Transcription: Web Axe Episode 100 (Joe & Joseph on WordPress Accessibility)


Dennis Lembree: Hello. This is Dennis, your host of Web Axe, and this is podcast 100, finally made it. Joe and Joe on WordPress accessibility, welcome guys.

Joe Dolson: Glad to be here.

Joseph O'Connor: Thanks for having us.

Dennis: It's my pleasure. We'll give a couple quick intros before we get into the meat of the program. Joe Dolson, you've been on the show a couple of times but it's been a while.

Why don't you go ahead and give us a quick introduction of yourself and a little bit about what you're doing in WordPress?

Joe: All right. I'm Joe Dolson. I'm a member of WordPress accessibility team. I do a lot of stuff in WordPress. I build a lot of plugins which I've made an effort to make accessible.

I built a plugin called WP Accessibility which handles a number of testable cases in WordPress themes that can make a site more accessible.

I do what I can to contribute to making core more accessible. I also maintain and write the WordPress accessibility-ready theme guidelines and at the moment, all of the testing related to those.

Dennis: That's awesome. I know you guys are both doing such a great job at WordPress. You're in Minnesota, right?

Joe: Yes, I am.

Dennis: You have your own freelance company and staff, is that correct?

Joe: Yeah, that's correct.

Dennis: Look them up if anybody needs some work. Not that you're busy enough already.

Joe: [jokingly] No, I got nothing to do, really.

Dennis: [laughs] Joseph, go ahead, sir.

Joseph: Hi, I'm Joseph O'Connor. I'm in sunny southern California in Santa Monica, the "People's Republic of Santa Monica," to be precise.

I work with Knowbility, Sharron Rush and all the great people at Knowbility, doing site testing and making suggestions to people to make their stuff more accessible. I'm a member of the WordPress Accessibility Team and help out where I can.

I have a pretty busy commitment to my daughter who's severely disabled. It really takes a lot of time to do that. I'm interested in disability rights and accessibility. I did accessibility in education for a long time, since 1999, when the law first came into effect.

I've been using WordPress since 2005 in education. When I retired from the education system, I decided that I should give back to the WordPress Community because I had gotten so much from WordPress over the years, and there was a lack of accessible themes.

That led me to think about ways to promote people to make more accessible themes. Here we are today. We have 13 themes in the theme directory. That's an exponential increase over the four that were there last year, I think.

The conversation everywhere I go, on Twitter, in person, at meet ups...and I was talking with Lucy Greco yesterday about this at UC Berkeley, she has noticed this also, that more people are talking about accessibility than ever before.

Some people are actually doing it now for the first time, and I find that very heartening.

Dennis: Indeed. Thank you Joseph. Welcome, your first appearance on Web Axe. I can't believe it's been 100 podcasts since I have you on, but thanks for coming.

For those of you who probably don't know, when I first wrote Accessible Twitter or Easy Chirp, I actually co-presented with Joseph O'Connor at the CSUN conference talking about Twitter, Accessibility, and Accessible Twitter...a little bit of fun history there.

About Web Axe, two years ago I think, I converted the blog to WordPress. I found a pretty good accessible theme and modified it.

Then, I ran into a couple of accessibility pet peeves of mine, so I mentioned a couple to Joe Dolson and said, "Hey, you should make a plug-in that does this or that [laughs] like removing those redundant title attributes." I think that's where the plug-in was born, right?

Joe: Yes, pretty much.

Dennis: That was cool. Have those redundant title attributes been removed from Core WordPress?

Joe: Yes, they have. Almost a hundred percent of them are gone from Core, and there's more going away in foot Link 1.

There's virtually none left at his point. It's just a few that are more difficult cases because they're in that awkward area, where they do actually present information. They're not just lucrative.

Making a change to the front-end presentation that would make those actually visible would mean breaking, potentially, a lot of websites. They've got to be very careful about how we go about approaching, what we're going to do to fix that.

There are some proposals on the table. One of those is to allow themes to declare some type of accessibility support, which would allow us to target certain things specifically for those themes, but deprecate them for other themes.

Some other ideas are taking some of these older widgets and creating new widgets that don't have those problems, with the long term goal of deprecating the old widgets, but giving people a good healthy amount of time to adapt their sites and themes over to the new structures.

Lots of ideas, it needs a little bit of working out to actually get it to happen.

Dennis: Yes, definitely.

Joe: When you've made a mistake early on, sometimes, remedying that problem is a much bigger challenge than just doing it right in the first place. It's what we all know about doing accessibility, doing it right the first time is always better but not always an option.

Dennis: Let's talk about accessible themes. Joseph already mentioned there's a new tag. There were four and now there are 13 "approved accessible themes". Does one of you want to talk a little bit more about that tag and what the guidelines are?

Joe: I think I can probably talk about that. I can talk about it at length...

Dennis: Not at length [laughs] .

Joe: The accessibility-ready guidelines themselves were born when I proposed to Mel Pedley that we needed to write some guidelines and start to push this forward in the theme review team as an area that would be addressed. That was two years ago.

We worked that out. I wrote a draft, sent it to her for review. She made some comments, sent it back. We made some revisions. Then, we posted that up on and started proposing that to the theme review team as a process.

This was difficult because the theme review process is already pretty complicated. There's a lot that goes in to the process of checking themes to make sure that they're of a quality and a condition that's going to be allowed in the theme directory. This would be an additional extension to that review.

The fact that we weren't trying to make it required, because that was logistically going to be too much to ask at that point, meant that we had to really change the workflow of the theme review process. That's been a long educational process.

It took a long time to get it into place in the first place, but once it was there, it was some education and getting people to understand what needed to happen.

When a theme shows up that's labeled as "accessibility-ready," it needs to be reviewed separately, it needs this additional review done before it can be approved and done live.

The process is essentially, a theme can go up, it'll do all of the standard review stuff before the accessibility reviewer actually looks at it at all. That's only because most themes don't ever really complete the reviews.

They'll get blocked at some point because they're not meeting some guideline, they stop updating, or they just don't get there. A lot of themes never make it to being approved.

It's a waste of time, as an accessibility reviewer, to go in right away, review it at the beginning of its process, and then have that not go anywhere.

The difficulty though is that a reviewer's on the habit of going through that whole process and saying, "OK. It's great, it's approved," and then somebody watches it live and they're, "Oh, wait." We haven't done this step yet," so that took some working out.

It's going really well, people are really embracing it. I did another review of an accessibility-ready theme yesterday by a developer, and it's really good. It's a really nice theme. It's really well done, and very thoughtful. I'm looking forward to that going live.

Dennis: I'm taking a look at some of the themes that have been approved.


Joe: They're a mixed packet.

Dennis: [laughs] Of course, links to all this stuff will be on the posts on the show notes. They look pretty nice. There's all different kinds. This theme called Drop looks pretty interesting.

Joe: Yes, that's interesting.

Dennis: Then, that JBST...

Joe: That was a starter theme. It's a kind of framework that you can use to start a website from, and so is WPstart, which is also in there. They're both nice starting-off frameworks. They're not really fully-fledged themes.

Dennis: Yes. I noticed a few of these don't have ratings. Listeners go ahead, check these out, give them a rating, and use them.

Joe: Yes. You should particularly rate Universal and give it five stars.

Dennis: Yes, that one looks like...


Joe: Not that I'm biased at all.


Dennis: Great. If you're submitting a theme, just briefly, how does that work? Do you add the tag and then submit it? I've never submitted a theme myself.

Joe: Yes. You do add the tag when you submit the theme. There's no reason that it can't be added to a theme that's already approved. It's just that it'll still need to be reviewed and audited to make sure that it meets the requirements we've put up.

The requirements are tricky because, of course, it's not the same as reviewing a website. There's no content to a theme. It's not like you're checking it and verifying that it's an accessible website.

There's nothing about this theme which is going to prevent somebody from building an accessible website with it, as opposed to actually being an accessible project itself.

Dennis: Yes. You still have to make your content accessible.

Joe: That's why we chose "accessibility-ready" as the tag. [jokingly] If you want to, you can absolutely create a nice helpfully inaccessible website with any of these themes. That's totally up to you. You are always able to screw things up.

Dennis: Let's change gears. We're only talking about half of the equation really, the themes and what the final user will actually view. There's of course the whole admin area and providing accessibility for the administrators of a WordPress website. What do we have going on there?

Joe: You want to go into this, Joseph?

Dennis: Yeah, you better give Joe a breather.


Joseph: In WordPress development, we're using a system called Trac. That's where tickets are created and reviewed. Then, hopefully, patches are made, and accepted or not accepted, there's a whole dialog about that in the ticket process.

We have a number of accessibility tickets up there right now. If your WordCamp is having a Contribution Day, you might want to look at some of the accessibility tickets and see what you can do to help. There are very few of us, actually actively, working to make this happen in core.

We're reaching out to people, and we don't have enough bandwidth to cover everything. In the released 4.0 we really worked pretty well with Helen Hou-Sandí, and we made sure that we didn't have any show stoppers before it shipped.

Not enough of the tickets that we have outstanding went forward, but there's always 4.1. It's a really iterative process. There's always a chance of getting it into the next release.

Joe: It's actually one of the things I really like about the relatively fast release cycle. The whole idea is that any given ticket can be punted. It's like, "OK, we weren't able to solve that now, but we're moving forward to the next release.

It's not so much of, "We're abandoning this ticket, it's not important to us," it's more, "We just weren't able to figure that out, yet."

Dennis: The Admin Interface is quite a challenge, too. There's a lot there, and I know there's a lot of interactivity and everything. That's no easy feat.

Joe: It's very complex to even get a handle on what the issues are, to really test it and figure out what's going on. Then, when it comes to actually patching and addressing some of those issues, that's a big task.

A lot of it is written in JavaScript. At the moment we don't have any real JavaScript devs on the accessibility team.

The people who've been doing the JavaScript work have been really open to making changes and getting some of the stuff dealt with, in particular the media model that we wanted to have handled.

It's good. Everything is moving forward. It's slow and it takes a long time. One of the biggest challenges is with all of the new features. They spend a long time sitting in plugins before they get integrated into core.

It's not until really until they integrate into core that we can particularly address them and try and fix any issues.

It would be really nice if we could know what was going to go into core a little sooner so that we could really try and figure out what we should take a stab at, what we should really be working on.

One of the challenges with this whole plugin process is it's not until really late in the release process that you even know which features are going to be added. We have so few people that we can't keep a close eye on every single thing and make sure that they're all treating accessibility right.

Dennis: If there are any listeners who are JavaScript experts or anybody else that wants to volunteer to help make the WordPress Admin Interface accessible, what should he or she do?

Joe: Contact us [laughs] .

Dennis: Contact Joe and Joe?

Joe: Go to and go to the accessibility team's blog, contact us personally, do whatever you want. Really anybody can help out at any level.

One of the things that we're really needing in particular is good active developers who can just go in and look at a ticket and come up with a solution.

At some level, the process moves so quickly that if we're really slowly working through things, sometimes it just means we don't get anything done in time, as nice as that is sometimes.

Dennis: Let's move over to events, our final little topic. I know there's at least one big event coming up for you guys. Do you want to talk about that and anything else?

Joseph: WordCamp San Francisco's coming up in October. That will be October 25th and 26th in San Francisco. There is a Contribution Day on the 27th.

There's something interesting called Community Days on the 28th and the 29th, where all of the teams and most of the team members for WordPress Themes will be working together.

We've been asked to do a panel discussion either at the Contribution Day or the Community Days. We'll be able to give some information to people who may not even be thinking about it right now.

At the presentation I did at WordCamp Montreal, I met some core developers, one of whom had never thought about accessibility before.

There's always people to reach out to. Joe Dolson is doing a lightning talk. I believe I am doing a lightning talk also, about WordPress user experience, testing, and research. I'd better pack a lot of information into those five minutes!

A five-minute talk can be as effective as a 40-minute talk, really. The impact that you have is in the way you design the talk.

I'm making a movie that will go for about four minutes. II won't fail to hit my points, if I have a time-based media file playing to display all the information that I want to give them.

That's coming up October 25th and 26th. There will be another round of tickets for sale in the near future. Some of the ticket sales that happened so far, sold out quickly.

If you're still interested in WordCamp San Francisco, look at the WordCamp San Francisco site. You can subscribe through their email notifications, and you might still get a ticket.

Joe: In addition to that, one of the things that's really been shifting is there've been a lot more accessibility talks in general at WordCamps, or talks that mention accessibility even if they're not specifically on that topic.

I know that at WordCamp Dallas/Fort Worth, which is coming up October 4th, Trisha Salas is doing a great talk on accessibility for theme developers. That's another way of reaching out and getting the word out.

It's really not that hard to do at least the introductory levels of accessibility, not necessarily the part where you're handling the issues with assistive technology bugs and inconsistent support, but at least the part where you're just doing the job right from the beginning.

Once we reach enough people, it'll just become normative.

Dennis: Definitely. We're going to stop there, guys. Thank you so much for joining me. It was a pleasure, of course. You're doing great work for WordPress Accessibility. Thank you very much.

Joe: Thank you. Thanks for having us, Dennis.

Joseph: Thanks, Dennis.



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