This post originally started as a Twitter thread. Since those can be difficult to read in some circumstances, and since this content is I think valuable for more than just WordPress Twitter, I’m spooling it up and re-sharing as a complete post. I’ve also added a link and a video to this.
OK third-party WordPress, we need to have a come to Jesus meeting about your accessibility flare. The day I hoped and prayed would never arrive, and which I feared would get here despite my wishes, is here. People and organizations who choose WordPress because of its power and flexibility, and yes, because it can often be easier and less expensive to use than creating a custom solution, are being served with demand letters regarding the accessibility of the websites they build. Websites they build with our themes and our plugins. I have two clients in my cue right now, both within a matter of days, who find themselves in this position, and they’re lawyers have already responded to the demand letters agreeing to terms. This is good for business, for obvious reasons. But it does not make me happy at all. Not one bit. The fact is, I want people to build accessible websites because it’s the right thing to do, not because they have to be sued into compliance or bullied into same. We, as software creators, have a responsibility to ensure that we don’t put them in this position, whether the plugins they use or the theme they use are premium or free. The resources are out there for you to learn how to write accessible code and how to design accessibly. Trust me, this is not some sort of “Hey your stuff sucks, hire me and I’l help you fix it” marketing campaign. I want you to fix your stuff, regardless of whether or not I get anything out of it. I want people who use WordPress to be able to rest assured that, when they build with our stuff, they are building things that are inclusive of everyone, without having to ask. I want people to be able to build accessible websites without having to hire someone who specializes in accessibility to do it for them. I do not want some momblogger to be served with a demand letter, only to find that the site they built with a $100 theme and some free plugins is now going to cost them thousands of dollars any way they cut it. The only people who really win in these senarios are the lawyers sending the demand letters. There’s consequently a backlash brewing in the legislature, which if successful, will further punish people with disabilities by restricting the already-limited solutions we have for resolving accessibility complaints. And make no mistake about this, people with disabilities are not at fault for wanting their civil rights to be upheld. Accessibility is a civil right. This talk explains.
WordPress now powers close to 30% of the web, or even if you don’t like that stat, still a sizeable portion of it. With that kind of reach comes responsibility. We can say all we want that it’s the responsibility of the people building the websites to look after accessibility. That’s fair when the only people building websites are web professionals. But web professionals are far from the only ones building websites. We, as people who build for WordPress, are not responsible for what any other platform does. But we are responsible for what we do. And we build plugins and themes like it’s going out of style, which people then download and use to build websites. We have an obligation to ensure that we don’t expose them to risks like this without their knowing it. In a lot of these cases, if some small organization or business gets a demand letter, their only recourse is to take the site down, since they could never afford to spend thousands of dollars on a custom website in the first place. That means their voice goes silent. We are in the business of democratizing publishing. That also extends to building the actual website. And the thing is, this is completely unavoidable, and by unavoidable, I don’t mean in exchange for people with disabilities putting their civil rights on the back burner. This situation should not be happening, and we, as the creators of this software, have an opportunity to help stem some of this, and a responsibility to do so. I am serious. I do not want to see another urban clinic, or another non-profit, or another momblogger, served with a demand letter and faced with a bill in the thousands of dollars for fixing it because they chose WordPress instead of a custom solution. Of course, I will fix sites, switch out plugins and themes, ETC. But this is not the way accessibility should be mainstreamed. Bringing the legislative hammer down on people with disabilities is not the answer. Waiting on the Department of Justice to get its act together and settle this is also not the answer. But third-party WordPress, this game where accessibility is a nice-to-have or an afterthought is over. With or without my help, start getting your crap together. Seriously. And yes, Envato, this especially includes you, because let me tell you what’s happening. Someone wants/needs to build a website, and so they go looking for the perfect theme. So they google, and they land on ThemeForest, and find the perfect theme with all the right features, pretty demmo, all that. They then buy it and set it up, caring nothing about proper theme architecture, bundling plugins, none of that. And then, they get served with a demand letter or lawsuit. And they don’t care how the theme was built/what makes up their website. They care that they were able to spend $50-$100 and have a presence on the web. And Envato, the majority of those sales are going to you and your authors. So I do not care if you have to make a mandatory rule stating that no theme can exist on your site without following the WordPress theme accessibility guidelines, do it. I don’t care if you then have to take those theme guidelines and apply them to the front end of the plugins your authors bundle in. Do it. Obviously this goes for the rest of you too, but Envato is huge in this. So once again, get your crap together, do your f*cking jobs, so your users don’t walk into this unaware.