040: Interviewing Alex Stine, Stewart’s Grape Soda


In this episode, Amber and Steve interview Alex Stine on a variety of topics from his professional background and how he got into WordPress to advice he has for web professionals. Alex is an IT systems engineer and accessibility expert who is well known for his contributions to the WordPress community.

Mentioned in This Episode


>> CHRIS HINDS: Welcome to episode 040 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, Amber and Steve interview Alex Stine on a variety of topics from his professional background and how he got into WordPress to advice he has for web professionals. Alex is an IT systems engineer and accessibility expert who is well known for his contributions to the WordPress community. For show notes and a full transcript, go to accessibilitycraft.com/040. And now, on to the show.

>> AMBER: Hey everybody, it’s Amber, and today I am here with Steve.

>> STEVE: Hello, everyone.

>> AMBER: And we have a special guest joining us, our friend Alex Stine. Hey, Alex.

>> ALEX: Hello.

>> AMBER: Do you want to introduce yourself for anyone who has not had the wonderful pleasure of meeting you in person?

>> ALEX: I am a blind screen reader user. I kind of do some accessibility consulting work on the side. My day job is working in cloud engineering and DevOps, and I try to get back to the WordPress accessibility any way I can.

>> AMBER: And you’re a core contributor to WordPress and to Gutenberg also?

>> ALEX: Yes.

>> AMBER: Well, we’re excited to have you here today, and today– We’ve been on sort of a soda kick lately. We’re going to have a grape soda, like old-school. Are you guys fruity soda drinkers?

>> STEVE: No, not so much as an adult.

>> AMBER: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Alex, I don’t know if you’ve listened to other episodes, but we have frequently discussed Steve’s love for Coke.

>> STEVE: Diet Coke. Let’s get it right.

>> ALEX: Yes. That is something I really do not understand, but there it is.

>> AMBER: I also think Coke is disgusting.

>> STEVE: Regular Coke, or diet Coke?

>> ALEX: Yes.

>> AMBER: All of it. The flavor of Coke.

>> ALEX: All of it.

>> STEVE: Really? Huh.

>> AMBER: What about you, Alex? What’s your preferred soda?

>> ALEX: Now, I admit, I will drink a cherry vanilla Coke.

>> STEVE: Mm-hmm. There you go.

>> ALEX: It is very, very good.

>> STEVE: Yeah. Especially if it’s mixed, like grenadine, at a restaurant or something.

>> ALEX: Exactly.

>> AMBER: Is that what a Shirley Temple is?

>> STEVE: I don’t know. Maybe. This is why we need Chris here to help us.

>> AMBER: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. We’re having Stewart’s Original Fountain Classics, so it’s supposed to be made the way an old-school soda would’ve been made at a soda fountain. It’s grape soda. It’s made with real cane sugar, and it says it has Concord grape taste, so it’s going to taste like traditional grape, and it is in a bottle with the twist-off top, so shall we open our bottles and see how it tastes or smells?

>> STEVE: Yeah, there you go.

>> ALEX: We can certainly try.

>> AMBER: See if we can get it open?

>> STEVE: Oh, let’s see. It’s got a twist-off, but it’s pretty tight. It looks like Amber was able to–

>> AMBER: I got mine. I got–

>> ALEX: — to get it off, yeah.

>> AMBER: It says this has been made since 1924. I’m going to smell it. Okay.

>> STEVE: It’s grape.

>> AMBER: Wait, I really want to know. Alex, what do you think it smells like?

>> ALEX: Well, I am having no such luck getting this top off, so-

>> AMBER: Oh, no.

>> ALEX: I am also suffering from a left-hand injury because I end up being extremely sore after my Thursday self-defense classes, so this is all really bad timing.

>> STEVE: Oh.

>> AMBER: Oh, no.

>> STEVE: Yeah, so you got to-

>> AMBER: Twisting a lid off.

>> STEVE: You got to twist it counterclockwise, right?

>> ALEX: Really?

>> STEVE: Yeah, yeah. Twist it to the right. But it says “Grape Soda,” and then it’s got an image or a drawing of a grape popsicle? You know the two popsicles that are hooked together when you’re a kid, and I don’t know, they might still make these, and then you break them apart, but you end up always breaking them in half the wrong way?

>> AMBER: Twin pops.

>> STEVE: Is that what they’re called?

>> AMBER: I think they make those.

>> STEVE: Twin pops? All right.

>> AMBER: They’re like for sharing.

>> STEVE: Oh, yeah?

>> AMBER: Or just so you can have one in each fist. I don’t know.

>> STEVE: That’s right.

>> AMBER: I asked what you thought it smelled because I think it smells like cough syrup.

>> STEVE: It smells like grape cough syrup that you give to kids?

>> AMBER: Yeah, like what I give to my children. That’s what I think it smells like. I haven’t tasted it yet because I’m waiting to see if Alex can get it open.

>> STEVE: Yup.

>> ALEX: I definitely cannot get this open.

>> STEVE: Oh, no.

>> AMBER: No.

>> ALEX: This is proving to be an accessibility issue.

>> AMBER: Oh, no. It really is. Do you want to grab a bottle opener and try with that?

>> ALEX: I will step away and grab my bottle opener. I will be right back.

>> AMBER: Okay.

>> STEVE: I was holding off to try it out until Alex got his top off, but–

>> ALEX: Okay, so I’ve returned.

>> STEVE: Okay.

>> AMBER: Yay. Did you find a bottle opener?

>> ALEX: I did.

>> STEVE: All right.

>> ALEX: Unfortunately, I caused another accessibility issue.

>> STEVE: Oh, no.

>> AMBER: Oh, no. What was it?

>> ALEX: I don’t know where the cap landed.

>> STEVE: Oh, no.

>> AMBER: Okay. I hope you have shoes on, because if you step on that with your bare foot, that would not feel good.

>> ALEX: Yeah, I do, and I’ll have to locate that before tonight.

>> STEVE: Oh, no. Sorry, Alex.

>> AMBER: Well, I’m glad you got it open, Alex.

>> ALEX: And I would agree. It does surprisingly remind me of the smell of cough syrup.

>> AMBER: All right, so shall we all take a sip and see if it tastes like cough syrup?

>> STEVE: Let’s do it.

>> ALEX: We should.

>> AMBER: All right. Let’s do it.

>> STEVE: Wow. It’s sweet.

>> AMBER: Yeah, it’s really sweet.

>> ALEX: Oh, my gosh. That’s really sweet. That’s sweet for me.

>> AMBER: Yeah, it is a very sweet soda.

>> ALEX: It’s really good.

>> AMBER: This whole bottle has 45 grams of sugar, so this is definitely not a diet beverage.

>> STEVE: No, no.

>> ALEX: No.

>> AMBER: But it’s pleasant. It does not taste like cough syrup.

>> ALEX: No, I mean, I admit though, this is kind of shocking. It just kind of like– The sweetness hits you in the face.

>> STEVE: It sure does.

>> AMBER: Yeah. I feel like it’s more sweet, and it doesn’t have as much grape flavor as I would like. I end up just leaving– There’s a little bit of grape that it leaves in your mouth, but it’s-

>> STEVE: It’s not like a natural grape flavor. It’s like the candy grape flavor.

>> AMBER: Okay, wait, so here’s an interesting, fun fact. I used to hate grape and all grape things and grape jelly and all that, because I was just like, “It’s so fake tasting. It’s not real.” And when we lived on Nantucket, there was this area where you could go pick wild Concord grapes. And I went and we would take our wagon and take Nora. We only had one child then. She was a toddler. She’d ride in the wagon and we would just pick and fill the wagon with grapes and come home, and I canned a whole bunch then, and I had those grapes for the first time, and they taste like this. I realized, the grapes that we get at the grocery store, they’re just not Concord grapes. It is actually a real flavor.

>> STEVE: Oh.

>> AMBER: It’s not like fake. Grapes at a grocery store taste like nothing in comparison to a actual Concord grape.

>> STEVE: Hmm.

>> ALEX: Interesting.

>> STEVE: I actually don’t dig on purple grapes. I like green ones.

>> AMBER: I mean, the ones at the store don’t– The color doesn’t impact the flavor, right? Do they taste different to you?

>> STEVE: Yeah, it does.

>> AMBER: Really?

>> STEVE: The green one, yeah, right? Now I’m questioning my whole life.

>> AMBER: Alex, do you buy grapes at the grocery store?

>> ALEX: I do not.

>> AMBER: No, not a grape fan?

>> STEVE: No.

>> ALEX: I don’t buy much of anything at the grocery store.

>> AMBER: Okay. Well, do you order them and get curbside pickup of grapes?

>> ALEX: No, I don’t do that either.

>> AMBER: You like to eat out at restaurants, I think, right?

>> ALEX: I like to eat out at restaurants, probably an unhealthy amount, but it’s what it is.

>> STEVE: Yeah, yeah.

>> AMBER: Yeah. It’s easier until you have a bunch of kids and then all of a sudden your restaurant bill is really high.

>> STEVE: Yeah, yeah, especially nowadays. Yeah.

>> ALEX: So moral of the story, don’t have kids.

>> AMBER: Aw.

>> STEVE: Well, we’ve got seven between us, so.

>> AMBER: Yeah, yeah, yeah. We like the kids.

>> ALEX: Understand.

>> AMBER: But there are definitely downsides. I will say, I have friends who fly around lots of fun places all the time, and I’m like, “Hmm, it’d be easier to do that if I didn’t have four.” But I like my four, so trade-off. This soda, I kind of wonder if it would make a good mixer?

>> STEVE: Mm-hmm.

>> AMBER: It’s a little too sweet on its own, but I’m like, if you added it with, I don’t know, a shot of vodka or something, something that cuts the sweet, it might be good. I don’t know.

>> STEVE: Yeah. Now-

>> ALEX: It would seem so. Yeah.

>> STEVE: Yeah. Not good for your low-carb diet, 45 carbs.

>> AMBER: No. Would you get it again?

>> STEVE: I mean, Chris sent me a whole pack of it, so the kids will probably like it.

>> AMBER: What about you, Alex? Are you going to drink it or are you going to be like, “Nah, never mind.”

>> ALEX: Absolutely.

>> STEVE: Yeah.

>> AMBER: Yeah? All right, so it’s a winner then.

>> STEVE: It’s missing a key ingredient that I like to have in my drinks, which is caffeine.

>> AMBER: Oh, well, maybe you need to mix it with some caffeinated beverage. I don’t know.

>> STEVE: That’s right.

>> AMBER: Is grape-flavored coffee a thing?

>> STEVE: I’ll have a–

>> ALEX: I was thinking that.

>> STEVE: Mix it with Diet Coke and grape. That’d be nasty.

>> ALEX: Oh. Oh, no.

>> AMBER: Well, okay, now, this is a great question before we transition back to accessibility. Why is cherry coke good, but grape coke would not be?

>> ALEX: Cherry vanilla Coke, specifically.

>> AMBER: Well, what if you put vanilla in too, and then you had grape vanilla coke?

>> ALEX: Ugh, no, I’m not-

>> STEVE: That sounds nasty. That’s horrible.

>> AMBER: I mean, that’s a real– I think Coke is gross no matter what, but what is it about cherry that’s different from a grape flavor that makes it–

>> STEVE: Yeah. I don’t know. That’s weird, right?

>> AMBER: Yeah.

>> STEVE: It just doesn’t mix well with other things like a cherry flavor does, but–

>> AMBER: Yeah. You know what actually would probably be really good with this soda is vanilla ice cream and making a grape float.

>> STEVE: Yeah, I was thinking that too. A float would be good.

>> AMBER: I bet this soda would taste good that way.

>> ALEX: Yeah.

>> STEVE: Yeah.

>> AMBER: Yeah, it is very sweet, so if you like sweet things and you like fruity soda, this might be worth trying. So Alex, you gave us your little intro and told us more about yourself, and I’m curious, can you give us some backstory on how you got involved with WordPress?

>> ALEX: I built my first website at 14, and really, really enjoyed it, and I went on by 15 to start working in tech support at WPMU DEV, or I think so.

>> AMBER: So what you’re saying is, you’re smarter than all the rest of us.

>> STEVE: Yeah.

>> ALEX: Depend how you define smart. If you compared my standardized testing scores to yours, you would find out I’m actually pretty stupid.

>> AMBER: Oh.

>> ALEX: At least by the numbers.

>> AMBER: But you’re very good at tech?

>> ALEX: Very good at tech, apparently.

>> AMBER: So you started working at WPMU DEV doing tech support when you were 15?

>> ALEX: Yes. My birthday’s on May 15th, and I started there on May 28th.

>> STEVE: Wow.

>> AMBER: That’s cool. And how did you transition from doing that to contributing to WordPress Core and being on the accessibility team for WordPress?

>> ALEX: Well, I soon found that I had an interest for development, so I started trying to learn code and fix front-end accessibility issues on our company’s website. I tried to learn some code while I was still doing tech support to help customers, but it was really after I lost my vision when I realized the importance of accessibility. I started losing my vision over the course of six months when I was 16, and that was really the wake-up call to learn accessibility quickly.

>> STEVE: Mm-hmm.

>> AMBER: Yeah, I mean, because really, accessibility challenges, or different abilities can happen to any of us at any time. It’s not necessarily just something that people are born with.

>> ALEX: Yeah.

>> STEVE: So you had started in the field, in the WordPress world, before fully losing your vision? Before that, was your vision-

>> ALEX: Yes.

>> STEVE: Was it a hundred percent? Or–

>> ALEX: I was definitely visually impaired, just under the limit of legally being able to drive.

>> STEVE: Oh, okay.

>> ALEX: A lot of people probably would’ve never noticed.

>> STEVE: Oh, okay. So were you using assistive technologies before you were 16?

>> ALEX: I would use a program called ZoomText to try to get a larger magnification of the screen, but I didn’t use it to the level that some people used it.

>> STEVE: Yeah, yeah.

>> AMBER: Mm-hmm. Yeah. So you said that you taught yourself code. What resources were helpful to you when you were learning code and learning about how to code accessibly.

>> ALEX: W3 schools and php.net.

>> STEVE: Yeah.

>> AMBER: Okay.

>> ALEX: All the videos and code camps and tutorials out there were mainly inaccessible, so I had to figure it out.

>> AMBER: Are the videos on WordPress.tv okay, or the problem is that people don’t adequately describe what’s in their presentation?

>> ALEX: People don’t adequately describe or even make accessible slides, so there’s that.

>> STEVE: Right.

>> AMBER: Yeah.

>> STEVE: So you stay away from video for the most part, right? I think I’ve heard you say that before, right?

>> ALEX: Yes. It’s completely useless.

>> STEVE: Yeah.

>> AMBER: Yeah. I think we’ve been trying, at least with WordPress accessibility meetup, we try really hard to tell all of our speakers that they need to vocalize, and we’ve had some developers. I know, Steve, when you presented, you did this. Nick Croft also, he gave a talk on CSS color modes, and he did a really great job of reading his code and literally saying left brace, saying all the punctuation and everything, which I think would be important if you were using with sound and you wanted to learn how to code.

>> STEVE: Yeah.

>> ALEX: Yes, but you also need to make it available on GitHub because hearing it and seeing it or– well, seeing it is a funny term in this discussion, but it’s not the same thing.

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>> AMBER: Yeah. So when you’re saying that in that term, seeing it, you mean using a screen reader to have it read it out to you at the speed that you would want it to read?

>> ALEX: Exactly.

>> AMBER: With the formatting that it needs to have and everything.

>> ALEX: Yes.

>> STEVE: Yeah. I think at WordCamp US, when I give my speech, I’m trying to be very mindful of that, that I’m reading everything out, but there was a spot where I slipped up. I missed something, and I did provide all my code in a [inaudible] on GitHub, but I had failed to read out the URL, and I was lucky enough to have Amber sitting in the front row whispering to me, read out the link.

>> AMBER: Yeah. Well, I mean, there’s people in the audience who– even sighted people sometimes if they’re far back or if they’re– they might not be able to read it on the slide, or if you think about somebody might just want to listen. I sometimes listen to videos. I put them on a different tab than I’m working on, and I just listen to the audio when I’m catching replays. I mean, I prefer if they have podcasts. Alex, you motivated us to start releasing WordPress accessibility meetups recordings as podcast audio because you pointed out that it’s nicer for people.

>> ALEX: It’s a more equal experience.

>> STEVE: Yeah.

>> AMBER: Yeah.

>> STEVE: So you said you work in DevOps, right? Cloud infrastructure? Is that correct? Can you tell us a little bit more about your day-to-day job?

>> ALEX: So I get to do all kinds of fun things in my day-to-day job. I get to build out new infrastructure. I get to figure out how to containerize applications that weren’t meant to be containerized. I get to do infrastructure upgrades, patching, modifications. I get to support the very teams that keep our customers happy, so that keeps me happy, and it’s just a lot of fun. We get to use a lot of cool tools and figure out how to push the limits of technology.

>> STEVE: Yeah.

>> AMBER: I’m glad you asked that question, Steve, because I’m assuming you understand all the things he said.

>> STEVE: To some degree, I’ll say this, that at contributor day, this year at WordCamp US, Alex and I sat next to each other, and I think that was the first time where I had actually seen Alex code, and I’m not kidding you, it blew my mind. I mean, he’s testing patches and he’s doing it at lightning speed, and it was just incredible to witness and to see, and to see how well Alex has adapted to being somebody that is blind and being able to code probably better than most of us cited developers. Right? It was pretty amazing, Alex.

>> ALEX: The real amazing part was the fact that I did it on Windows as well. That’s a joke that every developer will understand.

>> STEVE: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That was interesting, but I couldn’t really tell you we’re on Windows because your screen’s not on.

>> ALEX: Yeah, there’s that too.

>> AMBER: Well, I mean, you knew it wasn’t a Mac, right?

>> STEVE: Yeah. Yeah, I knew it-

>> AMBER: I used to get harassed so much for not using a Mac, and I switched, and my daily computer is a Mac, but I also have a Windows that sits– I have a PC because I like to also test an NVDA and not just in voiceover, which I don’t know. Alex, you and I have had some conversations, but that might be useful thread to go down. For devs who are listening to this and they’re getting into testing, what do you recommend as far as what screen reader should definitely be tested in and other resources for learning how to test in different environments and things?

>> ALEX: You should definitely test NVDA on Windows. It would be great if developers had access to test with Jaws, but Freedom Scientific historically has been pretty uninterested in working with developers that way.

>> AMBER: Yeah, and Jaws is an open source, and it costs money, right?

>> ALEX: It costs a lot of money, and I wouldn’t ask anybody to make that type of investment because I don’t expect blind people to have to make that investment.

>> STEVE: Right. Is there a benefit to Jaws over NVDA?

>> ALEX: JAWS is a much more– it makes a lot of inferences for you. So for beginners, it can take a lot of guesswork out of using certain programs. I find it highly annoying because I know what I want to do, stay out of my way.

>> STEVE: Yeah, yeah.

>> AMBER: What do you mean when you say inferences? Can you give an example? It tries to interpret the code and will say different things?

>> ALEX: Yeah, that’s exactly what it does. So to date, in NVDA, you can switch between its virtual mode and its forms mode. JAWS tries to do this more predictively, automatically, and it’s very annoying, especially when it gets it wrong. And if you look at Gutenberg, for example, where we’re on the bleeding edge of accessibility standards, JAWS just doesn’t work well.

>> AMBER: Yeah. I had lists that maybe I was going to ask you for a hot take, and you started talking about how Gutenberg doesn’t work well in Jaws. And since you’re on the WordPress core accessibility team, could you share some general thoughts about your impression of accessibility in WordPress now and where it’s going in the future?

>> ALEX: Yeah, if we keep going this direction, there would be no more point for me to contribute because sighted people in this project are just– they don’t want to compromise.

>> STEVE: Right.

>> ALEX: I mean, we have arguments over a visible save and cancel button because it doesn’t match our UX, and I get so sick and tired of it. I hate to call it ableism, but it is at a certain level when people just aren’t open to other ideas.

>> STEVE: Right. Yeah, we’ve had some discussion around this on our team as well, and I think on a podcast that we previously recorded about some of the reservations about accessibility slowing down the development cycle. And to some degree, I acknowledge that, that there may be an upfront reduction in productivity, but I could see that that paying off– paying to learn how to do those things the right way early on, and then it paying off, moving forward, it feels like– I’m not super deep into the core Gutenberg development, but it seems like we’re pushing forward. And like you said, certain UIs are designed to be a certain way and there’s no changing it, right? And it almost feels like they view accessibility as something that is impeding on their progress. And I don’t know if that’s true, because what they’re doing is they’re just constantly creating technical debt that’s going to have to be addressed at some point in time.

>> ALEX: The other problem as well is everyone wants to keep trying to compare the blockhead of their experience to Tiny MCE, and it’s not the same thing at all. And any developer who says that doesn’t understand the code. I mean, they’re two totally different things. Tiny MCE actually has an attribute called content editable set on the entire iframe. So the whole editor is one giant text field, essentially, to screen reader users, where Gutenberg blocks-

>> STEVE: Every block is its own component. You can tell the difference between different blocks, right?

>> ALEX: Well, sighted users can. Those lines get very, very blurry when you can’t see.

>> STEVE: Yeah.

>> AMBER: Yeah. I mean, one of the challenges I think with blocks, we’ve done some testing actually on the NASA contract. It’s not just front end testing. We also did testing and screen reader user tests with the custom blocks that they built for Gutenberg, for NASA. And one of the challenges that we saw were, well, there’s some block controls in the toolbar above the block, and there’s other block controls in the sidebar that’s visually on the right, but probably is after the content in a screen reader, and just challenges of knowing where to go to edit certain things.

And then sometimes there were some blocks that were made that don’t have any settings or options at all, which makes sense because they’re trying to– it’s coming from a global element or something, and they’re trying to limit what users have to do, but a user could still choose to put the block in. But those blocks become especially challenging on a screen reader to remove because there’s no visible toolbar in the same way or to even know what to do. It’s like, I put this block in, am I supposed to do something? And it wasn’t telling the user. So I do think there’s probably a lot more challenges with editing in WordPress in blocks, just in general.

>> ALEX: Yeah. Yeah.

>> STEVE: I mean, to be honest, there’s a visual challenge to it too. I mean, using a mouse and building stuff in the Gutenberg editor can be quite challenging to find out where you’re at. I mean, once we got the tree, what do they call that? I don’t know the official name on the side, the block.

>> ALEX: The list view.

>> STEVE: The list view. When that came out, that was helpful to find out where you were, what block was nested inside of what block. But early on, I mean, sometimes it was almost impossible to click your mouse in the right spot to activate inside an inner block or something. If it has challenges visually, I couldn’t imagine for a keyboard user.

>> ALEX: And the other problem is accessibility can never be a default in this project. I’ve created several proof of concept PRs, pull requests, that could very, very, very positively change the way that Gutenberg works for keyboard users. And the first thing I get is, please hide this behind a setting, because we as sighted users don’t want it, by default.

>> AMBER: Really?

>> ALEX: And that type of attitude has got to change in this project.

>> STEVE: Was it that direct? Was the response that direct?

>> ALEX: The response was very much that direct. Hide it behind a setting or forget about it.

>> AMBER: So, I have a question because your day job, as you said, is not in WordPress. Do you notice difference in attitude with how accessibility is addressed in the WordPress project versus how you see accessibility happening in your company or other companies outside of WordPress?

>> ALEX: Yeah. People outside of WordPress generally care a lot more. Just throwing that out there. Now, the opensource world is a lot of the same because-

>> AMBER: You mean Drupal, Joomla, you think it’s about the same as how it is in WordPress?

>> ALEX: I can’t speak to those, but I’ve seen some other opensource projects where accessibility is definitely priority zero and always will be.

>> AMBER: Do you think that’s because opensource projects are largely built by volunteers, many of whom might be self-taught, and just don’t have the education? And they’re not being paid, so there’s no motivation whereas a company is like, “We have to comply with laws. We want to make money from all of our customers, not just some of them.” Do you think that’s why there’s a difference or why do you think there’s such a difference?

>> ALEX: I think there’s probably such a difference because of the educational challenges. I don’t think the argument is going to be valid for much longer that it’s because contributors don’t get paid. Because we’re starting to see the opensource world drastically change and set contributors are starting to get paid.

>> STEVE: Through sponsorships.

>> AMBER: Yeah, there’s a lot of paid contributors on WordPress project that companies just sponsor, but their full-time job is contributing to WordPress.

>> ALEX: We can sit here and just go on and on and on, but at the end of the day it seems like the opensource world always has a reason why we can’t, and I’m the person who finds solutions on how we get there.

>> AMBER: Well, thank you. We love that. It’s important. What do you feel like the rest of us can do to try and advocate for it or support it within the WordPress project or other opensource projects?

>> ALEX: I don’t want to downplay that people in the WordPress project aren’t making accessibility fixes. It’s definitely happening. But it’s not happening at the rate that we’re at the same time introducing new regressions. So, the simple truth is is we need more coders who understand accessibility at some level or at least know how to read documentation because all the information’s out there.

>> STEVE: Yeah. I could speak to that a little bit. I went to my first contributor day this year, like I said I was sitting there next to Alex. I was just kind of learning the ins and outs of how to roll up Core and Gutenberg and all that on my local machine. Just getting enough information to take home with me to see what I could do.

I didn’t know if I would actually be able to have time to work on Gutenberg Core, but I started joining the bug scrubs on Friday on Slack and just kind of lurking a little bit. And then I saw an issue come up, I’m like, “Oh, this is easy, I could do this.” So, on the weekend, I don’t know, it probably took me four or five hours. It always takes a lot longer than we think. But I created a patch to pause animated gifs in the plugin directory inside of WordPress, and submitted it and made a few changes back and forth, and it’s going to come out in the next version.

So, I would implore any developers out there, it’s not that hard. You can get in there. Lurk if you need to, like I did. I don’t know how much time I’ll have to do more moving forward, but it seemed like a pretty smooth transition in. Rolling it up, making the fix, getting the fix approved, and getting it rolled in to the next release. Yeah.

>> AMBER: I think this is the idea behind Five for the Future, right? Which, for people who aren’t familiar, that’s an initiative in WordPress to do 5% of your time or 5% of your company’s time contributing. So, trying to think about what does that look like? We could discuss this internally and I’ve seen some people be like, “Oh, well, we do it on Fridays for a couple hours.” Or if it’s not on Fridays, it’s once a month the whole team just does one day a month where they contribute to something in WordPress. I think that’s the idea is trying to figure out is how can you fit in to your schedule, so it doesn’t always have to be on a Saturday or whatever.

>> STEVE: Yeah, totally.

>> AMBER: When do you do it, Alex? You do it nights and weekends?

>> ALEX: Nights and weekends as much as I can.

>> AMBER: I think we had Joe Doleson on the podcast a few episodes ago, and that was a thing we talked to him because he is partially paid now, but for a very long time, many, many, many years, he was contributing to the accessibility team just as a volunteer.

And I do think that there’s some need to just recognize that this is a way you can make a positive change or impact on the world. If you think about how many websites use WordPress, and it’s worth volunteering or contributing to because it’s a really important– Accessibility is huge.

And I think that’s one thing that frustrates me, Alex, when I hear you talking about how much of a difference you see in opensource versus in the for-profit world. If we think about the literal mission of WordPress, which is to democratize publishing, how can we possibly be democratizing publishing if there are people who don’t have the ability to literally use the tool? We’re failing in the mission of WordPress.

>> ALEX: Yeah, that’s kind of the point. That it keeps going this direction. All right, let’s step back. So, I recently did an edit at an audit of the site editor, and it was live, you can go back and find it as part of one of the Gutenberg hallway hangouts that is held every so often. I think it’s on the make test site.

It was, to say the least, a brutal experience. Horrible. Words can’t describe how bad that experience was.

>> AMBER: Have you tried Classic Press? And do you think there is any argument for moving in that direction and helping maintain the classic version of WordPress from an accessibility standpoint?

>> ALEX: If and when Core committers and project leadership finally does away with Core editor, legacy editor support, I will– If nothing has changed in between now and then, I will officially quit contributing to WordPress in favor of Classic Press.

>> AMBER: Do you actually think they’re going to get rid of that, like classic widgets and classic editor plugin? I know they said that and then it had a date and there are still millions of websites that use it, so they removed the date. Did they add a new one?

>> ALEX: The problem is eventually it’s going to start becoming a really unmaintained part of the code base. And it’s probably going to get phased out, just lack of features, functionalities, and introduce bugs.

>> STEVE: That’s a popular plugin. It’s got five million installs. Yeah, accessibility is a huge issue with block editor. Internally we’ve even wavered a little bit back and forth. We’ve been doing block themes from pretty early on, and they just haven’t matured very well with the block editor updates. Updates are really breaking legacy sites and stuff. So, we’ve even wavered a little bit. Well, we’re making these block themes and they’re breaking with updates quite a bit. Should we go back to kind of the classic editor ACF fields the way we used to do it and stuff?

Now, we’re still pushing forward with block editor, but those thoughts run around in our mind just because the Gutenberg editor is very challenging on many fronts. And I understand what the project is trying to achieve and it’s pretty huge.

I think, Alex, what I envision long-term is going to happen is that there’s going to be a legal responsibility for the WordPress project to make it accessible. I think that’s what it’s going to take is governments legislating the requirements.

>> ALEX: Yeah, if and when that happens it will be a bad wakeup call. A lot of Gutenberg will have to be rewritten.

>> STEVE: Yeah, that’s why I was saying they’re just creating so much potential technical debt right now. I dove in there and looked at the table block, like Amber had requested that maybe we make some updates to that so that it supports row headers.

>> AMBER: Row headers. And forces a header so that people can’t– The default is there’s no header on tables. The option is toggled off, and I’m like, “Why?” Literally I can’t think of– You should never have a table without headers.

>> STEVE: Right.

>> AMBER: Because then what are you doing, using it for layout? Which is also incorrect.

>> STEVE: It’s not the 90s anymore. When I got there and I started looking at this, I’m like, “Okay, well, it doesn’t look that complex, the block itself, until you open the deprecated file.” There’s so much more deprecation written for that block than there is actual block. And that’s where this becomes a huge problem. When you talk about a toggle being toggled off by default or on by default, you can’t just switch it because of all the deprecation. You can’t just change the output of the table because of all the deprecation. You’ve got millions of websites using this block.

>> ALEX: Yeah, so that’s why accessibility first is a must for Gutenberg because we get ourselves trapped in these corners we can never get out of.

>> STEVE: Right, right.

>> AMBER: Yeah, honestly it almost makes me think that when accessibility becomes a major mandate within the WordPress project, either because of laws or– I could see that happening where, especially with the cliff for businesses in Europe in 2025 needing to be accessible, that could dramatically shift demand for WordPress. I think was it the W3C or someone? They rebuilt their website and they decided, they were public about deciding not to use WordPress because of accessibility problems. I might be wrong about who that was but I don’t know if either of you remember if that was the W3C. But it was a really big web consortium.

And it sounds like when we get to that point, they almost might have to say, “We’re not going to maintain backwards compatibility,” which would be a first for WordPress. But because of how Gutenberg is, it’s almost like they might have to come out with a brand new version and it will just be a breaking change.

But other opensource projects do that and a lot of software does that. I know that’s a thing in Drupal, where they’re just like, “Okay, we’re going to stop supporting version whatever of Drupal, and you need to do a migration to the new version,” and it’s a major project.

>> ALEX: Yeah, WordPress has never had that culture, which is a lot of the problems with Gutenberg. I posted a question the other day, I’m like, “Why do we have to keep back compatibility for this?” And the answer was because people want it. And I’m like, “That is not a good answer, but it’s what it is.”

>> AMBER: Yeah.

>> STEVE: I wonder if that’s a valid answer or if that’s just somebody’s answer. That they really polled people to find out if that’s really the answer or are the developers in Gutenberg making a lot of assumptions.

>> AMBER: The hard thing with WordPress, and I think this is a major problem or challenge to overcome, is that WordPress has a couple of very different audiences. The average blogger who’s figure out, okay, I do want to self-host, but I don’t want to pay a lot and I want to– They use WordPress but they’re not super technical. And their needs are kind of basic. They probably really care about stuff not breaking.

Honestly, I’ll say this, my blog I haven’t written on for years. And I rarely look at it. But if I were to go there and it would be all just broken because I have auto-updates turned on because I don’t want it to get hacked, I might get kind of mad. I want it to just stay the same. Look exactly how it looked two years ago when I last spent time on it. I don’t want it to break.

That audience probably really cares about that because they also don’t have IT people or devs or whatever. But then you have very large organizations, government websites like NASA and large businesses, higher education institutions that use WordPress, but they have support. And those ones I actually think would probably be more open to having breaking change versions assuming they can plan for it, they get noticed that this version is going to no longer be supported, and then they build it into their process because they already have processes for that. And I think this is a challenge in WordPress is how do we make the enterprise, and I just want to show my parents pictures of my kids happy. Those needs are so different.

>> ALEX: Yeah.

>> AMBER: It’s a challenge.

>> ALEX: We are right on the edge of actually introducing accessibility issues on the front end though, because we have the interactivity API now. And there’s been some really, really weird cross OS bugs come up. And since we really have no front end testing framework for say in Place, I’m afraid we might start to see bugs pop up on the front end as well, and that is a problem we haven’t seen historically with just normal theme developers writing their PHP themes. They might introduce an error, but Core wouldn’t necessarily introduce an error.

>> STEVE: So, I’m not familiar with the interactivity API, but I did pull it up on Make WordPress Core where somebody introduced a proposal for it. A better developer experience in building interactive blocks. And so, you think the output of this is going to cause some accessibility issues on the front end as well?

>> ALEX: Oh, I’ve seen PRS out there already. They’re catching it for now, but as we start to expand this interactivity, API, it’s only a matter of time.

>> STEVE: Very interesting. We’ll paste the link to this in the show notes for everybody as well. Yeah, I think that’s kind of a part of Gutenberg that I think for us as an accessibility company while we’ve been able to continue with Gutenberg is because we can control the blocks that are used. Or you could even think about the NASA project as well, they basically built their own block library, right? So, they have full control over the blocks that are using, they DNQ’d most of the core blocks, and it even created their own image block, which allows them to have full control over that. And if they want to introduce a breaking feature, they can because it’s their block.

But we’ve been able to control the block libraries that we use and our own custom blocks, so we control the output of it on the front end. But that’s like what Amber said, that’s more on the enterprise side, right? So, there’s still the problem with that, the power WordPress user that’s just using core blocks and they’re not, like we said, there’s trust. Is there trust that what WordPress is providing to them, it’s a good user experience for all of their website users? Are they-

>> AMBER: Which could also include their authors, right? It’s not just the people who visit the website on the front end.

>> STEVE: Right, right.

>> AMBER: Because they’re lots of companies who have employees with disabilities of a whole different kind that need to be able to edit the company website?

>> STEVE: Well, and we create lots of SaaS like portal WordPress websites, right? And sometimes we’re create the portal admin on the front end, and sometimes we create it using the backend depending on the specs of the project. So, if you’re creating a WordPress website that then gives people access to the backend to create, post, or whatnot, then you have to consider the accessibility of the backend as well, right?

>> ALEX: Absolutely.

>> AMBER: Yeah. Hey, Alex?

>> ALEX: Yes, go ahead.

>> AMBER: No, that’s okay. Finish your thought.

>> ALEX: I was also going to highlight the upcoming WordPress admin redesign. I mean, there is also-

>> AMBER: I have not been following that, so.

>> ALEX: Yeah.

>> AMBER: Do they have Figma files for this that we should all be looking for?

>> ALEX: There is a post out there right now.

>> AMBER: Okay.

>> ALEX: I’m not sure when development is expected to start on that if even next year. I don’t know.

>> AMBER: Okay. So, is it still in discussion phase?

>> ALEX: I think it’s still in discussion or I don’t know. I think we’ve reached the point by now that it’s definitely going to happen.

>> STEVE: This is part of the phase three collaboration roadmap, is that right? Am I looking at the right thing?

>> AMBER: I don’t know. Maybe we can find a link and put it in show notes for people. Yeah, I mean, the whole admin redesign, that’s so hard for me. The first time I tried a full site editing theme and building the menus, I was just like, why did we fix it or “fix it?” It wasn’t broken.

>> STEVE: Yeah.

>> AMBER: I knew how to build admin menus. I’ve been using WordPress forever. And then it took, or not admin menus, front end menus. It took me way longer than I thought it should have for me to even figure out how to do that. And I don’t understand, and I guess I know there’s some, we want it to look more modern, but I’m like, if it’s just light CSS, okay, fine. But if they’re going to reposition, reorganize things, that’s a learning curve for every user. I think it is probably better because Joe Dolson told me that he actually was the one who rebuilt the media editing tool to make it more accessible. But just the way the cropping works now on images, I knew how it worked before, and so it’s taken me a bunch of time to figure out how to do it again. I don’t know. There’s a part of us we’re all super resistant to change.

>> STEVE: Yeah.

>> ALEX: Yeah. I mean, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. WordPress’s model these days is if it ain’t broke, let’s fix it until it is.

>> STEVE: Yeah. I mean, it’s frustrating, and I think a lot of times something that we’re always talking about in our organization is priority, right? Is how do we have all the ideas we have, all the things that we’re trying to juggle. And then the big thing is how do we prioritize those? And it seems like in the WordPress project, it seems like priorities get a little backwards sometimes, and admin redesign or create a foundation for creating accessible Gutenberg blocks, right? Really, I think the accessibility should probably be prioritized over just aesthetics, right?

>> ALEX: Because that’s the other thing we’re pointing out, like us as core developers, we have no control over the content of a block that somebody passes in. The only thing we really have control over is developers will commonly use the used block props hook, and this outputs a string, it’s an object that converts into HTML strings attributes, of attributes on the block. So, you might add a class name, you might add-

>> STEVE: An ID.

>> ALEX: An ID. Well, our hook also includes default attributes like roll, ARIA label, tab index, so we can control that much, but whatever content you actually pass into that wrapper, we have no control over it. So, it is 100% up to developers to create custom blocks, and there’s nothing we can do to actually help that problem.

>> AMBER: So, I think this is a good question to wrap up on that I think is sort of interesting. If there were a few top things that you wish developers would do or that you would love to see more of that would help enhance accessibility on the web, maybe it’s within WordPress or maybe just in general, what do you think are those top things that would help that? When you’re saying it’s all on developers to pass, create accessible blocks, are there top things that you think more devs need to be doing that would make a huge difference?

>> STEVE: Yeah. Reading the MDM documentation, the Mozilla Developer Network docs would be a great start because they have lots of accessible examples. Developers need to quit going out of their way to make inaccessible nonsense, I’ve said it over and over again. It is a lot more work to add an onclick handler with tab index of zero and roll button to span versus just using a button. But until developers decide that using valid code is the right approach, this problem never gets better.

>> AMBER: Yeah. Yeah, use semantic HTML.

>> ALEX: Yeah.

>> STEVE: Yeah. I mean-

>> AMBER: I mean test, right? We talked earlier about testing and test with NVDA and things like that.

>> STEVE: Yeah.

>> ALEX: For sure. Everyone thinks this is like rocket science. It really isn’t. Just use semantic HTML, do some testing, and it’s all good.

>> AMBER: Yeah. Put your mouse away.

>> STEVE: Yeah.

>> AMBER: See if you could still use the website or the block or whatever it is without a mouse. Can you do that?

>> STEVE: Yeah. Yeah. All the work that the three of us do in accessibility and all the advocacy that we do in the community, and creating accessibility checker plugin that evaluates accessibility, right? It’s all great. But what I’m finding is that until developers and business owners and project leads adopt an accessibility first mindset that all the tools that we create are just going to create more noise to some degree, it’s like you got to then take that and your effort to make something accessible and put them together and achieve it. It’s like you have to have that mindset that it matters. And in our organization, when we make websites on the service side of our business, it’s no longer an option to push something through. It’s like, well, the client wants this, or we’re short on time. We’re going to make it accessible, that’s the way it’s done, period, right? If it’s not accessible, it’s broken. And does that create more back and forth in our dev process? Yes, it does. In our auditing process, our QA, it creates more back and forth, but-

>> AMBER: But it’s worth it.

>> STEVE: It’s worth it. And we’ve chosen that that’s the way it no longer is an option, it’s just the right way to do it.

>> AMBER: Yeah. Well, this has been really fun getting to hang out with you, Alex, and chat accessibility and how important it is. I always love to hear Steve give that speech. He gives that speech to our new devs and everything, and it is makes me happy, but.

>> ALEX: Yeah, thanks for having me.

>> STEVE: Yeah.

>> AMBER: Do you have any final words or do you want to share with people where they can in touch with you?

>> ALEX: You can connect with me anytime, Alex Stine, S-T-I-N-E, on LinkedIn. Always happy to have new connections.

>> AMBER: Well, thank you. And enjoy your grape soda.

>> STEVE: All right.

>> ALEX: I certainly will.

>> SPEAKER: 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.