Dear M-Enabling Summit: seriously, why do accessibility pros have to keep passive-aggressively adding alt text to your images for you? It’s not like this is new or anything. This is, after all, 2019 and not 1995. It’s not even new by Twitter standards, and there are a metric ton of guides out there, some of them even written by accessibility pros, to show you how to use the feature. How is this not in the instructions you provide to your social media manager, assuming you have one? If you don’t, not adding it is even worse. If you can’t manage to do something as simple as adding alt text to your images, why on earth should anyone trust you to create a conference that provides valuable, accurate accessibility information?
It’s easy to get cranky when semantic HTML is ignored by developers, and that’s usually my cue to quit for the day if possible. This is probably the funniest take I’ve read on the subject of HTML, and I kind of want to steal and modify slightly that footer text and use it on my personal site. This post is also written in a way that allows you to steal the points and add them to your notebook if you’re into that sort of thing.
Definitely some very useful information for developers. This stuff is core knowledge that needs to be grasped by developers before getting to the point of using tools or trying to test with assistive technology. I think it’s also useful information for testers as well as assistive technology users, if for no other reason than we are often tasked with doing advocacy work, and it’s to our advantage to try to make sure that the information we’re passing on is accurate so that accessibility problems can be fixed, and not just temporarily. Well, that’s the hope, anyway.
I would encourage every blind person in the strongest possible terms to read the most recent article by Chris Hofstader and download the data. I would especially encourage the blind people who has been contracted by any of these organizations to do things like build websites or write software to read through this data and then make decisions with regard to whether or not you’re going to work with these organizations and how you are going to price your services based on this data and not the sob stories or excuses provided by these organizations when they plead lack of budget coupled with great need for your services. It’s one thing to suspect they’re screwing you over with no proof. It’s a very different, and bigger, ball of wax to know that they are screwing you over, have proof of it, and then contrast that with the “have a large impact”, “make a difference”, “help the cause”, “we’ll send you referals” kind of language that is so often used when they pitch for things like websites or apps. I will not only be reading through this data myself, but also passing this on to any blind person who has been my student, formally or otherwise, when it comes to WordPress.
Matt Mullenweg has taken the time to introspect and revisit his working definition of democratizing publishing to specifically include people of all backgrounds, interests, and abilities, and I think this is worthy of note. Not only that, I think it’s a significant step that earns him a not insignificant amount of credit. It’s a necessary step that helps lay the foundation for a more accessible WordPress, a more accessible editor for WordPress, and a more accessible web going forward. Granted, words are not action. But this, coupled with Matt’s pledge to fund the remainder of the WPCampus crowdfunding effort for a full accessibility audit of Gutenberg, by way of Automattic, (provided that pledge is fulfilled), gives me reason to be cautiously optimistic regarding Matt’s participation in the effort to make WordPress and its new editor accessible to everyone. So, thank you Matt for your demonstrated willingness to revisit the core idea behind WordPress and as a result of that thought process to make a necessary course correction. It hasn’t gone unnoticed.
I should be able to charge extra for editing content on any site with Visual Composer involved. That plugin is the bane of my existence, and the sooner it completely disappears, the better. It is absolutely possible to edit VC content by hand. This is also absolutely not a skillset I should have to maintain. We have standards for a reason. It is very time-consuming and tedious, along with probably being traumatizing, for anyone to have to learn the non-standard idiosyncracies of this kind of generated markup. Friends don’t let friends use this plugin. Enemies probably shouldn’t let enemies use it either.
Syndicating your content to social networks is all well and good, but the real fun happens when you can bring back the reactions from those social networks to your own site and display them all regardless of which site or network they come from. If your site is static, you’ll need to employ a couple of third-party services to accomplish this, whereas with WordPress or Drupal you’ll need to install some plugins. Even if you’re not a developer, the fact that you can pull in reactions to your content from all over the web is a beautiful thing to behold. And I’m looking forward to the time when most domains on the web support both syndication out and bringing reactions back in. Neither of these takes much effort, and they’re taking less and less. There’s not a lot of cost to implementing these things either anymore, and if we can get to a point where everyone who’s now using social media as their primary platform has their own domain and their own website and is able to syndicate out and bring reactions back in, then all the data currently being sucked up by the large social media platforms no longer is as plentiful, and therefore loses its value. This will, however, take work on the part of all of us, whether that’s building solutions for otheres to use or helping others use those solutions.
This tutorial on implementing syndication on static sites should be useful for those who don’t want to use something like WordPress or another database-driven content management system to power their site. As much as some of us would like silos like Twitter or Facebook to disappear, for most people they’re currently necessary, (the network effect), and so syndication is something that has to be part of the mix. And the more you can automate, the better.
I couldn’t agree more that Bridgy is an awesome service, and I like watching the stats climb. I’m about to add two more unique domains to start sending webmentions and collecting responses. I also need to start backing Indieweb every month, or at least one-time donations when I can afford to, since I get so much value out of it personally and professionally. I would love to see native webmention support and native collection of responses and reactions in WordPress core, instead of as plugins. It needs to be as easy as possible for anyone to adopt and become part of the indieweb so that people have a real choice when it comes to freeing themselves from platforms like Facebook and Twitter and the like.
I think this is over all a good thing, although I’m hesitant to take this as some sort of goodwill sign from Microsoft. I find that it’s easier to deal with the disappointment that inevitably arises when platforms remove or limit features if one keeps in mind that these are business decisions and nothing more. Plus, honestly, I still don’t trust Microsoft when it comes to free/open source software. Their newfound love for open source hasn’t been around long enough to erase their very long history of having an anti-open-source stance. This article opines that most developers have come to terms with Microsoft’s Github acquisition. Well of course we have. Most of us use Github either for our own projects or for projects we contribute to, and it’s easier to just come to terms than it is to spin up decentralized operations and move everything over to those. Decentralized is the better approach, although I think managing the social aspects of software contribution is still a hurtle. I need to look into this more.
In the web accessibility space, we talk a lot about how everyone has a role to play when it comes to accessibility. We’ve been talking about this for a very long time, and I’m glad to see the idea that when it comes to cross-disciplinary things like ethics, it’s not just one person’s responsibility. Accessibility, at its core, is an ethics issue, and I think that, just as accessibility as a part needs a good business case to support it, tech ethics as a whole will need that too. Right now we’re still in the beginning stages of considering tech ethics as a whole, so we’re not to the part yet where the business case for it, or even the general idea of a business case, is being considered. But I suspect we’ll get there soon enough.
I spent some time today putting a system in place to track the unbillable time I spend on contributions to free software, and when I say contribution I’m being pretty liberal about what counts as contribution: Advocacy, not just code, for example. I believe in the mission of free software, but the fact is free software isn’t without cost, and sometimes that cost can get pretty high. I’m also working out how to document my contributions in my portfolio, including the free accessibility advocacy that I do. This is going to take a little more work and some more research, but I feel it needs to be done. I need to be able to keep track of this stuff so I can limit it when necessary. Right now I’m thinking of setting the limit at ten percent of free time outside of shabbat and festivals, because those are times when no work of any kind is done, as a general rule. I’m not going to get into the exceptions around festivals because it’s a lengthy topic, but to say no work of any kind can be done on festivals would be technically inaccurate. I think ten percent is a reasonable amount of time. It’s not a ton, but it places an upper limit on the time I have available to do this kind of work. I will also document the time spent, although I haven’t decided whether I will publish a weekly or monthly or yearly report. This is going to be an interesting project.
I’m participating in the Ultimate Blog Challenge for personal and professional reasons. The personal reasons are partly documented here, and I’ll document my professional reasons on this site.

Content creation is hard work, and I need to get back into the swing of it. I have several lengthy tutorials sitting in my drafts, and I need to finish them, and I think the only real way to get back into the swing of content creation is to practice. So I’ve decided to take up this blogging challenge so that I can do that, as well as find new content to read and absorb. There are a lot of things floating around my brain regarding business, the tech landscape, and the web development landscape specifically, and I’d like to start getting those things out of my brain and onto my website where I can flesh them out better. My plan is to not turn over all my thoughts to social media platforms and instead document them on my own site, linking to them in larger posts where appropriate, and of course changing them when appropriate. Plus this will be a really great way to share what I learn by sharing my notes on the books I’m reading, (there are several professional development as well as technical books on my anticipated reading list for 2019), as well as the articles written by others, especially experts in particular fields like accessibility. I’m looking forward to this, and I think it will be a lot of fun. If you want to sign up, I believe there’s still time left to join. No pressure or anything, but it’s a great way to start owning your own content if you haven’t started doing that already.

Until next time.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQg6pFg1XM0
I suspect that, as a general rule, open source treats the open web the same way that corporate software companies like Apple or Microsoft treat open source: It’s existence and that there are people to take care of it for you while you do the flashy stuff is taken for granted. As a result of this and many other things we, (at least in the US), have a situation where Facebook and Twitter are treated as the web, and then we’re all subjected to displays of incompetence, stupidity, and grifting that will eventually end up defining any possible laws we end up with when it comes to web things. I’d make grifting a link, but I refuse to link to anything related to Diamond and Silk, or any of the completely willfully ignorant comments by Ben Schapiro on this topic. Plus, there’s just way too much material. Fellow hackers, I think it’s time for our typical hands-off approach to anything but our code to end. We have to get involved, because if we don’t, it’s just going to get stupider as we go along, until the stupid gets boring and/or ineffective and it becomes actual malice, assuming we aren’t already to the malice bit. I’m holding out hope we’re still in the stupid portion though because that means we still have time to get off our asses and get involved.

The Problem

By default, WordPress supports png files to its media library. However, some hosts, (including mine), will block some filetypes for security reasons. In my case, one of the off-limits filetypes is png (image) files. You can change this by either employing the appropriate filter through code in either your theme’s functions.php file or a custom functionality plugin, as long as your host is not already using the appropriate filter to block said filetypes. I don’t plan on spending my afternoon trying to guess the priority I need to use to try to get around this. You can allow any filetype to be uploaded through WordPress’s wp-config.php file. If your host is blocking certain filetypes from being uploaded for whatever reason, they will likely not appreciate your using the wp-config constant, because when I say allow all filetypes, I really do mean allow all filetypes, or at least all filetypes supported by your web server software, which is quite an extensive list and really could introduce some security issues due to the way WordPress handles attachments: They’re a post type. Since I find myself in a situation where I need to upload a png file to my site for use as a featured image for a post, I needed a solution that was none of these and that was also accessible to a screen reader user.

The Solution

Dealing with images is difficult when you can’t see them. Converting between image formats without compromising the quality of the original image is also difficult. If you’re sighted, you’d probably open the original file in your favorite image manipulation software, tweek compression rates and other stuff, and then re-save in the format you need. Most image manipulation software is inaccessible however, and so this method is off limits. So, I needed to find a tool I could use.

PNG2JPG meets all my requirements, and it might meet yours as well. It has a very simple interface, including a traditional browse button for uploading files, and it will handle all the background compression for you and return a jpg file which perserves the quality of the image. You can then upload the returned file because it’s likely your host isn’t blocking jpg files since that’s the most common image format and they’d likely lose customers hand over fist, even if they could claim a security reason for blocking that format.

If you find yourself in the same position I did, this tool should hopefully save you a lot of time, at least if you’re converting png files to jpg and you don’t feel like pinging a sighted person who’s good with images and has the right kind of software. Enjoy, and I hope you find it useful.

My URL Is is a podcast which features a new guest every two weeks to talk about how they got involved with the IndieWeb and what hopes, goals and aspirations they have for the community and for their website. The guests are a combination of those both new to the IndieWeb and those who have helped build it from the beginning. This episode features Greg McVerry who has been using the web as a teaching tool almost since its inception.

There are a couple of things which stood out to me in this episode. First, the discussion about online versus offline identities. The idea that online and offline are somehow separate is an idea that I think is pretty common, and if I understand Greg correctly, he’s basically saying that there really isn’t a difference between online and offline. I have to agree. In my experience, the separation between identities is usually maintained by people who are particularly rude or trollish to other humans, and then when called on it, come back with, “Oh, that’s just online” or “that’s just Twitter”. Still going with my understanding of what Greg is saying in this podcast, I have to agree. There’s no difference between the online and offline you. If you treat people with little respect online, there’s a good chance you’ll treat those same people with little respect offline as well, and I don’t think the arbitrary separation between online and offline should be allowed to remain.

The second thing I found interesting in this episode is that Greg’s son uses a screen reader to read CSS and other code documentation because he’s in the third grade and therefore reading that kind of documentation is still difficult. I think there are a few things to be gleaned from this. First is the reminder that not all people who use screen readers are blind. I’ve always understood this on an intellectual level but I don’t think I’ve ever run into a real-life non-blind human who also uses a screen reader, so I’m somewhat fascinated and I think I want to pick Greg’s son’s brain and/or watch him work with the screen reader so I can learn if there are any differences between how I use it and how he uses it. Also, out of pure curiosity, I’m interested in which screen reader he’s using.

I think it would be interesting to find out whether or not there might be some room for documentation, (for accessibility related topics and otherwise), that is geared toward a younger and possibly less technical audience. I’m aware of efforts which focus on educating high school students, but nothing for younger generations, and at the risk of coming across as one of those “code solves everything” people, I think we need to focus on groups younger than high school students as well. I have no idea how we solve this.

I’m also curious as to whether or not accessibility as a field could glean something from the generational approach Indieweb takes when it comes to onboarding new community members. This isn’t me trying to start an accessibility fight, or even necessarily criticize what’s come before, I’m just thinking out loud. We know that in order for designers and developers to bake accessibility in from the start of a project, they have to be trained at every level on the intricacies. I think it’s obvious that this is not happening, and I’m not sure the lack of knowledge on the part of designers and developers can solely be chalked up to laziness on their part. OK, I suppose that last is maybe slightly controversial. We also know that people who are not traditional designers and developers are building websites, and, barring the tools they use doing everything possible to output accessible markup and generally guide them through creating things which everyone can use, expecting that they are going to be trained on the intracacies of accessibility when designers and developers aren’t is, I would say, quixotic at best. I think Gutenberg, (the new WordPress editor), can play a role in at least this part of the problem, provided it gets its own house in order and is itself able to be used by everyone.

But anyway, back to the generational thing. The idea behind the indieweb generations is this:

Generations in the context of the IndieWeb refer to clusters of potential IndieWeb adopters in a series of waves that are expected to naturally adopt the IndieWeb for themselves and then help inform the next generation. Each generation is expected to lower barriers for adoption successively for the next generation.

(Full discussion of the “Generations” concept here, with links to other resources.) I see a parallel between this and things like the work that Microsoft is doing through its Microsoft Enable group. That’s not an exact match, because I don’t believe you should build webpages with Microsoft Word, for example, but I think it’s a pretty good template for doing things like making it easier for end-users to make things accessible, and I would like to see this mindset ported over to the web. The important part here though is that they’re also focusing on making it easier for people who use assistive technology to use their products, and I think that’s critical to all of this.

What I’m mostly thinking of though is making it easier for designers and developers to make the things they build accessible to everyone. The work Deque Systems began at this year’s WordCamp US is a really good example of this, and I’m excited to see how this plays out. I think the principle of “Manual until it hurts” also finds a home in the accessibility space, and I believe that ideally designers and developers would do all the accessibility things manually by learning HTML, CSS and the like until they completely understand the foundations of the web. I also know however that we aren’t living in an ideal world, and as much as those of us in the accessibility space scream until we’re blue in the face about learning foundational technologies deeply before learning the stuff that sits on top, this doesn’t seem to be scaling very well. I don’t know why that is and I don’t have a solution for the problem, but it seems to be where we are.

Anyway, that’s all the stuff that bounced around my brain while listening to the third episode of “My URL is”. If you’re interested, even mildly, in the idea of an open, independent web, I think you should check out the podcast.

Researching if I can add blocks in Gutenberg using the non-visual editor by typing block comments. As long as the interface is inaccessible I have no problem hacking around it if possible, I will not be cut off from the future of WordPress, temporarily or otherwise.
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