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.
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.