#12 – Amber Hinds on Why Accessibility Matters

Jukebox
Jukebox
#12 – Amber Hinds on Why Accessibility Matters
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About this episode.

On the podcast today we have Amber Hinds.

She works at Equalize Digital, and became interested in online accessibility when she was given the job of creating a website for a public university. Given that the site was funded with public money, the finished site needed to be built with accessibility in mind.

Since then Amber has been learning about accessibility, and educating others in how to build accessible websites through projects like the WordPress Accessibility Meetup.

Today we talk about what online accessibility means, and how it ought to influence any website build.

We consider the situations people who need an accessible website might find themselves in. What are they experiencing as they browse the web and what tools are they using?

Is there a legal / moral responsibility to build accessible websites, and is it enough to have a website which is partially accessible?

What tools can you use to help in this endeavour, and what tools you might want to avoid?

WordPress Accessibility Meetup

Amber’s Accessibility Checker

Web Accessibility Laws & Policies

WAVE Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool

axe Accessibility Testing Tool

NV Access

Siteimprove

Monsido

Pope Tech

Overlay Fact Sheet

Overlay False Claims

IAAP (International Association of Accessibility Professionals)

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1

WebAIM

Transcript

[00:00:00] Nathan Wrigley: Welcome to the 12th edition of the Jukebox podcast from WP Tavern. My name is Nathan Wrigley. Jukebox is a podcast which is dedicated to all things WordPress. The people, the events, the plugins, the themes, the blocks, and in this case, the need for accessible websites.

If you’ve listened to the podcast last week, you’d have heard me say that we’re going to move to a weekly schedule from now on. This means that there’ll be lots more podcast episodes, and I would encourage you to subscribe to the podcast, so that you can get all of those episodes automatically each and every week. You can do that by searching for WP Tavern in your podcast player of choice, or by going to WP Tavern.com forward slash feed forward slash podcast.

And you can also copy that URL into most podcasts. With so many more episodes, I’d really like to hear from anyone out there who wants to come on the podcast and talk about whatever it is that you do with WordPress. It might be that you’re a developer, a WordCamp organizer, a contributor, a designer. Honestly, if it’s about WordPress, I’m keen to hear from you and hopefully get you on the show. Head over to WP Tavern.com forward slash contact forward slash jukebox and use the contact form.

Okay. So on the podcast today, we have Amber Hinds. She works at Equalize Digital and became interested in online accessibility when she was given the job of creating a website for a public university, given that the site was funded with public money, it needed to be built with accessibility in mind.

Since then Amber has been learning all about accessibility and educating others in how to build accessible websites through projects like the WordPress accessibility meet up. Today, we talk about what online accessibility means and how it ought to influence the websites that we build. We consider the situations, people who need accessible websites find themselves in .What are they experiencing as they browse the web, and what tools are they using? Is there a legal or moral responsibility here to build accessible websites? And is it enough to have a website which is partially accessible? What tools can you use to help in this endeavor? And what tools might you want to avoid?

If you’re interested in finding out more, you can find all the links in the show notes by heading over to WP Tavern.com forward slash podcast and search for episode number 12. And so without further delay, I bring you Amber Hinds.

I am joined on the podcast today by Amber Hinds. Hello Amber.

[00:03:17] Amber Hinds: Hi, Nathan. How are you?

[00:03:18] Nathan Wrigley: I’m very good. Thank you for joining us today on the podcast. Really appreciate it. We’re going to have a discussion today around the subject of accessibility. Accessibility seems to be a word which is cropping up more and more probably for very good reason, but it occurs to me, Amber, that it may well be the case that a lot of us either don’t have a clear picture of what web site accessibility is or we’ve got just a vague idea of what we’re trying to achieve when we want websites to be accessible. So the question is very broad. What is website accessiblity?

[00:03:55] Amber Hinds: Yeah. So the short answer to what website accessibility is, is it is a practice of making sure websites will work for everyone. People of all abilities. So we’re not all accessing the internet in the same way using the same devices, or even able to observe things in the same way with our senses. So some people for example, are blind or visually impaired.

Some people are hard of hearing. Some people can see in here perfectly well, but they have mobility limitations that make it challenging for them to use a mouse or a keyboard. And so they have to engage with the internet and websites in a different sort of way. And website accessibility is really about ensuring that websites can work for all people and not just those who are typically abled.

[00:04:46] Nathan Wrigley: Thank you. It’s so it’s a very broad definition. There isn’t one specific definition. There’s a whole multitude of different things that come under the umbrella. I wanted to ask that question first. Typically I ask people about themselves and what their relationship is with WordPress at the beginning, but I thought it would be curious to get that first, because then that would lead me on to that question. Could you just tell us how it is that we’ve got you on the podcast today? You know, in other words, tell us a little bit about how you’ve come to take accessibility seriously. What have you done in the recent past that makes you interested in this?

[00:05:21] Amber Hinds: Sure. So I am the CEO of a company called Equalize Digital. We’re a certified B corporation, which is, if you’re not familiar with that, a process that we went through with an external body to have all of our business practices reviewed and to show that we, while we are a for-profit company, we’re doing more to try and benefit the community and world and our employees than the typical business, and we’re not just trying to line the owner’s pockets, if you will. And our focus really is on website accessibility. I got into it, really became aware of it in 2016. When I started working with a university here in the United States, Colorado State University. All universities and publicly funded institutions in the U S are required to have websites that meet certain accessibility standards under the web content accessibility guidelines.

There are laws requiring that. And so I got thrown into it a little bit, which was building a website for the university and it had to be accessible in order for us to launch it. And so initially it was a little bit of checking boxes, but as I started to learn more about it, and research it and then we’ve gotten to the point now where we have user testers, so people with disabilities who come in and we pay them to test websites for our clients or for us before we launched them, and really having had the ability to talk to them firsthand, watch them navigate the web and hear in their voices some of the challenges that they experienced led to the passion that I’ve had for trying to make it work for everyone. And so that’s what brought me to accessibility.

[00:07:02] Nathan Wrigley: Thank you, that’s really interesting. When we talk about accessibility, it occurs to me that very often we’re talking about things which on a typical website might be missing. We failed to do something because we’ve failed to have the understanding that something needs to be done.

Now, forgive me and hopefully anybody listening to this, there are going to be bits in this podcast where probably I misstep and say something, which is not exactly correct, and I probably should have done my research a little bit better, but I would like to, I would like you to describe some of the scenarios, you mentioned just now that you have people who you get user testing done with. For the benefit of the audience, could you describe some of the things which those people are experiencing? So in other words, when I go to a website, I switched on a computer. I sit down. I use a mouse, I use a keyboard. I may very well use my finger if it’s on my phone. But I am looking through my own eyes and I’m consuming everything, either through my ears or through my eyes, basically. And that’s the way that I interact with the web. Now it occurs to me that in the scenarios that we’re going to be discussing today, much of that is not the case. So could you describe some of the different ways that people experience the web as they browse it?

[00:08:21] Amber Hinds: Yeah, the one that most commonly people think about when they think about website accessibility is people who are blind or very low vision. And those users, if they’re on the spectrum of just being low vision, they might still be able to see, but they might be zoomed in with their browser. So they might have it set where they’re always viewing a website at say 200%. Or if they have no vision at all, or very little vision then they may be using something called a screen reader, which basically reads out all of the content on the website to them, and it has different sorts of shortcuts that allow them to sort of try to skim in the same way that we would want to skim the content. You know, when you visit a website, you don’t read it word for word on every page. So there are features built into screen readers that help them jump around through the content so that it can be read aloud to them. Other things that is commonly thought of is people who can not hear. And in that instance, we want to see captions or transcripts provided for podcasts or video content.

But a thing that I think a lot of people don’t think about is colorblindness. Colorblindness is very prevalent. And if you have certain color palettes going on, or if you’re describing things by color The green dot means your microphone is on and the red dot means your microphone is off. If I can’t tell the difference between red and green, how do I know if my microphone is on or off? So that’s actually very common, but there’s also situations where I mentioned earlier, people who have mobility issues. There may be people that don’t have use of any of their limbs or very little use.

And so they might use eye tracking to move around. They might use a voice controller where they’re speaking and telling their computer or their phone to go to a certain element on a website. And if the actual HTML code behind it doesn’t match what they expect it to match or see, then the computer won’t be able to go where they’re telling it to go.

There’s also alternative keyboards and devices. So a good example of that is the Darcy USB keyboard, which is a morse code keyboard. So that allows people who may be only have use of one or two fingers to tap out in morse code and use that to interact with the web. So there’s really a very broad range of ways that people can engage with the web and, accessibility really impacts everyone. So there are people that we might obviously think of as identifying themselves as disabled. And there’s a lot of people who don’t identify as disabled, but who benefit from accessibility features. With my corrective lenses on I’m typically sighted, but I have been on websites on my phone outside where the color contrast is so poor that I can’t see it on a sunny day, and so that’s really something that I think a lot of people don’t realize is that accessibility features can help everyone.

[00:11:15] Nathan Wrigley: It’s really curious the sort of range and the depth there, it illustrates the spectrum of different things that we’re dealing with, and it does illustrate to me at least that when we talk about accessibility, we are definitely not talking about one thing. So we’ll try to tackle that in a minute.

But I was thinking to myself, as you were speaking in the physical world, a lot of this stuff has been mandated by law. So for example, if I was to go to a school or a shop in my local environment, it’s mandatory for the doors to be of a certain size and width and for there to be alternative arrangements to get people over steps and up ramps and things like that. So it’s been taken care of over many, many years because those things were identified and put into law. Now, especially in the year 2022, it feels like more and more things are going online, so take as an example, e-commerce it would be illegal, I think, in my country for a shop to have impediments in it, which would make unaccessible to everybody, but if they have their website online, in a sense, you’re trying to create the same shopping experience. You can see all of the products and examine them and get descriptions of them, and so on. The law hasn’t been able to catch up, and I’m curious about the law. I don’t really know what the position is. Is there a legal responsibility in the majority of countries, only a proportion of countries for things to be done in a certain way? Or are we just working on a kind of moral responsibility where this would be a desired outcome to have websites accessible, but it’s not mandated by law. What’s your thoughts on that?

[00:12:55] Amber Hinds: So the W3C has a page on it that is helpful if you’re trying to get a feel for laws worldwide. It hasn’t been updated for a while, I can’t remember how out of date it is. I know that there’s a stated goal that they’re going to try and update that sometime early in this year. But as far as, and I’ll say this I’m not a lawyer, or a solicitor, depending on where you are in the world. I have listened to a lot of them speak about it, and I feel like I have, comfortable understanding, but I’m not a legal professional. My understanding is though that there are at least 20 countries that have website accessibility laws that mandate websites have to be accessible.

The EU also does, so that would cover a lot of member countries in EU, and so there are in some places, laws that require it. Now, sometimes those laws don’t touch the private sector. They only touch the public sector Like here in the United States, there are laws that are specific for, as I mentioned, federally funded agencies or organizations that receive federal grants, which could be schools and universities, could be non-profits. Now we also are increasingly seeing here in the United States that there are laws that are being tried in the courts under the Americans with disabilities act against public businesses. And I think last year it was almost like 78% of those businesses were e-commerce stores.

So that’s really where people are coming in and law firms are coming in and suing businesses because their websites were not accessible. And in most cases they are winning or settlement is being made where the organization agrees to make their website accessible and they pay. So they not only have to pay for the improved development or content creation on that website, but they’re also paying a settlement to the plaintiff in the case

In Canada the strongest laws are actually more on the province level. So Ontario has a very strong website accessibility law. As of January of this year, all organizations that have more than, I believe it’s 25 employees, have to file an annual report with the government of Ontario, stating what the accessibility status of their website is annually. And if they have more than 50 employees, the fines could be as high as a hundred thousand Canadian dollars per half day that their website is inaccessible. So there can be some very large fines. My understanding from talking to people in Canada is it’s only just starting to be enforced. There’s not a huge amount of let’s say government officials going around checking websites of businesses in Canada and sending them fines, right. But they are working towards that. So it’s a shift that’s really been happening, I think especially we’re seeing it accelerate in the last three or four years.

[00:15:47] Nathan Wrigley: It’s obviously becoming much more important. It brings to mind some further questions about this and you may not have the answers, I don’t know. But, it’s a global marketplace. It could easily be that you or I would build a website for somebody in an entirely different jurisdiction. For example, I, in the UK could build something for somebody in Canada. And I wonder whose law may apply in that case? As I’m the person that’s taken on the responsibility of building all the things. Do you know if it’s incumbent upon me to work, in this case, with Canadian law or UK law?

[00:16:26] Amber Hinds: So I kind of tend to think that it’s going to move in the direction that privacy laws are going. Which is that, if they can prove nexus, which means you have some sort of business operations in an area, then you have to follow the laws in that particular area. This is something that we’re seeing here in the United States with the majority of the lawsuits are happening in the State of California, but, the businesses aren’t all located in California, but if they have an employee in California, they have a store in California, they store goods in California, they have a warehouse there, or they ship a vast majority or they run, let’s say paid Google ads in the State of California, well now they’ve established that they do a significant amount of business there, and so they have to meet the stricter website, there’s a state accessibility law called the Unruh Civil Rights Act. And so a lot of businesses that aren’t California businesses, because they do a certain amount of sales there or something else are falling under that law. And I think we see the same thing, with discussions around the GDPR laws and privacy, which is, I’m a small business in the United States. I don’t advertise in the EU. I don’t do a lot of sales there. I don’t have employees there. It’s unlikely I really have to worry about GDPR, but if I started really doing a shift in that direction then I would need to worry about that. And so I think really from a business standpoint or a developer standpoint, you really want to think about where is the business engaging with its customers and whether or not their headquarters or their main office is there. And then those laws might apply.

[00:18:09] Nathan Wrigley: Yes, the point that you made earlier, I think we’ll come back, and we’ll reiterate it, the point being, if you are concerned about this, the law side of things is of concern, I think you should probably seek counsel from somebody who is in fact an expert in these areas and can give you the correct advice at the time of you publishing those things.

Just as an aside, and it’s a curious thing I dont know if this is the case. I’ve heard of things in the past where lawyers, forgive me if you’re a lawyer, this doesn’t come across the way it sounds, but where lawyers have gone chasing things which they know are going to be profitable for them, shall we say. In other words, they go and seek cases where person being accused is on the wrong side of the law, and they go and discover that fault. Do you see that happening much in this space? In other words, is the enforcement of law and lawyers in particular, are they going out finding these problems? Do we need to worry about this?

[00:19:05] Amber Hinds: In the United States, and I’ll say I’m not familiar with this in any other countries in the world, but in the United States, there’s a couple of organizations, usable net. They put out twice a year, sort of the status of lawsuits. And one of the really interesting things that they track is the number of law firms. So last year there were slightly over 4,000 lawsuits that were filed and the vast majority of them came out of six law firms. I’ll also say that when we were doing some research to make sure that we were paying our testers, I was looking at other accessibility testing job boards, just to make sure, are our hourly rates in line with others. And I came across. A tester job that was posted by a law firm, and it was very clear by reading it that they were seeking a blind individual to test websites for them, and then come on as a plaintiff, on websites that didn’t meet standards or weren’t usable. Which is definitely, I would say shady, and I think to some degree, that’s where, people have some major complaints about this because it feels a little bit like sharks out there, circling, trying to ask things of business that maybe aren’t realistic, in some cases, if they’re very small businesses. But the other side of that is that at least here in the United States, part of how we motivate laws to be made, or we legislate laws is by enacting things in the court. And right now there are enough cases happening that it might get to a point, and there is actually a bill up for consideration at our federal government level, that would say when can these lawsuits happen and what requirements are there of businesses? So what’s hard in the United States is people are guessing that the ADA applies to websites, but we don’t have any legislation that specifically states that.

And so these lawsuits, while they might seem frustrating on one hand to the business owner, on the other hand, this is how in the past people with disabilities, or even people of different colors have gotten more rights. And so, I have a hard time completely villainizing the plaintiffs in all cases, or the law firms in all cases, because it could be possible that they’re coming from it from a standpoint of, they legitimately want to enact change and this is the way that they see to do it.

[00:21:24] Nathan Wrigley: Okay, thank you. That’s really interesting. Up until now, it feels like we’ve put the frighteners on everybody and we’ve described all of the ways that you can trip over and be caught out. Let’s flip the conversation. Let’s try to make it so that now we’re trying to figure out all the ways where we can do the right thing. Before we begin taking that apart a little bit. I’m just wondering. Imagine a website, a spectrum of websites. On the one hand, there’s a website where zero consideration has been given to website accessibility. It is appauling from your perspective. And on the other end of the spectrum is a website where every single box has been ticked. It’s exemplary. They’ve spent a vast amount of resource on getting it perfect. And so in between those two will be the vast majority of websites. Some, maybe 30% of the way along that journey, some 50, some 90. And I’m just wondering what the position is in terms of, is doing 30% okay? Is doing 50% okay? Are we trying to do this thing incrementally, or is this a case of no, no, no, you must achieve all of it. It’s a hundred percent or nothing.

[00:22:36] Amber Hinds: I think the reality of accessibility, especially accessibility remediation on a website that perhaps already exists, rather than a new build, is that it has to happen incrementally over time. Particularly if it’s a website that has thousands of pages, maybe even tens of thousands or it has a lot of PDFs. We just launched a website for an organization that has a ton of PDF documents. They’re government funded. They have to be accessible. But they have PDFs going back to, the early two thousands, in some cases, the nineties. I’ve seen organizations where they have PDFs from the eighties, where it’s more of a scan document, that’s been turned into a PDF. And so the thing is, the reality of going back and remediating all of those PDFs and making them work for someone doesn’t always make sense. And so you really want to think about a good place to start. The important points in a user’s journey. And this will vary depending upon what kind of website it is, but, common things are, can they contact you? Can they complete a checkout process, add a product to cart. Those sorts of things, you know, take the main actions that you really want them to take. Can they find really important information about your services. But maybe you have 5,000 blog posts that go way back into time. And if you look in Google analytics, they’re hardly getting any traffic, then that would not be where you would start, right? You want to start on the most important pages on the website and the most important components. And then yes, obviously we want to say let’s try and work towards being a hundred percent accessible, but we also have to take, you know, into account the reality of client budgets or internal organization’s budget. What time looks like, the size of the website and all those sorts of things. And there are definitely aspects of accessibility that can have much greater impact than other things. We commonly see alt tags being cited in lawsuits. We see captions on videos. And really they want to see accurate captions, not YouTube auto captions.

Another thing is headings. That’s one thing I’ve learned from observing some of our testers and hearing, seeing them navigate the web is headings are super important. Both that they exist on a page, but also that they’re used in the right order, because that is one of the fastest way for them to skip. So I could say, read me all the h2’s on a page, on a screen reader, and then I can say, oh great, I heard this third one, I’m going to jump here. But if I am missing headings or I have headings in a wrong order, then it can really make it hard for someone to move around the page.

That’s another really common thing, that is a good thing to fix that anyone can fix. You don’t have to be a developer, in most cases in WordPress to go in and add headings to your content or make sure your headings are using the correct numerical order. From a developer standpoint, I think, there should be a general baseline, especially if you’re building new websites, of ensuring that everything that should be actionable can be reached and used with a keyboard only.

This is one of my biggest pet peeves that I hope, plugin and theme developers can work on, is we’ll just start with a div, and a span is not a button. So following good HTML semantics goes a long way towards accessibility. So if you have a slider plugin or you have an accordion plugin or whatever that might be, making it so that the buttons to navigate through those things or the element that opens is actually a button and can actually be reached by a keyboard and then triggered with either the return or the space bar keys, that really will help a lot. And I think that’s a big thing for me is with WordPress, right, we build with components, and we’re using a lot of times someone else’s theme and we’re using maybe five, maybe 50 plugins in order to create the amazing websites that we build. And very few of us developers are building every single piece of that website from scratch.

And so really a big part of this and where this needs to come from in the WordPress world is that plugin and theme developers need to take this seriously because they’re not just impacting the accessibility of one website. If they have 500,000 installs, they’re impacting the accessibility of 500,000 websites, many of which might be owned by a DIY’er who has no idea about accessibility and has never heard of.

[00:27:01] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, again, a really good point, and you described there some of the of low hanging fruit. I guess it may be that you’re in a, an agency, for example that could simply farm this out to another agency who specializes in this, or it may very well be that your agency is big enough that somebody can be dedicated to the role of making the website, giving it the checks and making sure that everything’s as it should be. But, I’m guessing that a significant proportion of the people listening to this podcast are people that do this by themselves and the responsibility falls upon them. We’re all WordPress users, and that’s the tool that we’ve decided to build our websites with. Are there any WordPress standards, if you know what I mean? Is there some kind of badge of honor, as a plugin developer that you can wear. Some description that we might be able to see, when we’re going out finding plugins and themes and all of the different things, more recently blocks, that would indicate to us, okay, the person creating this has done their due diligence, and we can trust what they’re doing, or is it still a bit wild west?

[00:28:03] Amber Hinds: In the plugin world, it’s definitely still wild west. There’s no label or third party vetting for plugins. We’ve seen some where they say. I think if you look in the repo on.org, there’s around 40 plugins that use accessibility as a keyword, and I’ve tested some of them and they have major accessibility problems.

Now on the theme side, and this is good news if you’re someone who builds websites, but doesn’t make custom themes. There is an accessibility ready tag in the theme repository, and these are all themes that have gone through a basic level of testing for important basics that need to exist in a theme. Which means that it would be a good starting place for building a website from the is accessible.

So that’s a great way to go and they’re all free themes. There are also some paid themes, but again, you kind of have to get into the who’s vetting them, who’s not. The accessibility ready tag comes after a vetting from the themes team. So in WordPress land, that’s probably the best place to start, but on the plugin front, it’s a lot harder.

I think there are some tools that can be used to test plugins before you even install one. So, or some different practices. There are two great browser extensions a lot of people are familiar with. Wave is one, and the other one is Axe which is by Deque. That one I tend to prefer because it is a more thorough, but both of these, you can have them installed and if you go to a plugins demo, you can click the button and you can get a quick accessibility report. Now it’s a little hard, cause you have to look at it and assess are these actually coming from the plugin or some of these problems in the theme that happened to be used on the demo page. But another thing, like I mentioned, being able to use things like keyboards, you could also tab through, just use your tab key on a plugin demo and use that to assess. So there are some ways that you can assess and decide whether or not plugins or themes will work, even without being a full expert in accessibility.

[00:30:07] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah. Okay. That’s really good to know. Speaking of tools, I’m wondering if somebody was listening to this podcast and they decided this was now something they wished to become more interested in and make some more explorations. What tools do you recommend? So this is not from the point of view of exploring WordPress products, but the website after it’s finished, just checking that everything is as it should be. You mentioned some browser extensions. I don’t know if it extends to, you know, Windows apps or Mac OS apps and things like that.

[00:30:38] Amber Hinds: Yes. So the two browser extensions are really great and you can use them when you’re building. I always recommend trying out a screen reader. If you’re on a Mac, you’re going to have voiceover on your screen reader already, or sorry on your computer already. So all you have to do is go into your Mac settings and you can go to accessibility and you can enable voiceover, and that will allow you to hear what the website you’ve built sounds like.

If you’re on a PC, I really like to recommend NVDA. It’s open source and free. So you can install that on your PC and use that, and it’s one of the most popular, free screen readers for Windows. So using a screen reader is very helpful. The other thing that you might want to do, particularly if you have a large website, is do some bulk scanning of the entire site, instead of the browser extensions, allow you to scan one page and get a picture of one page, which i s helpful, but also there are some things that scanning tools while they can’t get everything, there are things that they could get that it would be nice to just have a full picture of that. So there are third-party SaaS solutions for this. Site improve is one. Monsido is another one. Pope tech, which uses Wave API.

And then we also have a plugin called Accessibility Checker, Equalize Digital Accessibility Checker, which does the same thing, only it puts the reports right in WordPress dashboard. So you don’t have to connect with a third party API or pay per page. But the thing that’s useful about that is, I draw a lot of parallels between SEO and, you know, there are SEO plugins where you have it installed and as you’re writing your content on the page, it will score it and tell you, oh, maybe you need to add your keyword more, or maybe your reading level is too high or something like that. Our plugin does something similar. And I think the way you want to think about accessibility, whether you’re using ours or any other tool is really, what can you do to proactively build accessibility in from the beginning so that you’re not having to go back later and fix things. So think proactive accessibility, not reactive remediation, because that’s what will really save on the cost and the time, if you can do it right from the beginning.

And so it’s helpful to use any of these tools that I’ve mentioned as you’re creating content. Get that report on your post edit screen or, run an external report, if that makes more sense to you and do it right then rather than trying to go back and fix it later.

[00:33:12] Nathan Wrigley: Now, regardless of the legal or moral responsibility to get this stuff right, there’s work required to do this. And whenever difficult work presents itself, people always come up with ingenious ways of making it seem like the work can be achieved in a much more straightforward and simple way. And, my understanding is that there are a variety of tools on the market, which purport to offer the solution to website accessibility in a more or less copy and paste of this code and you’re done kind of way. Perhaps snake oil is a bit too strong a term, but my understanding is also that there’s not necessarily too much truth in that. I wonder if you could go into some of the tools which perhaps you would steer people away from.

[00:33:56] Amber Hinds: So I think the thing that people most commonly ask about are accessibility overlays. These are typically they’re JavaScript implementations. They’re a SaaS solution, but in a lot of instances, but there are also a few just WordPress plugins that are out there on wordpress.org that don’t connect to a third party.

And what they do, you may have seen these on a website you’ve visited, they typically put a little icon in the bottom left or right corner that is an accessibility icon. It looks like a little person. It might be on blue or some other color. And when you click it, it can open this panel. It has all kinds of different things. Turn on colorblind mode or change the colors, increase the font, add alt tags, all sorts of different things. The thing about the technology with these is, there are some things that can be fixed automatically after the fact with JavaScript. But there are also a lot of things that can’t. Automated alt tags is a great example. Frequently it gets it wrong. And then also there are cases where these accessibility tools actually cause accessibility problems, even though they’re trying not to. And so really I caution people to be careful about using overlays, particularly if the marketing for the overlay sounds too good to be true.

So if any company says, sign up for our plan, $39 a month and install this line of JavaScript in your header, and in 24 hours, your website will be 100% accessible. And by the way, we’ll protect you from getting sued. That’s when you need to back up and say, hold on, is this real? Probably not, and those are the companies that, we say stay away from. If you really want to learn more about overlays, there are two really great websites. One is the overlay fact sheet, and the other one is, I think it’s overlay false claims dot com. But they are put out by Karl Groves who was of Tenon, he now works at Level Access. Tenon is who, by the way did the accessibility audit of Gutenberg a couple years ago. He has done a lot of research into overlays and what can they actually do? What can they not? And so those websites are very helpful cause they’re very like fact-based and they include voices from people on assistive technology.

A lot of whom say they don’t like the overlays. I’ve heard people say that they block the IP addresses for those companies so that it won’t load the overlay when they visit websites. Cause it may actually makes it more challenging.

As much as I wish there was an instant solution, unfortunately there are no shortcuts.

[00:36:36] Nathan Wrigley: You mentioned a name there, Karl Groves. I’m just wondering if you have any other resources, any other useful places where you turn for advice that you believe represent a good investment in time that will enable us to quickly get up to speed with this whole subject.

[00:36:53] Amber Hinds: So if I can pitch a little bit, I’m the lead organizer of the WordPress Accessibility Meetup, which is an official WordPress Meetup through the WordPress Foundation. And we meet twice a month. It’s the first Thursday of the month in the morning for me, and the third Monday of the month in the evening for me, but we kind of have them spaced out because we get people from all over the world, which is super cool. It’s permanently virtual. It’s actually one of the first, topic-based not city-based meetups in the meetup program. And we have a lot of different speakers who come, and we also keep all of the recordings. So you can get more information and watch things if you’ve missed a talk.

So That’s a great resource. Also the international association for accessibility professionals, which I’m going to call, and most of them call the I A A P is they have certification programs and training courses. If you want to become one of theirs is the website accessibility specialist. They have different certifications. And so those are really good well-known resources that are vetted. I always recommend, go read the web content accessibility guidelines. I think a lot of people feel nervous about that, but each individual guideline itself is like a sentence and it’s broken out. Sometimes you have to read through a few of them to be like wait a minute, what does this mean? And they have links with information that are like, how can I actually implement this? But really go read the guidelines, so that you know what those are. And then the other website that I like to recommend too is web aim, they also talk a lot about how can you actually implement the guidance?

[00:38:37] Nathan Wrigley: That’s really excellent. There was a whole ton of things. I will make sure Amber that all of those hit the show notes so that the URLs are easy to find so that you don’t have to go scrolling back through the podcast and write it all down. So, the show notes are always attached, as I might add is a fully corrected version of the transcript. You’ll be pleased to know. We make the effort of putting this out word for word accurate, hopefully. This all sounds very laudable. Just one thorn I’m about to throw in the side of this, and I’m imagining that I work for Evil Corp, and my boss is the chief of Evil Corp, and he doesn’t care about this. To him this is just a hassle, it’s a thorn in the side. He’s quite happy to put the websites out as they are, because it’s more profitable because there’s less time to be spent on these things. I’m just wondering if you’ve got any advice for people in that situation. People who know that they could do a better job, but are stymied by the situation that they’re in. Is there any generic advice that you could give or a place that you could go or just some general advice I guess.

[00:39:38] Amber Hinds: My general advice, if you’re trying to convince your boss or any sort of higher ups in your organization, is that you have to draw parallels between how accessibility will benefit the bottom line or the mission and goals of the organization. So a lot of larger companies have corporate values let’s say, or they have initiatives for giving back to the community or things like that.

So, it can sometimes be easy to draw a parallel between accessibility and that. Another thing is as I briefly mentioned about accessibility in a lot of ways is similar to SEO. Well there are actual items that when you improve the accessibility, it improves the SEO of the website.

So if bringing in more traffic is helpful, then you might be able to say, we’ll do this and it might increase our traffic. Or, it will help our conversions because we’re going to reduce our bounce rate because more people are going to be able to get where they need to go and complete the actions that we want them to do.

So I think there are ways that it can be sold that really show the benefits to the business. As much as I want to approach it from the whole like, I don’t care about the benefits of the business, I care about the greater good for the world and all human beings. The reality of business and budgets is that we have to talk about what the benefits of the business are.

The other thing I will say is there are a lot of things that can be done for accessibility that don’t take extra time. Really beyond what you do in the day-to-day practice of your job. And so whether you’re a marketing person who is writing blog posts, and you said, hey, I just learned about accessibility, maybe my boss doesn’t want me to go back through all these old blog posts, but every new blog post I put in, I’m going to make sure it has alt tags. I’m going to no longer use ambiguous anchor links. So instead of linking the words, click here, I’m actually going to link the words, contact us. I’m going to add those headings like we talked about. Those are all things that you can do moving forward.

Same thing from a developer standpoint. If you are coding things in your organization, it doesn’t take that much longer. Typically it doesn’t take that much longer to make sure that you’re using the proper HTML tags. Don’t just make a span class and use JavaScript to make it act like a button. Let’s use a button tag and those sorts of things can be done. Even if there’s not a lot of budget in your company to go back, decide now as an individual that you’re going to, take the extra, you know, what does it take extra two minutes to maybe make sure you have alt tags on your blog post, right? Whatever it might be. So that at least moving forward, you can meet some baseline to help improve things over time.

And then maybe you can continue to work on selling your boss so that it can be like, hey, we really do need to resolve this issue in the header of our website, which, hey, if we fix it one time, it fixes 555 pages.

[00:42:39] Nathan Wrigley: That’s really nice advice. Nice to end it on a positive note. The idea being that, although there is a mountain of things to consider here, perhaps the best advice is to take one step at a time, achieve the things that which are achievable to you. Go and explore the tools that Amber mentioned and go and explore the communities and documentation that was mentioned and begin the journey.

You don’t have to reach the pinnacle necessarily tomorrow, but taking the first few steps is probably a step in the right direction. Amber Hinds, thank you for talking to us.

[00:43:15] Amber Hinds: Thank you for having me.


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