The WPCampus Podcast is back!
If you’re in higher ed, you have to care about accessibility. There’s no getting around it: the digital experiences we provide to our communities have to be accessible to everyone.
So when WordPress 5.0 made the “Gutenberg” block editor the default editing experience — and when many in the WordPress community expressed concerns about accessibility barriers in the editor — WPCampus stepped up. With support from over 100 donors and a generous donation from Automattic, WPCampus commissioned an independent accessibility audit. The results of the audit are now available at wpcampus.org/audit, giving our community a wealth of information about the new editing experience.
In this episode, WPCampus members Jen McFarland and Brian DeConinck, both from NC State University, discuss what comes after the audit. At the institutional level and for the WordPress project as a whole, what comes next?
Mentioned in this episode:
- Results of the WPCampus-sponsored Gutenberg accessibility audit
- Webinar with Tenon discussing the results (video coming soon)
- Contact email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Brian: This is the part where we sing our theme music, right?
Brian: I think that's somebody else's theme music, Jen.
Jen: But it's catchy!
Brian: So, welcome to the WPCampus Podcast.
Jen: Sorry for the initial copyright violation
Brian: Yeah, we'll see if that gets us fired as podcast hosts. This is the WPCampus Podcast, for those who use WordPress in higher education. I think that's what we say, right?
Brian: When last you heard us --
Jen: Who are you Brian?
Brian: Oh yeah, I'm Brian! That's Jen!
Jen: And we are, we both work for NC State University. Brian is your official host, I am your "color commentary." Air quotes for those of you not watching on video at home.
Brian: We used to do this sort of once a month with gaps, and then we went like a year with nothing, and now we're back!
Jen: Let's be fair, it was more like nine months.
Brian: It was like eleven months.
Jen: Ten? We'll say ten.
Brian: Alright. And now we're back, and now we're trying this in a less structured and less formal way.
Jen: You may have already noticed the less structure.
Brian: In hopes of getting something out the door on a more regular basis, because it turns out that spending time prepping and finding guests and making a quality product takes time.
Jen: Well, to be fair you should all know that Brian basically wrote out everything that he needed to say, whereas I just talk, so we'll see how the quality declines, see how the quality goes downhill really quickly. But we're hoping that this format change will result in us being able to get more podcasts out to you more quickly. Although we are also planning to have much shorter podcasts, so we'll be going from like the 45 minute to an hour time frame to something more like 15 to 20 minute time frame. We will happily take advice or feedback from our listeners, and by our listeners I mean our co-workers here at NC State and Brian's mom.
Brian: Just just for the record I don't think our co-workers here at NC State or my mom actually listen, but if you do listen be sure to tweet @wpcampusorg with your requests or hate mail or whatever you'd love to share.
Jen: You can also send tweets to @ncsumarit on Twitter and Brian what's yours?
Jen: Yeah and those might actually be better because otherwise if you tweet it to @wpcampusorg then they're just gonna fire us.
Brian: So do we want to actually talk about something important and useful?
Jen: Yeah I do, and the good news is we're starting at a very opportune time for this and that is because the infamous accessibility audit has finally been completed just this week. Brian joined Tenon, the vendor who worked on the project for us, on Monday and sort of did a recap and so we're gonna let him talk here for a while, fill up most of these 15 minutes sort of recapping some of this. That's not entirely true we're gonna we're gonna recap it quickly because most of you have probably read some amount of recap, and-or you read all how many pages?
Brian: Like three hundred twenty nine
Jen: Right, pages of the report. If you did, like, pat yourself on the back right now. Congratulations. You and Brian and Rachel are maybe the only people who did, which isn't to say that's not worth your time it completely is, and that's why we're gonna try and recap it here. But then we're also gonna move on hopefully pretty quickly to the takeaways both for WordPress in general and then also maybe for higher education specifically. So Brian: recap it! TL;DR it.
Brian: So long ago, far back in the mists of time
Jen: Whoa whoa whoa too far
Brian: Last fall summer/summer fall time period some people may remember feelings being expressed by people in the WordPress community about the accessibility, or inaccessibility, of the Gutenberg editor. And there was some back-and-forth in the community about an independent audit potentially funded by Automattic that didn't come to be at that point. And so people in the WPCampus community said "hey, let's get together and fund our own audit! Because at the institutional level it's kind of hard to make decisions based on angry tweets and blog posts. So wouldn't it be nice to have actual information?" And so fast forward six months or so and we have a fantastic report in terms of the depth and just the wealth of information available provided by the accessibility vendor that WPCampus worked with, Tenon, and Tenon provided a 34 page executive summary 329 pages of a long form technical report, another like seven or eight pages describing their usability testing, and then some additional stuff that, like a CSV export and things like that. And I think there might be a little bit more from them coming in the next couple of weeks about the usability testing as well.
Jen: I know you mentioned that in the Tenon talk on Monday what you found most interesting was some of that usability feedback that they just expressed over discussion. Can you share some of that?
Brian: Yeah, so, the the technical accessibility side, all of the code errors that that they identified, or issues that they identified, that's all very important and that's sort of low-hanging fruit. The Tenon auditors gave a lot of really good information and code snippets for exactly what needs to be changed and the WordPress community, the Gutenberg team, they've already hit the ground running on that. I have open right here the GitHub project that they used to organize the issues Tenon identified. Out of 90 issues identified, 46 have already been closed.
Jen: That's great, wow.
Brian: Right and that's some mix of things that had already been fixed but hadn't been pushed production yet.
Jen: They pushed what, five-two-one?
Brian: Right, so 5.2 was released last week and 5.2.1 will be coming soon. And then some of these are also things that they just Tenon identified and they were easier, relatively quick fixes and they've already acted on it. So that's great! In terms of the technical accessibility issues, we're over halfway there already. But the the usability issues are a little trickier and that gets to areas of cognitive load, it's just a very complicated editor, and if you don't have the visual cues of being able to see this is here and that's there, it's a lot keep track of if you're using assistive technology like a screen reader. The editor, the DOM order is confusing and sometimes overwhelming for users if you're tabbing through the content. A lot of the block options that you'd need to get to to customize your block are nowhere near the block itself, you have to have all the way through your content over to the sidebar to get there. So things like that. And that's sort of for the WordPress project as next steps, I think there has to be some soul-searching and some rethinking about what does, what does this editor actually feel like to the users who are using it and how does it need to change? And that's also important too because more and more of WordPress is just going to become Guten-ized as as the project moves forward, whether it's the widgets screen or the navigation menus, or pieces of themes that normally we think of as just being hard-coded PHP or theme options for things like that.
Jen: Yeah, if there's one thing we can count on it's more blocks.
Brian: Right. And so, you know, the editor in a lot of ways is the hardest part. But getting it right and getting an accessible will help make sure that the rest of the WordPress product becomes more accessible as all this happens too.
Jen: Yeah, and it is, you know, to give credit where credit is due, it is a super, as you mentioned it's a very complex interface and to some extent that complexity is gonna be necessary to make WordPress more of what it needs to be, which is more focused on, you know, its CMS functionality, and abstracting out content, and reusing content, and all that stuff. And a lot of the page builders obviously that are out there that are very popular and some people still point to in preference over Gutenberg, they're not subject to this kind of scrutiny. But at the same time those are not things that we're gonna use in higher education, or at least not, those aren't the things that were gonna make broadly available because they'll have accessibility issues. And so those aren't getting looked at. So it is it is a tough job for everybody, but it's good that they're...
Brian: And to that point one of the things Karl Groves from Tenon said in the webinar that I thought it was, I think a good thing for everybody hear, was that, you know, that when they look at Gutenberg and they test it, it does have serious accessibility issues but what they identified was very much consistent with other products though they test. And Gutenberg gets a lot of public scrutiny because it's an open-source product that's out in the open and we conduct this audit so that information would be available to campuses to make decisions and so that information is public. If you're Microsoft or Apple or some somebody out in the corporate world and you commissioned an accessibility audit, you don't broadcast those results. And so, you know. I think making Gutenberg and making WordPress the most accessible product in CMS land that's out there, that's a that's a huge task. But it's also an important task, and, I mean, speaking for myself I'm excited I got to be a part of this whole thing.
Jen: Yeah, I'm gonna detour for a second to do a really important and obligatory thank you to you, for all your hard work, but also to Rachel and the rest of the team that helped put together the RFP, and then review all the options. Also to all the people who put money in. Also obviously, to Matt Mullenweg who helped, you know, fill in the gap where it was needed so that we could get this paid for. And I think we all have some really useful information. I know for us, for our campus, we have been holding off on making the block editor available in sort of our open public -- and by public I mean university, the whole university facing multi-site environment -- so our free WordPress environment is still using the classic editor, but we are planning to move to making the block editor available for people with the caveat that hey here's this accessibility audit and if you're someone who might have these kinds of constraints or concerns, you may want to consider holding off, or come and talk to us about where the major impacts are gonna lie for you. But I feel like that's doing are you know that's doing a good job of compromising between the people who can and do want to use it, and still keeping the classic editor available until we're sure that it's really functional for everybody.
Brian: Right, and this is, I mean, this is a tricky thing in higher ed when you're trying to make things accessible but you're also trying to keep up with how things are moving in the web. You know, I remember, I don't remember where this was, I remember at some point I read something, I'm doing a great job sourcing my information, so somebody said something along the lines of like, "institutional accessibility is about risk management." Which is just that, you know, every higher ed institution is going to use products that aren't 100% accessible because there are not very many products that are 100% accessible, and you pick and choose, and you try to go with the best options that are available and you limit and mitigate your risk when you need to. And I think, you know, for our campus we've been working with our IT accessibility coordinator, a wonderful person Crystal Tenan who--
Jen: No relation to Tenon.
Brian: Right, one letter away from Tenon. You know, I made that typo so many times doing all this audit stuff, like the blog posts, every time I was thinking Tenan and instead of Tenon. Anyway, so you know, we worked with our accessibility coordinator, she's been involved in all of our Gutenberg decision-making, basically from the start, when we started working with Gutenberg.
Jen: Yeah, she got here just in time.
Brian: And you know the line that we sort of came down on is, if you own a website, if you are an administrator for a website, know your users and know whether or not you're creating barriers for them. And if you have any concerns, then you should stick with the classic editor, and if you're ready to take, you know, stick that toe into the troubled waters the block editor then then we can start moving in that direction a little at a time. And, I mean, I think none of this changes the fact that blocks are still the future of WordPress.
Jen: And I'm still excited about it and I know a lot of folks on campus are too.
Brian: Right, like, I think, I think there's a lot that higher ed especially will benefit from with blocks. Reusable content and structured content with block templates, and all that stuff that we talked about when we gave a talk at WPCampus last year if you were in St. Louis when you saw us.
Jen: That's shameless self-promotion.
Brian: Shameless self-promotion.
Jen: We'll try to keep that to a minimum on this on this show.
Brian: I mean sometimes we might have guests and let them--
Jen: -- self-promote --
Brian: -- but this time it's just you and me, so I'm gonna promote us.
Jen: All right, so that's basically it for our time, but hopefully you will see us much more regularly in your little podcast stream over the next, over the, in the future so I think that's just about it. Brian, do you have anything to tease for next time?
Brian: Well, I guess first, we should have told them where they can go to read the audit, that seems like something we should have started with! So if you go to wpcampus.org/audit, and if you have any questions about the audit either for us who organized it, or for the Tenon team that we can pass along, there's an email address: email@example.com.
Jen: Good job doing the important work there.
Brian: Right, and, gosh, what else do we need to say?
Jen: Hey, there's a conference coming up!
Brian: Oh yeah, that thing!
Jen: You guys should come to our conference! We are very excited to be in Portland, Oregon. Don't go to Maine, please, July 25th to the 27th.
Brian: Portland, Maine is lovely
Jen: Oh, no, you should go to Portland, Maine it is beautiful, but not for the conference, nobody will be there for that. At least not this year. So yes, and that is 2019.wpcampus.org and, yeah, I think that's that's pretty much it.
Brian: The schedule should be coming out very soon
Jen: Yeah, we're finishing up that process and looking to get that out hopefully next week so that might be something we talk about next time. And, that's it we're we're all out of time, so thank you very much for listening, Mom, I really appreciate it. And Dad, happy birthday, Dad. Is it awkward now?
Brian: How do we finish this?