WordPress Accessibility: Can You Help?

There’s been a lot of chatter recently at the Make WordPress Accessible blog. Of specific interest to me are:

  • The issue of whether Accessibility will be folded into another team. I’m very much against this and I’m not alone; however, the fact is that as a team Accessibility is not really performing. It’s a priority, but it’s a multifaceted one that requires not only people familiar with core WordPress functionality and design, but users with special needs who can help troubleshoot issues and provide input on necessary features. Which brings me to . . .
  • The need for more persons using adaptive technology to provide input. You don’t need to have any technical knowledge or even be a seasoned WordPress user, but if you have any feedback whatsoever on using WordPress with any adaptive needs we desperately want to hear from you. We’d gladly welcome you to the Accessibility team, but you can just as easily fill out this contact form to alert us to your needs and/or desires for WordPress.

I wish I had the time to get further into this, but alas I am practically running out the door so it will have to keep for the time being.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Wrong

Uschi lying on the floor looking very sad with her squeaky red ball toy balanced on her head

It’s quite often that people seeing me out and about with my guide dogs probe me with questions in an attempt to determine whether we’re a working team. However, the typical “is my dog in training” question never ceases to throw me because I’m of a mind that you never really stop training a dog. Even commonplace things such as obedience require constant reinforcement if you want the skills to be solid, especially in difficult or unexpected circumstances. Dogs really thrive on feeling that they are doing the right thing, too, so it’s nice to give them tasks that they will excel at and build from there.

Learning opportunities can present themselves anytime and without any warning. Take last night for instance, I was playing fetch with Uschi when the game took an unexpected turn, as it sometimes does when a blind person is tossing toys. The ball bounced off the floor and landed squarely on Uschi’s head. I took the moment as a prime one for a photograph, but Uschi seemed to be more of a mind that we were playing fetch wrong. Either way, we got a bit of down-stay practice and I got me a fun photo to share.

Lest you be worried over her downtrodden expression, I let her out of the stay right after taking this photo and she immediately went to work at trying to rupture my eardrums. Obviously, she’s no worse for the impromptu obedience lesson.

In completely other news, my post on achromatopsia from earlier this week was selected for WP.com’s Freshly Pressed feature. I’m still pretty blown away to be chosen. Honestly, I never expected it would happen, but if there was a post I could have picked to drive traffic to that would most certainly be the one. :-)

The Wonder of Cute

Uschi lying on her back with her front paws tucked up by her face looking decidedly cute

Sometimes I find myself marveling at the sheer fact I’m able to accomplish anything with this amount of cute in such close proximity. It’s probably a good thing that there isn’t a legal limit for cuteness. Uschi would surely exceed it on a daily basis and I don’t relish the idea of being in prison for something like tax evasion.

In somewhat unrelated news, I got an email yesterday from a blog reader thanking me for posting photos like the above. It was very sweet. So, to all of you out there enjoying the overabundance of adorable that are my guide dogs: you’re welcome! ^_^

In further unrelated news, yes, I am aware there is a formatting issue on the website where a bunch of text is showing up over my header image. No, I don’t know when it will be fixed because it’s not an issue I have any control over. Yes, it bothers me a great deal, though, not nearly as much as the comment form issue that’s still yet to be addressed. [EDIT: Removed the text via some fancy CSS editing. Unfortunately, until the actual issue is resolved the header itself is no longer clickable . . . but that’s why there’s a link in the navigation menu. Oh, well.]

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.

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.