The festival of WordPress
January 22, 2021

This is an archive of the January 2021 event

Case Study: Make WordPress Accessible for Everyone

Each fall, Austin-based Knowbility holds a competition for teams from around the world and tasks them with building an inclusive WordPress website for a non-profit that is usable by everyone. In this panel discussion, join Team Accessipuu members for a case study as they discuss the goals, the processes, design/development build from start to finish, how we made decisions on themes, plugins, and more with an eye on accessibility. Through lively discussion, we’ll highlight challenges to help you manage your next project and the rewards of giving back.

Time: 8:00pm UTC
Region: Americas
Stage: Global Stage

As I approached the two of them in the parking lot,  

they were really animated. They were empowered. 

They were impassioned about the task at hand.  

They wanted to do something about what they’d just heard about inside. 

TODAY [gesturing, pointing]. RIGHT NOW.

And they were so energetic about these feelings  

that no matter what the cost, they needed

to get involved TODAY. Not just people  

locally or people all across the country. But people 

from all around the world knew about THIS issue.  

And knew that something had to be done. NOW.

As the speaker from inside joined our  

group, we all came to the conclusion that 

what we would do next to support the cause

was way too important to ignore. Now, you may be 

wondering, “what the heck does this have to do  

with WordPress?” I’m not here for a social-justice 

lecture. I’m not here to talk politics. What I’ve  

just described can be applied to the [COVID] Stay-at-Home 

orders that, not just our country, but our entire  

planet has had to go through over the past 10 

months. That sense of anger, isolation, despair,  

hopelessness — we’ve run the gamut of emotions in 

trying to cope with the Coronavirus. But imagine

someone with a disability… They’ve had to deal with 

that those same set of emotions for their entire  

lives. When it comes to using a website to do even 

the basic of tasks — order groceries, get services,

navigate a website, basically just to get some 

information. I often get a chuckle out of those  

folks that I’ve heard over the past 10 months 

talk about how their civil liberties have been  

trampled on because they’re being asked to be 

safe and keep their distance from other people.

Imagine the barriers that we put up as 

developers as designers of WordPress sites…  

how people with disabilities and how helpless they 

may feel when we just totally ignore their needs.

I want to start with this. I always start with 

something positive. Something that’s going  

to set the tone for the rest of this presentation. “Small acts when multiplied by millions of people  

can transform the world.” I’m going to 

change a couple of words in this statement…  

“Small acts when multiplied by millions of accessible websites  

can transform the world.” Now you may wonder, 

why millions? Why accessible websites?  

Well, WebAim does a report each year. I think 

they’ve done it for the past couple of years  

and it’s really disheartening. They surveyed 

over one million of the top websites

and they found that 98.1% failed the basic 

accessibility tasks that they set forth when  

they were tested. Now, what’s even more disheartening 

is that that number is up from the year before.  

progressively worse! But this isn’t going to be  

a lecture. Like I mentioned at the top, I’m not 

going to preach at you about why you should do it.  

I’m going to talk to you about a success story. 

A success story that involved myself and a few  

of the people that were in that parking lot back 

in the spring and something that we did as a team.

And something that we accomplished that was truly great.

I’m gonna share a case study on how we made

“WordPress Accessible for Everybody.”   

But first, let me tell you a little about myself. My name is Joe Simpson Jr.  

I’m a SiteGround Ambassador. I’ve been involved in 

WordPress since 2010. I was the Lead Organizer for  

WordCamp Santa Clarita. It happens each spring. 

And I lead two WordPress Meetups in our area.  

I work for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority  

and our mission is to get folks out of their cars and onto public transit.  

This past year has been incredibly difficult and 

challenging, but our mission is valiant nonetheless.

You can contact me here — joesimpsonjr — at any of these

social media platforms. Email joesimpsonjr@gmail.com 

Yahoo, etc. I’ll also share my slides at this URL.

Don’t feel like you have to write it  

down right away it’ll be at the end of the 

presentation as well. So sit back, relax, pull  

up a chair, and let’s get started. I generally do 

my accessibility presentations starting with a  

scary image like Nosferatu, and I then follow 

with a big slide that talks about the number  

of lawsuits that companies have experienced over the last few

years, and how it’s been skyrocketing [gesturing upwards]

or I’ll bring in all of the famous brands that 

we all know in all sectors — food, banking, education,  

entertainment. They’ve all been dinged because 

they’ve created websites that weren’t accessible  

to everyone, I use these to sort of hammer home 

the point you need to be accessible. You need to  

think accessible. You need to develop accessible. 

You need a design accessible. But that’s not what  

I’m going to do today. I’m going to talk to you 

about six people that came together with a mentor  

and participated in a competition to 

build a site for a non-profit organization.  

And making sure that that site was accessible 

as part of the competition criteria. There  

are a number of things that we accomplished 

that I thought I’d share and hopefully you can  

take some of that away and take it back to what 

you’re going to do in 2021. So let’s get started…

[Sumner M Davenport] “So what I what I had wanted, and what

I feel that I did get was I wanted a diverse group on the team  

that could utilize the strengths of each person. But also find

something that each person would be challenged with.

[Jennifer H.] I, as a business owner, or a web 

designer might be excluding people that just like  

that really opened my eyes to that experience.

[Alicia St. Rose] It’s not a light task to make a site accessible,  

but it’s not difficult. So, just do the work, you 

know what I’m saying?!?! There’s no shortcut to it…  

[Ron Amick] I was amazed by everyone on this team. 

I’m amazed you know… For not working together, that  

we worked just like like we’d been working all our lives together.

[Joe] The people that were present  

in the parking lot that day decided to create a 

Meetup to focus on Accessibility and WordPress.

We were so excited about making a difference in 

accessibility that we decided to do some crazy  

things last summer! We were so excited 

about doing something with accessibility and  

making a difference in WordPress that 

that summer we did some crazy things.

We started a Meetup that was focused 

on WordPress and Accessibility; we did a  

joint Meetup with three Meetups in the North Valleys

[of LA County] focusing on WordPress Accessibility  

as a lead up to WordPress Accessibility Day.

We wanted to highlight that event; 

I volunteered for WordPress Accessibility Day; our leader Sumner, the  

person that we heard speak back in the spring.

She suggested we get in this competition. Knowbility  

is an Austin-based group [Texas] that puts on the 

Accessibility Internet Rally each fall. This year  

it wasn’t going to be an in-person event because 

of COVID. They decided to expand it to a virtual  

event and up to 30, I believe 35 teams participated. 

From all over the world and the unique thing about  

this competition is that it’s it raises awareness.

Not just for designers, developers, but for clients  

providing some training, some onboarding. They 

also provided a mentor that we worked with [teams]

to make sure that we were on project and on task 

in terms of building the most accessible site.   

That’s what’s incredible about this program.

[Sumner M Davenport] I saw her click in and attach herself to the project. 

When we had that first team phone call and 

in that way she was able to see the people  

that were there to support her. It wasn’t just me 

and these people she didn’t get to know but only  

heard by name and didn’t know what was going

  1. So I think she really benefited from that.  

And every other team meeting that we had 

that brought her up to speed on what was going on  

in-between time is when I would talk to her about 

specifics that I needed. And since it was only her  

and I, it was easy to stay on focus with whatever 

that one item or that one topic was. And with each  

one the opportunity was to explain why this is 

important and to me that’s accessibility when  

we talk to our clients about that is, this is 

what we’re going to do, this is how it benefits  

your website and this is how it benefits your 

users which include people with disabilities.  

And that’s the way I had each conversation with 

her so that it inspired her to want to get  

involved and to want to supply the information 

and give us the best that she had. Because  

there were a couple times that she changed the 

content that she provided us or she changed  

some of her products because she saw better. She 

saw something that was a better representation of  

her and the inclusiveness that we were offering 

her. So I really think it was the teamwork of  

all the team — listening to her, responding to her, 

and then she saw the progress of what we were  

doing for her. So it was it was the collective of 

the team that made the difference with the client.  

[Joe] She was a dream client. She was there. She was 

always available for our meetings. She was  

producing content. Providing images. Providing 

backstory. Providing guidance. She was really  

focused on what she wanted. [And] she knew what she 

wanted — she wanted a site where she could possibly  

sell; she wanted a site that protected her artwork; 

she was really concerned about her art being sold  

overseas. You know, someone right-clicking 

and downloading her artwork and selling it.  

So that needed to be incorporated into it. She 

wanted to provide a resource for people to connect  

with her. She already had a presence on

YouTube but she wasn’t tech-savvy at all. 

So, we had to build a solution that would be easy 

for her to use and the great thing about WordPress  

was that there are a lot of tools that are already 

developed that we could put in place and do a  

lot of these things. So we can really focus on 

solving the client’s requirements. But also  

meeting the contest requirements, and again, that’s 

the balancing act for this competition. You had  

to work with your client to meet their needs 

but you also had to meet the judging criteria  

for accessibility. So, that’s always a difficult 

balancing act but it was an incredible experience.  

My role was to do Design and UX so I started out 

with wireframes. The competition identified  

a number of pages as a minimum that you 

needed to do, but we worked with the client  

based on her feedback on what she wanted to build 

our site for her and we came up with those topics  

we started on wireframes for the menu we worked 

out how the content would flow. How the pages would  

sort of lay out from an overall standpoint and 

did some basic user testing in terms of discussing  

amongst the team what worked what didn’t what

we felt would be required while also my job was to  

guide the team in terms of picking a theme. 

As you know, WordPress has a filter on both  

[WordPress] dot.com and [WordPress] dot.org repositories for

accessibility-ready themes and I always, when people approach me  

at WordPress events, WordCamps meetups — they 

always ask, “what do you think about this theme?”  

or “this premium theme site?” I always say, “start 

with the WordPress repository,” because you’re at  

least starting with something that’s accessible. 

And then once you build, make sure you test, test,  

test. At least you’ll be on the road with a base or 

a foundation for doing something accessible. So,  

one of our first decisions was on a theme. The 

next thing that I needed to do was focus on color.  

I did some color checks with the [WebAim] Color

Contrast Analyzer. In terms of the design itself, in terms  

of user flow, I looked at some compare comparative 

sites. I wanted to look at art sites, museums,   

individual artists — how they represented themselves. 

But also I wanted to look at some non-art sites  

in terms of what things worked in terms 

of displaying images, purchasing poster  

sites, and things of that nature. You can make a 

decision there. What you see here are a few slides  

from some of the museums that we took a look at 

in terms of tools. The next thing that I had to  

investigate was, “how do we solve some of our 

challenges that have been put forth in terms of  

specs for the contest?” For example, for extra 

credit we if we presented an audio and a video  

instance on the site how would we do that 

in WordPress? There’s a plugin called Able  

Player which is a great accessible player that we 

found during this competition. We used Joe Dolson’s  

WP Accessibility for some things on the site. 

We used his Contact Form 7 Accessible forms.  

[So] We did a number of things that allowed us to 

build accessibility into the site and test it.  

As we went on we were able to mitigate a lot of 

those things; as we went along we had a couple of  

members on the team that were expert[-level] at that, so 

once we identified a problem we worked through it.  

That was an incredible part of this process. 

Another great thing about this project was how  

we would manage it. Part of 2020 — like most folks —

COVID[-19] totally rearranged everything for most of us.  

A lot of us, like myself, commuted in to work. 

Each day, I work in Downtown Los Angeles, which  

is about a 45-minute train ride. I catch a commuter 

train in — pop up my laptop on the 45-minute ride in,  

[and] walk to the office from the train station. 

I had been doing that for over 25 years…  

[But] this year we were all forced to Stay-at- 

home and work so I became a distributed worker.  

In 2020 I became a distributed worker —

I became a distributed worker in 2020  

One of the upsides — one of the very, very, 

very few upsides to this shitty pandemic  

was that it allowed me to become a distributed 

worker. And this project specifically for Knowbility  

allowed me to work with a very talented 

group of five other individuals  

to accomplish a goal. We had a set goal, we 

had rules to follow to get to that goal,  

and we had a client that we had to satisfy. 

So to me, that was a big benefit or the big  

carrot at the end of the stick for me. 

[Was] working in a distributed format with other  

professionals and help. But the big challenge 

would be how would we manage this project.

A  number of us were very, very familiar with Slack. 

Being an organizer for a WordCamp, my teams have  

always been in Slack and it’s been a primary 

mode of communication in the office [at Metro] currently.  

I was very familiar with it. Our team for the 

Knowbility competition was familiar with it so  

we did all of our personal day-to-day work 

on accessibility and communicating between team  

members, bonding, and growing the team inside 

of Slack. But Knowbility provided Basecamp as a tool  

for all of the teams to use. And we used that for 

all the business stuff. So all the communications  

with the client all the communication with the 

mentor I was sort of the lead on communicating  

our questions about our designs [with our mentor].

And in terms of accessibility and our development in terms  

of development in terms of accessibility

with our mentor in India. Slack was used  

for one thing and BaseCamp was used for all

the business stuff. One thing that I loved about  

BaseCamp was when I would ping Sandeep it 

would tell me the time of day it was for him.  

I think they were 14 hours ahead or such a 

big difference in time it was great to know that  

when I needed to send a question I wasn’t sending 

it to him in the middle of the night at three  

o’clock in the morning. That was a couple 

of things that I thought was very interesting — was  

being able to work in a remote fashion 

on a distributed fashion with a team of  

professionals and managing the project with the 

project management tools that we had. So I thought,  

“I’d love to share that with you folks here today 

at WordFest” as a possible benefit in  

the remote environment. Making sure you use the 

proper project management tool or to communicate  

with your team and your clients and manage 

things. So, that was a great part of  

this project as well. [Jennifer H] Speaking, and then I 

was talking to somebody else. And we were  

all like riled up! We’re all like, “we have 

to, we have to really like focus on this.” Take  

a real deep training and to really [gain] this empathy, 

this experience of empathy into our design. And  

it can’t happen overnight. [Ron Amick]

This accessibility that we’re trying to achieve they  

are unsung and they are unknown and luckily

they’re making themselves more known.

From a business standpoint alone it’s worth addressing

all of their needs. [Sumner M Davenport] Well I agree Ron,  

and I think that when Alicia mentions that course

[https://www.edx.org] that’s why I always mention people go  

take this course. It’s free. They’re going 

to be updating it soon to add the new  

WCAG [guidelines] that are not included in the current 

one, but what it gives you is a user perspective —  

not a technical perspective — because people 

don’t connect with the technical portion of it.  

They connect [examples] when they see a video of a

user and that user explains why this is important and  

I think that if more people saw the accessibility 

to their website from the perspective of a user  

there would be a better grasp, a better 

understanding, and a better acceptance of it.  

Instead of looking at a website like code, 

images, pages, layouts, and whatnot —  

think of it from the user perspective and then 

when you’re testing a website for a client or  

potential client to be able to tell them like  we

did with our client here. This is what your site  

is; this is why this part is important; this is what 

the user experiences; and this is how it includes  

persons with accessibility. So it’s a journey of 

the user, not a journey of, “Oh, isn’t that pretty  

or isn’t that nice code.” It’s the user 

experience and it makes a world of difference.  

[Alicia St. Rose] But my challenge is to make it

pretty and to to keep that because there’s this  

false belief that if it’s accessible it’s gonna look

like it’s a Windows PC. I’m like, “no, it doesn’t  

have to.” It can look really gorgeous and 

that’s why I got in this web thing in the first  

place. Because all the web looked like that when I started

[laughing] and the people made some beautiful things.  

And then they kind of got off-track and now we’re gonna

get you back [on-track]. But you can do it. It’s possible.

[Sumner] And that’s the site that we created for this client.

I think is a beautiful site. [others agree] Yeah. Yeah…  

It’s just color. It has a very fabulous layout. It is

visually appealing, as well user-friendly. So, a  

perfect example when somebody says, “oh it has to be 

ugly.” No, it doesn’t have to be ugly. [Joe] Yes, I mean… I  

think that goes again… We had such a balanced 

team of strong individuals that came together.  

I mean… To me, I think our country can learn

from people working together like that   

[others voices excitedly speaking at once]. You

don’t have to be exactly alike work together.   

[Sumner] Every website that we work on, we’re working 

on different components. We don’t use everything  

that’s available for a website on every website.

So [on] this particular site watching Ron build  

that table, and then having to take out the grid 

lines, and still have it be appealing visually.  

I loved watching him do that but for me also even

though I refer to the WCAG success criterion  

regularly, sometimes I have to stop and reread 

because I need to be able to explain it. I think  

I understand it. I think I understand how I’m 

applying it, and all that is good. But then I have  

someone like Jennifer says, “okay I don’t get it. 

Can you explain it any other way?” And so I got to  

learn how to look at something. I thought I totally 

understood. But obviously, I didn’t understand well  

enough to be able to explain it for someone 

else to understand. So in some cases, it gave  

me the opportunity to relook or look at it from a 

different way or find a different example to go oh  

and and plus we also heard that from our mentor 

there were times he went back to the weekend to  

make sure he understood what he was telling us 

so the weak egg although the guidelines are there  

we don’t follow them like we have no flexibility 

we use them to assist us to make the site better  

sometimes we have to go you know what i haven’t 

done a table before or i haven’t done a grid  

before or are my links correct and we need to 

go back and refresh on that particular one so  

that’s what i got to do i got to revisit my own 

knowledge my own experience and i got to learn new  

ways of explaining things so then i got to learn a 

different way as well awesome yeah i mean i think  

and especially you could see this in the 

wordpress community with the learn.wordpress  

initiative right now having these 

environments where people can teach  

and learn from other people is going to 

be really critical in the virtual space  

and to me having the ability to do that 

accessibility and have two experts on the  

team like super admin super expert level folks 

that was incredible for me jennifer what about you  

yeah i have to say it was like you know because 

we had colleen and sumner as like the two titans  

of like you know people who have been working as 

specialists in the field of accessibility and it’s  

like it was like this brilliance coming out like 

they were clear and how they were talking and they  

would engage and talk about the same problem and 

then it’s like this like you know creative problem  

solving too because we also had our client needs 

to consider and so then in terms of like being you  

know bringing um the brilliance involved with like 

like you know with alicia and with joe from design  

and dev and to to find creative problems that was 

like incredible to watch and as a beginner it was  

like i feel like there was a constant learning 

curve at some point it was like don’t get in the  

way because they’re just like doing their thing 

but it was like you know um the forms like basic  

things with contact forms but it’s also to see it 

in action like we’re talking about it in theory  

like i know contact forms you know or forms are 

a consideration i did not know search boxes were  

a type of form you know that’s something i learned 

but um but just like in in action like to see it  

like on a live process and all the considerations 

that have to go into it i just like have so much  

respect and admiration for you know those who 

have been able to balance all these needs and  

yet create you know beautiful and effective sites 

right i thought it brought together six unique  

people with all different skill sets and a lot of 

us um it was probably our first time working on  

in in a in a big group on with so many 

you know high high highly skilled people  

for a common goal and i think the goal sort of 

overrode everything and it was to for me it was  

incredibly rewarding i was like that was one of 

the best things i did last year so i just wanted  

to share that and hopefully other people that 

attend WordFest and hear about the  

story will be encouraged to do more accessibility. 

So that was sort of the purpose of getting  

everybody together, sort of reminiscing on that 

five-week period that’s probably a blur now.

[SILENCE]

So, I hope you enjoyed my my presentation and 

keep in mind that at the time of the recording  

we don’t know how we did in the competition. 

But tonight is the award ceremony so we’re  

we’re hoping for success. And if you talk 

to Alicia, one of the developers on our team,  

she said from day one that we were gonna win

  1. So we all had a sense of giving back,  

wanting to work together, wanting to contribute in 

the accessibility arena. But we all really, really,  

really wanted to win too as competitors, So 

we’ll find out. And I’ll leave you with this…

drum roll please [uses fingers to drum

on the desktop] and the winner is…

My name is Joe Simpson. You can contact me 

here on any of these social media platforms.  

You can find out about our next WordPress 

Meetup and we’d love to have you virtually  

at wordpressscv on any of these platforms. Or 

find out about what we’re doing with Elementor  

and WordPress at these, and finally thanks 

to the Big Orange Heart Organizing team — Dan,  

Michelle, Cate, Hauwa, and all the 

volunteers who made this event possible.  

Distributed workers and those that work remotely 

are the lifeblood of WordPress and our mental and  

physical well-being is an important cause 

indeed. Thanks again for making this event  

possible have a great weekend and enjoy the 

rest of your event. Take care everyone!

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