with controls for, like, switching tabs.
>> STEVE: Yes.
>> JOE: You literally can’t see the other tabs if you’re presenting it the same way. And that just creates, in my mind, this kind of combined function of a control that is a horrible experience.
>> STEVE: Yes.
>> JOE: It’s just a bad interface.
>> AMBER: Yes. So I want to circle a little bit back because I feel like we might have dissuaded people from contributing.
First of all, I’d be curious, could you just list out like some of the current needs within the accessibility team or for accessibility within whether it’s a block order or the Core, like, what is needed?
>> JOE: So first of all, we need opinions. You know, there’s an awful lot of tickets and issues, both in Gutenberg and on Trac, where we have patches, we have fixes prepared. We really need people to offer support for those.
Honestly, sometimes the reason something languishes is because it’s ready to go. I’m perfectly prepared to commit it, but I want somebody else to say, “Yes, this works well. I think this is a good idea,” before I just go and commit it. And honestly, that is something that anybody can do, you know, as long as they’re comfortable installing a patch or a pull request, you know, then… Just in getting their opinion.
>> AMBER: Was there a conversation about creating some sort of way to do this with something like SpinupWP or something where you could quickly spin up alternate versions of WordPress just like in a browser? Because, like, that’s the thing for me, if I’m thinking about time. I’m not a developer. I used to do some, like, I have local installed on my [inaudible], and I can run a local site if I need to, but I would have to first remember how to do that. [chuckles]
>> JOE: Yes.
>> AMBER: I think I sent you a question once, I was, like, “If I just download the zip, will it include everything from WordPress, or will it…” Like, I don’t even know what I’m going to get if I get something off of Trac or off of GitHub, you know?
>> JOE: Yes. And I mean, that is definitely one of the biggest challenges; how do you actually get this done?
There was a point where the accessibility team ran a server where we could just put in a patch, and then send out requests for feedback. But that was difficult. I mean, it was hard to manage, hard to maintain, just because, you know, which patches do you have in there? Are you only able to take feedback on this one thing at a time? And so we don’t have a solution for that.
That is something that also could be a very valuable contribution, if somebody put some time into tooling. But obviously, tooling is not a, like, two-hour-a-week kind of thing. That’s something where somebody needs to sit down and say, “For my two hours a week, I’m going to get it all done in the next two weeks and spend all of my time building this tool,” which is another solution.
>> AMBER: Like just take a week off of work and contribute 40 hours, and then don’t do it again for another year. That’s another way to [inaudible]
>> JOE: Yes. It’s always important to try and have somebody else involved. Because too many projects have gotten, like, half-built, then that person ran out of steam, and it just is abandoned. And nobody has access to it, nobody can do anything with it, nobody knows how it works. That’s a difficulty.
That does also come to one of those other issues with contributing to WordPress, which is you really do have to be independent-minded. You have to be prepared to just take things on yourself because it’s a huge, huge project. And there are so many people contributing to so many different things, that getting somebody involved in your project can be challenging.
Lots of things are driven by just one person for a long time until they managed to get to a certain point where people start participating. And I think that can be really discouraging, but it is kind of part of the way WordPress works, which is that everything is very independent. It’s like a whole herd of cats generally going in the same direction, but frequently going off on their own. So that’s a challenge, and it’s something you have to be kind of prepared for if you’re going to contribute to WordPress, which is the fact that it can be hard work getting anybody to go the way you’re going
>> STEVE: Can you walk me through, like, how you weigh, like, the advantage or disadvantage? You know, a lot of us are small companies or, you know, freelancers, solopreneurs, you know, and a lot of us have client work that just keeps us super busy and pays the bills, right? But you want to give back, right? You want to contribute to this. How do you weigh those two? There’s got to be an upside to contributing to Core, right? Like, how do you balance those two things?
>> JOE: Yes. Well, that is hard. And full disclosure, I am now sponsored by GoDaddy to contribute part-time, so that has completely changed my calculus on that.
>> STEVE: Yes, funding helps.
>> AMBER: Are there many sponsored on the accessibility team?
>> JOE: I am aware of two, including myself. Andrea [inaudible] is sponsored by Yoast.
>> AMBER: OK.
JOE: But obviously, the first 10 years I was contributing to WordPress, it was entirely on my own, just my own time. And I justified it in two ways, one of which was… And this is just personal, as a way to give back to the world. Utilizing my accessibility expertise to try and make WordPress a little bit better was a good way of having a big impact. Because even if I could only give a few hours, and could only make minor changes, the number of people impacted would still be nonzero. Whereas, you know, building one website that’s more accessible, you know, it impacts a small number of people. It doesn’t have that big of a long-term impact.
The other thing was, you know, it is obviously good for me from a business standpoint, because I have a reputation that I don’t think I could have ever had without being a recognized figure over a long time in the WordPress community. That’s kind of hard to measure. I mean, reputation is vague. And I’ve never done a lot of work in the WordPress space, like, I don’t actually do a lot of work for other WordPress companies. I know a lot of people in WordPress accessibility do. I mostly work for nonprofit organizations that just happen to be using WordPress.
>> AMBER: So they’re not funding you because they know you’re a Core contributor?
>> JOE: No. Honestly, most of my clients come from my accessibility side, not from my WordPress side. It’s very weird. Like, I have this really strange separation in my work, in that most of my clients don’t know that much about what I do for WordPress.
>> AMBER: That’s kind of interesting. Yes. I mean, I feel like there is probably this innate, like, a lot of people who contribute or volunteer, which doesn’t always mean DEV, right? Like, we run a meetup, because I was, like, “Like I said, I’m not a developer. What can I do?” Right? And there are lots of people that were in [inaudible] WordCamps, and those sorts of things, or do other things to help with marketing for it, for Core. Or, like, building photo libraries or something like that.
I think there is probably just some innate interest in giving back or contributing positively to the world. But it is definitely hard when you have to balance finances and other things. Yes.
>> JOE: And I fully believe that if a choice is down to, “Am I going to be able to pay my mortgage, or am I going to contribute to WordPress?” You should pay your mortgage?
>> STEVE: Yes.
>> AMBER: Yes.
>> JOE: I mean, people need to take care of themselves. Ultimately, WordPress is so huge that it’s probably going to keep going, even if, you know, a few people choose to do things other than contribute for some while. That’s fine.
>> AMBER: I feel like one of the biggest ways that we could see more growth here is having more companies commit to paying contributors. Even if it’s not a full time, but making it part of their developers’ job duties. Even if it’s just part time, like, “Every Friday, you work on WordPress.” And then [crosstalk ] work Monday through Thursday.
>> JOE: There are so many people being sponsored to work on WordPress. Like, there are a lot of people who get paid full time or part time to contribute to WordPress. Almost none of those are in the accessibility space. That said, contributing to accessibility in WordPress doesn’t need you to be in accessibility.
Honestly, if you want to contribute to themes, and just be aware of accessibility, get trained in, we’ll do that, we would love that. We don’t need you to be like an accessibility specialist. We just want people to be interested in and concerned with it.
One of the things that I think has actually improved a lot in the last couple of years is there are a lot more requests for accessibility feedback coming to us. You know, I get a lot of those requests from Openverse and from people who are doing projects within the Gutenberg plugin, trying to add new blocks or something. And I think that’s a great thing. Because realistically, the accessibility team shouldn’t be owning projects. The accessibility team should be providing feedback and assistance on other people’s projects. But we can only do that when we know about them.
The reality is there are so many open tickets to keep on top of, and nowhere near enough DEVS to finish them all. So tell us what you’re working on and we’ll happily make sure it’s better. We could really use some project management, because you know, somebody who was participating specifically to manage accessibility and kind of coordinate between priorities and things that people are actually working on is useful.
>> AMBER: Is there still a team rep role open?
>> JOE: I mean, hypothetically.
>> AMBER: I mean, it’s like I’ve pinned posts on the accessibility. I don’t know if that seems bold or if it does need to be pinned anymore.
>> JOE: I mean, Alex would really like there to be three team reps for our team. And that’s mostly because he can’t make a lot of our meetings, so that leaves it on Joe Simpson to do almost all of the meeting running. But technically speaking, we have two reps, and we don’t need a third rep. Like, the project policy generally is there should be two reps for each team.
>> AMBER: So the project manager is someone that has those skills. They wouldn’t necessarily have to be the “rep”? They could come in some other capacity to help manage and direct.
>> JOE: Yes. I mean, a team rep is basically somebody who’s taking responsibility for creating agendas, creating reports on meetings, and just generally being a point person to receive feedback and communications. You know, they don’t need to do anything beyond that. Because, frankly, somebody to do the logistical step parts of just running a team is really valuable. I’ve done it.
>> AMBER: Another thought I had that’s worth mentioning. If people are listening, and they’re still thinking, “Oh, I don’t know if I have time”, the WP Community Collective have an accessibility fellowship that they are raising money to be able to fund contributors for the accessibility. So even if you only had five or 10 bucks, you could go over there and donate to the accessibility project through the WP Community Collective, which is on opencollective.com. We’ll put a link in the show notes. That’s another way I think that anyone could help support accessibility in WordPress. And, I don’t know.
>> JOE: Absolutely. Yes.
>> AMBER: Not that we have a huge amount of listeners, but if we imagine every person who uses WordPress went and donated $1, there’ll be a lot of money for accessibility. [chuckles]
>> JOE: You know, I always think about that calculus when I’m thinking about, like, plugin downloads. Like, those plugin download numbers, if I had $1 for every plugin download, I would be so wealthy, it’s amazing.
>> AMBER: Would you still be contributing to WordPress? Would you be sitting on a beach, drinking Coconut Hiwa? [laughs]
>> STEVE: Yes. He’d be in Maui, drinking coconut.
>> JOE: So I do have a hypothetical of, like, “This is what I would do if suddenly I had a lot of money.”
>> AMBER: OK, what is it?
>> JOE: Actually, what I would want to do is found a foundation for funding accessibility and open source projects.
>> STEVE: There you go.
>> AMBER: I love that.
>> JOE: But, I mean, like, that’s such a big thing. I have not taken any steps on it because I definitely don’t have those kinds of resources. But that would be my dream thing; like just to be the open source accessibility foundation, providing grants, providing people with training, just to say, “All right, let’s make open source more accessible.”
>> STEVE: There you go.
>> AMBER: That sounds awesome.
>> JOE: So that’s my hypothetical.
>> STEVE: Let us know when that happens and we’ll apply.
>> JOE: Yes, I’ll keep that in mind. My biggest flaw there is that I have such a completely non-commercial approach to everything that I do, that, like, lots of money is not a particularly high probability for me.
>> AMBER: Well, you never know. At some point, somebody might say they want to buy one of your plugins.
>> JOE: Yes. Who knows.
>> AMBER: Even though they’re not monetized, so. Well, some of them are. But yes. Probably not the Twitter one. Nobody would want to buy that one anymore. [laughs]
>> JOE: I mean, I would happily sell it if somebody did want it. But mostly I’m intending to just shut it down because I think Twitter is a lost cause. I don’t want to do that anymore.
>> STEVE: WP to Twitter, is that the one you’re talking about?
>> JOE: Yes, that’s the one. It’s my first plugin. I got that in 2008.
>> AMBER: It still works with the API issues?
>> JOE: Yes.
>> AMBER: Yes? OK. I wasn’t sure if, like, people were [inaudible]
>> JOE: But the API is now really unstable. Well, so the issues is they’re allowing free usage, up to 1500 requests per month.
>> AMBER: Oh. So that’s –
>> JOE: Which, I mean…
>> AMBER: – For most users, yes.
>> JOE: Not… I mean, since… The thing that shut down, like, jetpacks, tweeting, was the fact that they were running it through a WordPress.com app. So that app is making millions of requests per month. So they have to pay a ton for that.
WP to Twitter’s advantage is that every single user has to set up their own app. And so not many are going to be posting more than 1500 posts a month. That is a very exceptional usage.
However, the downside is, now that Twitter is getting so much more aggressive about suspending apps, I basically get daily support requests from people whose apps have been suspended and they don’t know what to do. And I’m like, “I can’t help you. You have to create a new app.” There’s nothing I can do. They’re going to do… and they’ll probably do it again in a month. And that’s why I want to shut down the plugin.
>> AMBER: [laughs] because it’s [inaudible].
>> STEVE: Yes. Support. Yes.
>> JOE: It does not make enough money to justify that kind of support.
>> AMBER: We have a couple of free ones out there from our [inaudible] creative days, and I’m mostly content with them to sit. But the moment we start getting support or feature requests is the moment we just say, like, “Take it down.” [laughs]
>> JOE: Yes.
>> STEVE: Yes, I mean, it’s hard when you have an idea at a certain point in your career, and then, you know, other priorities take precedence, and then people want support, or things change, and you’ve got to go back and put time into it. It’s another one of those things. Just like, you know, “Do I contribute to Core? Or do I work on my client”.It’s just another one of those, we’re all doing these amazing balancing acts here, right?
>> JOE: Yes. I mean, I got way too far into creating plugins. You know, at one point, I had 12 active plugins in the repository and I was maintaining all of them. And now I’m in kind of the gradual phase of, “I’ve shut down a couple. I’m going to shut down some more.” And it’s really just because, realistically, I can’t maintain that many. And that’s why I don’t want to release new ones, either. It’s just, like, “What am I going to do?” Like, you know, I’m happy to share it on GitHub and be, like, “Yes, if you want to open an issue, that’s fine.”
>> STEVE: Yes. You should look at selling them. I mean, put it out there. I mean, Amber put it out there and we sold one real easy.
>> JOE: Yes.
>> AMBER: Yes. Our WP Conference Schedule plugin. And it wasn’t, like, monetized or anything, like, it was just free, and it only had a couple of 100 users. So I’m sure you’d get way more money than I got.
>> STEVE: There was an unreleased pro version of it, but…
>> AMBER: Well, that’s true. The pro version was almost all the way built, and then we were just, like, “This is a distraction.”
>> STEVE: Yes.
>> AMBER: Like, I think that’s the bigger thing you have to figure out; what is your, like, business focus or your personal focus? And then, don’t put the blinders on and stay on that.
>> JOE: Well, that’s the thing. So for like my accessible Tabpanel block plugin, I did that because I need it for clients, period. So it’s billable hours, it’s useful, and it only took like six hours. It’s not that big of a deal. And, you know, I built an accessible modal plugin, just because I need to be able to add modals periodically and simple.
>> AMBER: So tell everyone, what your GitHub handle is. And then, yes, if they want to go try out your stuff, how can they find you?
>> JOE: GitHub.com/Joedolson. Joe Dolson is my handle pretty much everywhere.
>> AMBER: And that’s your on, like, Make WordPress Slack and everything?
>> JOE: Yep. All everywhere.
>> AMBER: Awesome. I think we’re about at time. Do you have any final thoughts or anything that you want to leave the audience with related to Accessibility or WordPress accessibility?
>> JOE: You know, mostly, I just want people to think about what they’re doing on their own website. You know, contributing to Core is hard work, and I’d love to have more people doing that. But I also recognize that for the majority of people, it’s all about what you use.
So if people can take the time to actually assess the themes and plugins they’re choosing to use, just even on a very superficial level, just be like, “Oh, can I tab through these controls? Oh, I can’t.” And then if they can’t, tell people, post it on Twitter or post a support request or post a review. Because I’m a firm believer that with most accessibility issues, nobody’s going to fix it unless they know about it. And as much as it’s frustrating, complaints get things fixed.
>> STEVE: Squeaky wheel gets the oil.
>> JOE: Yes.
>> AMBER: Yes. Well, it’s been really fun. Thank you so much, Joe.
>> STEVE: Yes.
>> JOE: Thanks a lot. Thanks for having me. This was fun.
>> STEVE: Yes.
>> JOE: Cheers.
>> STEVE: Cheers.
>> CHRIS: Thanks for listening to Accessibility Craft. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe in your podcast app to get notified when future episodes release. You can find Accessibility Craft on Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify, and more. And if building accessibility awareness is important to you, please consider rating Accessibility Craft five stars on Apple podcasts.
Accessibility Craft is produced by Equalize Digital, and hosted by Amber Hinds, Chris Hinds, and Steve Jones. Steve Jones composed our theme music.
Learn how we help make thousands of WordPress websites more accessible at EqualizeDigital.com.