“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 lynda.com 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 lynda.com videos because of the interactive transcript, but my WordPress.tv 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.