WordPress Accessibility

EDIT: Graham Armfield replied to my comment and explained his why he is specifically advocating using the Trac system. Essentially, it seems to be the only thing that is being paid attention to. I’ll be hunting through the tickets this morning and seeing what I can add. I still maintain that Trac shouldn’t be abused with needless submissions, but I can’t argue with adding worthwhile tickets, etc.

I’ve been posting quite a bit lately about WP and accessibility because of my work on guide-dogs.org. I’ve been using WP since 2004 and I’ve been quite active in the WP community for many years now. I’m not just prattling on here about things; I work very hard to make the WP developers and the folks at Automattic aware of the needs people with disabilities have to use WP with the same ease as any other user.

In my opinion, the admin panel is the thing that needs to be addressed because anything on the front-end is more dependent on themes and plugins. The admin panel has steadily become a mess for those of us that rely on screen readers due to the larger reliance on AJAX menus. Using the admin panel without issue shouldn’t require the use of plugins or hacks and something akin to the widget screen’s “accessibility mode” would be ideal, especially in the custom menu screen and the theme switcher. Also, I want to have an ability to disable the visual editor as a default (like it used to be a few versions ago) and not solely by each user because it is the number one most inaccessible feature in the admin panel. I’m sure there are a few other things that I can list, but my point is that these are things I’ve tried to make the developers aware of and if you feel the same way or have other thoughts on this matter you should be doing the same.

Today on Twitter I saw a link to this blog post and it really bothers me. I left a comment there about my qualms, but it’s currently in the mod queue so I’m going to repeat myself a bit here. I don’t like the idea of flooding Trac. I don’t think that’s what the author is necessarily implying, but it’s how I take the statement about submitting tickets. Trac is a great system to help monitor progress on a project, submit bug reports and alert the developers to any security threats. It is not a means of alerting them to every wish that a user might have — regardless of whether they are a person with a disability or not.

It’s fine and well if there really is an accessibility issue you might be having with WP that hinders some ability to do something. It’s why I contacted Support straight away when I noticed the issue with the comment forms. But if you want to help with making WP more accessible and you want to alert the developers about this there are other venues to do that!

  1. There’s the forums, which are incredibly active and are frequented by every type of WP user from core developers to Automattic staff. There’s even an entire section solely devoted to requests and feedback on WordPress!
  2. There’s the ideas section where you can submit a proposal for an idea you have for WordPress and also vote for other ideas, including a currently active one regarding WP accessibility.
  3. There’s the make.wordpress.org blog, which includes a section on accessibility. There’s also a very active section on the admin panel and others regarding plugin and theme development.
  4. And, lastly, if you use IRC, there’s an IRC channel for discussions on WordPress topics on the IRC FreeNode Server at #wordpress. I haven’t personally been in this chat in something like 6 years, but I remember it as a very knowledgeable and helpful group.

Please don’t flood Trac, though. If you really do have something to add or want to bring attention to, I fully support you submitting a ticket but don’t needlessly flood the system. It is not going to help the cause towards accessibility if we abuse Trac. It’s only going to frustrate people who are sifting through the tickets and make all of us look bad, which will not be helpful to anyone that genuinely needs a more accessible WordPress.

Random Thought

It’s quite possible I’ve been asked more times this last week about my blindness than in my entire life prior to jury duty service. And by “ask” I mean offered up information after some vague mumbling and gesturing aimed in my direction. People are incredibly uncomfortable approaching the subject and I can only assume they hope not to offend me with their genuine curiosity.

What I have realized quite prominently this last week is that I’m more comfortable talking about the guide dogs. It’s not that I don’t like talking about my blindness and I am most certainly not offended by inquiries regarding my visual impairment. I just don’t really think about what I can or cannot see that much. I’ve had 33 years to adjust to it and for the most part I see what I can see and what I can’t is easily ignored because, well, I don’t see it.

No, what I think it really comes down to is that my blindness isn’t something I had any say about, but I chose to work with dogs and so I’m inherently interested in them. It’s literally a lifestyle to work with a dog and it’s one I thoroughly enjoy and appreciate. I can’t say I feel that way about being blind. I don’t really care one way or another about that.

But it did dawn on me that I’ve never devoted a post here — in the twelve years I’ve been blogging — to achromatopsia. I think I should rectify that.

Jury Duty

During my last year of college I got a jury summons from my hometown. This was odd because I had not resided there since graduating high school. Not to mention, I was 80 miles away with virtually no ability of transporting myself there. But most importantly, the date I was summoned for happened to be during finals. It was baffling and so I called my dad as I do when strange life things baffle me. He told me I should be able to get out of it and I dutifully followed his instructions and called the appropriate number to explain my situation. The woman I spoke to was very kind and strangely didn’t seem to think the fact that I legally resided four counties away was of nearly the level of importance I did. She instructed me to write a letter and formally declare the reasons I could not serve and so I did.

A few weeks went by and I got a letter, which I wish I had kept, because it very blandly dismissed me from my service as a juror and noted my ten year exemption because of my current status as a full-time student. Yeah, seriously. No mention of my being a resident of a different county or the physical impossibility of my transportation or that the date was incredibly inconvenient, but who says law has to make sense?

Last month I got my second jury duty summons and the fact that it came almost precisely ten years to the day does not escape me. Everyone has been expressing sympathy over this and giving me tips on how to get out of serving and because most of these interactions are via Twitter, I haven’t had the ability to explain the above and why I feel obligated to not weasel my way out of my summons. Also, while I am never pleased with the idea of discrimination, I expected that I would show up and almost immediately be dismissed for some reason related to being blind. This was only reinforced by the shock and awe I created at the courthouse when I arrived yesterday morning. It was apparently a Big Deal that I am blind and have a guide dog. I had to be escorted by guards to take Uschi out to relieve herself and I was shepherded through crowds like a celebrity. It was extremely embarrassing and I felt mildly belittled that though I kept insisting the preferential treatment was entirely unnecessary I was completely ignored.1 I got the distinct feeling they’ve all been through many in-services about dealing with people with disabilities but haven’t really dealt with many if any people with disabilities because they all were practically tripping over themselves in order to be accommodating and helpful, yet no one really bothered to ask me if I wanted and/or needed such-and-such thing.

Mind you, I’m not complaining because otherwise I probably would have died from the boredom. Contrary to what the Commissioner of Jurors announced to the lot of us yesterday morning about how jury duty has changed from how it used to be where “you used to sit around a lot” we all sat around a lot. It was unequivocally the most bored I have ever been in my entire life. It was a boredom so palpable you could practically feel it as a physical presence in the room. Even the judge seemed to lull himself into a bit of a stupor at a few points and found himself repeating things that didn’t need to be repeated. Though, how one could tell was beyond me because I felt like my entire day kept rewinding itself and replaying again and again . . . and again. In case you are as yet uninitiated into the world of jury service: it’s a very tedious process where a lot of the same questions are asked repetitively and the same information dolled out multiple times.

Anyway, for reasons that remain unclear to me I got picked as a trial juror. And that’s literally all I can say. . . .

  1. Well, the guards taking me and Uschi out is fine, since getting in the building requires going through a ridiculous amount of security and this alleviates being checked through repeatedly. (And, one of the bailiffs is really cute.)

Captchas

It’s purely coincidental that I’m posting about WordPress here on almost a daily basis lately. Honest.

You all are probably well aware of what a captcha is. They’re one of the oldest spam deterrents around and they are also one of the more ineffective because bots have gotten smarter. However, they’re still just as inaccessible for those with various disabilities as they ever were. I can’t really speak to anything except for visual impairments, but I think my point is universal: captchas suck. Basically, they make it difficult, if not impossible for those of us incapable of “solving” them to be able to post a comment on a blog.1 And judging from the amount of whinging my non-disabled friends make about them, they’re not much less aggravating to people who aren’t physically blocked by their presence.

Captcha exampleThis morning alone I visited not less than five separate blogs with captchas and the saddest thing was they were all WordPress sites! I admit, I’m not the biggest commenter out there and often lurk around the blogs I read, but I was all set to put fingers to keyboard on each of these blogs and I couldn’t. Yes, spam is evil and it sucks, but fighting it off shouldn’t be at the expense of your potential commenters! And there are other options out there, specifically with regard to WordPress I will say much better options. Since I’m a giver, here’s a few links to some of the ones I use on various sites of my own and/or that I maintain:

Akismet
Pros: It has remarkably good accuracy in spam detection and it learns from each individual site how to perceive spam. Also it’s actively worked on and developed by the same awesome people working on WordPress itself. Best part is, for personal websites, it’s free.
Cons: If you don’t pay attention to your settings, it’ll happily trash comments that might be legit. And while in my experience this is rare, there is the chance that you or one of your commenters could get flagged as a spammer and getting whitelisted can take some time.

Bad Behavior
Pros: It’s stops spam before it has a chance to flood your spam folder. And it’s been actively developed since before Akismet first came on the scene. (In fact, I’ve been running it on my website since it first became available.)
Cons: I’ve heard of reports where people have installed it and then found themselves unable to access their own websites. (Personally, the only time I’ve experienced any trouble with it was a few years back when the plugin writer accidentally set the wrong blacklist in the code and inadvertently blocked every user of the plugin!)

GrowMap Anti-Spambot Plugin (G.A.S.P.)
Pros: None of the drawbacks of Akismet or Bad Behavior potentially thinking you or other legit commenters are spammers. And you probably won’t have to edit your theme files to get it working. (Also, if you’re like me, you can leave snarky error messages for people who don’t read the rules and forget to check the box.)
Cons: It won’t stop persistent bots from sucking up bandwidth while they keep trying to get through your comment form. Also, it doesn’t stop trackback spam — unless you don’t allow any trackbacks — but there is a plugin for that.

CloudFlare
Pros: It basically does all the security work before anything hits your website, so you don’t waste precious bandwidth on evil spam.
Cons: It’s a paid service, though, they are partnered with a ton of web hosting companies to offer free/discounted services.

I’m personally a fan of the Akismet and Bad Behavior combination and have been using it on my website since 2007 with absolutely zero issues. I also heartily recommend CloudFlare and I would actively use it on my own website if it didn’t screw up the redirects I have in place . . . and also I’m not particularly fond of the fact that it forces the www2 in the URL. But CloudFlare not only secures your site, your account gives you access to all kinds of additional apps like automatic daily backups and file monitoring.

And while they come with their own set of pros and cons, it is worth mentioning that both IntenseDebate and Disqus have built in spam filters and don’t use captchas. Sortakinda win?

  1. Or whatever area of your website is being “protected” by captcha.
  2. At the very least it’s redundant, if not depreciated.

WordPress and JAWS

I’m not shy about admitting my deep appreciation for WordPress. I’ve been using it exclusively to blog with since March 2004. And I’ve been a member of WordPress.com since it was in beta! I think it’s quite possible I was the only blind person that frequented the support forums back then and it’s likely I still am, but there are a lot more people using WP these days so I won’t swear to that.

WordPress has evolved a lot over the years. We all might call it a blogging software, but it’s far more aptly a content management system (CMS). Entire websites are powered with it and don’t utilize the features that are inherent to its original core and that’s all fine and well. This isn’t a post about how WordPress is evolved or can be used.

No, it’s a post about how it’s changed in the sense of accessibility. The first issue I ever had with accessibility related to WP was actually at the support forums, which are run on a sister software called bbPress. It’s a very bare-bones message board software and back then it had even fewer features than it sports out of the box now. The feature that broke my ability to use the forums a bit was the addition of tags, which were initially placed in a cloud right above the topic threads. This meant that JAWS very happily read the ENTIRE wall of text before it found the forum topics. I made a cranky complaint about it on my blog and Matt personally responded with a quick edit that allowed me to jump passed the tags and to the content.

As WP has expanded and become more sophisticated other things have cropped up that have taken some adjustment. The admin panel was a bit of a mess for me in a few versions when they WYSIWYG was added — and it remains to this day one of the least accessible parts of the software, though it’s not impossible to navigate and it can be turned off.

Screenshot of comment form with JAWS forms mode showing two edit comment fields

Well, no, I take that back. The comment form is now the most inaccessible because of the simple fact that it affects a far greater number of blind people. And in a completely backwards logic kind of way, it doesn’t seem to be a problem in Internet Explorer! But in every other — arguably better — browser I tried out, my screen reader picked up two separate “edit comment” fields. One is the actual field that the message would go in, the other I have no idea but it seems inconsistent as to which is the REAL field on any given page. This isn’t an issue for any WP install using standard comments, but it does affect every single blog hosted on WordPress.com and any self-hosted blog running the Jetpack plugin comments feature. That’s still a lot of blogs, people! (Add in the people using IntenseDebate or Disqus to power their comments and the mind boggles at the sheer bulk of inaccessibility, but those two are a separate thing unto themselves.)

What saddens me is not that the issue exists. Sighted people don’t routinely run a screen reader through its paces to make sure websites work for blind people and expecting otherwise is to be continually disappointed. No, it’s the fact that this is an issue that dates back to at least last October when it was first brought to my attention by a participant in the ADBC I hosted. (Well, possibly three participants but each of them had different issues and one was able to comment without a problem eventually.) I couldn’t recreate the problem myself because for some reason in Firefox when I was logged in it worked fine and I was testing it logged out in IE where the form apparently works perfectly. I did update JAWS recently and it made all manner of wacky things go wrong with my computer, so that in itself might have been the cause, though it’s not exclusive to me obviously. I’m truly baffled and mildly amused that IE is the only browser that isn’t effected.

Kvetching aside. I’ve emailed Automattic, the company behind WP.com and Jetpack, about this issue and I’m sure they’ll get back to me in a timely fashion as they always do on Support matters. And at the end of the day, people can comment, they just have to play a bit to figure it out. Which I know is hardly a solution but it’s also not the end of the world. (FWIW, here at Gentle Wit, there’s always the option to email me and that form works just fine so far as I’m aware!)

I am pretty bummed about it, though. I’m upset at the sheer magnitude of this issue and how long it’s gone unnoticed. And it’s unfortunately timed given the imminent Blogger interface change.

Anyway, I will most certainly keep you all informed as I hear things on this.