This post is the result of a quick discussion on Twitter that I think should be saved for later bookmarking/reference. Also, my Twitter client has some weird focusing issues which means the first part of the reply was sent to the wrong person. (Sorry about that Adrian). Lastly, Twitter seriously broke the thread so if you try to search for related posts you’re missing half of it.

Wendy Delfosse asks on Twitter:

Best places to start for learning to use WordPress with visual impairment? A user wants to know how to pick a great theme since he won’t be able to verify the design himself. Any tips greatly appreciated.

(Source).

More specifically, the user Wendy is asking on behalf of is looking for help with making sure their site looks good with background images, fonts, ETC. I responded in multiple replies with several tips based on my experience. Here are those tips.

Picking a great theme is very much dependent on what you consider great, including visually. Also, in the case of visually impaired, blind specifically, whether you have visual elements like images, for example, to help make a theme look like the demmo, except with your content/site.

So, to start with, does this user have a concept of what they’re looking for visually in a site? If not, I’d say start with an accessibility ready theme and then, once you’ve figured out branding/colors/images ETC., go from there.

Also keep in mind that no out-of-box theme will have everything you want. So make a list of things that are essential in a theme, then nice-to-haves, and then, once ready to grow, decide on budget for hiring out the visual work of site building/design.

Find a sighted person you can trust. Looks good is also unfortunately one of those things that to a large extent is in the eye of the beholder. Knowing what you want from a site in terms of who the audience is for the site is also helpful in this, because it helps narrow down the “looks good” part.

If it’s something like a personal site though, I’d go with picking an accessibility ready theme, and then, after that, don’t worry so much about how it looks to others except for basic contrast issues, which accessibility ready themes will cover adequately. In short, if it’s a personal site, just be yourself.

One last thing. When picking a sighted person to trust with this stuff, stick with one person. Be careful about second opinions as sighted people who are not designers/familiar with design principles/accessibility will give you widely varrying and often conflicting results. It’s kind of the same thing as asking a random sighted person how your clothing looks.

Off the top of my head, I think this covers the basics from this perspective. But, if there’s something I haven’t thought of, feel free to leave it in the comments, and I’ll update this post accordingly.

I have often been personally and professionally critical of the National Federation of the Blind, its policies and its method of advocacy. I suspect I will do so again. But, the only way for any of that criticism to be meaningful or impactful is if it is balanced with credit when earned. I am very, very pleased to say that this year’s convention resolutions have presented an opportunity for me to say positive things about the organization, specifically Resolution 2019-09. The resolution reads:

WHEREAS, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) is a comprehensive civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability; and
WHEREAS, to assist Americans with disabilities in asserting our rights under the ADA, Congress included a private right of action, which has assisted Americans with disabilities to secure landmark victories that have opened doors in employment, education, commerce, and other arenas; and
WHEREAS, under Department of Justice interpretation and court rulings, ADA Title III applies not only to physical places of public accommodation but also to their websites; and
WHEREAS, many websites are inaccessible to blind people who use screen readers to access digital content and to other people with disabilities; and
WHEREAS, a small group of plaintiffs and attorneys are exploiting the situation by filing dozens, occasionally hundreds, of lawsuits all at once or in rapid succession; and
WHEREAS, rather than acknowledging that website inaccessibility is a real and growing problem, some business groups and media outlets have focused on this behavior as evidence that the ADA is merely a tool for greedy lawyers to extort quick cash settlements from businesses; and
WHEREAS, this largely misplaced blame for ADA lawsuits has led to the introduction, and in some cases enactment, of state legislation that places onerous burdens on people and organizations who wish to bring legitimate complaints under the ADA, as well as attempts to enact federal legislation that would have the same effect; and
WHEREAS, even if litigants act in good faith and with noble intentions, blanketing a geographic area or business type with lawsuits often does not meaningfully advance the cause of accessibility because the litigants may lack the resources or the commitment to investigate each lawsuit thoroughly, and many lawsuits brought in this way are settled quickly and confidentially, thereby failing to hold public accommodations accountable for true progress toward making their websites accessible: Now, therefore
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this eleventh day of July, 2019, in the City of Las Vegas, Nevada, that this organization urge members of the legal community to engage in responsible, ethical, and transparent behavior when pursuing ADA litigation, including contacting targeted entities to try to resolve accessibility issues without litigation where possible and appropriate and to draw up public settlement agreements that outline the specific steps to be taken by an entity to achieve accessibility and the anticipated timeline for those steps to be completed; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization reaffirm its opposition to any legislation, state or federal, that seeks to shift the burden of compliance from the entities to people with disabilities affected by noncompliance; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization continue to work collaboratively with the policymaking, legal, business, and web development communities to advance accessibility, while not hesitating to commence litigation if needed.

The only thing I could think to add to this resolution would be a clause urging people with disabilities to act ethically and responsibly regarding aDA litigation. There’s quite a cottage industry of blind people who are all too willing to participate in the unethical practices of law firms like the ones engaging in the unethical behavior highlighted here. I understand that there are several reasons for the participation of blind people, and I think there needs to be an open, honest discussion within our community around all of this. So maybe my addition should be a resolution for next year. For now though, I think the NFB deserves a lot of credit for bringing this matter up as a policy suggestion for the organization, and I really do hope it passes. Good job to whichever member wrote this, and to the organization as a whole for not dismissing it.

From Inside Higher Ed:

Both MIT and Harvard have argued in court filings that they should not be required to provide closed captions for every video they create or host on their websites. After the institutions’ first attempt to dismiss the cases was denied, there was a yearlong attempt to reach a settlement out of court. When that attempt failed, the universities again moved to dismiss the cases.
Judge Katherine A. Robertson of the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts largely rejected the universities’ second attempt to dismiss the cases. On March 28, Robertson denied the institutions’ pleas for the exclusion of their websites from Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Title III of the ADA prohibits disability discrimination by “places of public accommodation.” Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs that receive federal funding.

My eyes are stuck in the rolled position, and this time I think it’s permanent. I may be missing something, but the only exception for captions in WCAG SC 1.2.2 or its “Understanding” documentation is for content which is a transcript of the video or audio. I’m not deaf, and I’m getting tired of the excuses for lack of captions or transcriptions. How many times does some variation of “it’s not popular enough” or “I can’t afford it” or “it’s too hard” have to be tossed out? People and organizations will spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on audio or video equipment, only to then not caption or transcribe the content they create. And Harvard and MIT both are schools which could afford to transcribe their content, so hearing from them that they care about accessibility as long as it means they don’t have to caption all of their content is especially galling. I suppose if we’re talking about a podcast that’s just starting out, or a one-man shop, I could see why you might not come out of the gate with captions/transcripts. But even that only works to a point. If you’re pouring hundreds of dollars into a good headset or other higher-end audio equipment, then at some point you should be making arrangements for captions or transcriptions. It goes without saying that Harvard and MIT aren’t in the one-man-shop category.

Yesteray I opined on the latest Jetpack release, calling its search suggestion feature way over the line. I had a subsequent Twitter conversation with several people in the WordPress community, in which the stated intention behind the feature by one of the main developers was to solve the pretty significant problem of users installing multiple plugins which perform the same task. I know the developer and I have no doubt that that particular developer’s intentions are good and even admirable, so before I go any further with this, I want to state that it is not intended on my part to be a personal attack on any of the humans involved. I’m specifically keeping names out of this because I do not want anyone to be personally attacked as a result of this. With all of that said, I just test-drove the feature, and if that suggestion isn’t an ad, I really don’t know what is, and I suspect that anyone else who comes scross this, (especially screen reader users), are going to perceive this as an ad, even if it really isn’t intended to be one.

Steps To Reproduce

You must be running the latest version of Jetpack. If it’s not showing up in your updates, it will soon if you have it installed. I’ve run the update on my personal site, and got the following results when testing.

I searched for Jetpack’s sharing feature by typing the word “sharing” without quotes into the search box on the plugins/add new page. I specifically have this feature disabled. What came back is the following.

Aftere searching, and the page refreshes, the first thing I find on the page when navigating by headings after searching is “Jetpack: Sharing” at heading level three, just like every other search result on the page. Next, in the list below the heading with a link, (which normally contains a link to install the plugin and a link to learn more about it), I find a button labelled “enable”, followed by the traditional “Learn more” link.

Next, there’s a description of the feature:

Add Twitter, Facebook and Google+ buttons at the bottom of each post, making it easy for visitors to share your content.

The plugin author name follows directly after this, and in this case it’s Automattic.

Next is a graphic without alternative text, which I can only assume is the Jetpack logo or maybe the Automattic logo. No matter what it is though, so far the only thing distinguishing this from a standard search result is the replacement of the “install” link with an “enable” button, and this graphic. Otherwise it looks like a standar search result. Now onto the other very minor differences.

Under the graphic without alternative text, the following text appears:

Jetpack is trusted by millions to help secure and speed up their WordPress site. Make the most of it today.

Marketing copy complete with a call-to-action.

And now, for dismissing the suggestion. There’s some text that says “Hide this suggestion”, and although this appears to not be associated with any discernible element while using a screen reader, if you press enter on it, the suggestion disappears. However, your focus jumps down to the nex item in the list, past the heading to the end of the list with the two links, so you have to press shift-H to navigate back to the heading to find out what you’re even working with.

The focus management and alternative text issues are fixable, as is the semantics of the “Hide this suggestion” thing. However, all of this seems confusing at best, requiring me to pay extra attention to what’s going on on this screen. I spend a fair amount of time in the WordPress administration panel, and I expect that between plugins, themes, admin notifications, and WordPress in general, these screens are going to change. However, needing to pay extra attention to the plugin search screen so I can avoid accidentally enabling a Jetpack feature due to something that is definitely an advertisement dressed up to look like a search result is absolutely not OK. I knew what was coming, and I still needed to focus on what I was doing to a much more greater degree. Anyone who doesn’t realize they have Jetpack installed, (and this happens a lot considering that hosts install it automatically in a lot of cases), is not going to spend the bit of extra time to pay closer attention to what’s going on, and therefore will enable a feature, at which point they then will need to dig through settings to find where it’s buried once they realize they’ve enable something they don’t want, or God help them when there’s a conflict with something on their site, as their was with the Jetpack sharing buttons markup and the Microformats 2 markup on my personal site, which prompted me to disable the sharing buttons in the first place since I prioritize correct markup over whether or not someone can click something to share my post.

All of this looks incredibly shady, even with the consideration of the stated intentions behind it, and I find myself asking: who dictated the design and development requirements of this user experience? It may be designed to be visually separate from the rest of the search, I don’t know. I haven’t gone through the CSS. But it sure as hell isn’t very different markup-wise, and yeah, that makes me kind of angry. I suspect anyone who encounters this without knowing anything about it, or any of the humans involved, is going to be angrier, never mind feeling tricked, and I really think this was completely avoidable.

I use Jetpack on some of my sites, as well as some client sites. It provides a lot of features that site owners will need, without having to install a bunch of plugins, and does so reasonably accessibly. However, the latest release, (7.1), quietly adds Jetpack feature suggestions to the plugin search screen. From The Tavern:

If a user searches for a plugin that has a feature that is already offered by Jetpack, the plugin will insert an artificial (and dismissible) search result into the first plugin card slot, identifying the corresponding Jetpack feature.

This is so far over the line of what’s acceptable and what’s not, it’s not funny. I’d be livid if any other plugin did this, and the fact that Automattic is doing it, combined with its incredibly large amount of influence over the WordPress ecosystem, is enough to make me seriously consider uninstalling Jetpack from every one of my sites. The WordPress dashboard and administration screens are already choked with advertisements and useless nags thanks to other plugins and themes. The fact that Automattic is essentially giving this a blessing is, I suspect, going to make this problem worse than it is. The web is supposed to be independent and decentralized. Automattic is supposed to be helping to ensure that an open, independent web survives, or at least that’s what its CEO appears to be leading us to believe. Driving an ecosystem to use the features of one plugin over everything else is an attempt at centralization, which is obviously in direct opposition to an open, decentralized web. Getting back to the accessibility question, while Jetpack does some of the things it does reasonably accessibly, does this mean that Automattic is going to put some extra muscle behind making sure that every one of its features are accessible? If you’re going to exercise undue influence over plugin search results, effectively cutting off the air supply of anything that may provide a Jetpack feature more accessibly, then you take on the responsibility of ensuring that accessibility is looked after. I think I already know the answer to these questions, but I decided to pose them just in case. You know, in case I happen to be dead wrong in my supposition. At the end of the day though, I’d rather Automattic just not game the plugin search results.

If you work with Windows Server or Microsoft’s Azure platform on even a sporatic basis, (and especially if you work with either on a regular basis), Powershell is the most efficient way to get things done. People with disabilities can now enjoy this level of efficiency on a more equal level with our sighted counterparts, because a href=”https://devblogs.microsoft.com/powershell/the-powershell-gallery-is-now-more-accessible/”>Microsoft has put a lot of work into making its powershell gallery more accessible, including working specifically with blind systems administrators to ensure that the work they’ve done to make the gallery more compatible with screen readers actually benefits real peoplein real work situations. Microsoft has come an incredibly long way in the last eight years with regard to accessibility, and I for one think they deserve a ton of credit not for doing the right thing, but for doing their utmost to go above and beyond standards compliance and making sure people with disabilities can get our jobs done on par with our sighted colleagues.

From The Evening Standard:

Next has become the first major British high street retailer to sell more to its customers online than through its network of more than 500 stores.
The historic crossover came at the start of the new financial year in February, according to chief executive Lord Wolfson, with the gap set to widen rapidly through 2019.
It will send further shockwaves through a battered retail sector already struggling to adapt to the accelerating shift from “bricks and mortar” to digital sales.

Wolfson hails this as a thing worth embracing, saying that people in small provincial towns now have the same buying options as those who shopped on Oxford Street ten years ago. Everybody wins, right? Not exactly.

If you’re a person with a disability, Next has gone to the trouble of building a separate website which supposedly cators to the needs of those who need accessibility. Problem is, separate is not equal, and it never has been.

This is another one of those conversations we shouldn’t be having at this point in the web’s history. For one thing, as already mentioned, separate is not equal, and even law/policy, as incoherent as it is, agrees on this, at least when it comes to certain industries.

For another thing, separate websites for people with disabilities are often not maintained, (looking at you, Amazon), and are a resource vampire for both the establishment for which they’re built as well as any web design or development staff, in or out of house. If anyone seriously suggested thata we build separate websites for phones, tablets, large screens and watches, they’d be laughed out of the room by pretty much anyone who builds or designs things for the web. No one would dream of wastiing time and resources like that. So why is it still all too common to see large organizations building separate websites for people with disabilities?

Web-based discrimination is just as unacceptable as real-world discrimination. It’s not OK to build separate but equal for browsers, and it’s not OK to build separate but equal for people either, and people with disabilities are people first and foremost. Seriously, if you’re a web developer or designer and you’re being asked to build a separate site for accessibility purposes, please push back on this. I’m not going to lie, you may have to walk awa from a contract or to. We, however, are the only ones who can really change this situation. These things wouldn’t be built unless we as an industry weren’t willing to put in the elbow grease to build them. We’re not just pairs of hands, and if we as an industry could manage to move the needle from building one-size-fits-all websites to building websites responsively, then we can move the separate but equal needle too. Let’s do this already.

From Disability Scoop:

The federal government is accusing Facebook of illegally using its advertising platform to discriminate against people with disabilities and other groups.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development charged the social media company Thursday with violating the Fair Housing Act. The agency said Facebook is “encouraging, enabling and causing housing discrimination” through its method of allowing advertisers to control who sees ads for homes. … According to the charge, Facebook allows advertisers to exclude or include users from seeing ads based on various attributes including interests in “accessibility” or “service animal.”
Furthermore, the charge alleges that Facebook’s system is set up in such a way that it won’t show ads to groups it considers unlikely to engage with them, even if the advertiser has explicitly targeted those groups.
As a result, “ads for housing and housing-related services are shown to large audiences that are severely biased based on characteristics protected by the (Fair Housing) Act,” according to the charge.

At last year’s National Federation of the Blind convention, Facebook stated that

one in ten people use the zoom feature on the desktop browser, 20 percent of people increase the font size on iOS, and over 100,000 use screen readers on mobile devices to view Facebook.

(Source). It didn’t take very long for what amounts to tracking those with disabilities to go from something benign to something used as a tool of discrimination. The fact that the self-styled “voice of the nation’s blind” essentially aided and abetted this isn’t surprising. And yes, the NFB owns part of this. That organization gave Facebook a platform and its blessing to essentially brag about its disability tracking efforts, and were silent when questions were raised concerning how that data was gathered. If I were a member I’d be pretty pissed right now and I’d be demanding answers from the leadership.

From Applevis:

There is, however, one new feature for VoiceOver users: a new option called ‘Accessibility Events’ located at Settings > General > Accessibility > VoiceOver > Web. This option is enabled by default, with Apple saying that Accessibility Events:
… allow websites to customize their behaviour for assistive technologies, like VoiceOver. Enabling Accessibility Events may reveal whether an assistive technology is active on your iPhone.
We’re currently unaware of any websites which take advantage of this facility, so do please let us know in the comments if you know more about this feature and any websites where it can be seen in action.

This is just as bad of an idea as Google’s “ask-for-alt-text” feature. I will definitely be turning this off when I update my devices because sorry fellow developeres, you cannot haz that data. These settings, including the automatic opt-in, also apply to Mac OS Mojave, (OSX 10.14.4). This version of OSX was released on the same day as iOS 12.2. I’ll also be encouraging everyone else, (in the strongest possible terms), to do the same. Seriously, why is it so difficult to just make websites accessible in the first place? Why do we have to keep having this conversation? We’ve seen what happens when data is managed irresponsibly, (and that’s putting it lightly), and as neither a society nor an industry are we even close to equipped to handle something as sensitive as screen reader tetection with any kind of care. What’s Apple going to do, release some ethical guidelines? Even if they did this, how are they supposed to enforce them? And never mind developers screwing this up by using it as it probably wasn’t intended. It happened with HTML, it’ll happen with screen reader detection too.

If, like me, you are concerned about your privacy with regard to your disability, you’ll need to explicitly opt out, on both iOS and OSX. Consult either your device’s documentation, (VoiceOver for iOS or VoiceOver for the Mac), or a suitable book written for assistive technology users by assistive technology users. The one I wholeheartedly recommend is iOS Access for All: Your Comprehensive Guide to Accessibility for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch, by Shelly Brisbin.

For as long as anyone in the WordPress community can remember, the minimum allowed version of php on which WordPress will run has been well behind modern php versions, thanks to WordPress’s commitment to backwards compatibility. As of version 5.2, (due out in April) the minimum allowed version will be raised to php version 5.6, from it’s current allowed version of 5.2. Eight-five percent of all sites running WordPress 5.0 are running on php 5.6 or above, and high-profile plugins have been experimenting with user notifications encouraging an upgrade to a modern version of php, with quite a lot of success.

While php 5.6 reached end-of-life as of December 31, 2018, WordPress’s step to make it the minimum allowed version while continuing to encourage usage of php 7.2 and above is an important one. For one thing, it means that securing installations will be just a bit easier, and for another, the minimum allowed version change, coupled with encouragement to use a truly modern version, as well as allowing plugin authors to specify a supported php version, will make life a lot easier for those of us maintaining code.

Most hosts, especially the larger ones, have already either migrated to php 7.2 or above, or are strongly encouraging their users to do so. Note that if you’re running a virtual private server or similar, you will be required to manage the php upgrade yourself. If you happen to be a user or organization running on a virtual private server, and you are not technically proficient enough to manage the upgrade, you’ll want to make arrangements for someone to upgrade for you. I mention this last point because in the laast few weeks I’ve run into a lot of cases where users or organizations have been talked into hosting on a virtual private server or similar which they are unable to manage and which they have no one to manage for them. I’m not sure if this is an actual trend or whether or not I’m just personally/professionally encountering a lot of these. Anyway, think of the web, and upgrade your php installation if you haven’t already.