My New Year’s Wish for 2015: Make WordPress Accessible to All

We can be the leaders and the change. We can democratize publishing by making WordPress and everything that runs on WordPress accessible.

You see, the web was created with a very specific purpose in mind. And that was to separate content from the presentation of that content. You have HTML and CSS. And this is all done because of Accessibility. People forget this but the web was specifically designed to make content accessible so that when someone visits a site they’ll be able to pull the content out in the way they want to. 

So, if someone visits my site, she can read it using a screen reader and get it read back to her. Or she can use a Braille display and read it with her fingertips (…) Some people might use one of those phones or tablets or laptops or PCs or TVs or movie theatre screens or whatever, but that’s just one way of accessing the content.

I spent a lot of time talking about and writing about web accessibility in 2014. The piece above was from my WordCamp San Francisco 2014 talk on the CSS Box Model. I wrote about web accessibility as a rights issue, about the accessibility-ready tag being required in WordPress themes, and about why web accessibility is the next big thing that was always there. Accessibility had a place in all the big courses I released this year, and at WordCamp San Francisco I made it my mission to put accessibility on the agenda.

To me web accessibility matters now more than ever before and it is my wish that in 2015 it will matter to you and to all of the WordPress community too.

This is for Everyone

The reason I started my CSS Box Model talk with a sidenote about accessibility as one of the core features of the web is that we, the web building community, seem to have forgotten our original mandate. In our chase for the quickest, sleekest, most well designed, interactive, and eye catching visual solutions we have all but forgotten that the entire point of the web was to make content accessible. To all. All the designing and pixel pushing and tweaking we painstakingly perfect to make our content visually appealing is just veneer, coats of paint, make-up*. And like veneer, coats of paint, and make-up, if we spend too much time applying it we end up obscuring the content underneath.

During the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Summer Games in London Sir Tim Berners-Lee (the inventor of the World Wide Web) told the crowd that “this is for everyone“. The philosophy of the WordPress project is to “democratize publishing“. At the core of both these ideals lies the simple premise that we work to include everyone, not just those who use screens to access our content.

Accessibility for Everyone

To see why web accessibility matters you probably don’t have to go further than your own friends and immediate family. Let me serve as an example:

A dear friend of mine is in the midst of a fierce battle with ALS. As the disease progresses he relies more and more on voice control software like Dragon. If I want him to read my site I need to ensure it can be navigated by voice. And if I want him to be able to keep publishing his stellar content I have to ensure the tool he uses is accessible.

One of my family members is hard of hearing, though you wouldn’t know it because of his uncanny ability to read lips – in multiple languages. To him a web video without closed captioning or at the very least a transcript is like watching a movie while listening to white noise. He can watch my videos because of the interactive transcript, but my videos would be without value to him.

This year I had the pleasure of meeting in real life a person I’ve previously only interacted with online. She is blind and gave me a whole new appreciation of what my writing sounds like to someone who can’t see the text (hint: it usually has a computerized voice and speaks at a ridiculously high pace – almost as fast as me!) To ensure she can get her screen reader to race though my articles I have to make sure they are accessible in every way.

And then there’s me. I tell people often enough but few believe me: I have dyslexia. Not the most severe kind, but a very frustrating kind. The kind that puts my reading pace at about speaking pace. The kind that makes me see made up words, jumbles the order of words in sentences, and generally makes reading a chore. Bizarrely I can write fast, but reading back what I just wrote is a laborious endeavour. To compensate I tend to read most things on my phone because it has fewer words per line and I can quickly switch it to inverted mode and get white text on a black background. And inspired by my blind friend I am now trying to learn how to use a text-to-speech browser so I can get content read back to me. To me it is more efficient than reading.

But web accessibility isn’t just for people with motor, hearing, visual, or cognitive challenges. Accessibility is for everyone. All those wearable devices the technology companies want us to buy rely on web accessibility. Same with the computerized cars that are rolling off lots as we speak. Same with our phones, our tablets, and our computers. All these technologies are being held back by lack of accessibility on the web. And that means if we invest in accessibility, all the content we publish will become more accessible to us.

2015: The Year of WordPress Accessibility

It is my wish that 2015 be the year the WordPress community embraces web accessibility as a first rate citizen. Amazing work has already been done on WordPress core by the WordPress Accessibility Team and I am part of the group that is currently working on bringing accessibility standards to the WordPress Theme Directory. The latter project has seen a surprising amount of push-back but I think this is mainly due to misunderstanding and a lack of knowledge about what accessibility is and what accessibility can do to improve WordPress and the WordPress community.

It is my belief that if we, every one of us, as a community, take the time in 2015 to learn what web accessibility is, why it matters, and how we can make it part of our process whether we are content creators, designers, developers, or just surf the web for information, we can take a leadership role in the larger web community and make web accessibility an expected rather than a sometimes added feature.

We can be the leaders and the change. We can democratize publishing by making WordPress and everything that runs on WordPress accessible.

This is my new year’s wish.


By Morten Rand-Hendriksen

Morten Rand-Hendriksen is a Senior Staff Instructor at LinkedIn Learning (formerly specializing in AI, bleeding edge web technologies, and the intersection between technology and humanity. He also occasionally teaches at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. He is a popular conference and workshop speaker on all things tech ethics, AI, web technologies, and open source.

9 replies on “My New Year’s Wish for 2015: Make WordPress Accessible to All”

Been in before there was an in. 😀 I love that you say it’s the now thing that was always there. I’ve incorporated into my training and teaching since the beginning.

One of my big learning moments was with popups. We all hate them, and technically they are not permitted under the laws, though people get around that by calling them “interstitials,” those annoying popups that fade out the screen behind to tell you that you just want to sign up for whatever they offer.

Years before interstitials in the land of just annoying popups, a friend called me in a panic. Legally blind, she says she has quarter and dime days with her vision, representing the hole through which she still has some remaining sight. She “reads” the web with a giant magnifier monitor one letter at a time, while you and I read whole words and sentences in grouped pattern scanning. Like many who read with their finger under the sentence, she read with the mouse. Suddenly her world went white and she couldn’t see the web page any more. She called me crying saying she’d broke the Internet.

I arrived and shrunk down her magnified view to find she’d triggered a hover popup on a link that covered 75% of the web page. You and I could find the tiny X in the corner to close it, but to her, it was hunting for a needle in a football field.

Links that force web pages to open in new tabs or windows are also on the no-no list. If your browser is set to open tabs in the background, how many times have you clicked on a link and had nothing happen, click several more times, reload the page because you think you aren’t doing something right, then gave up, only to eventually find 18 web pages open at the end of the tab queue. For the visually and physically impaired, navigating through all that is exhausting and time-wasting.

I’m completely on board. Sign me up, let me sign the petition, carry the signs, whatever, I’m totally there. I teach it to my students, much to the frustration of the some of the other teachers who think that this is a waste of time, and use it to help introduce students to the usability and the code under the content.

Thanks for taking this on!

Thanks for the support Lorelle! There is a lot of great work being done by the Accessibility Team and we have big plans. The most important thing we need now is for everyone to talk about accessibility and make it as obvious and commonplace as web standards and responsive web design. This issue is all about exposure, and with your help that job becomes a little easier.

Spot on and excellent, we will do all we can to promote, support and engage in the debate and development drive for more accessibility. Thanks Morten excellent new year wish!

100% Agree with you Morten! I really hope that accessibility is more readily available globally more than anything. Great discussion and even better post. I just shared this on Twitter as well. Thanks!

Inspiring goal Morten! I have the good fortune to be a web designer AND as Special Education Teacher. My students include those who are mildly dyslexic or learning disabled, to others who are blind, hard of hearing, and autistic. I would love to help spread the word and good practice for accessibility. Count me in!

You inspired me Morten, yes accessibility is always there & the next big thing….As a person with visual impairment I can understand what you are trying to say & what you wish…your wish is my wish.

I know WordPress is very popular but I still prefer to see conventional HTML/CSS sites whenever possible… just seems you have more control over the site and can turn out a higher-quality product (depending on your application). I don’t know how this would affect accessibility, but I assume it could be implemented with either platform.

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