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.
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.
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.
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.