Read Stop Throwing Away Your Content by Adrian Roselli (Adrian Roselli)
It is not uncommon for individuals and even entire organizations to rely on some third party platform to host all their thought-leadering. Medium is the common choice, but many use other platforms as well, such as LinkedIn. While many argue that the reach is better and it is easier than self-hosting, few consider what will happen when their chosen platform goes away (or the platform chooses to purge you). After all, the web is littered with the corpses of platforms populated by content that you wrote and that we will never see again.
The death of GooglePlus earlier this week is the perfect time to re-up this from Adrian. With the rate of site deaths or just general data loss, like in the case of MySpace and all the music, this will never stop being evergreen content. Seriously, listen to Adrian and do what he tells you. Start taking control and ownership of the content you create.

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.
Current status: Making some edits to my CSS to fix some color issues and link underlines thanks to some extremely helpful and detailed feedback from a reader. I will also submit these changes to the relevant theme repos on GitHub. Feels great to improve
If you’re waiting to add accessibility to your projects until your clients ask and pay for it, please rethink your strategy. Accessibility is not a feature. It is not a nice to have. It’s harder to do when you bolt it on after the fact instead of building it in at the start, and the only thing you’re doing with this approach is creating more work for yourself, more hardship for your clients, and a shitty experience for people with disabilities. Please do not do this. Add as much aas you can by stealth if you have to. If your client asks you for some functionality, build the accessibility in without their permission if necessary. If the eclient balks at accessibility, (this does happen), walk away. I’m telling you to do that because I’ve done it myself. I promise you that if they’re balking at accessibility there’s a pretty safe bet they’ll balk at other best practices too, and then blame you when things go south because best practice corners were cut.

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.

Read Better Link Labels: 4Ss for Encouraging Clicks by Kate Moran (Nielsen Norman Group)
Specific link text sets sincere expectations and fulfills them, and is substantial enough to stand alone while remaining succinct.
Link text which makes sense out of context is often cited as an accessibility concern. It’s not only an accessibility concern, it’s also beneficial for the people in your audience who do not have a disability of any kind. Like several of the other things which are primarily accessibility concerns but which also end up benefiting the rest of your audience, (captions for videos, transcription for audio, heading structure of your website as a whole and each piece of your content separately, just to name a few), it turns out that link text which can be made sense of out of context by assistive technology users are also a great way to increase clicks generally. Most people do not read an entire page on the web. They scan it instead, so links that make sense out of context, along with being distinguishable in othere ways from the rest of the text, (underlining links, anyone)? are more likely to capture the attention of your visitors than are links which have vague or repetative text as their label. I will note that you can’t take advantage of any of these benefits if your primary platform for content distribution is a social media presence as opposed to a website you own and control. (Indieweb for the win, again).

So, score one more for accessibility benefiting everyone. And, if you’re not doing so already, spend some time putting some thought into your link text. If you’re using social media as your personal or professional home on the web, here’s one more reason to consider either starting your own website, or hiring someone to build one for you.

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.

Read Your Accessibility Toolbar Doesn't Help by Joe Dolson
The important thing about any accessibility plug-in is having a good understanding about what problems are being solved. When we’re talking about font size changes and narration, these are features that already exist in the browser or in assistive technology – adding this to your website does almost nothing. It may help a small number of people in specific situations, but that’s the limit.
This piece by Joe Dolson (@Joedolson on Twitter) is a pretty good run-down of the disadvantages and general lack of helpfulness an accessibility toolbar provides to any website. Don’t Recreate Browser Features by Adrian Roselli is also another good resource on the topic. I have to concur with Joe’s post, specifically the commentary on how absolutely useless these kinds of toolbars are for people who actually need accessibility. I never use them when I encounter them in the wild, and I’ve never met a person with disabilities who clammors for them, either personally or professionally. I do recognize, however, that, most of the time, they’re installed as a result of the intention to make a site accessible, so I try to balance taking into consideration the good intentions of others with the fact that accessibility toolbars aren’t helpful when it comes to educating others.
Read Rep. Devin Nunes's $250M Lawsuit Against Twitter Will Go Nowhere by Eugene Volokh (Reason.com)
The defamation (and negligence) claims against Twitter are blocked by 47 U.S.C. § 230.
This is worth a read by anyone who either wants social media to be classified somehow as a public utility, as well as by those who insist that their First Ammendment rights are being violated when social media platforms remove content they find objectionable. Worth reading also are the linked sources.

After a user of the Storefront WordPress theme, (WooCommerce’s default theme), reported accessibility challenges with the theme’s focus outlines and text decoration with regard to links, the Storefront theme has been modified to address the issue with focus outlines by modifying the default outline so that it is darker than it was previously, as well as making the focus outlines solid. The theme will also underline links in the content, the footer, and breadcrumbs.

These changes are slated for the 2.5 release, which does not yet have a date set. However, you’ll want to keep an eye on your WordPress updates so that you can take advantage of these upcoming accessibility improvements. I’m looking at you, assistive technology sho[ps.

In yet another attempt to become the “One Browser to Rule Them All,” Google is adding the ability to Chrome for screen reader users to ask for automated alt text for images. “Oh hey, since we’re not allowed to explicitly track screen reader usage, let’s just set up a honeypot to get screen reader users to just hand the information over.” I can’t wait to have to once again make a choice between privacy and accessibility. My life-long dream has always been to live in a database controlled by Google simply because I’m a screen reader user. I can see it now. Some company like Aira would absolutely love to get their hands on that kind of advertising data, and Google will gleefully hand it to them for the right price. Dear fellow developers, screw you for abandoning alt text like yesterday’s leftover fast food.
I’m glad to see popular voices in the web space reflecting on how the web is seriously broken as a whole with regard to accessibility, but then there’s a part of me that’s screaming “Hey, accessibility advocates have been screaming at the top of our lungs about this for decades.” Not only have we rewarded the wrong things on the web, (aesthetics over everything else and at the expense of everything else, for example), but I think in a lot of ways we’ve rewarded the wrong voices. So many times it’s the not-so-popular voices who have been telling us what we really should be hearing, and because we think it’s too hard or not enough of a priority, (see internationalization and localization, or security, or accessibility, or translation), we put it off until we have something like the recent WebAIM survey of how abysmal the state of accessibility with regard to websites is to publicly shame us into doing the right thing. Maybe one day we’ll learn.
Dear fellow screen reader users. If you’re tempted to declare something accessible because you can use it, please keep this in mind before you make said declaration. “Works with my favorite screen reader” or “works with all screen readers” or “works with a particular screen reader as long as you use object navigation or route your Jaws cursor to your PC cursor” are not measurrable accessibility indicators. Accessibility is not just about screen reader users. Accessibility is about all people with disabilities. And the gold standard, inclusive design, is about everyone, including people with disabilities.
Happy thirtieth birthday World Wide Web. You may be held together by peanut butter and goblins, but you’ve provided so much joy and prosperity for all of us who have careers thanks to you. I promise to promote your health through the standards that make you great and enjoyable for everyone on this earth, and to encourage everyone who builds things on your foundation to do the same.
The trend under discussion in this long read is very real and results in all sorts of problems, including metric tons of technical debt and support costs. this is what happens when what I’ll call Shiny Object Syndrome takes the place of good decision-making.