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.

Author: Anne Gibson

Anne Gibson is a Senior Staff Product Designer and General Troublemaker working on design systems from outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She's an editor and writer at The Interconnected. She is also published at A List Apart and The Pastry Box, and publishes short fiction when she's not persuading the terriers to stop wrecking things. (The terriers are winning.)