WPCampus is Pursuing an Independent Accessibility Audit of Gutenberg

WPCampus is looking to hire a company to perform an accessibility audit of the Gutenberg editor. The organization is a community of more than 800 web professionals, educators, and others who work with WordPress in higher education. WPCampus director Rachel Cherry published a request for proposals detailing the organization’s specific concerns:

Our organization is sensitive to the legal requirements set by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. The recent 508 refresh brought these requirements in line with WCAG 2.0 level AA, an industry standard that helps ensure accessibility. WCAG 2.0 is also commonly used as a baseline for policies governing many WPCampus participants outside the United States, with the European Union already moving to WCAG 2.1.

The audit is aimed at determining potential legal risk for institutions upgrading to WordPress 5.0 and will also identify specific challenges that Gutenberg introduces for assistive technology users and others with accessibility needs.

WPCampus is funding the audit and is not soliciting contributions from the community at this time. However, Pagely has offered to donate $1,000 to the organization in order to offset the costs of the audit.

“Contributions wise, at this point, we’d love for folks to share to help ensure we receive a wide variety of proposals,” Cherry said. WPCampus will publish the results of the audit to share with the greater WordPress community.

“Beyond our institutions’ legal obligations, colleges and universities worldwide have committed to providing an accessible digital experience to their diverse communities,” Cherry said. “This is consistent with the broader culture of higher education, which values inclusivity and an exchange of ideas free from artificial barriers.

“While the WordPress accessibility coding standards require new code to meet WCAG 2.0 AA, the new editor has not received a full accessibility audit. Lacking such an audit, the overall accessibility of Gutenberg is unclear. This makes it difficult for colleges and universities to determine the best course of action once WordPress 5.0 is released with Gutenberg as the default editor.”

The Accessibility Team is Preparing a Statement on Gutenberg’s Current Level of Accessibility

Accessibility has been one of the most pressing concerns regarding Gutenberg’s readiness for the world. The accessibility team met Monday and established a new weekly meeting time: 15:00 UTC on Fridays. They discussed a communication plan for Gutenberg accessibility feedback, particularly in regards to Matthew MacPherson’s call for accessibility testing on the plugin. User testing was conducted in March but a lot has changed since then. MacPherson has called for another round of tests from the community after Automattic decided to forego his proposed independent audit on Gutenberg.

The discussion became somewhat contentious after Gutenberg phase 2 lead Riad Benguella urged the accessibility team not to make its assessment in comparison to the classic editor but instead look at the larger picture.

“Gutenberg is meant for the whole site editing (even if it’s not at the moment) which means it’s the customizer + editor + menus + widgets at the same time,” Benguella said. “Just compare apples to apples, please, and if you see Gutenberg as an editor, you missed it. For the sake of iteration, it’s being shipped as an editor for now.”

Several members of the accessibility team took issue with statement because Gutenberg will replace the classic editor in WordPress 5.0 (even if users can bring it back with a plugin).

“It is crucial we compare these two experiences, because the one completely replaces the other,” Joe Dolson said. “It doesn’t matter that the new editor aims to do a lot more, it still must accomplish the same tasks effectively.”

Amanda Rush, a blind WordPress user and accessibility specialist, concurred with Dolson’s assessment.

“As someone trying to use Gutenberg as it currently stands with a screen reader, I promise you that future goals for the project are the absolute furthest thing away from my brain at the time,” Rush said.

“Let’s put it this way. Imagine that you are someone who must use assistive technology, or is otherwise reliant on something to do with Accessibility, and you have Gutenberg in front of you and you are trying to accomplish a task. Right now, the only task you can accomplish is writing or editing a post. So, as you are becoming more and more frustrated with the state of things, and trying to get your work done at the same time, imagine what it would be like if someone walked up to you in the middle of this frustrating experience and said well, if you’re calling as an editor you’ve missed it. Because this is going to be so much more than that. That is completely useless, doesn’t have any bearing on what you were trying to accomplish at the time, and promises, whether fairly or not, just more frustration down the road.”

Beta 1 has arrived before the next round of accessibility testing has been completed, and Gutenberg has only recently arrived at UI freeze within the last week. The accessibility team is collaborating on a detailed article with a general and professional statement on the level of overall accessibility in Gutenberg. They plan to publish the statement on Friday.

In the meantime, WPCampus has taken it upon themselves to spearhead an independent audit to determine if Gutenberg is in compliance with the industry standard WCAG 2.0 level AA, a standard which the accessibility team adopted as a requirement for all new or updated code released in WordPress. WPCampus’ submission deadline for proposals is November 7, and the organization will select a vendor by November 30. The goal is to release the audit no later than January 17, 2019.

The timeline WPCampus has identified would not deliver results in time to meaningfully impact WordPress 5.0’s release date. As Gutenberg has already been merged into core, it seems neither the accessibility team’s assessment nor an independent third-party audit would be considered a factor in delaying the release.

“The goal with the timeline is to allow adequate time to do it right,” Cherry said.

The WordPress community has responded positively to this independent effort to get more information on Gutenberg’s accessibility issues.

“I’m excited for this process as an example of how the community can tackle large tasks like this in creative ways,” Jeremy Felt said in response to WPCampus’ taking the initiative to get an audit. “It also has an opportunity to provide great insight and instruction on the accessibility of a complex React application with many interacting pieces.”

Accessibility is part of WordPress’ stated mission: “WordPress is software designed for everyone, emphasizing accessibility, performance, security, and ease of use.” The accessibility pages on the project’s website advertise WordPress as committed to ensuring all new and updated code conforms with WordPress Accessibility Coding Standards. Many in the community have expressed concern that if WordPress 5.0 ships a critically inaccessible new editor, it will be violating both its stated mission and its standards.

A great deal of friction has surrounded Gutenberg’s journey towards becoming an accessible tool for millions of users. The struggle has highlighted areas where the WordPress project can improve its collaboration across teams. It has inspired many to share their personal stories and some have even pledged to ramp up their accessibility contributions.

Many contributors were disappointed after Automattic decided to forego the independent accessibility audit on Gutenberg, given the company’s strong messaging about their passion for inclusive design. However, one positive outcome is that the company is now looking to hire a product designer who specializes in accessibility.

Rian Rietveld’s resignation from the accessibility team was a great loss for the project but it served as a catalyst to bring more visibility to the efforts of WordPress’ accessibility contributors. WPCampus’ initiative to get an accessibility audit for Gutenberg is one example of how the community is rallying around the accessibility team and working to help make the new editor a success for all users, including those with accessibility needs.

2 Comments


  1. As someone who objects to being forced to use Gutenberg in WordPress, I don’t see the need to require all to use it in this authoritarian way.

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