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.
A look at the state of web accessibility today and how machine learning could help make a more accessible web for all
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Specific link text sets sincere expectations and fulfills them, and is substantial enough to stand alone while remaining succinct.
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.
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.
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.
The defamation (and negligence) claims against Twitter are blocked by 47 U.S.C. § 230.
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.