068: US DOJ Says All State & Local Government Sites Must Meet WCAG 2.1 AA, Maine Root Sarsaparilla


In this episode, we review the final rule issued by the US Justice Department requiring state, local, and district-level government websites to meet WCAG 2.1 AA standards. This sweeping regulatory change will have massive implications for government entities at every level across the United States.

Mentioned in This Episode


>> CHRIS: Welcome to Episode 68 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 review the final rule issued by the US Justice Department requiring state, local, and district-level government websites to meet WCAG 2.1 AA standards. This sweeping regulatory change will have massive implications for government entities at every level across the United States. 

For show notes and a full transcript, go to accessibilitycraft.com/068. 

Now, on to the show.

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

>> CHRIS: Hello, everyone.

>> AMBER: And Steve.

>> STEVE: Hey, everybody.

>> AMBER: How are you guys doing?

>> STEVE: Doing good.

>> AMBER: Yes, well, I am super excited to talk about this new final rule from the Justice Department, which they had sort of pre-announced on April 8th, and then I saw on April 28th, so just a handful of days ago from when we’re recording this, they published it in the Federal Register so this rule is live, related to state and local government websites. Of course, we have to start with a beverage. What are we drinking today, Chris?

>> CHRIS: We are having some Sarsaparilla today. We’re having the Main Root Sarsaparilla. This is a sugar-sweetened, natural-ingredient sarsaparilla. Comes in a bottle.

>> AMBER: Which is a pop or soda, depending on where you are in the world?

>> CHRIS: Yes, it’s a soda. It’s like a tamer or milder version of root beer with a little bit of a different or unique flavor. I don’t know. Because they only let you send this in packs of 12. I know that our kids, Amber and I’s kids, there’s only three left.

>> AMBER: Yes, I went in there to get ours today, and I was like, “Oh my gosh, they drank them all.”

>> STEVE: I know. I kept finding my wife sitting there drinking these. She’s like, “These are really good.”

>> AMBER: You’re like, “You’ve got to save one for me.”

>> STEVE: I know. It’s like, “Don’t drink them all.”

>> CHRIS: I’m excited to try it, because I love Main Root, and they have lots of good flavors, but I’ve never had their sarsaparilla.

>> AMBER: I’ve never had this either. I always think of Main Root. They used to be the soda company at Torchy’s Tacos, which is a taco restaurant that’s based out of Austin but then Torchy’s got really big, and I guess they decided that they were going to optimize their profits, and they switched from organic pop to-

>> CHRIS: Coca-cola.

>> AMBER: -coke which made everyone in our family so sad, because Main Root has a blueberry soda that is really good that the kids like to get. This will be fun to try a different flavor. These are twist-offs. I hope.

>> CHRIS: Yes, you have to twist pretty hard, but I think they are.

>> AMBER: Cool.

>> STEVE: Here in the Midwest, we don’t call it soda. We call it pop.

>> AMBER: I grew up calling it pop, but I try not to as much, because no one down here calls it pop, and they always give you weird looks. Some people in Texas call everything coke.

>> STEVE: I know. I’ve got family down in Mississippi, and they call everything coke. I’m like, “What if you want a 7-Up?” I want a coke. I’m like, “That doesn’t make any sense.”

>> AMBER: No, it does not at all. All right, so this is going to taste like a root beer, but not as spicy?

>> CHRIS: Yes, it should be less spicy, a little more tangy. I don’t know.

>> STEVE: I mean, what would be the difference between this and root beer? Is there an ingredient difference? Because it tastes a lot like root beer.

>> CHRIS: Yes, they do taste like root beer. I think the way that they were-

>> AMBER: It only says spices. That’s not helpful.

>> CHRIS: The way that Main Root writes about it that I think describes it better than I could attempt to, to be honest, is it’s a lighter brother to their root beer. It has less clove flavor and more of like a wintergreen flavor, which makes me think of mint. I do kind of get like the mintiness.

>> STEVE: Oh, yes.

>> AMBER: Oh, yes. On the end. It’s like minty.

>> STEVE: On your tongue.

>> AMBER: Not in a bad way, everyone. It’s not like we just brushed our teeth.

>> CHRIS: Yes. No, it’s subtle.

>> AMBER: It’s really nice.

>> STEVE: It’s delicious. Yes. This is really good.

>> AMBER: This definitely on our very technical rating of thumbs up in the middle and thumbs down. I just did those backwards.

>> STEVE: I give it two thumbs up. This guy.

>> AMBER: This is a thumbs-up beverage. Yes.

>> CHRIS: I’m thumbs up too. I appreciate also that we’ve had some other sodas on here that are just cloyingly sweet, like syrupy. This I appreciate. It’s more middle-of-the-road sweet.

>> AMBER: Yes, it’s sweet, but it’s not overpowering sugar. The sarsaparilla always makes me think of like, I don’t know if I’ve ever had bottled sarsaparilla before, but where I grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, which is in the middle of the United States, our town had a little historic frontier village called Usher’s Ferry where they had moved a bunch of buildings that had been built in the 1800s and built– there was a school and a chapel and a bunch of different houses and a general store and a saloon and all that stuff. You could go in the saloon and there’d be people there dressed in the old clothes from the 1800s and stuff and we would drink sarsaparilla. That was the drink that you could get in the saloon. That’s what makes me think of.

>> STEVE: Very cool.

>> AMBER: It’s kind of fun.

>> STEVE: Makes me think like it would be a good name for like a metal rock band.

>> AMBER: What’s interesting about this is it has an R. S-A-R-S-A, sarsaparilla? Is that like going after the way Kansans speak? Like Worshcloth?

>> STEVE: Worshcloth. Sarsaparilla.

>> AMBER: That’s my grandma. My kids would always be like, why does your grandma say Worshcloth? There’s no R in there. It’s like, I don’t know. It’s just a weird Midwestern thing. It’s a sarsaparilla.

>> STEVE: This is good.

>> CHRIS: Sarsaparilla always makes me think of, it’s kind of, it’s like really random, but there’s a scene in The Big Lebowski where the cowboy guy goes into the bowling alley and asks for a sarsaparilla at the bar. That’s what sarsaparilla always makes me think of. I forget the name of that actor.

>> AMBER: Do they have sarsaparilla at the bowling alley?

>> STEVE: Yes.

>> AMBER: Do they give it to him or do they make fun of him?

>> CHRIS: No, they give it to him but he has a heart-to-heart with one of the lead actors. It’s very funny. That whole movie’s hilarious. All right. Should we talk about this USDOJ rule?

>> AMBER: Yes, let’s do it. I mentioned before that this rule just came out. It’ll be a couple of weeks now once the episode goes live. Maybe we can talk a little bit about the nitty gritty for folks who haven’t heard about it, who it applies to, how long people have to make websites compliant. Do either of you want to jump in on either of those?

>> CHRIS: My understanding of how this works is they’re essentially clarifying or adding additional guidance to something that’s already in the ADA, which is Title II. They’ve previously maintained that pretty much any service or offering from a public entity has to be accessible, whether it’s web or mobile or anything else. Previously, they had not clarified what the actual standards were to meet in a really quantifiable way. I think the biggest change, although there are other more nitty gritty ones, the biggest change I’m aware of is they have actually specifically mentioned web content accessibility guidelines as the guiding standard, which had not been previously done.

>> AMBER: Version 2.1 AA, which is a differentiator from Section 508 for federal, which is only version 2.0. I think this is good, right, to have a technical standard as opposed to this ambiguous, it has to be accessible, but we’re not going to tell you what that means.

>> STEVE: Yes, totally. I mean, to have something to shoot for is always a good thing.

>> AMBER: Well, and I think it makes it more clear because you can measure and the good thing about web content accessibility guidelines is a very clear-cut pass or fail on each of the items. There’s not a lot of gray area, really. I think that makes it easier for developers or content creators or people with disabilities who are maybe trying to determine if something works for them or if they should complain about it or ask for assistance to have this guiding thing.

>> STEVE: It removes a lot of ambiguity, too. I can’t imagine how before you could really legally try a case like this unless there was severe negligence, like when there’s not a clear defined rule set to abide by. Maybe that was the intent.

>> AMBER: Yes, I mean, it would probably make it easier. It would make it easier for public entities to be like, “No, it is accessible.”

>> STEVE: Yes. Because it’s up for interpretation.

>> AMBER: Well, I thought even what was interesting about this is, so basically we talked about they have, so there’s two to three years to comply. The websites have to be WCAG 2.1 AA. That’s based on the population threshold so if you have fewer than 50,000 people in the geographic area that you serve, then you have three years. If you have 50,000 or more, then you have two years. What I thought was interesting is they basically said that it applies to websites, mobile apps, any sort of content, social media posts. They did have an exception for social media posts created before this rule but they don’t have any sort of exception for older content or websites if they’re being actively used or maintained or updated.

>> STEVE: How do you define what is actively used and actually maintained?

>> AMBER: Yes. The exception that they do have is for archived content. Let me see if I can find that. They defined archived content. It has to meet all four of these criteria. It was created before the date the entity is required to comply so that’s two to three years from now. It’s retained exclusively for reference, research, or recordkeeping. It’s not altered or updated after the date that you’ve archived it. It has to be organized and stored in a dedicated area or areas clearly identified as being archived. Even if you publish a page tomorrow, it’s technically before that date. It seems like it’s–

>> CHRIS: You have to technically archive it, though, and it has to meet all four of those criteria.

>> AMBER: Yes. It would have to be in an archive, and you’d have to never update it ever again. Clearly how to pay your water bill content does not apply.

>> CHRIS: I think the other thing that– go ahead, Steve.

>> STEVE: I think I’m just going to take a step back and acknowledge– I don’t know about you guys, but our local websites and stuff are a lot of times the most horrible websites to use. We’ve recently tried to apply for College Credit Plus for our oldest daughters doing secondary enrollment. You take CODS classes while you’re in high school. For somebody with typical abilities, it was a literal nightmare to use this website. It’s just crazy. I was on there with my wife. She couldn’t figure out how to do it. She brings me over. She’s like, “How do I get to– ” You got to go back up– a modal flies out, and you got to select this thing, and the modal automatically close when she selects it, and it changes the main page and all this. None of it is accessible. I was in there looking at it, and I started tabbing around. I turned on the screen reader. I’m like, “This is a nightmare for a typical user.” For somebody with any kind of disability is going to have a nightmare doing this.

>> AMBER: Our local city website, actually, I was looking around for a website that I could test before I gave a training for SolidWP Academy. I realized that our city website is built in WordPress and totally inaccessible. The heading structure is totally wrong. The tab stops are all over the place. The nav menu doesn’t function with the keyboard. The mobile menu doesn’t function with the keyboard. You can actually tab into the mobile menu when it’s closed on the full website because I guess the mobile menu, it’s built with a page builder where it’s a separate thing. I was shocked.

Then I was thinking, in our city, we pay for our water through the city. We pay for our sewer. Our trash is from the city. It’s not an independent company. Then there’s also, you think about the library, if you want to go learn about their checkout books. It’s all on the same website. There’s tons of things. Or if you want to get a permit to add a shed in your backyard or get a fence, all these things are on this website. I was just thinking, I don’t know how anyone that wasn’t typically abled would be able to use this and access all these city services. It seems like this law is clearly needed. That rule.

>> CHRIS: It’s interesting, too, what we’re seeing now, because it’s pretty prevalent for these lower-level government websites, if you want to put it that way, to have accessibility problems. It seems like there’s been this surge of organizations that have figured out or gotten really good at navigating the RFP channels part of delivering to government and selling to government and dealing with procurement processes, but they’re really lacking on delivery. They figured out how to get through all the channels and get picked. I mean, we saw that with the $2 million lawsuit, we talked about a few months back where the $2 million in damages against the developer in California.

>> AMBER: Yes. We should put a link to that episode in the show notes for anyone who’s interested.

>> CHRIS: Yes. Because that was actually–

>> AMBER: Maybe you can give a short little summary of it.

>> CHRIS: Yes. That web shop got sued by a blind gentleman named Brian who was an outdoor camping enthusiast because he was trying to book a campground on the website that this organization built. He ended up suing the state and the web developer. Web developer was looped in under the Unruh Civil Rights Act, but also, interestingly, the False Claims Act, which is the first time I believe that’s happened.

>> AMBER: Fraud.

>> CHRIS: Fraud. Literal fraud. Now that law firm is seeking whistleblowers at other agencies around the country. We may see a swell in these lawsuits for all of these organizations who have figured out government procurement and how to sell to government, but they’re lacking on actually delivering on their promises. To be clear, City of Georgetown government or some of these Ohio State government websites, it could be that they were delivered an accessible website, but then trained inadequately and they broke their own accessibility over time. It’s possible, but that’s why it’s so important.

>> AMBER: Not if their navigation is broken.

>> CHRIS: Oh, that’s true.

>> AMBER: That is not the content creator’s fault.

>> CHRIS: I think that just underscores the importance of having ongoing professional monitoring and having something that is watching or checking for this stuff on an ongoing basis. The other thing that I was thankful for, speaking to all of these different organizations that have these inaccessible websites that are going to now have to comply with it, it isn’t just down to cities and states. It’s also all of these special government districts. Amber, you mentioned libraries, but it’s also airports, ambulances, cemeteries, parks and rec, sanitation, all of these different things that literally make our society run that we might have to interact with on the internet are now going to have to meet these standards.

>> AMBER: Schools?

>> CHRIS: Schools. Yes. It’s an exciting time to be in the accessibility space.

>> AMBER: Exciting, you mean, because there is an anticipation, which it talks about actually in the Q&A portion. I mean, I’m going to call it that, sort of the responses and implications of the rule in there. They talk about the anticipated costs that they think it will be because there’s a lot of websites out there that are going to have to be made accessible. I think our assumption is there’s going to be a lot more RFPs coming out in the next two to three years than anyone might have expected from state and local governments. You think so?

>> STEVE: Probably. Like Chris said, the scrutiny of those RFPs are probably going to be much more thorough too.

>> CHRIS: One would hope. What I did think was interesting about this is if you dig into the text of this law, like Amber did so thoroughly, they not only share what the expected cost is, but what the expected net societal benefit is in terms of dollars. It’s interesting because it outstrips the cost by, I don’t know, not quite 2X, but pretty close.


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>> AMBER: Yes, which they’re calculating off like time saved and educational attainment for people with disabilities and being able to engage with these websites or with the schools and get more access to things that they otherwise would have difficulty accessing.

>> STEVE: They’re saying an annual benefit of 5.3 billion, is that– and then the expected cost was 16.9 billion over a 10 year period.

>> AMBER: Well, there’s two costs there. Let me find that.

>> CHRIS: They have initial cost of compliance. That’s getting everything up to standard is 17 billion, 16.9 and then annualized cost of 3 to 3.5 billion over a 10 year period to maintain that accessibility, I would guess.

>> AMBER: The range on there, they have– I don’t totally get all the math on this, but they’re saying depending on, because I think they’re trying to even out and they’re saying this is in like today’s dollars, not eight years from now dollars or whatever, but they’re trying to account for that. They’re thinking that the government entities are going to have to spend $16.9 billion in the next two to three years paying vendors to rebuild all their websites or to initially remediate because maybe they’re not so bad, they have to be totally rebuilt. Then there’s that 3.3 to 3.5 billion each year to maintain. Not an individual entity will pay that much, but that’s how much they expect all the entities in the United States will have to pay.

>> CHRIS: I wonder if that annual net benefit is an underestimate based on the calculation of benefiting purely individuals with disabilities because we talk a lot about the curb-cut effect and how accessibility can have this ripple effect that actually helps everyone more frequently. I wonder if the ROI on this will actually be higher.

>> STEVE: It probably exponentially increases year over year as the population ages and as digital technology is more adapted.

>> AMBER: Well, and I think we talked about this on our conversation that we had with Ronnie Burt from Gravatar, and we were talking about how we’re of the generation where we’ve been using tech since what, middle school so we are way more likely to continue using tech. My grandma doesn’t have an email, doesn’t have an iPad. I got to call her on her landline phone if I want to talk to her. We’re not going to be like that when we’re 80 years old. I know it. Our generation and generations after us are going to be on the internet much later and are going to need way more accessibility support on the web for a longer period of time than some of the generations before us. I think you’re right, Steve. It’s going to compound.

We talked a little bit about that there’s going to be a lot of money and some RFPs are probably going to be a lot more. We should talk about is that the only implication that we think this has for agencies and web developers, people working in the WordPress space, creating websites.

>> STEVE: I don’t think that’s the only implication. Because like you said, third parties. What if I’m a public utility and I use a page builder on my website that isn’t fully accessible? I can’t just say, well, that’s a third-party tool, software tool. That has to be accessible as well.

>> AMBER: There’s implications for plugin developers and theme developers, which is what?

>> STEVE: Make your stuff accessible now or it’s going to get–

>> AMBER: Before peolple stop using it.

>> CHRIS: You’ve got two to three years before you’re going to start getting uninstalled if you’re being used on, on government, state, local, any of these district websites, which I mean, the list is way longer than what we said verbally here. It’s massive.

>> AMBER: I mean, two to three years is probably the max because let’s be real. If they’re going to start rebuilding their– I mean, there’s a procurement period. Nobody’s doing it this year, probably, but I bet you starting in 2025, 2026, there’s going to be a lot of wholesale rebuilds of websites.

>> STEVE: It’s going to be in their budgets. They’re going to budget for it in the next couple of years.

>> AMBER: Then what’s going to happen is the agencies-

>> CHRIS: I’m already talking to two that are consulting with us on their RFPs that they’re going to release going into next year because of this ruling. I’m already talking to two. That’s just in the context of our relatively small company. it’s already happening. They’re already planning for it.

>> AMBER: What I think is going to happen is that there’s going to be an assessment of, can we continue using WordPress? I think there’s good precedent that they will be able to because of NASA doing it, the VA doing it, and some things at the federal level that use WordPress. I think that means, in general, I think most state and local will probably stick with WordPress if they’re already using it but there is definitely going to be pressure put on plugin and theme developers to either fix problems or they’re going to lose revenue because there’s going to be an assessment that, you know what? This plugin, the developer’s not really responding and we have to be accessible. We’re going to go with an alternative.

>> STEVE: I know in previous episodes, we’ve talked a little bit about, we’ve had some interesting discussion around the laws, creating laws. Where I fall a lot is like, I don’t want more laws. I want people to do the right thing. That’s in a perfect world in my mind.

>> AMBER: Well, they even addressed that in this document. They said the reason why we’re creating this rule is because we have– Lainey Feingold wrote something that I saw on LinkedIn this morning and she said, it’s been 28 years since they said that ADA Title II includes websites. 28 years. They’re like, “People aren’t going to do it.”

>> STEVE: I hate to admit it, but I see it. I see it with other developers. It’s not prioritized.

>> AMBER: We’ve had frustrating moments where we’ve reported something. They’re like, “Oh yes, that’s interesting. Open an issue, but we probably won’t do it.”

>> STEVE: I mean, and it’s like, it’s broken. You don’t understand. It’s not a feature you shouldn’t think about adding. It’s a nice to have. It’s literally broken.

>> AMBER: It literally doesn’t work for some people.

>> STEVE: Yes. I hate to say it, but it’s going to take the strong arm of the law for the majority of people to get on board with this.

>> CHRIS: There’s going to be a squeeze on both sides of the pond because you have the EAA in Europe, you have this DOJ ruling in the US, and there’s increased regulatory pressure. Virtually, I mean, that’s the two largest economies. I mean, the third largest, I guess, would probably be China and they’re not releasing anything that I know of. Two of the three world’s largest economies are accelerating accessibility regulation, not decelerating it. This is something I frequently say, and when I do speaking engagements for agencies or things like that, is that this is– I get it. We’ve been saying that for probably two or three years now. This is coming. Look now, what we’re saying, what we’ve been saying for two or three years is happening. Accessibility is not going away. You don’t get to ignore it. Or if you do, it’s at your own peril. You’re going to lose out on business. You’re going to lose out on customers.

>> STEVE: Well, I mean, what about legal? At what point does, say, a plugin actually face a legal– Plugins aren’t just going to get away with it because they didn’t make the website. At some point, they could be named in lawsuits.

>> AMBER: I would say, here’s what’s really interesting about that fraud lawsuit in California, where they had to pay $2 million because they lied. If you are a plugin or a theme developer who says your stuff is accessible and it’s not, and you have that in your marketing language on your website, you can get in big trouble. That’s where I think it really is. I think plugin and theme developers are going to need to be thoughtful about, one, how they’re communicating around accessibility and make sure they can back it up. Just because you follow some best practices or your dev teams maybe read a little bit does not mean that your stuff is fully accessible. Saying that it is or implying that it can be used to build an accessible website, but then guess what? Your tab controls are missing all the ARIA that actually make them tabs for a blind person. Then that, I think, could put you in a bad position.

I think, and I’m not saying that they shouldn’t say they’re accessible, but they need to back it up. Bring in a professional to audit your work. I also would strongly suggest for any plugins that expect to sell to government especially, but even if you’re selling on enterprise, having an Accessibility Conformance Report, an ACR, which is created from a VPAT, which is a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template, is going to be huge. I think we’re going to see a lot more requests for those in the WordPress space. I know like NASA, when they wanted to start using Accessibility Checker, I mean, luckily we had one already. They’re all like, “Oh, hey, before we can pay for this, we need a copy of your VPAT.” We’re like, “Okay, great. Here it is.”

I’ve talked to other plugin developers, privately in post status, who were like, “NASA’s looking at our stuff and they want a VPAT, but I don’t have one.” I’m like, “Okay, well, that means you need to have a full audit. Then you have to decide whether or not you’re going to fix things before it gets put in the VPAT. Because basically, your VPAT ends up saying if it conforms, if it meets or partially meets or doesn’t meet at all, or doesn’t apply to every WCAG success criterion.” Having a VPAT that basically says your thing doesn’t conform a lot it’s not a very good VPAT to have. It’s not an overnight thing. I think as a plugin developer, if you’re thinking this is where I want to sell, you need to start that audit now. Start making the fixes and then start working on, I think having a VPAT is going to be really important. Because we’re going to see a lot more public entities asking for these and literally saying they will not buy your plugin. They don’t care if it’s only a $99 a year plugin. They have to have the VPAT on file.

>> STEVE: Yes, I think honesty, like in regards to like accessibility and accessibility litigation and stuff, honesty always seems to be the way to go. Even if that report is bad, like you said, it’s not good to have a bad VPAT, but if it is bad, at least it’s honest. At least you’ve acknowledged the problems. Now there should be effort made to work towards it. I think, like you’re saying, where people get in big trouble is where they use accessibility as a marketing tool, which there’s a whole ethical discussion that could happen around that. when they’re just pure negligent, there’s no attention paid to it at all. It’s almost better to acknowledge what you’ve done wrong than to do nothing.

>> AMBER: Yes, I think so, for sure. I mean, in our VPAT, which I’ve been thinking about, we really need to update. I was looking at it the other day, and there’s a part where we mentioned that we had some unlabeled buttons. I know they’re not anymore. We’ve fixed them. That’s why I was like, “Oh, I really got to go update this.” We did a full audit. We had some of our testers who work in-house for us test some of it for us. We opened GitHub issues. Luckily they’re all resolved now, but we reported them transparently on the VPAT. That’s what you should do.

>> STEVE: Yes, well, I mean, for plugin developers, I know nobody prioritizes. You want that shiny feature. You want to put out the next shiny feature that’s going to sell a million plugins. This week I had our developer working on refactoring tabs inside of our meta box in the back end of the website. This is not-

>> AMBER: Yes, I think I opened that because I was like, you know what I realized? I think it worked fine and our testers never had any problem with them, but I’m like, visually look like tabs so maybe we should actually code them to be tabs so that it matches the visual. I think they sounded more like accordions to our testers and they were fine with them, but it still seemed weird to me. You’re like, this is an enhancement. We should fix it.

>> STEVE: Like you said, it worked. I used it with a screen reader before, they were like it worked. I think most screen reader users would be able to figure out what’s going on, but you can go a step further and actually code them with the correct markup and the correct keyboard functionality. When you get to a tab group. You can use your arrow keys and stuff. I can’t really like attach a monetary value to that. I don’t know. Right away-

>> AMBER: Yes, we can’t be like, “Oh, we did this. Now more people are going to buy our plugin.” Probably not.

>> CHRIS: That’s the pressure of product or of any business. Is you are constantly pulled to do the visible thing. Often, at least in my own experience, directly, it’s the invisible stuff that sinks businesses. It’s the dusty corners. It’s the bugs left under the cabinet. The rodents in the walk-in. If I’m using restaurant vernacular. It’s the unmet, unmanaged things under the surface that actually sink the business. It’s failure to observe consistent process and quality above all else. I mean, just case in point, and Steve, maybe you can speak to this more, but we’ve spent almost four or five months now, something like that just refactoring and making our code base more efficient. We haven’t really been rolling out a whole lot of features. It’s that exact practice of quality first.

>> AMBER: I know from a marketing standpoint where it was like, “We need more features. We need more features.”

>> CHRIS: Well, sales too. I find myself starting to get frustrated because we’re still refactoring. Then I’m like, “No, no, this is absolutely necessary.” I talk myself down.

>> STEVE: I mean, it’s good to have a firm foundation. With software, housekeeping is needed. Sometimes you need to take a break and you need to rethink things. We’re kind of deviating a little bit from the topic here. I mean, I think it’s in the same vein that taking the time to do the right thing and the investment in doing the right thing, most of the time is always a net positive. Now, refactoring tabs in the admin of WordPress may not be noticed by many people, but we’re an accessibility company. We should practice 100% what we preach. We’re always taking steps to make our plugin more accessible, even in the admin for an admin user. Because we’re not just making our plugin to make websites accessible, we actually want to make a tool that people with disabilities could actually use too. Because we know a lot of people with disabilities in our space that do-

>> AMBER: In our accessibility professions. Well, honestly, on that note, like state and local government websites being accessible under title two, and there is a note on that PDF, which I didn’t include in my write-up, but we have the PDF linked at the bottom of it, which we can include in the show notes. They do talk about this also, there is stuff under the ADA that applies to your employees. Plugin developers, even website creators who are creating these websites, you have to think about accessibility in WordPress admin if it’s going to be ADA compliant. It also technically needs to pass WCAG 2.1 AA in the WordPress admin.

>> CHRIS: I mean, these organizations could have employees with disabilities. The tools themselves have to be usable by those people.

>> STEVE: Well, I mean, that kind of opens a huge can of worms.

>> AMBER: I know. There have been so many conversations about this in the last six months, I want to say in the core accessibility team. Right now we “strive for WCAG 2.1 AA conformance”. No one has ever done a comprehensive audit of WordPress itself. It’s a little bit like these are the conversations. Who has time to volunteer and do this for free? That part’s hard. There’s lots of little components that get tested all the time for accessibility by a lot of really great people on the accessibility team. I think generally WordPress core itself is okay including the block editor, although we have some friends who are definitely anti-block editor from an accessibility standpoint. Plugin devs, you really need to think about your admin experience because I’ve seen some plugin admins that are just non-functional. Devs are not buttons, folks. Devs are not buttons. Label your fields. Honestly, if you use the WordPress UI, then it’s a lot easier to make your stuff accessible. It’s when you start to get all fancy.

Let’s step back for a second to this state and local government. Anything that we think agencies should do if they want to set themselves up to deliver more accessible websites for state and local government?

>> CHRIS: Well, I think if I may, I think step one is to understand how to actually find those opportunities and go after them. Particularly because not every agency has a government client. They may be interested in starting to work with those. I think if you’re interested in that, try to reach out to– Sometimes it’s Secretary of State. Sometimes states have an Office of Procurement or an Economic Development Office, things of that nature that you can reach out to that will tell you the different channels where organizations in that state will put out RFPs. Really you’re looking for a request for proposal unless you have existing government clients and get registered there, they’ll start to send you opportunities. 99% of them probably won’t be relevant because it’s like toilet seats and push brooms and uniforms and all sorts of stuff. Some of them are better than others. You can have filters set up so that it’s just about websites, et cetera. getting registered on your local state procurement portal is a good first step.

>> AMBER: You do all that for us. I had no idea. Is that hard?

>> CHRIS: Some states make it very hard. Others don’t. To be honest with you, I don’t get registered on some of them unless I know I’m going to submit a proposal or I already have a target. I am registered in Texas because we’re headquartered here. I think I do get notifications about RFPs. Most of them aren’t relevant.

>> AMBER: I think I heard you talking to someone in Missouri or Arkansas or something the other day and they’re like, you should just go get on our state register right now because it’ll make it so much easier for you once we have this out.

>> CHRIS: Yes. that’s the other thing is if you can build some marketing materials or do some light teaching around this, you can probably get some government people reaching out to you. This is really the position you want to be in. You can be kind of the favored person that they’re consulting with before they even write an RFP because that’s generally how you actually win RFPs is being the organization that helps them draft them because you’ve spent months potentially building up implicit trust. Generally speaking, the things to pay attention to are why they’re reaching out. In my experience, it’s always compliance or risk-related is why they’re reaching out. This is important to remember. Generally speaking, the reason that the deals close in my experience in government is either messaging around ethics and empathy. how is this going to help their constituents? Or it’s the social/political capital of the person doing the buying. If it’s like a VP, speaking to how the solution you’re offering is going to make them look good beyond compliance. To their peers or serving as example to other organizations. That is actually a motivator for a lot of these decision makers is like bragging rights, so to speak.

>> AMBER: The public library wants to be able to go to the public library convention and be like, “We have the best, most accessible website of all the public libraries. Look how awesome we are.”

>> CHRIS: Then they get all of their professional connections coming to them for advice and being like, “How did you do this?” They love that feeling. They’re willing to buy that feeling. Speaking to serving as that example works really well. The people to look for, the two key ones are you’re looking for department heads or VPs. If you’re speaking to someone lower than that level, try to get up to the level of the department head and VP as quickly and politely as you can without alienating the person who is taking the time to speak to you. Procurement managers are hugely important.

I just wanted to get all that out there because honestly, with the amount of volume that’s about to just dump on the accessibility industry in the next two to three years, there are not enough of us to do all this work. More agencies need to step up and need to be ready.

>> AMBER: Selling is one thing, finding the RFPs, figuring out how to close them. How do you get ready? I think that might be worth talking about. Steve, you did a lot of work on our theme several years ago, our starter. Can you talk about that? What agencies might need to do to get themselves ready?

>> STEVE: Whatever stack that you’re starting with for your development, I’m sure most people use some sort of stack. In our case, we have a custom WordPress theme. We have a custom functionality plugin. We have a set of approved blocks that we can use, which is extremely minimal at this point. I think it’s just one-block library. We’re even trying to move away from that. Having some rules around which blocks in core you may not want to use and finding alternatives to those. Whatever that stack is, I would start auditing it. I would start using tools to test it. I mean, you could use our tool, the Accessibility Checker. You could use Wave.

>> AMBER: Just like your keyboard.

>> STEVE: Yes, your keyboard. There’s no shortage of tools out there to test accessibility. We really have no excuse at this point. Start auditing it internally. Make accessibility a priority. Have uncompromising accessible development in your company. We’ve said this before in talks, if it’s not accessible, it’s broken. Actually, use that mentality. It blows my mind in development companies how much time we spend on complying to the WordPress coding standards or whatever coding standard, ES linting to like, it’s got to be perfect and your code has to be testable, has to have 100% coverage and all this. None of that matters if it’s not accessible. That matters just as much as, actually, I’ll go out there and argue that the accessibility matters way more than your coding standard.

>> AMBER: Yes, whether you’re using spaces or tabs.

>> STEVE: Right. Seriously.

>> AMBER: Start that argument.

>> STEVE: Just have a paradigm shift that this stuff matters. It does matter. If you see real people in real life struggle with these things, it becomes very tangible and it will change your heart around the whole thing altogether. Now, if we can’t change your heart, we now have the law to help change your mind.

>> AMBER: I think it’s like you were talking about how we’ve been just spending time doing housekeeping on our plugin. Housekeeping or whatever you want to call it. I think for an agency, like you were saying, like put your starter, maybe without even any content in it, or some really minimal test content and spending time working on that. I remember when you, a couple of years ago, spent a whole bunch of time reworking our nav menu in our starter theme and the way that functions for better accessibility. It felt hard to be like, Steve’s not going to be working on client work for however many days or whatever that took. The end result was every website we built after that has an accessible nav. You only have to do it once. You’ve got to, as an agency, be willing to commit to putting that time in.

>> CHRIS: Well, so much of accessibility, I feel like you only have to do once if you put the time into having the right starter, having the right tools.

>> AMBER: Starter blocks. If you’re building custom blocks, you could have them just unstyled. Right?

>> CHRIS: Yes.

>> STEVE: Yes.

>> AMBER: The core code is there.

>> CHRIS: Then bake it into your you’re designing your content review procedures to consider accessibility, have the right checks later in the project. Once you’ve implemented those things, really the only variable left at that point, at least in my opinion, is the content. Which a very simple scanner can usually find everything. Or at least flag the things.

>> AMBER: A lot of things.

>> STEVE: Yes. From a development standpoint, you can definitely make sure that you’re handing off an environment that is conducive to creating accessible content and not handing off like something that you’ve implemented a certain block that is saved into a pattern that creates an accessibility issue. They can go in and start duplicating that. You don’t want to hand off a tool that actually can generate more accessibility problems.

>> CHRIS: That just made me think of the classic Fantasia of Mickey Mouse chopping up the broomstick.

>> AMBER: It just making more broomsticks.

>> CHRIS: It just makes more broomsticks.

>> AMBER: That are tinier. Even more overwhelming than the big one.

>> CHRIS: I’ve been dabbling with making accessibility-related memes. Maybe I can come up with something for that.

>> STEVE: We can make it a little cooler, Chris. We use The Matrix. Mr. Smith’s duplicating.

>> CHRIS: Oh yes, there you go.

>> AMBER: Mickey Mouse isn’t cool?

>> STEVE: No.

>> AMBER: Hey, you want to talk about special government districts this applies to? Disney World. Isn’t Disney World a special government district?

>> CHRIS: I think they might be.

>> STEVE: I think so. In Florida.

>> AMBER: Yes. It’s interesting. All these things that you don’t really think of that it’ll stretch to. I think this will apply to Disney World. They’re going to have to make sure all their websites meet WCAG.

>> STEVE: Wow, I didn’t think about that. Well, Disney, if you need somebody to do some auditing reach out to us.

>> AMBER: equalizedigital.com

>> STEVE: There you go.

>> AMBER: Very important for all the Disney folks listening to this podcast episode.

>> STEVE: That’s right.

>> AMBER: Well, I don’t know if we have any final thoughts. I think we’ve kind of covered the gamut of this. We’ll definitely throw a link in the show notes if you want to access the full PDF of the rule or you want to read the summary. It was 289 pages. I read it all. Chris asked me actually right before this. He’s like, “Why they didn’t say anything about overlays?” I was like, “It has two sentences,” and it’s basically like, “We’re not telling you how to meet WCAG. We’re just telling you you have to.” The summary on that was pretty much like they’re not going to say if they’re good or bad. I think we all know whether or not overlays can help you meet WCAG.

>> STEVE: I mean, that could be a whole episode in and of itself. we talked a lot of dirt about them, but it’s not like you couldn’t achieve something. This is not an endorsement by any means.

>> AMBER: No, I mean, I’ve seen them. I think we talked about this once. I’m fix some things. Sometimes they do really weird things. I don’t know if I shared on a podcast episode once that we went to a website. I saw it before it was using Divi. It didn’t have the Divi accessibility plugin so the whole nabs didn’t function. They installed an overlay before I told them. I was all like, “No, you don’t.” It did fix their navigation menu, but the dropdowns didn’t open down. They opened up and they shifted the entire header down the page. I was like, “Technically it works. It is more accessible. It is a very, very strange user experience and it looks really bad but it’s accessible.”

>> STEVE: Cool. Very good.

>> AMBER: All right. Well, I think we’re going to– if anybody has any left, enjoy the rest of our Sarsaparilla. We’ll be back in two weeks for another conversation about accessibility.

>> CHRIS: Bye, everybody.

>> STEVE: See ya.

>> AMBER: Bye.


>> CHRIS: Thanks for listening to Accessibility Craft. If you enjoyed this episode please subscribe in your podcast app to get notified when future episodes release. You can find Accessibility Craft on Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify and more. If building accessibility awareness is important to you, please consider rating Accessibility Craft 5 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.