WordPress accessibility in a page builder world

Web accessibility was something I was afraid to discuss with clients, when I ran my agency.

I didn’t know much about it, where to begin, or how much time it would it take to implement the various practices. That fear steered me away from presenting it as part of a web design project.

I’m not in the agency space anymore, but I know there’s some of you out there faced with the same dilemma. Lucky for us, folks like Anne Bovelett advocate for both sides of the cause.

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[00:01:00] for years, accessibility was something that was just not in my wheelhouse. I didn’t know how to explain it to customers. I didn’t know how to implement it in web projects. I’ve got quite the education from this very podcast with previous guests, like Rachel Cherry and Amber Teaching me a little bit more about accessibility.

[00:01:19] Today’s guest is Anne Bovill. Colette. And she’s going to talk about. Accessibility. And wait a minute. Ella mentor. I never thought that we could be putting page builders together with accessibility, but boy. Was I wrong and we’re going to learn more about that today. We’re gonna learn more about, uh, her Oscar winning father as well. It’s a fantastic conversation. I hope.

[00:01:39] You really appreciate it. If you do buy me a coffee.com/matt report, support the show for as little as $5 per digital. Copy. Okay. Here’s our interview. With Anne.

[00:01:50] Anne: I’m mainly a WordPress user and I contribute in smaller ways. Translations. I uploaded a photo to the new photo directory was very exciting, but mostly I’m trying to contribute by teaching people about accessibility connected to WordPress plugins, page builders, stuff like that because page builders are not going away and There’s millions of sites out there with page builders.

[00:02:21] So, we can all get very mad at page builders for not creating accessible output, but I think if we make a fist and people learn how to know how to make a fist that can change and then the world is going to be a better place. And last year I had the massive honor of being on the organizing team of ward camp Europe.

[00:02:42] And that was an insane ride. At times it felt.

[00:02:46] Matt: event.

[00:02:46] Anne: it was, but it was wonderful. And especially, you think, I don’t know all of these people, and then you come to Porto, there’s almost 3000 people there. And every third, every fourth person, I [00:03:00] was like, I know you, I know your face. Hey you’re so and so, and it was like, like being on this incredible reunion with friends they’ve never met before.

[00:03:13] Matt: I’m Portuguese, but I’m not from Portugal though. I have many friends who are originally from Portugal. The Portuguese community where I’m at in the us is pretty large. The city I live in is a sister city to one of the Portuguese islands. And it’s funny to see. All of my WordPress peers go to Portugal, love the Portuguese well culture food.

[00:03:35] Of course, the geography and, and the venue and all that stuff. Some folks are moving to Portugal. Like Bob WP, Corey Miller, I know, loves Portugal. It looked like a great place and it, and I think it was one of those things that really brought, I think, word camp Europe really brought back. Well, the vibe that everyone was missing from being in person, because we literally couldn’t be in person for many, for many years.

[00:03:55] So, congrats to, to you and, and the team who put that together.

[00:03:58] Anne: Thank you so much. I I actually compared that event to standing when you’re wa watering the garden, you’re standing on the hose very long, and then you suddenly let go. So the hose was two years of COVID measures and it, it was. Insane. But yeah, it was, it was a fantastic event and I think it brought a lot of people back together.

[00:04:21] Again, some had to get used to being together again. Yeah, it was, it was much, much better than I could have reimagined.

[00:04:29] Matt: Tell me why accessibility is so important to you. I’ve had Amber Hines on the show, Rachel Cherry, before. Other folks who drill deep into focusing on accessible design development, sustainable development, all that stuff, I think for most. And I’m speaking for myself as one who used to run an agency

[00:04:51] so 15 years ago when I heard accessibility, it was like, man, this is just another layer that I know nothing about. So I was afraid of it. That was like in my full transparency, like I was afraid of it because I knew nothing about it. 15 years later, I’m a little bit more versed than it . But why is accessibility important to you and why do, why is that a core focus for you?

[00:05:12] Anne: Well, The first thing that woke me up was a tweet about two years ago. I have it written somewhere on my site where this girl spoke about her blind father and how he was on the phone crying for needing help again with a website. And whereas you begged people make your site accessible. I don’t know why I have seen similar messages like that, but that one just hit me so hard.

[00:05:38] It made me cry. And that’s where I realized I don’t know much about accessibility at all. I knew about out descriptions and do your headings order. All right. But that was it. And then the second realization was, oh my, I am actually part of the target. I have cognitive issues. I have ADHD. I have a [00:06:00] very rare form of dyslexia.

[00:06:01] And I have hyper accuses, so I hate sharp sounds for example. So videos usually go without sound for me. So, and when the captions are crap or missing, I just feel very unwelcome myself, but I never.

[00:06:16] And then I went into that deep Printy print. Suddenly I realized that there are fantastic people. Exactly like Rachel and Amber, and so many of the others who are absolutely excelling at teaching people. How, and one of the things that kind of, addressed my passion at heart was. Let me be the one who teaches people.

[00:06:42] The why in an unorthodox way, because when you’re the designer or you’re the content maker, or you are that accessibility consultant, that technical consultant, you’re always pushed in the corner. It’s a harsh truth, but you are, and I’m trying to be outside of that. So I am free and able to confront people with the importance of accessibility in a way that others maybe cannot do because of the, how do you say that the restrictions in their job, or if it’s out of their, how do you say that?

[00:07:19] Not jurisdiction. That’s legal talk, right?

[00:07:21] Matt: Could be jurisdiction, I guess, for

[00:07:23] Anne: what do you call that? Me? Yeah. If it’s, it’s not their place.

[00:07:26] Matt: right. Yeah. Yeah. Do you think it’s, do you think it’s like me when, when I first started out where I, I steered away from it because. I just knew nothing about it. And I didn’t. I remember my first, one of my first larger projects when I ran my agency was for a local art museum and public funding by the state and all this stuff, the grant we’re doing the website for them.

[00:07:49] They started asking about accessibility, ADA compliance, like all this stuff. And. I literally turned right in the face. Cuz back then I was like, I, I don’t know anything about this. And I felt foolish not knowing about it, not being prepared for it and not even knowing how to explain it.

[00:08:04] Do you think it’s, Hey, no more excuses. We should all know this stuff these days or is that still linger where people don’t even understand how to approach accessibility for a website?

[00:08:12] Anne: Yeah, it’s the latter. First of all, people get overwhelmed. They’re like, ah, I don’t know, all that stuff. I can’t know all that stuff. How am I supposed to learn all that stuff? and this is because accessibility is like one phrase, but it applies to several departments. It applies to design to how content is written, how content is made, the descriptions for, for images, but also in the code.

[00:08:41] But it’s very easy to get. This scary feeling like, oh man, I have to understand everything. And in touch, we have this expression. If I try to translate that freely, we say what the farmer doesn’t know, he won’t eat. Okay. [00:09:00] So this is already difficult in itself. And then you’re talking to companies who know they have.

[00:09:07] Be focused on accessibility in their online projects because the government, forces them to, which is sad enough as it is right. That the government has to force companies to do that. But there you are as a consultant and they’re going to ask you questions about everything and you don’t have to know everything.

[00:09:27] There has to be someone there who explains to. A customer or a, a, an agency that you’re working with that I’m going to tell you, this is what it’s all going to result to. And then going to talk to the design department, I’m going to talk to the coding department, to the content department, to all parties involved.

[00:09:49] Even marketing is involved. Everybody is involved and it needs to be split apart. And if that. Isn’t made clear in the beginning. Accessibility is incredibly scary. And another thing is accessibility is, always a work in progress. It never stops.

[00:10:06] Matt: Yeah. I remember

[00:10:08] Anne: that’s one of the things

[00:10:09] Matt: I remember Amber sort of, I’ve talked about this before, opened up my eyes to, it’s not just, screen readers, color blindness. It’s usability in. In rare, like in, in, I don’t know what the professional term is obviously, but in rare moments. So she used the example of think about having I have three young, young boys.

[00:10:30] I remember my, my oldest now when he was super young, bad sleeper, like one point we thought he was like choking. So we’re trying to call the doctor’s office. and it’s the middle of the night. I’m trying to find the button on. On their website to, to dial in, and to use moments like that, where it’s not just, it’s not just, the screen readers and maybe colorblind and colors and things like that that we maybe think about on the surface, but it’s usability in all aspects for different contexts of using, using the web or using a website.

[00:11:01] So there’s a lot to explore and it is constantly evolving cuz probably your, your website is constantly evolving at the same.

[00:11:09] Anne: that too. And you’re creating new posts. You’re creating new social media. You’re create, you keep creating and, and yeah. And another thing is people, a lot of people in accessibility work, and I’m sure I’m not making friends when I’m saying. But since I got into this on Twitter, on LinkedIn, on there is also a lot of anger and aggression that I read about accessibility.

[00:11:35] I wish that would stop because I understand the frustration. I understand. Even, I forget to add alternative text to an image every now and then when I write on Twitter and post an image, but there is a lot of anger and this is also scaring people, the scaring scaring companies like, oh, [00:12:00] if we have to be accessible, we’re going to be put under a magnifying.

[00:12:04] And the biggest magnifying glass is actually the, the people who work in our field. And I’m not saying everybody is like that. Absolutely not. But I think this needs to be said,

[00:12:14] Matt: this is going in the opposite

[00:12:15] Anne: it’s difficult.

[00:12:16] Matt: not doing it. You’re not doing it right. You don’t care about it. That kind of, that kind of, approach.

[00:12:21] Anne: Yeah, exactly. And I think this is also partially why I took the standpoint. I have a cornerstone piece on my site that says why I seem mainly seem to be on the cold side of accessibility because I use eCommerce as an argument because the sad thing in life is small changes happen through love and big changes happen through greed and capital.

[00:12:45] Matt: Mm

[00:12:46] Anne: and, I don’t, I don’t give a, I’m not gonna say something bad. I don’t care. If if for example accessible output from generally used open source software, for example is going to be made. Going to be done correctly because people start to understand that they are actually missing out on customers, or if it’s done by the goodness of people’s heart, as long as it gets done.

[00:13:14] So. That is where I come from. It gives me opposition sometimes because people say, yeah, yeah, you’re only in it for the commercial stuff and I’m actually not, but for me, the end justifies the means.

[00:13:27] Matt: Let’s take that world of accessibility standards, WordPress, and then layer on Elementor I think for most people they hear that and they go, oh my God. How do you do that? I’m interested to see or hear from you the intersection of accessibility in Elementor. And, and maybe the, the headway you’ve made there with maybe even Elementor have you worked with the team and, and explained to them from an accessibility angle, how they can improve their product?

[00:13:55] I know improving their product is a hot topic these days, but accessibility in Elementor explain that to me. Was that any kind of turbulence there, any kind of feedback with the team that you’ve worked with before?

[00:14:05] Anne: I’m probably one of the most obnoxious fleas in their fur.

[00:14:09] Matt: Please in the fur. I’ve never heard that one, but I.

[00:14:11] Anne: comes. Yeah. It’s, that’s also a literal translation of a Dutch saying, Yeah, they are very much aware. They are like, like so many. And one of the reasons why I chose to focus on elementary is because I love that tool. And there are, I don’t know, 12 million sites by now made with elementary, 12 million.

[00:14:34] That’s, that’s insane. Because it is, it has become one of the go to systems for what, what you call no coders. I think you carry the responsibility to output accessible code. At least you can’t be responsible for people using the wrong color contrast or, or tiny fonts or. but at least let the code be accessible. And so we’re [00:15:00] continuously in a dialogue about things, where I, where I talk to them.

[00:15:04] I’m part of the moderation team and the global Facebook community. It’s it’s a very lovely community. I have to say that, And there’s also coming a lot of feedback from there. And I try to channel that towards elementary and the development team. It’s not always easy, but on the other hand, they too have to deal with an incredible technical debt.

[00:15:25] And when I look at other page builders and elementary you can actually do pretty well with elementary. My website was built with elementary and There will always be issues in any kind of, of software. But I think, I’ve been able to create unaccessible website with elementary for my website.

[00:15:48] I could have taken the easy road and just created my own flat, really safe design and my own code and everything. But no, I wanted to prove that you actually. And so that’s why I’m sticking to them. And of course I use other page builders, but I just love this one because it enables other people to create.

[00:16:10] Nice websites for themselves. The one thing I would see to love in elementary, but that goes for almost every plugin in bigger plugging in WordPress is I wish the backend were accessible. I wish I could hand elementary over to friends of mine who have a much worse vision than I do. And mine’s not fantastic.

[00:16:30] I can tell you that. And who can. Work with that and who can keyboard navigate that? It’s something I dream of and I’m sure it’s going to happen. I hope the same thing is going to happen to other page builders. And I hope that Gutenberg is going to do a good job in that regard. And yeah, girl can dream.

[00:16:50] Right.

[00:16:50] Matt: Yes, we could, we can all dream. I remember when Gutenberg was alpha, alpha phase beta phase, when it was coming, we all kind of knew it was coming. There was quite an a stance on. On focusing on accessibility before it launched. Now, I don’t know if it’s worth rehashing that debate, but I’m curious, has it gotten better from, from your view these days speaking strictly WordPress core Gutenberg?

[00:17:18] Has it gotten better? I, I don’t follow it closely, so I’m just curious if you’ve seen an improvement since, Ugh, what was that? Four or five years ago at this

[00:17:26] Anne: I haven’t, I haven’t fall out that either, because that was one of the mistakes I made in the beginning. I was focusing here and there and everywhere. So. I was walking around like an exploded Guinea pig, dressing and trying everything.

[00:17:40] Matt: So I wanna talk about the size, the sheer size of Elementor and, and this is something I’ve never understood a tool that is quite affordable. If you’re an agency or maybe even a freelancer doing WordPress building as a side gig, ah, man, it, it comes under a lot of pressure and maybe [00:18:00] some of it is valid.

[00:18:02] Let’s say accessibility, let’s say major feature enhancements. , I don’t know. I see on Twitter, people complaining about global styles or the lack thereof. Look how hard it is to develop WordPress. And now you have this tool that’s layered on top in my head.

[00:18:18] The challenge is double . Everybody calm down. You’re I think for most of us you’re making a living using this tool. Is that fair or, I’m not in Elementor I’m not building and selling websites anymore. Like, should everybody relax on Elementor a little bit. I can’t see you, but I can imagine the look on your face.

[00:18:36] Anne: Yeah. Yeah, of course. This is a hot topic. Very hot topic. So I’m just gonna share my, my personal point of view. I do not work for elementary. I’m a volunteer within a lovely team of moderators and online meetup leaders and stuff. I think they have to deal with an incredible sickening amount of backwards compatibility.

[00:19:00] How do you say that? Not problems, issues? I mean it’s and of course it’s very easy for other page builders. I think this is coming up because other page builders who do not have this incredible technical debt from five or six years of coding they can easily develop a lightweight system that does something similar.

[00:19:23] , but I think for the fact that they are running on literary, I don’t know between, I think it’s between 12 and 13 million sites. I’m not sure I don’t have the exact numbers. I know it’s way more than 10 million websites. The fact that they manage to still make progress without breaking millions of websites.

[00:19:43] Admirable. And I know there’s a lot of anger from the community because they’re very community driven, it’s, it’s, it is, it’s one of the words they taken their mouths a lot. And the community is now, going into riots over updates, for example, that don’t work well. Interesting enough is that, My sites, rarely break on updates, but I don’t use a lot of third party add-ons and I think this is where a lot of pain is.

[00:20:13] For users, they use third party add-ons and it’s like, we used to have this commercial for DHL, the, the

[00:20:20] Matt: Delivery

[00:20:21] Anne: transportation company delivery service, they had this commercial where they said we will do what you promise.

[00:20:26] Matt: said, said everyone, but no one delivered, but yeah.

[00:20:29] Anne: Exactly. And, and it’s, it’s like, it’s like being Microsoft, Microsoft had the same problem for years, where they had to preserve backwards compatibility at, for software. They didn’t write, know, from other, so the same things is same thing as with the add-ons and there is, I’m, I’m I’m a bit torn sometimes because I am very fond of the people within this company.

[00:20:54] And sometimes people forget, we’re all human, we’re all human. And we all try our [00:21:00] best. And sometimes good people do stupid things and sometimes bad people do good things.

[00:21:06] Matt: It’s a, there’s a balance.

[00:21:08] Anne: so. Yeah. And, and. I get it, as an agency on, on one hand, I just want to provide the tool that’s best for my customer.

[00:21:17] And sometimes my customer is I, I, I give training in elementary in WordPress. Sometimes my customer is this really happy marketing agency who are so happy that they do not have to hire. I don’t know what kind of people to create. Very simple one pagers elementary enables them to do that really. So for them, it’s absolutely great.

[00:21:39] And of course the developer part of the community is less happy because we know how much dynamic capabilities WordPress has. And we want that to use those capabilities within elementary. And right now, for many of those, we depend on third party add-ons and this, this is where the party begins, right?

[00:22:00] When the third party add-ons do not update their. And, and in spite of people within elementary are telling them, Hey guys, check it out. We’re going into beta. We’re going into beta, go check, go check, go check. Something goes wrong. And none of the, none of the how do you say that? Configurations are the same. It’s difficult. So, yeah, I think the far right now is. 3.7 update, blowing up in some people’s faces and that’s hard.

[00:22:34] Matt: Yeah.

[00:22:35] Anne: That’s difficult. And I’m, I feel really sorry that this is happening and I get the frustration and, and it comes on top of people wanting, all kinds of dynamic stuff. This just, I just wish elementary was a bit more talkative to the audience.

[00:22:51] Matt: Well, we hear that too. We hear that too, with, with WordPress core and with, with Matt Mullenweg. And there’s like this communication level that I think we all desire and that we’re all very much hoping for in, in an open source. Movement, we, we, we kind of expect it. We, the ones who like really love WordPress, we’re not just, the, the pizza shop owner.

[00:23:12] They’re just like, I don’t care. Just gimme my website, but the ones that who are really involved in this, like, we kind of expect open source if, whether it’s coming from Elementor or WordPress core, or heck wordpress.com jet pack, anyone who touches it, go daddy, anyone really we expect this open communication.

[00:23:28] And I think that. I guess it’s challenging for, for these businesses and these commercial brands, to do that, whether it’s a, a resources thing or they don’t know what to say. I, I, I’m not quite sure where they feel they don’t need to. I, I don’t really know, but I, I think it’s impacting a lot of us.

[00:23:45] Anne: Yeah. That’s you know, that is the, the big game, this is, but this is an issue I see in general, not just in WordPress, but everywhere around us. There is a lot of assumption based communication. and that always leads to trouble. And, and I [00:24:00] want to emphasize to everybody listening. I understand you’re pissed off.

[00:24:05] I get very pissed off myself. Of course I have customer projects that blow up, but I also have had customer projects blow up when I was still using divvy or I. Other other stuff, I, I used to use these super duper cruise ships size templates, like unfold, where I only needed a row robot,

[00:24:24] Matt: Right.

[00:24:25] Anne: but I just used fold.

[00:24:27] So I knew my customer could create a new page. Everything, every one of these has an upside and a downside, and I actually believe. Because as a company, they are so visible, they catch a lot of wind. That’s why, and I just, I just really, I want everybody to remember, no matter who you criticize on the web, anyone that provides you with a tool, a free tool, a paid tool, it doesn’t matter.

[00:24:57] These are people they’re all doing the best they can. They work very hard and, and sometimes people get so personal in these things and it’s just business. If my car is broken, I can be really mad at, at how do you say the manufacturer, but I’m not taking it out on the garage.

[00:25:19] Yeah, it’s it’s, it’s like, it’s remember that it’s the same thing. It, I feel that the past two years with all the tension that we’ve been under, people are so vocal and so aggressive. It’s like we need a valve. People are looking for a valve to let out air and apparently getting. About page builders or, or about WordPress or about whatever is one of those valves really?

[00:25:45] Matt: Before we let you go. I want to know about your parents and about how you get into this. It, it, it possibly your parents influenced you into this space maybe, or maybe not, but tell me the, tell me the, the fun story we started to chat about before we hit record.

[00:26:05] Anne: Ah, yeah. I come from this very very multi-layered collared family of artists, musicians, a couple of nutty professors. I always say, I think also wrote this in my biography. Nobody knows where the commercial genes come from. Although I kind of suspect my grandmother. But as, as artists, my parents never told me.

[00:26:29] When I wanted to do something, oh, be careful, honey, you might run into this or you might run into that all my life. They said to me, oh, great. You wanna do that? Have you figured out yet what you need to do to achieve it? And so. I don’t see bears on the road. That is again, another Dutch expression, when, when you come up with an idea and someone else says, yeah, but this problem can arise and that problem can arise.

[00:26:55] It’s for me, it’s never about why you shouldn’t do something, but it’s about what you [00:27:00] need to do something to get something done. And for example, my brother and I, we wanted. create a big painting. So my mother just made this wooden frame and put a bat sheet on it and she had a DIAP projector. You call it DIAP projector?

[00:27:14] I forgot what they’re called, in the seventies and the eighties, you had these pictures in this machine and then, and then it would light the image on the wall.

[00:27:23] Matt: yes. I remember that in my classrooms.

[00:27:24] Anne: Yeah. I don’t know what they’re called in English. Anyway, but most people would know, and then she would project Mickey mouse or Donald doc or whatever. And my father was also working with a lot of guys from Disney. He was very old. He was from 1921. And so things were always possible. And I think that’s what I got from growing up in this family, making music, making art.

[00:27:48] Go out there and do your thing and find the tools that enable you to be as creative as you wanna be. And I think this is one of the things why I am so, enthusiastic about page builders, for example, because, Hey, I know they can create a lot of bloat, but that’s like playing with a Swiss knife. That knife can, be your tool to create this beautiful wood.

[00:28:11] artwork. You can also cut off your fingers and

[00:28:15] Matt: great.

[00:28:15] Anne: And, and yeah, and being with my dad, he was working all over the world. And we used to travel with him. So it also made me and my brother feel very comfortable speaking English being in other places, we have never asked ourselves. If another culture is disturbing, another country or another religion, we were open to everything.

[00:28:44] And that has, that has given me a fantastic base in life to be open to others and to feel a lot of happiness. When you can give that to. That feeling that it is safe to experiment and try and do, and, stop putting yourself under that incredible magnifying glass of other people.

[00:29:06] Matt: This has been a fantastic conversation. It’s Ann bette.eu. That’s the website. Go there. Visit her on Twitter at Bette. Is that correct? That’s a great

[00:29:19] Anne: Yes. Yeah. B O V E L E double T.

[00:29:23] Matt: Fantastic stuff. Thanks so much for hanging out today and shedding some light on accessibility, what you do in the WordPress world, what you do with Elementor and the fantastic backstory of what made you, who you are today. Everyone it’s Matt report.com. Matt report.com/subscribe to join the mailing list.

[00:29:44] We’ll see you in the next.


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