066: Gravatar Has Alt Text! + Parkinsons & Mobile Accessibility, Blue Norther Prickly Pear Hard Seltzer


In this episode, we chat with Ronnie Burt, the Head of Gravatar at Automattic, about the recent addition of alternative text support in Gravatar, the far-reaching effects this will have, and how individuals and organizations in WordPress can begin using the new setting.

Mentioned in This Episode


>> CHRIS: Welcome to Episode 66 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 chat with Ronnie Burt, the head of Gravatar at Automattic, about the recent addition of alternative text support in Gravatar. The far-reaching effects this will have, and how individuals and organizations in WordPress can begin using the new setting. Finally, Ronnie reflects on recent changes in his own life’s journey that have highlighted the importance of accessibility for him personally.

For show notes and a full transcript, go to accessibilitycraft.com/066. Now, on to the show.

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

>> STEVE: Hello everyone.

>> AMBER: Oh yeah, go ahead. You want to introduce our special guest?

>> STEVE: Sure. We’ve had the pleasure of running into Ronnie at various WordCamps, but now we have the pleasure to have him on the podcast today. Ronnie, would you introduce yourself?

>> RONNIE BURT: Sure. Thank you very much for having me. I’m excited. My name is Ronnie Burt. I live in Austin, Texas. I work for Automattic in the WordPress ecosystem. My first experience with accessibility actually goes back to 2001. When I was thinking about that being 23 years ago, it kind of stressed me out, but it was when I was an undergrad student at the University of Texas. I lackeyed out into an internship at what was called the Accessibility Institute, and there was a professor there named Dr. John Slayton, and he ran this institute, and he’s actually one of the main authors and contributors to the original accessibility guidelines that we all use and know.

>> AMBER: Web content accessibility guidelines?

>> RONNIE: Yes. Exactly. Literally, he wrote the book on web accessibility, and we were pretty early on. I was just the intern lackey, helping plug in the keyboards and mouse. There were several people in the office, Dr. Slayton included, that were visually impaired. We had dogs in the office. It was a fun place. I got to hear all the screen readers and how fast they listen to everything, every day. I was doing accessibility audits of university websites way back in 2001.

>> AMBER: Had you ever heard of that before you came as a student and got that internship? And what made you get that specific– Was it just incidental that you were assigned to that department?

>> RONNIE: I was becoming a teacher, and I went on and I taught math for six years. I was in a program for math teachers, and they had all these internship options. Actually, it’s kind of a weird story, but before it became the Accessibility Institute, that particular research division at the university was an education technology institute. It was still on the list as an Ed-Tech institute when I signed up for it. then I got there, and they were like, “Well, we’re changing focus and mission. We’re all about accessibility.” I didn’t really– You know, I was like, well, I’ll hang out. I’ll learn and help. It was a great job.

My grandmother had macular degeneration, and I remember going through with her, like getting her set up on some of the assistive technology. She wasn’t using computers, and there was no cell phones or anything, but like the magnifying devices and some of that. That was my only experience and kind of interest in it. Then I spent three years there in that office just soaking it all up.

>> AMBER: Awesome.

>> STEVE: Very cool.

>> AMBER: Well, we are really excited to have you here, and of course, we start every episode with a beverage so we can have our own personal happy hour, which is super fun. We messaged you and said, “Hey, what’s your beverage of choice?” And you said hard seltzer.

>> RONNIE: Anything ranch water like, so perfect.

>> AMBER: Yeah, I hope this works. I told Chris that and we’ve had ranch water, so, of course, we try to get new things we’ve never had. He went and found Blue Norther Hard seltzer. Have you had this one before?

>> RONNIE: I have not.

>> AMBER: It’s from Austin.

>> RONNIE: Which I love, the fact that it’s from Austin.

>> AMBER: It’s prickly pear flavored, which is perfect for Texas.

>> RONNIE: It is. I’m excited to try it.

>> AMBER: Have you ever had a prickly pear thing, Steve?

>> STEVE: No, I haven’t. I have not.

>> AMBER: They are bright pink, like this can is a bright pink, and they do actually make like a bright pink juice. It’s like it grows– I don’t know. It’s a fruit, I guess. It grows on the edge of the cactus.

>> RONNIE: Oh. So it actually is prickly?

>> STEVE: Yeah, I have had prickly pear juice, but I honestly can’t remember what it tasted like.

>> AMBER: So this will be an adventure for all of us.

>> STEVE: Yeah.

>> AMBER: All right. So shall we open this and see how it tastes? Got to get that can noise on the podcast. It’s always fun. All right. Does it smell fruity enough?

>> RONNIE: It’s Nice.

>> STEVE: Yes, a little.

>> AMBER: Oh, yeah, I like it. I don’t think we’ve ever done a hard seltzer. We don’t usually do too much. The last time we did a liquor or a liqueur was we did stroopwafel liqueur with a Yost and Marika. Which was fun of course.

>> RONNIE: That had to be interesting. I need to look that up.

>> AMBER: What do you think, Steve?

>> STEVE: I mean, it’s good. It’s only 5%, right? It’s not that hard, right?

>> AMBER: Yeah, we’ve drank ciders and beers that were more alcoholic than this, so. [laughs]

>> STEVE: I don’t know. It’s pretty smooth.

>> RONNIE: On a hot summer day, it sounds pretty nice.

>> AMBER: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Normally, we give a whole like, here’s what they say the flavor is and all that kind of stuff. I went to go find their website, and I don’t know if you guys have gone to try and find their website, it doesn’t function.

>> STEVE: Somebody needs to pay their bill. Somebody needs to update their billing.

>> AMBER: They have a Squarespace website. Not WordPress, and it is down, and it’s literally like, if you are the owner of this–. I was debating, I was like, “Is this a good sign?” Like, it’s doing so well and they’re making so many sales out of like, grocery stores and liquor stores and gas stations and wherever else that they don’t need a website? Or do we think we have limited edition seltzer that may go away and no longer be available?

>> RONNIE: How did you find it?

>> AMBER: I was at H-E-B, which is our grocery store, but that doesn’t mean it’s not like the last cases that are going to stop being restocked.

>> RONNIE: I mean, it’s interesting because their URL is even printed on the bottom of the can. You don’t always see that.

>> STEVE: And it doesn’t work.

>> AMBER: drinkbluenorther.com if you want to go laugh at how they haven’t paid their Squarespace bill. Maybe they will have by the time this episode comes out.

>> STEVE: It’s also a little concerning, at the very top there’s, I guess, a typo where they misspelled Texas or they left the S off of Texas.

>> AMBER: Wait, where?

>> STEVE: Drink Blue. And then it says taste Texa on mine.

>> AMBER: I have that also.

>> RONNIE: Where?

>> AMBER: Oh, that’s funny.

>> RONNIE: Oh, it does. It does. It’s correct on one side and it’s incorrect on the other.

>> STEVE: They just ran out of space.

>> AMBER: They’re definitely a homegrown.

>> RONNIE: I don’t know.

>> AMBER: We try to find small beverage distributors. I think that’s what we would call this.

>> RONNIE: I don’t know if this is going to be on video, but can you see it? Yeah.

>> STEVE: Yeah.

>> AMBER: Yes, taste Texa.

>> RONNIE: Missing the S.


>> STEVE: It’s pretty good though.

>> AMBER: Somebody needed a little– Yeah. I would say their marketing needs some help. Maybe we’re helping them with it. It tastes good though, right? Would we all drink it again?

>> RONNIE: I’d totally have it again.

>> STEVE: Yeah.

>> AMBER: Yeah, and what I did find was they do have active social media, so maybe that’s a good sign for their sticking around. When I was googling it and they call it the champagne of Texas.

>> STEVE: Champagne of Texas.

>> RONNIE: You know, it does taste a lot like champagne.

>> STEVE: Yeah. It’s easy. I don’t know. It doesn’t even taste alcoholic to me.

>> AMBER: This will be a real fun episode after Steve drinks a whole can in about five minutes.

>> STEVE: No work is getting done this afternoon. [laughs]

>> AMBER: All right. While we enjoy our prickly pear hard seltzer, Ronnie, we mostly invited you here– I mean, we really like you, but you did something really cool with Gravatar recently and added support for alternative texts, and I was wondering if you could tell us about that.

>> RONNIE: Yeah. About six months ago or a little bit more, towards the second half of last year. Well, let me take a step back. Gravatar for those that may not be aware.

>> AMBER: Oh, yeah. What is Gravatar?

>> RONNIE: Gravatar is actually about 20 years old as a product. It was started by a guy named Tom Preston-Werner, who then went on to be a co-founder of GitHub, if you’ve ever heard of GitHub, among other things. It was the first acquisition by Automattic. I mean, we’re talking like 17, 18 years ago, before my time in Automattic. Over the years, it’s had time where people have worked on it, but it’s also had long periods of time where people haven’t really been paying much attention to it. It’s been quietly powering the little avatar that follows you around the web, not just WordPress sites, but it’s in GitHub, it’s in Slack, it’s in Atlassian products.

>> AMBER: Tumblr?

>> RONNIE: It’s not in Tumblr.

>> AMBER: It’s not?

>> RONNIE: No, because that one, the avatars are tied to the blog and not the user or something, but we’ve talked about that and looked at that. It’s just something that’s just been kind of floating around. It’s a free service. About six months ago, actually, I was looking around– Was chatting in ChatGPT, and I was noticing my photo was there and I was like, “How did they get my photo and ChatGPT? Why am I chatting with my photo?” ChatGPT is using Gravatar. People are still finding it. ChatGPT is something that’s new, that’s still finding a reason to bring in Gravatar.

We started talking about it internally and we were like, “Well, let’s put a team behind it again and see if we can make something out of it. See if we can make it a little bit bigger.” That’s what I’ve been focusing on since the second part of last year.

>> AMBER: For non technical people, basically, you go to the website, you sign up with your email address and you say, “This is a picture I want to associate with my email address.” Then people or websites can [crosstalk]

>> RONNIE: Yeah. Wherever you use that email address around the web, any website can pull that picture. Just all they need to know is your email address. It’s actually beyond the picture. There’s other profile data that you can choose to add. It’s all optional name, display name, location, bio, where you work, all that kind of stuff. It’s mostly known for its avatar and it’s picture. Of course, anything that’s a picture or a photo, we need all texts and Gravatar had none. It’s historically never had any. I think Amber, was it you that asked about it? Or someone asked about it on Twitter or said something?

>> AMBER: I think we can give some credit to [inaudible] and I was writing some stuff and she responded on something that I wrote on Twitter and she tagged you. She’s like, “Wait, Ronnie, can’t you do something about this?” I don’t know why I didn’t think to tag you.

>> RONNIE: I was like of course. Well, I don’t know why I didn’t think to look into it earlier. Like why? I just never noticed that we don’t have alt text available within Gravatar. I asked the team and we were able to quickly add a field. It’s not as simple as you would think to just add a field to anything in Gravatar, because it has to go into a database, and this database has hundreds of millions of users. All these tables and this is over my head, but I can’t just add any field I want whenever I want. It’s a process.

We got the field added and then we can add– So we added our first implementation to make it easy where someone can go add alt text to their profile. You can do that by going into gravatar.com, editing your profile and clicking on the picture and there’s three dots and one of the fields is edit the alt text. My hope is, and this is just the beginning. We are going to make it more when you upload your image, your photo for the very first time, we should prompt you for the alt text then and there. This is a place we could start pretty quickly and roll that out.

>> STEVE: Very cool. When I heard that you guys had added the alt text, I immediately went, I was like, “Where can I find this?” I immediately went to my profile and I was like, “Oh, there it is.” You said in the profile, you just hover over. I have multiple emails and multiple images, right? So you can do this per image and there’s just three dots. You click on alt text, and then it brings up a input field, or you can just modify it.

>> RONNIE: Yep.

>> STEVE: Pretty cool.

>> RONNIE: That’s how we can start to get the alt text in to the database. That was just step one.

>> AMBER: I noticed when I did mine that there was default alt set. This causes this whole other thing that maybe towards the end, maybe I can get my personal troubleshooting help from you on Gravatar.

>> RONNIE: Yeah, of course.

>> AMBER: It took me a while to figure out that it was my display name. It said like display name’s avatar as the default. Which of course my display name, I said, I don’t know, 15 years ago. It was like Amber@Ocorr, which is what I used to call my blog which [inaudible], so it was like Amber@Ocorr’s avatar. I was curious if you all had any discussions about leaving that empty to start versus having a default and pros and cons on that.

>> RONNIE: We did have a discussion. Honestly, I think I made the ultimate decision and it was just like a gut feeling and I’m not even sure I made the right decision. I’m totally open to go back and reverting, if people haven’t edited it.

>> AMBER: I don’t know if I think it’s bad. Do you think Steve?

>> STEVE: No, I don’t think so. I was like you, Amber, I pulled mine up, and of course, I created this Gravatar account ages ago and it was called like, I Steve Jones. That’s actually my slug. That’s another question I have, is like, can I change that?

>> AMBER: Let’s talk about this in a minute.

>> STEVE: It said I Steve Jone’s avatar. Right. I modified it to Steve Jones avatar. I don’t know how descriptive I should– I guess it’s up to each user how descriptive you want to be about that image, like about my ethnicity or you know, how–

>> RONNIE: The reason why you chose that image or something. Why it represents you. That’s one thing I want to do, is give the user a little bit of context and a little help on what would be useful there. I also think, most of the time where your avatar is displayed your name or your display name or something is right around it. It might actually be not great for a screen reader user to hear. It could be redundant. That’s a argument, I think, for leaving it blank, unless there’s a purpose for the alt text. Then I was just, people, I don’t know, come back and be like, why is there no alt text? I don’t know. That’s a thing that I think we know that a lot of people don’t. A lot of people still struggle with what alt text should be and what’s the purpose of the alt text.

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>> RONNIE: That’s an ongoing.

>> AMBER: We have a whole nother podcast episode about this. I mean, I’ve always landed on based on conversations I’ve had with our testers, with my friend, Alex Stein, who is on the WordPress accessibility team. Also I follow Haben Girma. I don’t know if you know who she is. She is deaf blind. She is a lawyer. She went through Harvard law school and a bunch of other stuff. If anyone has not heard of Haben Girma, I follow her mostly on LinkedIn, but she’s on almost all the social platforms and she educates a lot and she is Black. She has this video where she’s talking about why she thinks it’s important for people to always describe, because she said other blind people would tell her they thought she was a white person, and like they just assumed she was white, and she’s like, “I don’t know why. They just think I’m white with blonde hair.”

A thing that’s been interesting, and I’ve done some education points on this with our clients, is, you know, there are definitely contexts where it is really helpful to get diversity information. Like if you’re putting together a profile page for a school, parents might want to know if there’s going to be teachers that match, you know. For a conference, if you want to be able to communicate that the organizing team or the speakers are diverse on our own team page, we have. I don’t write them for people, I’ve asked everyone on the team to provide them. One of our developers, he has messy hair and massive beard or something. I don’t know. That’s kind of how I’ve always approached it. That it’s helpful to provide the same information a sighted person would have, cause it might be useful.

>> RONNIE: That’s a really good point.

>> STEVE: So mine is a extremely handsome developer [inaudible]

>> AMBER: In his early twenties.

>> STEVE: Yeah, in his early twenties. Yeah.

>> AMBER: How frequently should we be updating our–


>> STEVE: I have a question just to jump back a little bit. If I would have had my under about, if I would have had my display name filled out, which I don’t, would it have pulled that rather than my slug?

>> RONNIE: Yes.

>> STEVE: Okay.

>> RONNIE: It would have pulled your display name. Yeah, exactly. The thing is, you know, apostrophe S, that’s possessive in English only, but Gravatar is used in like a bajillion languages, and so this is also a bad thing.

>> AMBER: Are you still adding apostrophe S to all languages?

>> RONNIE: I would imagine that we probably are. I was just thinking about it right now, so I’m going to make a note to go look and see what we’re doing with other languages.

>> AMBER: It needs to be avatar of display name.

>> STEVE: I mean, mine was like, it was I Steve Jones apostrophe S, where it really should just be apostrophe.

>> RONNIE: Yeah. So all these– I got to get rid of the apostrophe. I need to make it something that is better. This was just a, let’s get something out there. We can always fix it and improve it and then try to make people use it.

>> AMBER: You know, there’s an interesting psychology question around that too, which is like, if someone clicks it and opens it– Apparently I’m going to lose my voice here. If someone clicks it and opens it and it’s already filled in with like the default, if they might be like, well, I didn’t need to do anything, it’s good.

>> RONNIE: That’s true. That’s a good point.

>> AMBER: I don’t know what happened. I wonder if maybe in that modal, there could be like a link that’s like how to write good alt text that goes to documentation somewhere that explains about it.

>> RONNIE: Yeah, definitely. That’s something that we need to do.

>> STEVE: When I noticed this, so the first thing I did after checking the avatar is I immediately went to, you know, wordpress.org and Google. I was like I want to see this alt text and I didn’t see it. What’s the plan for implementation of this throughout core?

>> RONNIE: It’s a surprisingly complex process.

>> STEVE: Right. I can imagine.

>> RONNIE: I can try to explain a little bit of it the way I understand it. Now that it’s in our database, we’ve added it to what I call our legacy API, which is the API that’s been available for like almost 20 years. It’s a JSON API, and that field is available there now. Wherever it’s implemented, whoever sets it up has to go and call for that field, right?

>> STEVE: Right.

>> RONNIE: We need to update all of our documentation. We need to go update all the reference implementations. Go into WordPress core, wherever it’s shown. Some of that we control, like our own hover cards, which are one of the most frequently places that it’s used. Like when you hover over a comment or over an avatar on any comment anywhere, that’s our hover card that we’ve fixed or added, so it’s there, but it’s a process.

Now on top of that, one of the things our team is doing, is that is a very old unstructured API. We’re creating a new one, a REST API that’s well formatted, will support versioning that is more modern and up to date. That will definitely have the alt text in there and all of our docs and everything and reference implementations will have it there. Once that’s available which will be in May, then we can go to WordPress core and say, we want to update this in WordPress core using the newest API.

>> AMBER: Is there a track ticket for it yet? Or are you waiting?

>> RONNIE: I don’t think the ticket is there, but the discussion is there and it’s known. I know that there’s work already done on the profile, like the profile page itself in WordPress core, where you go and edit your profile, is like in the queue to be completely revamped and all this redesign stuff within WordPress core. It’s kind of like that timing, making it happen with that. Otherwise, it gets hard. As soon as we have the new API, we’ll create the ticket and make sure everyone knows where it is and try to get some traction.

>> AMBER: Maybe you can send us the link.

>> RONNIE: Yeah, definitely.

>> AMBER: We can add it to the show notes.

>> STEVE: Cool.

>> AMBER: Is there anything that plugin or theme developers have to do?

>> RONNIE: It depends on how they’re implementing the avatar and where, if they’re pulling using base WordPress, like comments. If it’s just using the commenting system that comes in WordPress, as long as we update it in WordPress core, it’ll update in the theme. If they have a unique implementation of pulling the avatar, they would need to go and also ask for the alt text. That’s part of the problem with this older API too, is like, we don’t even know who’s using it where. People don’t have keys. It’s like, we have no visibility into what’s going on. That’s a reason why we want to move to this modernized one, so any future things like this, we have lists to contact and like specific, like, “Hey, this is something you need to do.” That’s a work in progress.

>> STEVE: If a theme developer or plugin developer is utilizing WordPress hooks or functions to pull Gravatar, when that gets updated in core, will that be available in those same methods?

>> RONNIE: It should, that’s my understanding. I will do some testing and make sure. I think that’ll also give us a great opportunity to then have the attention of plugin developers and theme developers that maybe aren’t using the hooks right. I feel like if we tried to make bigger announcements now, it won’t be really understood, and then we want you to change to the rest API in a few weeks, and then we kind of like do it all at once. I think will help with some of the messaging and communication. We’re not talking six months plus down the road, we’re talking this release cycle of core.

>> AMBER: I mean, it’s awesome that you can move that fast, because sometimes for big enterprise, you can’t really move that fast. So I’m impressed that you were like, you saw it, and within a few weeks you had the field and moving forward.

>> RONNIE: Thank you. It’s a benefit of Gravatar, and we’re a small but mighty team. We’re kind of like a little startup in the bigger company, which is nice.

>> STEVE: Alt text is awesome. Great work on that. In that vein, are there any other accessibility enhancements? Any other cool things about Gravatar that you can tease with us here?

>> RONNIE: Yeah. I mean, something I would love some feedback or anybody to contact me and talk about. Why we’re building the next iteration of Gravatar is developer tools, developer APIs, so that developers can implement in their apps or their website or whatever. That makes onboarding easier. Makes like setting up users and knowing your users faster. That also translates to them being a better, faster, like more equitable, I don’t know if that’s the right word, but like for the end user. We want to know, are there fields that would be helpful in the user’s profile and their Gravatar profile that a developer could pull from and then know and be able to tailor that experience better.

Now I don’t know that I really need to think a lot about this. Do we want to ask like select here if you’re visually impaired or if you use a screen reader or whatnot. A lot of this stuff I know you can pull from the browser settings or something maybe. There might be things in the profile that are default settings for a mobile app or things that we all go whenever we set up something new. That if we simplify that for everyone, that really can impact and improve the experience of those with different disabilities, less to type in, less to listen to. It’s just kind of set up for them. If they know that it’s set up from a trusted source and in a way that they’ve like approved, this is the data that I want them to know about me. What your interests are.

Instead of having to go through and like set up what your interests are in your podcast tool, whatever you listen to podcasts on. If your interests are known in Gravatar, then that podcast device-

>> AMBER: Could pull defaults.

>> RONNIE: -could pull the defaults for you and give you a faster experience. That’s not technically an accessibility feature, but I think it could have the best impact, like the greatest impact on people with different disabilities.

>> STEVE: Sure. I mean, one source of truth, right? You enter it in one place and it updates everywhere. I think it’s great.

>> RONNIE: Trick will be, will people be interested in this. Will they be comfortable sharing things? Will developers want to pull from it? That’s what we hope to find out.

>> AMBER: Yeah. Well, I feel like not too long ago you guys were promoting that there’s the landing pages now in Gravitas. Which is more like a Linktree alternative or something where you could be like, here’s all the places you can find me. I feel like this is kind of among the same thing, right? Like having one place that can distribute people out. Can you tell, are a lot of people sending traffic there and using those pages yet or not really?

>> RONNIE: We have some power users, which are fun to see. Then we have some that set it up and then maybe doesn’t get as much traffic or whatever, but I think it has potential. I mean, we don’t want to be an exact replica of like a Linktree. For the average person who doesn’t need a full Linktree, this is a nice place to send people. I personally think it’s better than sharing your LinkedIn profile, because my LinkedIn profile is on it, but this can give you more information and no one has to log in to access it. I don’t know.

>> STEVE: This was actually something that like– And this tells you like– I’ve been to Gravatar recently and updated my image within the last year. I pulled that up and I noticed, I was like, “Oh, this is different. This is new.” Now I feel like I need to go in and fill out all my stuff, so that my profile page doesn’t look blank. It’s cool that you got like a QR code there where people can just scan that and get your details.

>> RONNIE: You’re falling into the master plan.

>> STEVE: There you go.

>> RONNIE: Once you set up the profile, now any third party can go and pull that information if you agree, if you’re okay with that.

>> STEVE: Yeah.

>> AMBER: This is the Amber gets personal tech support part, right?

>> RONNIE: Yeah.

>> AMBER: Here’s what I figured out when I went in to investigate this alt text feature. My URL slug was the Hinds family, because it was from my– like created my personal blog, which has never mattered, and that was how I logged into wordpress.com. I went to go change it to Amber Hinds, and it’s like it’s taken. I was like, “Oh, that’s weird. Who’s Amber Hinds?” I went to look and I was like, “Oh, that was me too.”

>> STEVE: Oh yeah.

>> AMBER: Only if you go to like Gravatar/Amber Hinds, it has the profile of the restaurant that Chris worked at when we were on Nantucket, the Brotherhood of Thieves. Probably I didn’t want their jet pack account connected to my personal, and so I set up a different one and I use it to [inaudible] . Now I’m all like, okay, so I own this. I know I own this. I have no idea how to log into it.

>> RONNIE: We can do some digging.

>> AMBER: Okay. All right.

>> RONNIE: We can definitely do some digging. This is a confusing thing.

>> AMBER: There’s like weird things, right? My background image was really weird.

>> RONNIE: The way it was set up years and years and years ago, it was this deep connection with wordpress.com, which makes sense in a lot of ways, but can also be confusing if you’re also a wordpress.com user. We’re working on how to make that more obvious and sync. You can change your username. You said it was already taken. The other thing very soon is that you can map domains, so you don’t have to use a Gravatar, you can use–

>> STEVE: Use your own domain?

>> RONNIE: -Amberhinds.link or any domain or something.

>> AMBER: That’s neat.

>> RONNIE: That’ll be cool.

>> STEVE: Mine’s interesting. If I go in to modify my username, it says it already exists, just like what Amber had, but if I go to it, I get a 404 page.

>> RONNIE: 404 means the username exists, but the profile is private or deleted.

>> STEVE: Oh, I see, I see.

>> RONNIE: But maybe it’s just on wordpress.com as a user. We need to help sort all those out. This really impacts those of us in like the WordPress ecosystem a lot who have been in a lot of things–

>> AMBER: More than average people.

>> RONNIE: Yeah, than your average user that’s not on multiple accounts.

>> AMBER: Will it always stay connected to wordpress.com in that way, or do you see it separating out since it’s trying to do more than just serve WordPress? That’s a big conversation we’ve had. It’s a huge lift to break them up. I think if I can show a huge need and like Gravatar’s really growing way faster than it is now, then it’ll be more obvious that we can put all the resources behind it to be able to break it up. Otherwise, it’s like it would take like everybody I have plus like months and months and months, and we wouldn’t be able to do anything else to figure that out, and so it’s a trade off.

>> AMBER: Well, it sounds like you have a lot of cool things that you’re working on, and I’m excited to see what you do with it. I thought it might be good for us to pivot topics a little bit. When we were planning this episode, you mentioned that you had recently been more personally experiencing the importance of accessibility. I was wondering if you wanted to share that with everyone who’s listening.

>> RONNIE: Yeah. For the last almost three years, I’ve had an increasing number of symptoms, I guess, that I’ve seen lots of doctors and it’s been a long process, but I have a Parkinsonian disorder. I know that it’s related to Parkinson’s disease or it is Parkinson’s disease, so one of those. It really impacts my hands a lot. They’re slow and sore and they shake. If you’re on video, this is as still as I can keep my fingers sometimes. Especially if I’m like trying to keep them still, it’s weird.

>> AMBER: Oh, it’s harder if you’re trying to focus on it?

>> RONNIE: Yeah. Well, if I keep them close together, if I spread them out, it’s easier. I don’t know. It’s weird. Especially on my mobile phone, it really has started to impact my use on my phone. Luckily typing 99%, okay. I think I’m a little slower. I’m a power user of Grammarly and my typo percentage, I get a weekly update. I’m definitely making more and more typos, but Grammarly catches that, so that’s okay. On the phone, it’s harder, so I’m using a light text or speech to text more. The swipe keyboard is helpful, but not always perfect. I just definitely experienced more and more frequently like, oh, I wish this app would do this a little bit differently, it would really help me out. Kind of thing.

>> AMBER: What are specific things that apps could do differently that would help you? Or websites? [If [crosstalk]

>> RONNIE: Yeah, websites too. Well, for me, and this actually came up in Gravatar just today, always a way to undo whatever I just accidentally did. This isn’t unique to people with disabilities. We all make mistakes and click on something we didn’t mean to. We’re just not paying attention or whatever, but I’m clicking on places that I didn’t mean to click more frequently. Like I was buying something on my phone, which I hardly ever do, but I was buying something on my phone the other day, and the coupon field that’s right above the pay, was right above the pay button, with no space. The pay now button. I had a pretty substantial coupon, I was going to enter in before I push pay. Well, I clicked pay and like the transaction went through, like gone.

>> AMBER: There wasn’t an are you sure message? Or things to confirm?

>> RONNIE: There was no are you sure message. There was like no cancel this order now. There’s still time. You know, on like Amazon, you have like hours to like cancel easily or whatever. It was no big deal. This was a smaller retail. I emailed them and I said, oh, I meant to apply this coupon, and they just applied it for me and gave me the refund. It was fine, but I had to go through that. For a minute I was like, “Man, I’m out this money. This is going to be a pain to go through.” If there was just a oops cancel or whatever, it would have been nice.

>> AMBER: Or better spacing between the touch targets.

>> RONNIE: Yeah, better spacing would have also been helpful, because sometimes like I just can’t push exactly where I want to push. Like today we were doing onboarding emails in Gravatar, and the question came up like should we just unsubscribe someone and like just have a, okay, your unsubscribe message? Or should we go through the work of adding like oops, I didn’t mean to unsubscribe, re-subscribe me to this like marketing campaign. My first gut feeling I wrote, nah, if they unsubscribe, they meant to unsubscribe. This is going to take you a few hours to like develop. It’s not worth the hassle.

Then I was like, wait a second, what if they didn’t mean to click unsubscribe, they meant to click the share button right next to it or something? I want to give them an easy way to come back and resubscribe, so it is worth the extra couple of hours of development time. Any of those like oops moments that we can avoid helps everyone. This is something I learned going back to the Accessibility Institute at the University of Texas. Dr. Slayton’s quote, like it was at the end of every email that he ever wrote, was like good design is accessible design, or accessible, I can’t even remember it, it doesn’t matter which direction it is. If you’re being accessible, you’re also helping everybody. Everybody is going to be able to take advantage of this improvement in one way or another.

>> STEVE: I think it underscores the importance of, you know, why we’re doing accessibility, right? We’re not just doing it for people with different abilities today. We’re doing it for people’s abilities that are going to change over time. We’re all on the road to aging here. Like Amber said, I’m in my 20s, I’ve got a long time, right?


Not really.

>> AMBER: We’re all laughing because I’m not sure that number is fully accurate.

>> STEVE: Amber is laughing because I look– I look like I’m in my 40s, but I’m actually in my 20s. We’re all on this journey of life, and as we age, things degradate, right? If we’re all making an effort to build the web accessible now, I think that not only people with different abilities are going to be able to benefit now, but we ourselves are going to be able to benefit in the future.

>> AMBER: Yeah. I think too, we used to sort of, in the beginning, we’d be like, oh, it doesn’t matter. Like old people don’t buy things online anyway, right? I don’t know, like 5-10 years ago, that’s what we were saying. I even remember, my grandma refused, she would not. We’re all going to be old and we like buying things online. I don’t think one day we’re going to get up and be like, man, I’m not buying anything online anymore. I’m going to call them on the phone and try and give them my credit card or write them a check. We’re not suddenly going to switch to that.

I think that age at which we’re going to expect people to continue using our technology is going to get older and older and older, because the generations that are living technology and want to use technology is not going to suddenly stop. I think, there’s always also– You know, some people have unfortunate accidents or just like things that overnight totally change. Kathy Zant in the WordPress community has written quite a bit about her husband who had a stroke and he was totally healthy. Things can happen unexpectedly. I think that’s something maybe sometimes people forget. They just think accessibility is about you were born with it, and it is for those people, but it’s for all of us really.

>> STEVE: Also it could be temporary, if you break your hands or break an arm or whatever and you just can’t like– but you still need to like participate the way you’re used to participating and you might heal, but you will greatly [crosstalk]

>> AMBER: There’s an interim.

>> STEVE: You drink too much prickly pear.

>> RONNIE: Yeah, exactly.

>> STEVE: You got to be able to order that Uber like to get home.

>> RONNIE: Yeah. One thing I’m really noticing is authentication, and login and passwords. Password managers are great, but then my password for my password manager is super long and complicated. I can’t type that without making a mistake, even normally, and then now it’s even worse.

>> AMBER: Just don’t change it to password123, okay, Ronnie?

>> RONNIE: Okay.


>> RONNIE: I know it needs to be something in a row or I can just go [inaudible]. No, I’m just kidding.

>> AMBER: Like everything across.

>> RONNIE: Yeah. But if, I–

>> AMBER: I have trouble. Honestly, I use the Google authenticator app and I have thought multiple times, I really wish that there was a setting in there where I could say how many seconds the numbers would stay valid for before they change, because I’ve had a change on me. Then I’m like, I’m a typical sighted person. I can’t imagine listening to it on my phone on one device and my computer right on the other ear, which I have had. I’ve seen our testers, they’re in two different ears hearing two different things, which I’m just like your brain power is way better than mine. I have trouble with that authenticator app.

>> STEVE: Even setting up two-factor authentication, when you have to drag over the thing and scan a QR code on the page.

>> RONNIE: How would a non-sighted person do that? I feel like authentication is an area that is like ripe for massive improvements and change. We’ve worked on it actually with Gravatar. I don’t know what we’re going to be able to ever like release to make better, because it is a very complicated thing. I see the importance of it even more and more when it comes to accessibility.

>> AMBER: I almost wonder, and maybe this is something Gravatar could do that would be really interesting, is being like an alternative single sign on method. I don’t know how much you want to battle Google or Microsoft and Apple.

>> RONNIE: That’s exactly what I wanted to do and what I was talking about, but right now that means WordPress.com, which is fine, which is what we can do, because our accounts are linked. That is an area we’ve thought about, because then that would give in the process, the permission to say, hey, I also want to share all of this data about me that’s in my Gravatar profile with the service that I’m logging into, and so it’s like a natural place of getting that permission for the user. It’s still a direction we want to go in. There’s just a huge– Being responsible for the security aspect of authentication, that’s a big risk that we need to be very careful about.

>> AMBER: Yeah. On the mobile side, I don’t know if you tuned in for this the other night, but Gian Wild, she’s from AccessibilityOZ in Australia. She presented at WordPress Accessibility Meetup. She helped write the ICT, which I always forget, but basically it’s like an international group that does accessibility testing separate from WCAG. They wrote the mobile guidelines for testing mobile, and she was talking about a lot of stuff related to tap target and the sizing of it and positioning and dead space in between and all of that kind of stuff. For anyone listening, I’ll throw a link in the show notes to her video. I learned so much listening to her presentation about that, because there’s a lot on mobile that you don’t always think about.

>> RONNIE: Yeah, and it’s so hard as the screens get smaller. I use my watch. I love my watch. It’s the best for like being able to talk in and text, it works faster than the phone, but just unlocking it is like a challenge. I have to hit the password and everything. These guidelines are important, because I think every product manager, every product designer, every developer out there wants to implement these things in as accessible of a way as possible. It’s just we’ve got to like continue to fight the fight of awareness and making it easier to implement.

>> STEVE: I mean, it has to become top of mind for a developer, you know. You have to integrate this way of thinking into your development process, right? Sometimes we get so caught up on it–

>> AMBER: Start earlier.

>> STEVE: Yeah. Like we always say, shift left. Even before it gets to development, like it’s happening in design. You have to develop from that standpoint that those things are just as important as the feature sets that are set out in front of you. If it’s not accessible, it’s broken, that’s what we say. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us to continue to promote that message out to developers and to the community as a whole.

>> RONNIE: In the products I work on, I always say a typo is a huge bug, that’s why I caught the typo when I can. Then I say accessibility is like a breaking bug. It should be treated as a breaking bug. That’s just a mindset you have to have.

>> STEVE: Totally.

>> AMBER: Don’t just like say, okay, we’ll get this in the next sprint, because then what happens? You run out of time and you say, oh, we’ll put it in the next sprint. Put it in the next sprint. I know you’ve worked outside of Automattic. You’ve also worked at some other big companies. Have you felt like you’ve noticed a shift in importance over your career in like companies saying, “Okay, yeah, this is important?” And what’s your thought on like, is there a lot? We have to do still there at some of these bigger companies to educate people? Or are you seeing more focus?

>> RONNIE: I think we’ve definitely seen improvements in awareness. I also feel, this is just a gut feeling, it’s more of a carrot than a stick. It’s more like people want to do the right thing and not that they’re worried about the lawsuits or whatever that comes with it. My gut feeling is that the average person behind the product, they don’t want to make something that someone can’t use or has a hard time using. I feel like it’s definitely better.

When I started, so for a while I worked CampusPress, which was WordPress services for universities. Of course, universities have always been further along in accessibility awareness and importance, so we were able to continue that there, but now I think it’s in everybody’s mind. I don’t know if it’s top of mind, but it’s– I think we made a lot of progress there. A lot of the work that you guys do.

>> AMBER: Thanks. We’re trying. I do think I’ve noticed a pretty good shift from when we first– I mean, when we first started putting accessibility in our builds in like 2015, I felt like I had a hard time finding resources or other people or outside of WCAG, of course. Now I feel like I’ve noticed that and we definitely, you know– I mean, it’s hard because we market as accessibility, so people come to us when they’re looking for accessibility. It’s hard to be like, we’re getting asked about it more. Sometimes that’s in our marketing, but even before we switched to Equalize Digital, I did start to notice a trend of more people asking for it. I certainly see it in more RFPs, even outside of government now, like just larger organizations or nonprofits are asking for it.

>> RONNIE: I think we’ll know we want, or that we’re there, may not be good for the brand of Equalize Digital. When you don’t have specific accessibility developers, you just have developers and all the developers can do the accessible things.

>> AMBER: We have literally said this in our meetings, that if we get put out of business someday because nobody wants us to build a website, because every agency is building accessible website, we’ll just pivot what we’re doing, right?

>> STEVE: Yeah.

>> AMBER: But it won’t be a bad thing. I think that would mean that we’ve succeeded. I did a whole talk at our meetup where I literally outlined what our website accessibility remediation process is and how we do it on a monthly recurring basis that helps us with recurring revenue, but also makes it more affordable for smaller companies and small website owners that can’t necessarily pay a huge chunk in one month. People were like, why did you present that? I showed how we do it at base camp, what our user journey is, our pricing, like everything. I was like, you know, I don’t really think there’s– There’s so much work out there.

>> RONNIE: Yeah, the statistics show that there’s a lot of work to do.

>> AMBER: If I can help other agency owners or developers figure out how to do this in their own process, then that’s going to make their work better, which makes the web better for people with disabilities.

>> STEVE: Yeah.

>> RONNIE: Yep. I think that’s why the, the work, the work that’s being done in WordPress for accessibility. Just as we’re speaking here in Gravatar with the addition to an alt text field, which sounds like something so simple, but it’s so huge, because of the impact it’s going to make on such a massively utilized code base. That one little change in getting pushed out into core is going to benefit 40 plus percent of the internet. I mean, that’s why we put so much focus on WordPress because it has maximum impact.

>> AMBER: You know, I will say somewhat selfishly, I’m also excited about this because we answer a lot of like support questions about things that Accessibility Checker flags. People being like all my avatars on my comments or in my author bios are getting flagged for having no alt.

>> RONNIE: Yeah.

>> STEVE: We got to fix that.

>> RONNIE: And I’m like, “Hey, when this gets fixed, I won’t have to answer that support question ever again.”

>> AMBER: Or we can make it more intelligent. We can and send them over. Well, I guess it’s going to get pushed out, right? If you get a help article, we can like notice that that’s what it is. We can in the thing be like, click here to read how to fix this.

>> RONNIE: There you go.

>> AMBER: It’s all about collaboration.

>> RONNIE: There you go.

>> AMBER: Well, it’s been really fun chatting Ronnie. I always enjoy chatting with you and we live kind of close together, but I feel like we only see each other at big events.

>> RONNIE: Yeah, there’s a river between us and those of us in Austin know that you never crossed the river, so it’s kind of how it is.

>> AMBER: You don’t want to come out to the country.


How can people get ahold of you if they want to follow up?

>> RONNIE: Gravatar.com/Ronnie, which is R-O-N-N-I-E. That’s the easiest way.

>> AMBER: Awesome. You have alternative texts on your image there, I’m betting.

>> RONNIE: I’m hoping so. I know I tested it, so it should be there.

>> AMBER: Cool. Well, thank you so much.

>> RONNIE: Thank you.

>> STEVE: Thanks Ronnie.


>> CHRIS: Thanks for listening to Accessibility Craft. If you enjoyed this episode please subscribe in your podcast app to get notified when future episode release. You can find Accessibility Craft on Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, Spotify and more. If building accessibility awareness is important to you, please consider rating Accessibility Craft 5 starts 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 helped make thousands of WordPress websites more accessible at EqualizeDigital.com.