Amber Hinds

Post Status Excerpt (No. 43) — Accessibility Roundup with Amber Hinds

“When it comes to accessibility lawsuits, we as developers should be proactive to ensure a site is as accessible as possible.” — Amber Hinds, Founder and CEO of Equalize Digital

In this episode of Post Status Excerpt, David chats with Amber Hinds, the Founder and CEO of Equalize Digital. Amber outlines some of the things WordPress professionals should be paying attention to in accessibility. Their conversation covers recent trends and news in the accessibility space: meetups, lawsuits, overlays, and design.

Why This Is Important: Accessibility is important to everyone, so it is critical for WordPress developers and designers to keep accessibility in mind. David and Amber only scratch the surface of this topic. Amber encourages developers to read this call from the Accessibility team to share their ideas, take part in the discussion, and suggest what to prioritize for WordPress in the near future.

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Amber Hinds: I was using super cheap, like earbuds. And I think like something happened and, you know, well, you figured out later, cause I was on a zoom call with someone and they’re like the same thing and I unplugged them and all the feedback went away

David Bisset: to throw them in the garbage.

Amber Hinds: Yup. And I was like, huh, I will give these to my children.

Cause they don’t ever talk

David Bisset: let’s not let’s let’s not talk about that. Cause my kid’s , it’s like the island of misfit toys, but podcast equipment edition cherish this moment because when they get to be 13, 14, they know when you’re giving them crap. Well, I’ve made some mistakes in my day with tech, but one mistake that hasn’t been made today is getting to talk to you.

So it was good to have you on, thank you very much for deciding to talk with me. And this is not the first time we’ve been together on a podcast. Um, uh, we, you were recently on one of our, uh, news draft podcasts on Post Status comments. So if anybody wants to hear more of Amber, please feel free to look at that episode.

If you haven’t had the chance to listen to Amber before Amber tell us briefly about yourself.

Amber Hinds: Yeah. So I am the CEO of equalized digital. We’re a certified B corporation and we specialize in WordPress accessibility. So we are WordPress, VIP partner. We do a lot of enterprise builds and we really got started in accessibility around 2016 when I started working for Colorado state university. And it was right around the same time that they were getting serious about accessibility. And the first website we did for them, there was like loosely did it, but there’s no process. And then the second website, oh, this has to go to an accessibility committee.

And so I really got forced to learn accessibility cause it started getting audits. and so that was sort of when I started getting my feet wet with it. And then, um, since then we’ve had, you know, other government clients, large businesses where, you know, it’s, it’s a priority for them. And not just a checkbox in part of the launch process.

And, and I will say, I don’t say that to imply that it is that way for CSU. Um, it’s also a priority for them as well, around like 2017, 2018 is when I really started like diving into it and learning a lot more about it. And, um, Equalize Digital was a spinoff launched that in 2020, and we have a plugin called accessibility checker.

And I also organize the WordPress accessibility meetup, which is twice a month and super fun.

David Bisset: Oh, yeah, I hear that hassled good turnout. Is that, um, how many of those accessibility and meetups are.

Amber Hinds: Yeah. So actually we are a permanently virtual meetup. We’re actually one of two meetups in the official WordPress meetup program that are not city-based.

The other one is a hosting meetup. I’m pretty sure hosting insecurity. And so we are always virtual and we always will be even with COVID we meet twice a month. It’s on the first Thursday. In the morning for us people. And then in third, Monday in the evening for us people. So we have kind of worldwide coverage, which is cool because we get people from all over the world who come to the meetups and we can have anywhere from 30 to 70 attendees, which is really cool.

David Bisset: And you talked about an accessibility checker too, that your company does. Um, think I’ve seen that before. There is a, there is a free and a paid model there, right?

Amber Hinds: Yep. Um, so accessibility checker, you can find on, the free version, which scans unlimited posts and pages. It’s not something that fixes your website, but what it does is it, it’s almost like we use the analogy.

A lot of it’s like the Yost for SEO

David Bisset: Now I am going to get copyright notices. Now

Amber Hinds: I know maybe I shouldn’t say that I should go right in Post Status and ask, can I say this about my tool, but it’s a good analogy, right? It puts a box on your poster page edit screen that shows you the results of an accessibility scan. Not everything with accessibility can be identified with a scan, but we can get a lot of things and it will help you to figure out what can be fixed.

Uh, in your content, we’re in the header, footer, sidebar of that page in order to, um, make it more accessible. And it’s great because it can be helpful with even post-launch of websites. So we really started it because our clients, we would build these websites, they were accessible and then clients would start adding content and they would start.

David Bisset: Adding content

Amber Hinds: over time, it would become less and less accessible, which, you know, if you’re in an industry, especially here in the U S where there’s a lot of lawsuits, you can’t really risk that. And so we wanted to create something that would help to educate clients as they’re adding content, but it’s now become a tool that as we’re building, we use it.

You can use it while you’re developing locally, because it doesn’t connect to an API. Your site doesn’t have to be live anywhere for it to be scanned by a third-party tool. It can run right on your local server. Um, and you can use it to test while you’re developing. Um, and it works really well for collaborative testing and then remediation also,

David Bisset: um, Amber and I are talking today because a lot of WordPress professionals have so much on their plate to think about accessibility should be one of those things that they think about.

But let’s be honest. There’s not enough hours in the day. Dig deep into some aspects or at least get the cliff notes of the highlights of what the accessibility trends are with what’s going on in the community. Normally you would probably go to a WordPress meetup and hear a presentation about it. Amber, with her experience is going to share with us kind of like the cliff notes, I don’t know if that’s a good phrase, but at least the highlights in the next 20 minutes or so all of the links that we’re about to share now, and probably even more are going to be in the show notes. So feel free to follow along if you can. But Amber, you said something about lawsuits and I know I’ve seen lawsuits in the news.

So when we hear about the, the lawsuits that are in the tech news now, what are the key things that we’re taking away from those lawsuits?

Amber Hinds: Yeah. So when we’re talking lawsuits related to website accessibility, we’re typically talking about the United States. It’s very specific states in the US where we see most of it, like California, New York, Florida.

These are typically cases that are filed under the Americans with disabilities act we’re in California. There’s a law called the Unruh civil rights act. That references website accessibility. Basically it’s an individual who is unable to use the website with assistive technology frequently. In these lawsuits, it is someone who is blind and they are using a screen reader to navigate the web.

Sometimes there have been some pretty high profile cases also for against, um, universities, for example, that have a lot of video content on the web that don’t have captions or transcripts for podcasts, or they do have captions. But the captions are auto-generated and not corrected. And they have been sued because the auto-generated captions are so poor that no one can really understand what’s happening in the video if they are deaf.

So those are, those are probably what we see as far as most lawsuits, but there are other ones where people have mobility issues, things like that. I was follow usable net and we can post the link, but they put out a report twice a year about the status of lawsuits in the United States. Um, they just released one at the end of December for what it looked like in 2021, a little bit over 4,000 lawsuits.

But as a web developer, I think the way you have to think about this is getting a lawsuit dismissed doesn’t mean that your client got their money back from their lawyers who had to work to do that, to get it dismissed in the first place. Um, it also doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a headache with having to deal with that.

So really we want to be kind of proactive on the accessibility side. And then, and the other way I kind of look at lawsuits is I have a hard time completely being anti lawsuits or upset about them because for better, for worse than the U S this is part of how our laws are made. Right. We want. Bring a bunch of things to the courts and maybe that prompts our legislators to actually enact stricter laws.

And, and that’s sort of a problem in the US for for-profit businesses is we don’t have really specific guidelines about what counts as an accessible website and what doen’t.

David Bisset: if you’re not an expert in this, so you don’t have the time to become an expert, what resources or what would you do as a WordPress professional building a site for someone to make.

Outside of probably hiring someone else. Cause it was probably a good idea. What would be some, maybe some initial homework that somebody could do or where they would go to?

Amber Hinds: Yeah. So I think of course, going to the source is really important. Most laws around the world site the web content accessibility guidelines, the current version for that is 2.2.

Some laws are outdated and so they cite 2.1. But going there and I’m going to call this WCAG, W-C-A-G going through Wikipedia and actually reading the guidelines. It’s like a long list, but each one is maybe a sentence, um, and sort of familiarizing yourself with what it is. And particularly what’s at the AA level.

So there’ll be labeled with either A, AA, or AAA and AA is generally what’s considered the best practice. So other resources that I recommend a international association of accessibility professionals, and there are courses that you can take to prepare for. They have certifications. If you’re interested in getting certified, which as a developer, if you have some certifications through them that can really help you on the job hunt.

So they have courses that will help you prep for that. And they also have ones that are focused on content creators, or designers or things that are not necessarily just coders. Um, of course our meetup is a great place to come and our meta actually counts as continuing ed credits for those certifications.

Uh, WP accessibility days, an annual conference that it should be in, uh, November of this year, we just set the dates. Actually earlier today, we had an organizer meeting. It’s going to be November 2nd and third. It’s a 24 hour conference.

David Bisset: I love hot breaking news. There you go.

Amber Hinds: But I think like that’s a good place to get started as far as learning, once you’re building a website, my recommendation.

Um, of course you can use tools like ours, or there are browser-based tools. Ax by DQ is one that we like and recommend a lot. Um, wave is one that a lot of people have heard of. I don’t think it says thorough, so I don’t typically recommend it as a browser-based tool, but it’s one that a lot of people use, um, go to the front end of the website, or if you’re a theme developer or a plugin developer, whatever page you have your piece of code on.

Try to interact with it fully without using a mouse. So use your arrow keys and your tab keys and the enter key and the space bar and see if you can do everything that you would want to do on that way.

David Bisset: You know, what I do is eat something with my right hand while I’m trying to do something on a website or sometimes type something in your left hand.

So that’s my own personal testing. It’s not as easy on some sites as it is on others.

Amber Hinds: I think the biggest thing too, if you’re a developer is brush up on HTML, semantics

David Bisset: is HTML have accessibility built in into it if you do HTML correctly.

Amber Hinds: Yeah. This is probably one of the most common things we fix in plugins that are actionable elements that should really be buttons, meaning using a button and HTML button tag are just like a div or a spin class.

And then the plugin developer has. Written scripts that applies to that div or that span class in order to let’s say, move the sides in a carousel or open a modal in a chat window, right. Or submit a form. Sometimes it’s the submit button rather than being an input or a button is just a div or span the result then is that dibs in space.

Are not focused, simple. So you can’t even go to them with your keyboard. Like if you hit the tab key, it’ll just jump right past that element. Sometimes they do an okay job of adding focus, but it doesn’t, it can’t actually. Uh, interacted with, with an inter or a space bar, which is what we expect the button to do.

Um, so really just like using a keyboard to test what you do is very helpful. And if you follow correct HTML, if you’re like, well, if this is a button to go to the next slide, then I use a button tag that gets you. Very close to accessibility.

David Bisset: It’s when you start getting creative is when things go wrong.

And then I don’t mean

Amber Hinds: And I don’t want to say that, cause that makes it sound like you can’t be creative.

David Bisset: Yeah. But yeah, there is a challenges in there between having these great designs. Elements or these design trends and then, you know, thinking to yourself, am I about to do something that’s just going to affect you usability?

Should I, or excuse me, accessibility. Should I stick? You know, how far do you, do you kind of go out on a ledge a little bit and that’s, it’s a difficult path to walk? I think it sounds like,

Amber Hinds: I think I will say I’ve been noticing just in general, like design trends over the last like year or two, at least on major brands.

I feel like there’s been this shift. Away from some of the like crazy movement that we saw a ton of parallax or things like flying or fading in, I, I see a lot more like minimalism kind of happening, which can be helpful. Now. I wish that some of the, like if you go on some of the themes, demos that you, certain page builders, you see all this crazy stuff flying in and I’m like, man, I wish people would get on it.

But like, if you follow a major brands, like I think a lot of. You know, background videos were super hot several years ago and I hardly see those any more on major, right. And, and so I do feel like some of the design trends have moved back towards things that are more accessible, but you know, the plus side of that too, is they’re better on first speed and performance, which is super important for the fact that most of us have a huge chunk of our traffic coming from mobile devices.

And then of course we all care about our search engine ranking. So that’s, what’s kind of neat about accessibility that a lot of people don’t realize is that when you focus on accessibility, you can actually increase the traffic to your website and increase or decrease your load times, right. Which might decrease your bounce rate.

Like a lot of things can be really helpful on accessibility, beyond making it work for people of all abilities.

David Bisset: Does dark mode help accessibility?

Amber Hinds: Dark mode can. Yes. I think the thing that is really interesting, we actually just had a talk, um, at our, one of our recent, um, accessibility meetups was on the use of overlays.

and one component of overlays, or sometimes you don’t use a full. Powered like JavaScript overlay, but there’s a lot of plugins in WordPress that are like add a dark mode toggle to the front end of the website. Um, and one of the conversation points there is that a lot of browsers and or operating systems themselves have dark mode options.

And typically those dark mode options function better than a dark mode option that has been added to a website. With a plugin or an overlay tool because the plugging in her overlay might not always catch everything. Uh, so unless you’ve very specifically coded your dark mode option for your theme and your plugins and everything that is on your site, it might like miss some headings or misplace holder texts or miss, you know, and then you have.

It’s actually creates a readability problem for everyone. If it gets turned on and it’s not catching everything.

David Bisset: So preferably, you want people to probably code that into their own theme directly rather than try to grab a plugin.

Amber Hinds: Preferably yes. If you want it. But I think going back to the fact that it exists on operating systems, a lot of people who know they need dark mode.

Um, that have certain disabilities. Like if you have glaucoma, some people with glaucoma white, like the FFF white really bothers them. Um, they probably know that and they have a filter turned on on their computer to always add a color overlay right. To that. So it won’t bother them. So the real question is, is do people actually use that beyond us developers for like, oh, it’s so cool.

We go to a website, you know, like We all turned it on. Right. When it launched and we’re like, oh, they have a dark mode. Let’s go turn it on. But. Do real users use that on a daily basis? I don’t know because the people with accessibility is probably have some other tool that does it for everyone.

Right. Not just this one. So they don’t really need a tool that does it just on this one website.

David Bisset: There’s also, um, a way in CSS that you can, um, but respect the system wide preferences for dark mode as well. So you don’t need a switch on the website.

Amber Hinds: It’ll it’s just going to say on that mode, there’s the same thing.

There’s a system preference for. Um, decreasing movement. And if you do add movement, which I’m like, don’t do it, don’t make these fly in at all. But if you do, you want to make sure you code websites in a way that respects that as well.

David Bisset: So I, I don’t, I literally just want to spend a minute or two on this because I think I would be kicked if I, we didn’t, you mentioned overlays a minute ago, we’re going to drop some links in the show notes.

So basically. If something says, um, we can fix your accessibility issues or add accessibility to your website with an overlay. That is a bad thing. No. And if so, what would you say for someone who has an existing site that might be tempted to use something like that?

Amber Hinds: The biggest thing I think that website owners or developers need to be aware of is that having an overlaid does not protect you from getting sued.

Or even having to settle or losing your lawsuit? Um, the number that I saw was I want to say, uh, between like 12 and 15% of the lawsuits last year were websites that already had overlaid accessibility overlays on them. Um, and the big one that I mentioned when we did the Post Status draft was, um, an e-commerce brand called eyebobs and they had the excessive.

On it. And excessively is probably a good case in point for why I think a lot of accessibility professionals really don’t like overlays because they. Promise more than they can really deliver. And so they say we’ll make, you know, install a single line of JavaScript. We’ll make your website accessible in 24 to 48 hours.

And part of me wonders if the Overlake companies didn’t promise that and they didn’t promise we’ll protect you from lawsuits. If they wouldn’t get so much negative press, if they were more like we are part of the solution to being accessible, because there are some things. That automated technology can fix.

And um a good example of that is Joe Dolson has the WP accessibility plugin, which in some, in some sense of the word acts sort of like an overlay, it uses JavaScript to add things like add skip links to a theme that doesn’t have skip links. He only does things he knows. He can do, right. And a lot of the bigger, like SAS based overlay solutions, they’re promising that it will be 100% accessible, which is not realistic because there’s just things that computers cannot do.

And human beings have to make decisions about like, even writing all texts, like you said, there’s some cases where maybe I can get kind of close and there’s other cases where. It just has no idea and it writes something completely wrong or, or it’s like factually. Correct. But contextually makes no sense about why that image was selected.

And, and so that’s really the thing about overlays is that, you know, they promise a lot more than they can deliver. And there’s a great website that Karl groves put together. Well, he’s got two, he’s got the overlay, false where he talks about all of them. False marketing that they do. Um, and then the overlay fact sheet, which has come out of a ton of research research he’s done into like, what can they literally actually achieve and what can they not?

And he’s got a ton of like quotes and like tweets and stuff that he’s included from actual people with disabilities and Mo a lot of them say that. Some I’ve heard, some of them say that they blocked like accessibility and user way, and some of these bigger plugins, their IP address so that the it won’t load.

If they go to a website with that,

David Bisset: if you ask someone quickly to summarize what the accessibility to overlays are, and if you’re someone who’s looking into it, probably in the middle of a site project that may be accessibility, probably wasn’t given that much consideration of in the beginning. And. There is a hint for you.

Maybe do it in the beginning then I guess, look at these links and just be very, very careful and realize that slapping a solution on something is probably not going to say. All of your problems, even the accessibility plugin. I think that accessibility plugin, the WP dash accessibility, I think it’s fantastic.

Ideally, you want to start fresh. So it is that about summarize when it comes to overlays?

Amber Hinds: Yeah. That pretty much summarize it. Yeah. I think the only other thing on that, that was really interesting that came out of the, that particular lawsuit with the eyebobs was eyebobs came out with a statement afterwards they’ve since removed AccessiBe, but they said.

Part of AccessiBe contract, as they promise to help you, if you get sued and they reached out to AccessiBe multiple times and assessed to be just didn’t even

David Bisset: respond. I think if you have to put that in your contract clause, I think you’ve got other, you’ve got other concerns. Um, let’s, let’s talk about, very briefly to close things up here.

Cause we have, we’ve gone over lawsuits. We’ve gone over. Thing, you know, things, particularly from those lawsuits, we want to pay attention to design trends and dark mode and overlays. There was a post about accessibility teams goals for WordPress WordPress, 6.0, we’re going to include the link in the show notes.

So we don’t have to cover it too much here. But what was the biggest thing that you think we should pay attention to in this.

Amber Hinds: Accessibility team for core has, um, they actually put up a post and they’re kind of going back to how they assess which bugs or, um, accessibility issues to handle. And they are wanting to get feedback and input.

So if you are someone who uses WordPress and has experienced accessibility issues. I would highly recommend going and checking out the posts. They have a whole process for how you can submit, but they’re going to use user and community feedback in order to make an order to prioritize their approach for 6.0,

David Bisset: okay.

So you heard it here. This is, this is something you may want to keep your eyes on, especially if you want to see what accessibility progress is being made for. Would you say these are calls for contributions, calls for feedback, but definitely this is a blog post about like the future. At least we’re looking ahead into the future.

I think this is a definite the transparency, the openness, or at least the acknowledgement that these are concerns. Um, you know, some, some things can be fixed faster or better than others ways. Probably it’s a complex issue when you’ve got an ever evolving product. And I’m looking forward to your analysis as well.

It may be in a couple of months, we can touch base again. And see, um, how WordPress specifically is addressing accessibility after, um, it releases 5.9 this month. So great. Yes. Yes. She’s just saying yes, just to get rid of me. We have a great list of links here. Make sure to check them out and show notes.

You gave your comments about general designs or in general design trends. There’s also a link or two in there about design trends that, um, you should probably think about from a usability perspective. You throw that

Amber Hinds: in there. Yeah, that that link is, uh, from bet Hannon’s website. Um, one of her employees wrote it and it’s actually really thoughtful about the different design trends and how some of them impact accessibility.

Um, it’s a great blog posts, relatively newly published.

David Bisset: Fresh news. Yes. Whenever I see 2022 in the URL, that’s a good sign.

Amber Hinds: Cause that’s how they get you with the SEO, click.

David Bisset: I’m a sucker. And then we talked about accessibility overlays and of course the word per 6.0 blog posts. Check that out as well.

So that in a nutshell, if you have been feeling a little bit guilty about not keeping up with accessibility, news and trends, Amber, just basically something. Probably all you need to know, at least for now. And then you up to you now to dig in those show notes for those links and get further familiar, Amber, what would be a good place for people to follow you in any other big accessibility stuff on social media so they can continue being an.

Amber Hinds: Yeah. So we’re just at equalized digital we’re on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, and the best place to find out about the meetup is if you go to equalize, you can get recordings of all the past events and see what’s coming up.

David Bisset: Fantastic. Well, Amber again, thank you very much for joining me here.

One-on-one to bring the WordPress community a little up to speed on some latest accessibility trends and stuff.

Amber Hinds: Yeah. Thank you.

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