Pippin Williamson wrote a thorough and balanced review of page builders for WordPress that I would encourage everyone to read, whether you’re an end user or developer. He touches on accessibility a bit, but I wanted to go a bit further down that road, and didn’t want to write a novel in his comments. And so, this post.
First, WordPress is not to blame for page builders
Page builders, (and also website builders), were a thing long before WordPress entered the scene. WordPress is just putting its own spin on this trend. I can’t deny that there’s a huge market for page builders, no matter how much I dislike them. And let me tell you, that dislike is strong. I believe page builders and website builders are a huge contributing factor to the mostly inaccessible web we have today. I also firmly believe that, if you are going to create websites, you have a responsibility to at least have a general grasp of how the web works, what HTML is for, ETC., before you start creating websites. Yes, I know that sounds very elitist. But if you buy a car, you either have to maintain it yourself, or pay someone to do it for you. That option exists for websites too, but if you’re not willing to pay someone to build your website for you, then it’s your responsibility to learn how websites are built, and to then build them properly.
OK, page builders are here to stay. Now what?
Having said all of the above, I’m well aware that this battle is lost. So the next best thing, (if we’re stuck with page builders), is to ensure that users can’t do things like use HTML and CSS incorrectly without trying. If we’re going to give non-tech people the ability to build websites, then it’s the job of developers, (especially the ones who make page builders), to ensure that they do things correctly by default.
Cascading Stupid Developer Tricks
At this point in time, none of this is happening. Page builders create some of the worst markup out there. Some of them allow users to go in and change the markup, but this then defeats the purpose of a page builder, and given what page builders promise, (do all the things to build a website with no code), I can’t believe anyone seriously expects that users are going to go “Hey, this is horrible markup, let me go in and fix this”. And so we end up with a web that is inaccessible by default, and not just because of the developers who build websites, but because of the users who use page builders to build websites. I’d be willing to bet that the latter group far outnumbers the former group.
If you can’t, or won’t, ensure that end-users deploy standards-compliant markup and proper CSS, then you have no business releasing a page builder. It’s that simple. To do so without making it extremely difficult to build non-standards-compliant websites is completely irresponsible. If we’re going to give people the ability to build websites without learning HTML and CSS, fine. But that means that the companies behind all these page builders need to ensure that their developers, and designers, know their stuff. That means being familiar with standards, including WCAG, because it’s not a nice-to-have, it’s part of the package. Web designers and web developers breaking the web is bad enough. Don’t encourage people who want to build websites and are not designers and developers to further break it. Those of us who build the web ought to have enough respect for it to at least try to make sure that the things we build function correctly, and provide user experiences that work for everyone. To do otherwise is unethical on top of irresponsible, and makes us look like amateurs instead of professionals.