Putting my money where my mouth is

If it’s not obvious, The Interconnected is published on WordPress, a content management system. They estimate roughly 32% of the web runs on their platform.

Bebo, their WordPress 5.0 software, has just released. It promises a significant upgrade to the writing, layout, and publishing processes that we use to put together our site.

Since I started using WordPress back in 2004, I’ve always been a fairly early adopter, grabbing the latest versions as soon as they appear, and creating my own themes to go with their new feature sets. So normally I’d be spending this weekend upgrading my 5 WordPress-driven sites and seeing what kinds of goodies are under the hood.

Until we launched The Interconnected, I also had the luxury of being the chief, cook, and bottle washer of kirabug.com and its associated sites, perpendicularangel.com and its sites, and a small charity site that’s currently shuttered. I have few web accessibility needs of my own, and WordPress’s editor has always been on the better end of accessibility (although not perfect). That meant I didn’t have to worry about whether the writing and editing workflows were secure. I just needed to ensure the pages I produced are accessible. Because WordPress is so flexible (and because I know a smattering of php) I have enough control in WordPress’s theming system to ensure that it’s as good as I can make it.

In other words, I didn’t have to think about the editing workflow being accessible because it worked for me.

Since we launched The Interconnected, I’ve had the great joy and satisfaction of working with a slew of talented authors and two fantastic co-editors. While I don’t know what accessibility issues they might have (and frankly it’s none of my business unless an issue arises), I’ve received no complaints from our writers so far. I didn’t expect any—universities, major corporations, and nonprofits who all rely on accessible software have been using WordPress for years. WordPress worked.

That changed with Gutenberg, WordPress’s new editorial package. According to WordPress, it creates a whole new way to make rich posts and has a much deeper feature set. But according to WordPress’s Accessibility Team (as of October 30), the product was so inaccessible to people who rely on accessibility software and options that they could not recommend it for use. (It’s worth noting that accessibility is not the only point of consternation in the WordPress community right now.)

Now, the good news (if you can call it that) is that WordPress is working with Deque Systems to run a hackathon at Wordcamp US this weekend, and WPCampus is fundraising to run an accessibility audit on Gutenberg.  The bad news is that in a perfect world these steps would have been taken months ago, or even when the Gutenberg project was launching, so that everyone involved would have been prepared to make a more accessible product.

Accessibility is hard. But it is no harder than security, performance, usability, internationalization, or quality code. And frankly, we don’t put up with software companies (even open source ones) saying “whoops, well you know, security is hard, so it fell by the wayside, sorry”.

So The Interconnected won’t be updating to WordPress 5.0 until we hear from the accessibility community that upgrading will provide all of our authors the experience they need. Even though we don’t know if any of our current authors would be impacted, we’re not taking the chance. I believe this helps to ensure that anyone can write for us, and that’s important to our values here.

Further, even though I am a Web Team of One for my other sites, I don’t see a reason to upgrade them either — version 4.9.8 is working just fine at the moment, and as I never know when I might break my glasses, cut off the tip of a finger (again), get hit with a migraine (again), or something more permanent, I’m going to err on the side of caution and treat myself to the same respect we’re treating our authors here.

I look forward to WordPress moving forward on resolving Gutenberg’s accessibility issues. I also hope the visibility of this ongoing issue has helped educate both the WordPress community and the overall web community on the importance of accessible websites.

Taking a break is hard


Editor’s Note: We’re testing a new Patreon plugin which, if it works, means you’ll only see this post if you’re one of our $5 or higher subscribers. 

I mentioned recently that this was a hard year. It’s almost over, and by my calculations today I have four work days (and three special events) left before I go on vacation.

I learned years ago to back-load at least a week of vacation into December in case of emergency. Most parents I know do something similar, warding against doctor’s appointments and sick days with a bank that they eat into at the end of the year only if they need it.

My last job offered the option to buy an extra week’s vacation. (They divided your total salary by 26 pay periods, then took that amount out of your check each week.) It was a nice deal; if you hadn’t used it by December 1st you had the option to either have it reimbursed to you in the form of that-will-help-with-the-holiday-bills cash or schedule it to use.

When I was in my 20s, I reimbursed more often than I scheduled. Money was an issue then, and I have no regrets.

When I was in my 30s, I scheduled every year. Burnout had become a bigger issue than cashflow, and I have no regrets.

My current job shuts down the week of Christmas, as part of our holiday hours, so even if I hadn’t back-loaded an extra week of time off I’d be facing a week of enforced downtime. I’m a little bit nervous.

Taking a break is hard. It’s hard to intentionally break a daily routine. It’s hard to walk away from work undone, projects that only need a few hours to finish, pressures that weigh on the shoulders.

And I can only imagine it’s harder if you’re a consultant or a freelancer, where all of your time, not just 8 hours, is literally time that could be spent to bring in extra money.

Taking a break is hard. It’s hard to figure out what to do when you don’t have to do anything. I’ve sworn I’m going to take the two weeks’ vacation time and just relax,  not visit with friends, not do chores or projects, not fill my time with busy work. My husband laughs and predicts I’ll have the entire house clean by the third day.

He’s probably not wrong.

But 2018 has been hard in ways that vacation hopefully will not be, and every brain needs a chance to reset.

Call it brain defragging time. Call it vacation. Call it going on holiday. Call it family time. Call it “They’re doing construction at the office so I can’t be there anyway, may as well read this book at the coffee shop” time. The benefits of taking vacation time are documented over and over and over and over.

If you have the opportunity, and you’re weighing the benefits of vacationing over taking the cash, consider this an extra nudge to take the time (if you can).

And then, don’t book the entire vacation. Seriously. Give yourself at least a few days, either at the beginning or the end, where your only plan is to sleep in, eat some tasty food when you’re hungry, relax, and go to bed early. Address your sleep debt (and do a better job of it than most places do of addressing their technical debt). Maybe take a walk, inside or outside. Spend some time with yourself. Get around to those Mindfulness exercises that both my counselor and my cousin keep harping on me about. (That might just be me.)

Whatever you choose to do, do it with the knowledge that stepping away from the daily routine to purposefully do nothing is hard, it’s a skill, and you won’t be the only one wrestling it, at least between 13 December and 2 January, when I finally get to go back to work and get re-started on that ever-present to-do list.

When hungry, eat your rice; when tired close your eyes. Fools may laugh at me, but wise men will know what I mean.