Rian Rietveld and Andrea Fercia are two heavyweights in the WordPress accessibility community. Both legends are joining us at the YoastCon SEO conference on November 2, 2017. For this joint interview, we asked them a couple of questions about the current state of accessibility, common implementation mistakes and how to start with the right mindset. Of course, the duo explains why you should come to YoastCon!

Don’t want to miss Rian and Andrea on stage? Get your ticket now for YoastCon 2017!

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Accessibility is incredibly important. Focusing on accessibility in your work makes sure you won’t leave anyone behind. Could you tell us a bit about the current state of accessibility in general and WordPress in particular?

According to Andrea, accessibility is getting more and more attention in the last couple of years: “Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, and more, are renewing their focus on accessibility as part of an inclusive design process and delivering products with a good level of built-in accessibility.”

Even WordPress gets better, says Andrea. “In the last 2-3 years, a great number of accessibility fixes entered the codebase. However, there’s still the need to educate many contributors, increase awareness, expertise, and incorporate accessibility in the design process. In WordPress, accessibility is still perceived as something that can be added at a later stage in the development process. That’s an ineffective process. It goes in a different direction compared to what all the other big players are doing.”

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Rian wants to stress the importance of accessibility as well:
 “Accessibility is the next big thing after responsive design. People involved in web development are starting to understand that accessibility is part of the process. There are two reasons for this. In an increasing number of countries, websites need to be accessible by law. Not just sites for government and public services but in some countries company sites as well. The second reason: accessibility is considered good practice in modern web development.”

According to WordPress the accessibility of the CMS improved dramatically in the last four years. Rian says that the community is starting to see that this is an important issue. She shares one ‘but’: “New functionality, however, is still not designed and developed with accessibility in mind. That means we still need to fix issues, also newly created issues. And that’s a point we can definitely improve on.”

It still seems hard to get stakeholders interested in accessibility. What do you guys do to convince people of the importance of accessibility and what do you do to help them get started?

Andrea says business owners and managers should look at the numbers in addition to the ethical considerations: “Accessibility is not just about people with specific disabilities or impairments. It’s about changing abilities that everyone experiences in their life with aging. Demographic trends, especially in Europe and North America, give us impressive numbers that can help us understand who our users and customers will be in the next 10-15 years.”

“Sometimes it’s hard to convince people. Education helps. We still need to debunk many myths about accessibility and make people understand it’s something that benefits everyone, including your future you,” explains Andrea.

Rian supports the notion that stakeholders are primarily interested in profit. She’d like to add her arguments for successfully implementing accessibility from the get-go: “20% of your visitors have a better experience using your site. Google is deaf and blind, so accessibility directly benefits SEO. The site will be more sustainable, as an accessible website will use more robust and meaningful code. If you include it at the beginning it will not cost extra if your team is well-prepared.”

You probably see the same mistakes made again and again. Do you have a list of common mistakes to keep our readers from making the same?

According to Rian you should: “Include accessibility at the beginning of the project, don’t check for it at the end because it will cost a lot more to correct it afterward. Also, keep in mind that you don’t create a website for yourself, but research your user and create a site your visitors understand. Focus on the main purpose of the site and don’t add elements to distract the user from that, only because you like to show off your design/programming skills.”

Andrea likes to emphasize the importance of valid HTML: “Well-structured, valid, semantic, markup is definitely the first thing you should focus on. HTML is the last layer of our communication. It’s great when all our development processes focus only on great abstracted object-oriented programming, modern JavaScript Frameworks and so on, but when our HTML is poorly coded, then our communication fails.”

Today, there is still a lot of very poorly coded HTML around, says Andrea: “People must understand why the HTML output is so important for the software that reads our web pages. Any software, including assistive technologies, or search engine crawlers, read our HTML. Good HTML is good communication that helps everyone, improves accessibility and also SEO.”

When looking at it from a design perspective, the design should start with the information architecture, says Andrea: “After that comes the interaction flow, and then the presentation layer. Instead, I still see today many projects starting with the presentation layer. For instance, missing controls labels are a very common mistake. All user interface controls must have a label.”

Let’s say I’m a site-owner and want to improve the accessibility of my site. What’s the first or most important thing I should do?

Andrea starts off with a great tip: “I’d recommend to disable styles in your browsers (that’s easy with Firefox) and look at your site without the presentation layer. Does your page still make sense? Is the order of the content logical and meaningful? Of course, there are a lot of other things to check. There also are more advanced ways to perform a first accessibility check, including some browsers add-ons. They help to catch some of the most common mistakes, but they require some expertise.”

Rian’s advice supports Andrea’s: “Check if you can navigate your website without a mouse, with keyboard only. Also, please add subtitles to video and transcript audio. And keep the following in mind when you design or write: People don’t read on a website, they skim the page and navigation for what they want to know and then read.”

The WordPress project is increasingly accessible. You both contributed quite a lot to WordPress. How did you get involved with the community and which part of the accessibility project are you proud?

Andrea accidentally got involved: “I must be honest: it was a period when I was partially unemployed and had some free time, so I started following the project and then submitted my first contribution. About my involvement in the WordPress Accessibility Team, I just owe everything to Rian Rietveld!”

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Proud is the right word, says Andrea: “I think it’s not a specific patch or improvement to the codebase. I’m really glad to see that some of the WordPress contributors, especially the younger ones, they just try to implement accessibility by default when they code. They feel it’s part of a coding best-practice and that’s the best thing I’d like to see in any project.”

Rian: “My drive was to help my blind clients using the WordPress Admin. I’m the proudest of the cooperation we now get from almost everyone in the WordPress community. I think we are on the right track with the Accessibility Team now.”

You can read more about Rian’s journey in the WordPress Accessibility team on HeroPress.

Why shouldn’t people miss your talk at YoastCon?

“Come and learn if you want to know why accessibility and SEO are a great match. Not everyone uses and reads a website the same. We’ll teach you how to create content that is understandable for everybody,” says Rian.

Don’t want to miss Rian and Andrea on stage? Get your ticket now for YoastCon 2017!

Get your ticket NOW »

Read more: ‘YoastCon 2017: Practical SEO’ »

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