Working on web accessibility at WordCamp San Francisco 2014

WordCamp San Fransisco 2014 (WCSF14), the place to be if you’re seriously into WordPress. Visiting San Francisco with the accessibility contributors team was a week I won’t forget. It was intense, fun, I spoke a zillion people and learned a lot.

The accessibility team

At WCSF14 almost all of the accessibility team were present in real life, thanks to the travel assistance program provided by the WordPress Foundation. I met people I’ve only worked with on IRC, mail or Skype and it was nice and useful to talk and work with them in person.
a11y team at wcsf14
In the photo above: Rian Rietveld, Morten Rand-Hendriksen, Graham Armfield, Joe Dolson, Joseph O’Conner, and Katherine Mancuso, not in the photo: Amanda Rush. Not at WCSF14, but also a member of our team: Bram Duvigneau and David A. Kennedy.

Conference WCSF14

As a volunteer I was assigned to the team that handed out the badges and got a cool pink t-shirt to wear. What a chance to shake hands with people from my Twitter feed. Sitting next to me where Travis Smith and Mika Epstein.  For me this is what a WordCamp is all about: meeting, learning, talking, laughing, discussing, asking and answering questions.

Graham Armfield and Tammie Lister

There were two accessibility presentations: Joe Dolson talked about good a11y practice in HTML coding and Joseph O’Connor gave 3 examples of how people with disabilities use the internet.

A couple of talks stood out:

Be a Volunteer, not a Martyr – a Practical Guide to Contributing, by Boone Gorges

How to contribute to WordPress and not get broke.
He called it the Reputation Cycle:

  1. Contribute to free software projects
  2. Improve your skills and reputation
  3. Increase your hourly rate
  4. Work fewer hours
  5. Contribute to free software projects

I’m stuck at point 2, I guess and need to change my own website, add stuff I do for WordPress and increase my hourly rate. This is my biggest problem contributing to WordPress: how not to lose money, because while contributing, I can’t do client work.

The Future of WordPress is Global by Andrew Nacin

Globalisation: plugins and theme developers will be able to do the translation of their work centrally via GlotPress. This is great news. It means that translations don’t have to be limited to a plugin or theme only, but can be shared and worked on by the whole community.

UX redux: taking a look at contact form 7 by Jen Mylo

Jen worked together with Takayuki Miyoshi, the plugin developer on how to improve the usability and UX of contact form 7. The developer is very open to suggestions, probably this is why this is one of the most used form plugins.

State of the Word 2014 Q&A by Matt Mullenweg

Morten Rand-Hendriksen asked Matt Mullenweg about what the community’s role to improve accessibility, how to get the community on board.

Matt’s answer was: WordPress represents the people that make it. Giving people access to the web is not only applying WCAG rules but also includes more languages, access to all kind of payment options, access on different mobile devices. We can’t work on that all of the time. Put the knowledge on accessibility out there for developers.

Kind of ironic was when Matt asked who where involved in a11y, only Morton was in the room; the rest of us where all working in the contributors room downstairs.

Below the Q&A on; Morton’s question starts at 1:00 minute.

[wpvideo WmCl2kwS w=400 h=224]

Intermezzo: fire alarm!

Contributors day

On the second day a room was reserved for contributors. For me that is always the most fun.

We had our own a11y table, so people came over and asked questions or got more info about how to join the team or on how to contribute.

We worked on tickets on trac and got the chance to consult other developers in the room on how to fix things best.

Cigarettes, new faces and questions

I only smoke on WordCamps (yes, I’m lying now), but I find it very useful to do so. Smokers are social people, willing to talk if you ask them for a light. This is my strategy to overcome my shyness and walk up to people I usually don’t dare to start a conversation with.

And when they ask: what do you do for WordPress and I mention accessibility: BANG! Instant interest, conversation and discussion.

This is how I found out that a lot of developers are interested in improving their sites or code for accessibility but don’t have a clue how to do that.

In a brief conversation I can only answer a few questions and I know we have not enough information on Make WordPress Accessible.

The biggest lesson I learned on WCSF14: Educate online. Put the resources out there on Yes, I know, what Matt said.

Community summit

One day of discussion, in small groups, on how to improve the accessibility of WordPress with the a11y team at Automattic. Graham Armfield wrote about what we discussed and decided on. And here is what Morten Rand-Hendriksen finds needs to be improved and what I think is spot on.

Contributor team meetups

At the contributors team meetup we talked about how to complete the plans we made yesterday, who does what and when.

The biggest task we have, is getting all the documentation online, on how to make the core, themes and plugins accessible. We need to write new content, reorganize existing information, provide links to testing tools and inform people on how to contribute and help testing new functionality.

Only then we can encourage theme and plugin developers to improve the accessibility of their work.

Please follow our progress on Make WordPress Accessible.


During the conference we changed form IRC to Slack for our discussions. I love Slack! Now we have our own channel #accessibility. Our own timeline of questions, discussions, remakes, testing sessions, all logged, searchable, awesome! It also gave a boost to other WordPress developers to contact us. Amanda Rush, who is blind, needs to use the IRC bridge, but we hope Slack solves her screen reader issues soon.

Thank you WordPress!

Big thanks to Andy Christian, Jen Milo, Andrea Middleton and Matt Mullenweg to make it possible for the accessibility team to travel to and work at WordCamp San Francisco 2014.


  1. This is an awesome post Rian. I really enjoyed meeting you and hope this post means you finally made it home and got some much-needed sleep.

  2. Hi Rian,

    Thank you for your recap, great to read the recaps of the sessions and learn more about contributor day.

    I’m in a similar situation as you, wanting to improve my skills and increase my hourly rate. Organizing WordPress monthly meetups and sharing resources online to help others learn more about WordPress consumes a lot of time, time taken away from working on client projects.

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