BoldLife 2.0 Rachel Cherry of WPCampus on the Gutenberg Accessibility Report


Rachel Cherry of WPCampus on the Gutenberg Accessibility Report

Rachel Cherry of WPCampus joins us to discuss the upcoming WordPress Editor Accessibility Audit she spearheaded, what you can do when the report is released, and to remind you to submit your Speaker Proposals for their annual summit on WordPress in Higher Education.

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The following transcript was created automatically, please forgive us if there are any typos or grammatical errors.

Demo: 00:02 Hello and welcome to this week’s BoldGrid BoldLife podcast. I’m your cohost Mike Demo. Pleased to be joined by my co host, Jesse. How’s it going Jesse?

Jesse: 00:12 is going great. Mike, how are you doing?

Demo: 00:14 Good. Anything new over in Denver, Colorado?

Jesse: 00:18 Uh, we’re, I think we’re going to break 80 degrees today. Uh, it is beautiful. Um, and as soon as we get off the pod, I’m going to get outside.

Demo: 00:26 We record this a week ahead of time and as soon as I get off the pod here, I’m going to be going to downtown Saint Paul for the Minnesota United versus the La Galaxy mls soccer match. So that should be fun. And today we are joined by Rachel Cherry from WPCampus. Hi Rachel. How you doing?

Rachel Cherry: 00:47 Oh, how’s it going?

Demo: 00:50 Good. So you are in, uh, the south, correct?

Rachel Cherry: 00:55 Well, I was about to say, by the way, I’m super jealous of your like 80 degrees because it’s in my fifties where I am located. I currently live and Ithaca in New York.

Demo: 01:07 Okay, cool. Ithaca. So that’s a fun place to make it down to the city because I believe your sisters in the city, right? Rachel Cherry: 01:13 Yeah, my sister lives down in Astoria and so I can make it down there a lot. I’m going, hey, down there a few weeks actually, but I’m, I moved to Ithaca a couple of months ago and I’m doing a lot of work for Cornell and it’s a, it’s a fun little town. I do like it a lot, but I have never lived this far north and it’s, I’m not sure if it ever actually gets warm here. I haven’t seen it yet. Demo: 01:38 Well as your blood gets a custom, if you want to come over to Minnesota next winter, maybe you’ll be able to handle it then maybe they’ll go skiing or something. Awesome. So you founded and are part of the team for WPCampus, is that correct? Correct. Can, for our listeners who don’t know if WPCampus is, can you give a quick overview?

Rachel Cherry: 02:01 Yeah, sure. We are a community and resources and events for people that use WordPress in higher education. So we have a lot of people that work at different colleges. And universities and other higher education institutions and they’re using WordPress to power their marketing or power learning. And the um, WordPress in the classroom, um, different educational technologies. Um, and so they come together in our group. We are, most of our action happens on slack, but we do have several events a year. We had WPCampus online in January and then we have an in person conference every summer and we move around every year. So we’ve been Florida our first year we’ve been to Buffalo, New York, which isn’t too far from where I live now. We, last year we were in Saint Louis and then this summer we were headed to Portland, Oregon.

Demo: 02:56 Awesome. Keep Portland Word. Rachel Cherry: 02:58 Yeah, keep, Portland Word I love it.

Demo: 03:01 Excellent. And I’ve been lucky enough to go to two of the physical conferences and speak at one of the physical ones and one of the virtual ones. And it’s a great community and I’ve met some really good friendships and I love seeing education being the focus of kind of open source technologies and how people in the education space are using WordPress and other open source options in various ways. Because it’s not just teachers, not just it folks. You guys get all sorts of different, uh, you know, verticals and types of people that come to WPCampus that are using it just in higher education in very different ways. Right?

Rachel Cherry: 03:41 Correct. What I find really interesting about higher education, especially in the technology space, I tell people it’s like enterprise on a budget. Uh, these schools are doing, they need solutions at huge scales and that are, that are creating solutions for a vast audience that has all kinds of different needs. And they’re usually doing it with a small team. And so therefore I just, they get extra creative and it’s really neat to see how people are solving these problems with most of the time limited resources or at least less limits are more limited than you usually see on the web. And so it’s really great to see their ideas come out and things are talking about in slack and what they’re presenting about. Um, at each event. And we do post all of our, we do record all of our sessions at our conferences and post them on our websites. And you could go and watch them, um, from past events and see what I’m talking about.

Demo: 04:39 Excellent. I believe my first talk at the one in Buffalo, which by the way, that buffalo was conference was awesome. I remember I went up to nag or falls to see the fireworks last night. That was always enjoyable and there’s two Hard Rocks up in Niagara Falls, one on each side of the border. So that was double the check ins for me. I remember when I went to art school, I was taught that CMS systems, content management systems aren’t used in the real world. And I was basically berated for using anything that was open source. And I kind of get where they’re coming from because it’s good to know the core skills, it’s good to know CSS, html, javascript, all that good stuff. But back then when I was in school, it was very short, short! Sighted that said, oh, well CMS systems just aren’t a real thing. And that it kind of made this like cocky attitude. So you know, that really wasn’t for me. Do you find that that attitude is changing and embracing tools like WordPress to help people, students create like the online portfolio, use it in different ways.

Rachel Cherry: 05:50 I have to say I’ve never experienced that attitude, at least not on very much of a scale, like very like one person a year kind of attitude that I had come across because especially for people that work in higher education and any kind of, whether it’s faculty or staff, you, you very much depend on any tool that will help you get the job done in a small amount of time with a limited budget, things like this. So tools that come along like WordPress where it’s technically free, we all understand the rest of that conversation, but um, that they can throw up and on a server and get running and get out the door in a little bit without having to go through an entire web development process is like, is very beneficial. And so, uh, there are, I don’t, I don’t come across the attitude all that often.

Rachel Cherry: 06:43 Um, if you do come across it, it’s really more probably developers that are saying such things. Um, and so, but not from like a general, like a higher education standpoint, seeing um, tools like CMS is, um, so whether it’s WordPress or Drupal or Joomla!, higher education is a super amazing use case for them because as I pointed out earlier, like, um, if you’ve never worked in a higher education environment, it’s usually like one team of like you’re doing pretty good to get like four or five web people on a team that are like running the websites for numerous departments if not the entire campus. And so they need something where they can go in and they can lock down what you could do and they can, for example, in the WordPress space, you know, we can you to kind of lock down what things people can use and what plugins they can use. Rachel Cherry: 07:35 You can even kind of lock down workflows and user permissions in a variety of ways. And because the reality is is that you had these people that are managing the website but they can’t manage all the content as well. And so you’ll have very dispersed editors all over the campus, whether it’s a biology professor or it’s the department manager or department, you know, secretary or whatever that are, you know, they are, you know what, there’s a terminology that we use a lot in higher ed. It’s like tasks as needed or duties as assigned or needed or whatever, where we do very much live in a world where you know, you will have people that are hired to teach physics, managing content on their website. And so having these tools that offer a lot of flexibility and options while not meeting tons and tons of a behind the scenes management is, is very much needed and very helpful. And you will see that used a lot across higher education. So whether or not that’s open source or that’s proprietary, there’s tons of proprietary CMS systems, they are used a lot in higher education. Excellent. So with that, Demo: 08:46 I know WPCampus spearheaded the Gutenberg accessibility audit, is that right? Rachel Cherry: 08:51 Correct. Demo: 08:53 So can you kind of tell the story of that kind of came about and how he got funding for it and how the RFP happened and kind of the whole story and where you are today with that whole journey. Rachel Cherry: 09:06 Yeah, so I’ll, I’ll try to give a quick high level summary. We were, you know, it was Gutenberg was being developed. We were following a lot of online conversations surrounding whether or not they were going to do an accessibility audit of the editor. Uh, it, something like this is very important to us in higher education and anyone and that kind of advocates for accessibility in the sense that we’re talking about this huge change to WordPress and, and to one of arguably the most important resources in the admin. The thing that you use to actually put your content on your website and potentially what they are talking about using, you know, good for, for a lot of tools in the Admin, we need to make sure this tool is accessible and it reaches another level for us in higher education and organizations that receive federal funding because we do fall or fall under what’s called section 508, which requires us by law to be accessible.

Rachel Cherry: 10:05 And that’s not just your front end quote unquote website. That’s any, any online digital functionality that is used by, um, pretty much a human. It’s anyone. So if for example, you know, you have someone in your biology department that is required to interact with WordPress in order to do their job, then WordPress has to be accessible, uh, lest they are literally breaking the law. And so this is important to our community and therefore important to WPCampus as an organization. Because while we, while we are not going to sit and tell our members that, hey, you know, this thing, we’re not going to make decisions for them about whether or not they use Gutenberg, but we do feel it is our responsibility to make sure they are informed so that they can talk to their lawyers and they can make a decision about whether or not to move forward and use something that may or may not be accessible.

Rachel Cherry: 11:07 So in order to, you know, provide that information, making sure this audit happened was very important to us. And so when it became kind of clear that they, they weren’t going to do an audit, they being the core team and, um, kind of Automattic and in general, uh, we’re not helping to kind of push that along and, or didn’t have a desire to. Then we decided, hey, you know, like, why don’t, why can’t we do it? And so we did. So we put together a small group of people to work on a kind of a committee to make sure this moves forward. And we started to work on our RFP A, which stands for request for proposal and, and we put that together pretty quickly and we shared it out and we shared it with several vendors and we were seeing I believe seven or eight responses, which was super great. Rachel Cherry: 11:59 They were all amazing. And it was really hard to decide. We did have a wonderful selection committee who has also been pretty active in this process the whole time. And we’ve been super grateful for their, um, their time they’ve given us. And we finally decided on Tenon to do the audit and we did start fundraising because they audit audits or are, they’re not cheap. They are totally valuable and totally worth the money. Uh, but this audit cost about $31,000. And so we started a fundraising campaign and then, uh, automatic stepped in and said that they would fill the gap between whatever we raised and the $31,000 that we raised somewhere I think a little under $11,000. And so, um, they are paying the rest of that. And so at this point we are in the final days of this process and the report is going to be released to us by the end of this week today being April 24th. Rachel Cherry: 13:04 So in a matter of days we should have the report in our hands. We’ve, we’ve seen a preview of it. We’ve been, we’ve had meetings during, throughout the process to kind of get a good idea for what they’re finding. And so we kind of have a general idea. We’ve seen a preliminary introduction report kind of conclusion. Uh, but we should get everything but the end of the week. And so our plan is to, oh, we’ve already got our blog posts written and the plan is to share everything with the community and we’ll make it all public. And also the plan. Uh, we haven’t finalized all the details so I won’t go too deep into the next part. But the plan is to also have a Webinar of sorts where people can join and uh, Tenon we’ll walk through the issues and explain them in a different format than the written report and time allowing. Rachel Cherry: 13:59 Take questions and things like that. And the plan is for that to be open for anyone to join. But, um, give me, give me like a week or two to make sure that that’s still a thing. But, um, both the goal being that we want to, we want people to take this report. Um, and we hope that it will be super informative. Uh, as we all witnessed, accessibility can be a little bit of a touchy subject, uh, because I mean out of very, very high level. Um, it, you tell people that there’s something they’ve made isn’t accessible and it’s hard to not take that as you’ve made. You’ve built something incorrectly. It’s really hard to hear someone to come to you and say, I can’t use your product and it’s your fault. And so it’s, it’s really hard to take a lot of information. Rachel Cherry: 14:53 And so we really hope that people won’t see the report as something was done wrong, but that they will take the information in a constructive light and help make a progress of paths and move forward. Um, it’s a learning experience for everyone. No one makes 100% accessible products all the time, the best just, it doesn’t happen. And, um, that we’re all in this together. You know, I hope that people kind of see it that way. Like we’re all trying to make better products in the end for everyone and we’re all learning and we’re all growing together in this. Um, but even if you don’t touch the editor, like even if you don’t work on it and you don’t use it, the report can also be super valuable in the sense that like, you could use this information towards other products, towards other apps are interfaces that you’re building.

Rachel Cherry: 15:45 You can take, you know, what was learned from this report and use it towards other projects or future projects. And so I think even if you don’t interact with the editor, it will be super valuable information because in my experience with a lot of, um, I do a lot of advocating for accessibility. I do a lot of workshops and education and most of the time, uh, people just, they learned something and they just never thought of it that way. They never had to experience a website in that way and they’d never realized that that was an issue. So for a lot of people, just the more they can consume and the more that they can, um, uh, come across this type of research and this type of education is just so it’s super enlightening. And once you know, you open some of those eyes, sorta speak to these, to these problems, uh, the more you’ll see them in your own projects and in other projects and the more you’ll just, you know, the more you learn as a developer. So we really hope people will take the time to read the report, especially in the light of the WordPress community and what we’re doing. And so, uh, and in the end, what we are doing is making a better experience for everyone and that’s all we’re trying to do here. Um, and so, but on top of all of that, uh, we are trying to also make it where higher education institutions who love WordPress and use WordPress like we do, they are not putting themselves at legal risk.

Jesse: 17:18 Yeah. So by the time this podcast goes live, the report will be released. Um, so by, for the people listening to this podcast, what would you say is the single most important action that they should take? Uh, regarding the report and regarding, um, the entire project at large. What would, what would be the one, the one single call to action that you want anyone to know after listening to this? Rachel Cherry: 17:46 So after reading the report, there will be a github issues created by tenon. I’m in an attempt to try and um, help fix the issues they have discovered. And, and so another action item could be to go on get hub and it’s fine. The issue because we’re trying to link to them in the report, we’ll see how that goes. Um, uh, I think they’re going to add them over the next few days. So finally issues studied them and you could submit prs. That would be super helpful. The more that we can all as a community kind of come together and address the issues. So it’s not just something that’s just like put upon the weight of people who have already been doing so much work. Um, that’s a super helpful action item. I’m sharing. The report would be great too. The more eyes we can get it in front of the better.

Rachel Cherry: 18:45 I think in a sense of what I’ve already talked about where it’s a lot of it is purely just educational and the more we can get these, this is the idea of these accessibility audit itself from my understanding seems to be a fairly new idea to the WordPress community, at least on this level. There’s never been an audit of core per se. And so the more that we can get this information in front of everybody so that they can read it and understand why these are like, not just that there are issues, the more important thing is why there are issues and why these fixes are important and why we should think about these things all the time when we’re building, not just core, but when we’re building plugins and things, the better that we’re pressed as an ecosystem will be. So, um, other than that, uh, take what you’ve learned and put it into your own projects, um, try to study more on accessibility.

Rachel Cherry: 19:43 You know, a lot of accessibility issues. A lot of them come down to this basic html markup. A lot of issues are people are using html incorrectly, they’re not following SPEC. And so those, that’s a lot of them. But then a lot of, uh, accessibility issues are introduced by Java script where javascript has kind of taken over the web as a whole. And if you think about it, at a very core level, javascript is just changing the dom constantly. And therefore you have lots of issues with like focus and state management and things like that where they just kind of try to put yourself in the mindset of if someone can’t visually consume what you’re doing, how easy is it for them to follow along if you’ve got javascript that’s constantly moving things around the page and uh, also from, uh, you know, um, but yeah, I think about Java script in that way. Rachel Cherry: 20:43 So there’s a lot of issues that come with that. And then another big issues are, are a lot of CSS and design work better. Um, think people thinking about like color contrast and, and having designs and better legible and things like this. So, uh, definitely if you’re new to the idea of, you know, designing websites in an accessible manner, a lot of, uh, access the internet by default is accessible like web browsers and html designs and stuff like that. Html by default as accessible. If you’re a, if you just write like super valid html, your website is accessible, you know, the issues come in when we come in and we introduce javascript like, like I just mentioned and we introduced like, um, you know, crazy funky CSS designs and things like that. That’s where the more that the web evolved and the more these technologies evolve, um, we kind of lost sight a little bit of like, you know, creating valid html and creating these experiences that follow html Spec and follow what the web was designed to do. Rachel Cherry: 21:48 You know, and we lose sight of that sometimes in being super creative or, um, and so if we can kind of merge those two together, you can be super traded. You can do these things and still have accessible websites. It just takes a little bit more attention. And also it takes a little bit of understanding and a little bit of a different mindset to think about the think outside the box, so to speak, uh, to create experiences that, um, that can be accessible by all users. Because as I like, because I was, as I mentioned earlier, like a lot of I am, you know, I am full sighted. I can hear, I can use both of them, my hands. I don’t need sensible technology to access the web. And so I, I on a base, you know, maybe at a default level, I don’t think about these other experiences because I don’t experience them. And so the more that we can try to understand and learn about our users, the more that we can create experiences that we make sure our, that we insure are inclusive to people that experienced the web differently than we do. Jesse: 22:58 Yeah, absolutely. And it’s not, it’s not just people, organizations receiving federal funding, they have to be concerned with this. Any employer could be seen as discriminatory if, if any job involves using it. And like you said, if the core mission statement of the WordPress project is to democratize publishing, then by definition we have to make that publishing available to everyone. Um, so it’s, it’s a much broader concept and it’s a, it is, I guess it’s a little, I can, I can understand that the defensive reaction that the court team might have had because no one wants to be accused of being discriminatory. Um, and, and they, they’re not doing it by, um, any sense of malice. It’s just a matter of, um, stepping outside your own bias and, and yeah, you have to employ, um, third party audits in order to, to, uh, to completely eliminate that bias. Rachel Cherry: 23:59 Yeah. And people and organizations do these all the time. Like large organizations, they have audits assistant, something that like is new or is only used when it’s a bad thing. It’s like it’s a thing that everyone should do, especially if they’re creating a large scale experiences like this that are going to be used by a large scale user base. And we should be doing things like this all the time. And WordPress, especially when we introduce new functionality that pretty much just changing the way that people use the system. And so it’s a, I’m really excited that it’s happening. I’m really excited to see the report. I really hope people take the time to read it and understand it. And kind of going back to what you said, it’s not just about people that receive federal funding, but there are lots of civil suits happening. So even if you’re not federally funded and required by law to be accessible, that doesn’t mean you can’t get sued. Rachel Cherry: 24:59 Organizations get sued all the time. Um, Netflix and Hulu have been sued. Home Depot had been sued. If you’re from the south a, when Dixie is a large grocery chain, excuse me, that was sued a couple of years ago, which made some really amazing case law for civil suits and they, and it’s usually tied to as what you’re saying, um, a lot of people view accessibility as a civil rights issue and um, I am one of those people. And so if we should make technology accessible to everyone and especially in this digital age where everything is online or everything is some kind of, you know, digital, groundbreaking thing or everything is available in an app on my phone or whatever, we should make sure that everyone can move forward and that digital age, no matter, you know, no matter what. Right. Demo: 25:54 Yeah, definitely. And I know that I probably speak on behalf of a lot of different people in the WordPress community, but thank you for spearheading what the Work You’ve done on Gutenberg. Cause, even if you might not have one of these visible, uh, obstacles to interact with some of these experiences, it’s good SEO because it’s easier for machine reading and one in five adults in the US are covered under something under the WCAG 2.0 AA guidelines. So it will affect some of your users, maybe not to uh, an extreme if you, you know, are not fully sighted or something. But it will affect users. And that’s what I always try to remind people on things like color contrast ratios are those little things that people might not think about until it becomes an issue. Rachel Cherry: 26:43 Yeah. Rachel Cherry: 26:44 And kind of tying the, earlier when I was talking about how a lot of accessibility issues or html markup in a sense, when you do take the time to address your html markup and you make sure that it’s valid, you’re not only fixing accessibility issues, but you are improving things like Seo because um, because you’re making your html better and therefore search engines and other functionality can interact with your website in a more optimized way. Things like any, I mean, any kind of technology that might interact with your website can therefore navigate your website and interact with it better if you’re using, you’re following html spec because your ability to, your website in a way that it’s supposed to be built in order to, uh, you use the technology and the best way possible. Jesse: 27:33 Excellent. Well, thank you so much for that. Rachel. This has been one of the most interesting discussions we’ve had so far on the pod. Um, considering the amount of attention that’s about to become in your way with the release of the report, um, how can people follow the news? How can people follow your WPCampus and you on social, um, on, uh, on different networks? How it, what’s the best way to keep a finger on the pulse for this? Rachel Cherry: 28:01 So is our website and @WPCampusorg is our Twitter handle. We have a mailing list that you can join on our website at the bottom of every page. You can sign up there and we’ll be sending out emails when the report is ready. We’ll also be tweeting about it. You can join our, if you want to join our community and join our slack, you can do so on our website, on our get involved page. And uh, we do also with we, we do have our call for speakers open right now for our in person. So there’s still about a week and a half left by the time this comes out, probably a few days, but May 3rd is when the call closes and we’d love to have you, we, you know, we do obviously focus a lot on WordPress and higher education, but we also do a big focus on accessibility itself. Rachel Cherry: 28:49 And so if any of that interests you, that’s something you’re working on or you have ideas about, we’d love to hear them. So you can submit that on the website as well. And then we open up registration for the event. We’ll be open by the time this is out so you can come and join us in Portland. It’s a great three day event. Um, we have lots of social, we love Karaoke and it’s going to be a fun event this year. It’s a little different in the sense that we were able to secure a lot of on campus lodging. So you can come and stay for cheap and still sleep in a dorm and you can just feel nostalgic about your days in college and you can walk over to the venue and have your college breakfast and come to the conference. So it’ll be a lot of fun. Maybe they’ll let us like rose s’mores or something. Demo: 29:37 Excellent. And before we finish up, are some of the closing stuff you real quick have a favorite WordCamp story. You want to share Rachel Cherry: 29:45 a favorite WordCamp story? Yeah, you did. Uh, I, I mean I had tons of them. I can’t think of anything just like super specific and interesting. Anything super dramatic. Uh, last year, the last couple of years I, I went to a lot of camps. I’m trying to think of one that just had something like silly happen or, um, but no, I mean I always just, it’s just lots of fun talking to people and hanging out. I’m kinda taking a chill, a chill bill on the conferences for a little bit cause that over I over did it last year. Um, yes, I mean I know, you know how I feel my, but um, but no, I, I’m sorry I couldn’t think of anything. Put me on the spot a little bit. Um, I’ll try to think of something, I’ll share it on Twitter or something. Demo: 30:34 Excellent. And Jesse, how can people follow bold grade and team Orange Online? Jesse: 30:38 Yeah. So, uh, you can follow us on Twitter @BoldGrid. You can join our private Facebook user community at Demo: 30:51 Please make sure to also subscribe to this podcast wherever your favorite podcasts are sold. It really helps our numbers. You can find all the show notes from today’s and all of our episodes on including links to WPCampus and some links to some of my talks that I’ve given at some previous WPCampus, uh, conferences. Uh, well you can follow me on Twitter @mpMike and Jesse? Jesse: 31:16 I’m @jessecowens. Thanks so much,

Demo: 31:19 Rachel. I really appreciated the discussion. Sorry, we had to cut it a little bit short, but I thank you so much for spending your afternoon with us.

Rachel Cherry: 31:26 Yeah, thanks for having me. Thank you very much.