The a11y Monthly: Thoughts after WordCamp US

Big meetings like WordCamp US are always a good opportunity to get a feel for what has been accomplished during the year. It helps to get an idea of where we’re at with general trends in the WordPress community. At WordCamp US this year I’ve seen people from all over the world sharing ideas, having interesting conversations, and building a positive, vibrant atmosphere. It makes me happy to be part of this special community. In this post, I’d like to talk about a few things I’m bringing with me after WordCamp US.

Coding is about people

As developers, sometimes we work in isolation. Focused on our job, with our minds exploring hundreds of lines of code, we sometimes forget why we’re coding.

Of course, we’re professionals and coding is our job. However, all our highly abstracted object-oriented programming, all our sophisticated coding best practices, they’re nothing without communication and without empowering everyone to communicate.

The web is a communication tool, whether you need access to information, or you’re producing information, or you’re communicating with someone else. Taking part in such a big event like WordCamp US made clear in my mind, once again, that the real nature of our job is giving people the tools they need to communicate. Coding should be the last step of a process that empowers people to meet each other, share, and communicate.

Accessibility plays a big role in this, as it aims to provide these communication tools to everyone. Looking back at the accessibility progress in WordPress since I’ve started contributing more than three years ago, I feel the most important achievement is not about the technical progress we’ve made so far. WordPress is now more accessible than three years ago, but there’s still a lot of work to do. However, what makes me moderately confident things will keep improving, is that accessibility is now perceived as an indispensable feature in the WordPress community.

The WordPress community aims to prioritize inclusivity and diversity by creating a welcoming atmosphere for everyone. All of our coding should aim at the same goal. I’m happy to see in this community a raising awareness about making the web accessible and usable to everyone. During the Gutenberg demo at the State of the Word, I was particularly happy to see spontaneous applause from the audience for some accessibility features in Gutenberg, like the headings hierarchy and the color contrast check.

To me, this means the whole ecosystem around WordPress wants better accessibility features. It understands their value, and appreciates inclusive design as an indispensable part of an inclusive community. The future looks bright.

Meeting Alex

At the WordCamp US Contributor Day, a few people were sitting at the accessibility table, sharing their enthusiasm in contributing to the project. It was there that I met Alex.

Alex is sixteen years old and he’s passionate about technology and WordPress. He’s blind, and he uses the screen reader NVDA on his laptop. On the web, he navigates using Firefox and NVDA.

It was a real pleasure for me having the opportunity to collaborate with Alex. We’ve had a good conversation about what the main troubles screen reader users have to face when using WordPress and identified a small enhancement for the Widgets screen. We’ve also discussed a possible enhancement for the change password field he submitted on the WordPress trac system a few days before. He also coded a patch for that. When I was sixteen years old, I didn’t know anything about coding. Seeing Alex way ahead of myself at the same age made me feel inadequate!

I have some years of experience in accessibility. In my job, I use different computers and screen readers on a daily basis. Compared to Alex, I’m a beginner though. It was incredible to see at what speed Alex can use his computer and screen reader. He could even master the command line like a pro. Oh dear, these younger people are so ahead of old guys like me. They will soon comfortably outclass and beat all of us!

Jokes apart, it was an excellent lesson for me. It reminded me, once again, that everyone can contribute to WordPress and its community, regardless of his or her different abilities. It also reminded me that real users feedback is invaluable. As professionals, we should sit close to our users and listen carefully to them more often.

Thanks Alex, take care!

Read more: Contributing to WordPress to spread accessiblility culture »

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