037: No Excuses Accessibility with Natalie MacLees

In this episode of Women in WP, we talk to Natalie MacLees about the drive to make websites accessible, her accessibility focused business, and leading and organizing within the WordPress community.


About Natalie MacLees:

I’ve been building the internet since 1996. I’m the founder + principal of Digitally, an accessiblity-focused digital agency. And I’m also a partner in N2, the tiny software company behind Draw Attention, Simply Schedule Appointments, Plugin Detective, Better Business Hours, and Simple Event Listing. I’m the author of jQuery for Designers, now in its second edition. I’m the founder of Website Weekend, a 48-hour hackathon matching web professionals with nonprofits in need of websites. I was lead organizer of WordCamp Los Angeles in 2013 and 2014 and on the organizing team for 2015. I was one of the founders of the Los Angeles chapter of Girl Develop It, a nonprofit organization that provides training in web development for women.

Find Natalie MacLees: Digitally and N Squared | Twitter | LinkedIn


Women in WP | WordPress Podcast
Women in WP | WordPress Podcast
037: No Excuses Accessibility with Natalie MacLees
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Transcript

Angela Bowman:

Welcome to Women in WP, a bi-monthly podcast about women who blog, design, develop, and more in the WordPress community.

Angela Bowman:

Welcome to the show. I’m Angela Bowman.

Tracy Apps:

I’m Tracey Apps.

Amy Masson:

And I’m Amy Masson.

Angela Bowman:

Our guest today is Natalie MacLees, who helps small businesses and non-profits meet accessibility guidelines through her company Digitally. Welcome, Natalie.

Natalie MacLees:

Hello.

Angela Bowman:

As you know, we like to start off each episode by asking our guest to tell us about their journey into WordPress. How did you get started?

Natalie MacLees:

So, I’ve been building websites since 1996, so for a really long time. And around 2006, a friend approached me, she was a photographer and a poet, and she wanted a blog where she could feature her photography and poetry. It was like a beautiful photo with a little poem every day. And I researched some different options. At that time, there was a whole lot of hosted blog services, like BlogHarbor, but these things aren’t around anymore, and I did a whole bunch of research and settled on WordPress because number one, it didn’t use tables for layout, do you remember that?

Tracy Apps:

Uh-huh (affirmative).

Natalie MacLees:

And it was totally customizable, and then you were at the mercy of being hosted on some platform, so I customized the Cubic Theme, do you remember that lovely one? And got this blog set up for her. And it was actually a really good experience, so I kind of just got sucked into it after that and started using it more and more.

Tracy Apps:

I love it. ’96 what was your first website on?

Natalie MacLees:

It was on AOL Hometown.

Tracy Apps:

Is that a GeoCities, Angelfire? Remember all of those?

Natalie MacLees:

Yeah. So, I actually had an AOL Hometown site that won multiple awards from AOL-

Tracy Apps:

Whoa.

Natalie MacLees:

… because it was so awesome. There was a page where I posted puzzles, and it was an Amazon-affiliate site, which I had to have been one of the first few hundred Amazon-affiliate sites that would link to buy these puzzle books. And I ended up having a newscaster somewhere in Georgia become obsessed with the puzzles I posted, and he proposed marriage to me on the air.

Tracy Apps:

Wow.

Amy Masson:

No.

Tracy Apps:

Wow. So, basically, your kind of a big deal.

Amy Masson:

And now your married.

Natalie MacLees:

To a newscaster in Georgia.

Tracy Apps:

We’re going to need your autograph and then … Yeah, so …

Amy Masson:

What kind of puzzles were you posting?

Natalie MacLees:

Like logic puzzles. So, there was regular logic puzzles and lateral logic puzzles. I don’t know, it’s kind of a hobby. Something I’m obsessed with.

Amy Masson:

Were you making the puzzles yourself?

Natalie MacLees:

No, they were samples from books that I was selling as affiliate links on Amazon.

Tracy Apps:

Oh.

Natalie MacLees:

Fair use copyright law.

Amy Masson:

I was going to say is there a copyright issue there?

Natalie MacLees:

Yeah, so just put like one or two from the whole book of puzzles and I would link to buy the books, so … Yeah, no, I never had any problems.

Amy Masson:

Interesting.

Angela Bowman:

So, you know all about content marketing.

Natalie MacLees:

I know.

Tracy Apps:

And this was all on AOL?

Natalie MacLees:

Yeah, on AOL. On AOL Hometown. Yeah.

Angela Bowman:

She’s been working the system since the beginning here. What kind of sites did you start building after the photography site? Like did you make a business right away? Was it a hobby? Like when did that started being your job?

Natalie MacLees:

So, I started doing freelance websites on the side around 2003. So, I guess I’d just been doing it for a couple of years at that point, and they had just been in straight HTML, just static HTML sites.

Amy Masson:

We all started there.

Natalie MacLees:

Yeah, yeah.

Tracy Apps:

Yes. Yes, we did.

Natalie MacLees:

Yep. And if you go back to the ’90s, that’s even before CSS, so it was real fun.

Tracy Apps:

Yep. Remember the spacer GIF?

Natalie MacLees:

Oh, yes.

Angela Bowman:

Spacer GIF. Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tracy Apps:

Oh, I was all into nested tables, I was down with nested tables.

Natalie MacLees:

Oh, yeah. Six or seven deep.

Tracy Apps:

Absolutely.

Natalie MacLees:

Yep. So, I was real excited about web standards and CSS. When that became a thing I got really into it. So, I had a full-time job, so I was just doing these websites on the side part-time, so it was like a couple of years. It’s not like I was doing a high volume, and mostly just for friends and acquaintances. And after I built the blog, I did start encouraging more clients to use WordPress. And then, especially after I went to WordCamp, my first WordCamp in 2007, which I just sort of stumbled upon on accident, and I was just really impressed with the people I met there. Everyone was so nice. It was WordCamp San Francisco, but it was 2007, so there were maybe 200 people there. It wasn’t very big. Matt Mullenweg was there. He was actually setting out the sandwiches from Subway. How far we’ve come. He was running around like a crazy person getting all the food ready for everyone. And I just met so many people, and everyone was so kind and so generous that that’s what really pulled me in.

Natalie MacLees:

And then a couple of years later, I was at South by Southwest and met the founders of Meetup and that was kind of before Meetup was really a thing, and talked to them about their platform and what they were building, and I was like, “Well, that sounds really cool. I want to meet other people who like things that I like.” And I got home and was like, “Well, what do I like? I know, WordPress.” And I looked and there was a WordPress Meetup, and I joined it, and within a week the founder of the group stepped down and Meetup sent out all the messages, like “Oh, your group is going to be dissolved unless someone steps up.” So, I was like, “Okay. I’ll do it.” I never even been to a Meetup and I took over running the group.

Tracy Apps:

Impressive.

Amy Masson:

Wow.

Natalie MacLees:

It all worked out.

Angela Bowman:

You’ve been at the start of everything.

Natalie MacLees:

I know.

Tracy Apps:

Did you invent the internet because …

Natalie MacLees:

I did actually. Yeah, it was me and Al Gore.

Angela Bowman:

And she started Twitter too.

Amy Masson:

I think I heard she invented meetup.com.

Natalie MacLees:

Right. And Twitter. Yeah.

Amy Masson:

And Twitter.

Natalie MacLees:

Yeah, don’t leave that out.

Amy Masson:

So, I know that you do a lot of, or you have done quite a bit of WordCamp speaking and one of the reasons I know this is because my very first WordCamp, WordCamp Las Vegas, 2013, you were one of the speakers. And that was when I came to my first WordCamp, and I sat in the back and was scared and didn’t talk to anybody, but everything I learned kind of blew my mind and opened up this world that really changed the trajectory of my business forever, and you were one of those people.

Natalie MacLees:

That was the WordCamp where I dress coordinated with the venue, yeah?

Amy Masson:

I don’t remember, but I do think you had purple hair.

Natalie MacLees:

Oh, pink hair. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Amy Masson:

Okay. Yeah, so I went back. I just went back and found the 2013 WordCamp Las Vegas, and it’s still online, and so I looked at the schedule, you spoke at 11:45 AM on defining your user experience.

Tracy Apps:

This is creepy.

Amy Masson:

This was a very meaningful WordCamp. This was my most meaningful WordCamp, so …

Natalie MacLees:

I think your first one is always the most meaningful one.

Amy Masson:

Yeah, and I mean I’ve never had such an impactful conference since then, but it was kind of this was before I knew that there was even a WordPress community, it was just oh, I make websites with WordPress and I’m all by myself in my house all day, every day, and I don’t know anybody, and then I go and it was like oh, my gosh, who are all of these people and everybody was so nice. So, your first one was the one you’ve just talked about, but is there one that has been super impactful, or even meaningful to you other than the first one?

Natalie MacLees:

I mean the first one really stands out, of course, because I’ve been to lots of conferences but they’re just not like WordCamp. Other ones that stand out, I organized WordCamp Los Angeles in 2013 and I felt like there was a team that we all worked together … Like, I don’t know, that camp was just really, really nice. And it wasn’t because of me, it was because of the community, and the people who participated, and the speakers that we had, and everybody just kind of pitched in and helped with everything, and it was just really lovely. It was just a really nice feeling in the air, that whole camp, so that’s definitely one that stands out.

Natalie MacLees:

The first WordCamp I ever spoke at was WordCamp Las Vegas, but in 2011, and that one is not online, and I’m actually really grateful for that.

Amy Masson:

Neither is 2014, which is another one I went to. I went to the same one the year after, and there was a session that I ended up in the wrong room and I missed and I really wanted to go back and watch and none of it went online.

Natalie MacLees:

Yeah, sometimes there’s just problems.

Tracy Apps:

Hey, there Women in WP listeners, Tracy here, interrupting with a quick message about you. When Amy, Angela, and I first started this podcast, we had no idea how it would be received, or if anyone would listen at all. We never expected such an enthusiastic response from the WordPress community, so thank you. If you want to help us keep this podcast going strong, there’s a few ways that you can help, the first one you’re already doing, listening, so thank you for that. And if you really enjoy the show, or even if you don’t, but you know someone else that would, please, share us with a friend. Finally, we have a Patreon page if you would like to contribute to the show financially each month. There’s different tiers of giving, and some levels will even get you some cool perks as well. Visit patreon.com/womeninwp for more info. And now let’s get back to the show.

Amy Masson:

I think your company name is adorable because it’s Digitally, right?

Natalie MacLees:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Amy Masson:

And it’s got the term for accessibility in it, which is really great, really cute. So, I’m assuming, and also, I see you do focus a lot on accessibility, and I also do as well, and I love hearing how you learned about it. Like, how did you become passionate about it, and want to say like, “You know what, I’m going to commit to this. I’m going to learn and focus on helping people be more accessible”?

Natalie MacLees:

Yeah, so I was building websites really early on, and I got a job in 1999, working at Penn State University, and if you are familiar with Penn State University, they’re actually really well-regarded in the accessibility community, their accessibility department really helps to drive everything on campus to make sure that they are accommodating of students of all different abilities and capacities, but in all aspects, physically, and then their online presence as well. So, as I came into that job, right in my static HDML with no CSS yet pages …

Tracy Apps:

I can relate.

Natalie MacLees:

Yeah, accessibility was super important there, and I had tons and tons of free training through them in how to build accessible websites and why it was really important. I worked there for three years, and so that just kind of became the way I did it. It was just the way that I approached web projects, and after I left there and worked in other places building websites, I was shocked and dismayed that that was not the case throughout the industry. So, I kind of brought that with me to every job that I’ve had is to just raise awareness among the rest of the team on why this is important, and why we should be doing it. I’ve argued with the business managers about the business case for it, and if it’s worth the money, the extra money, and time that it takes some projects. So I just I think having that experience early on in my career really impressed upon me how easy it is to just do things the “right way” and to approach things and build them to be accessible from the beginning. It’s really not that much more work. And that there’s just really, I don’t feel, any excuse not to do it, and to exclude people, even if that’s not your intention.

Tracy Apps:

Yeah, and I agree with you, and I think a lot of people look at it it’s the mindset of oh, that this is some extra thing, but if you go at it when you’re starting the development of your product, or your business, with that mentality of being accessible, you’re right, like it just comes naturally because oh, yeah, if you want to be able to reach your audience, if they can’t access your website, well?

Natalie MacLees:

Right, you can’t sell something to people when they can’t use your site.

Tracy Apps:

Exactly. Exactly. And so, I’m always fascinated with pushback, like you said. What kind of methods do you do to help win your argument other than like, come on, it’s a no-brainer, but how do you tell that to people that keep pushing back on that?

Natalie MacLees:

Yeah, so it depends on who I’m talking to. For other developers, I’ve had a lot of luck with talking about how accessibility is a civil right, and how the things that we build are used by more people than we imagine, and how important it is that everyone have access, especially as more and more of our lives move online, it’s more and more important that everyone can get to that. So, I gave a talk on accessibility at WordCamp Long Beach, which was last summer, I think, and at that time, I haven’t checked recently, but at that time we still had, I don’t know, 15 or 20 different potential presidential candidates, and not a single one of them had an accessible website. So, if I’m somebody who relies on accessible technology, or assistive technology to access the web, how am I supposed to be informed to vote?

Tracy Apps:

And voting really is important for the rules and laws that benefit everyone.

Natalie MacLees:

Yeah.

Tracy Apps:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Natalie MacLees:

Yeah. So, just the things that people get locked out from, online banking, time tracking, and work communications, civil things, contacting their local government about things or being informed to vote, all of those things are things we do online and we can’t leave people out from that, we just can’t. I think it’s also a question of dignity. I know one time I was having a conversation with another developer who said, “I just don’t understand if someone who is blind wants to buy a toothbrush online, why can’t he just have his buddy help him out and order it for him?” And I said, “Well, that seems really simple to you, but think about every time you needed to buy something online you’ve got to impose upon friends or family to do that for you? Where’s your sense of independence and your sense of dignity as a human being? You’re taking that away from someone.” So, I think it’s really important.

Amy Masson:

You mentioned that your time at Penn State really helped shape your views and that was in 1999?

Natalie MacLees:

Yeah.

Amy Masson:

So, I’m wondering how different accessibility is now, because 1999, it would never have been on my radar to even consider, so how is it different, like what you were doing for those websites in 1999 versus what you’re doing for people now?

Natalie MacLees:

Yeah, so here’s the thing that’s a little bit scary. So, the WCAG guidelines I think were originally published in 1999 and that was WCAG 1.0. There has since been two more versions of WCAG, so 2.0 is now about 12 years old, I think, and 2.1 just came out like two years ago. So, the accessibility guidelines themselves haven’t changed very much, and basically, all they did for 2.0 to 2.1 is they added in more things around mobile, recognizing that people with disabilities use mobile devices, and so some more support for those things, and then they also have added in a few more checkpoints for people with cognitive disabilities which have been largely left out of the guidelines so far. So, there’s, in some ways, not very much of that has changed, even though the web has changed drastically.

Natalie MacLees:

I think one thing that really has changed especially with the push toward doing everything in JavaScript recently, is I don’t know what it is about react and view that makes people just forget everything they know about writing HDML.

Tracy Apps:

Yes.

Natalie MacLees:

But even just the tutorials that teach you how to do React and View are just terrible and simply don’t use heading tags, or buttons, or links, and just put click handlers on divs and spans and it’s also that. And somehow all of that goes out the window. And you can build things with JavaScript that are accessible, but somehow, we all forget how to write the basics of semantic HDML when you start using React.

Tracy Apps:

Yeah. I’ve ranted on that as well because, well, also, because I started my first website was in ’96 as well, and so, I bought a HDML book and I taught myself that way. And so what I taught at my alma mater at UW Milwaukee I was like, “We’re going to go do the basics. Yeah, you can do all these shortcuts,” but I was like, “this is how you used to have to do it. You need to know the basic principles of this so that you can make this correct. Like there’s all these different shortcuts and stuff,” but yeah. And it’s interesting, working with people that are just so gung ho about JavaScript, so then I just find myself saying, like, “Oh, yeah, and then it’s going to do this and this and this.” And then they are like … I was like, “Oh, yeah, well that should be easy, right? Because I could do it in HDML. Like, here, I just made a mock-up for you. Here’s how to do that. Just make your code do that.”

Natalie MacLees:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tracy Apps:

I just can’t.

Angela Bowman:

You talked about these government sites not being accessible, can you describe for our listeners who really maybe don’t understand what that means? What are some very common mistakes, particularly on these government sites, campaign sites that are probably, in a way, rather simple sites, they have a picture and they have some text, what are the mistakes that make it not accessible that people need to be aware of?

Natalie MacLees:

Yeah, I think one of the most common things is putting huge amounts of text in images. So, just think about Instagram and all the oh, it’s a pretty picture with a quote on top of it. That’s not accessible. If you can’t see that picture because you have a visual impairment, you have no idea what that quote is, or what the picture is, or any of that. And I think there’s definitely a lot of that Instagram aesthetic that’s come over to web design and those kind of things get used a lot, and especially on campaign websites. Like big banner image with text that’s part of the image, and then they don’t add, you can add alternative attribute to that so that it would be readable by assistive technology, but it often gets forgotten.

Natalie MacLees:

Another big thing is, I mean just lack of Semantic HDML and not using headings, but instead, styling a paragraph to look like a heading, and that’s not recognizable by assistive technology as a heading.

Amy Masson:

And it’s bad for a SEO.

Natalie MacLees:

Exactly. Many of the things that are good for accessibility are good for SEO.

Tracy Apps:

And it’s good for cleaner code. Like, it’s easier to read as a developer.

Natalie MacLees:

Yes. Easier, better maintainability, loads faster.

Amy Masson:

I want to tell people all the time that the heading tags are not for the size of your font.

Natalie MacLees:

Yes, yes. And then I think the other big area where sites fall down is forms. And a form is the main way that we interact with a website, whether that’s adding things to a cart, which is a form, even though it doesn’t really look like it all the time, signing up to volunteer for a campaign, or contacting a representative, or whatever it happens to be, forms are where a lot of things go wrong. Every field should have a label that’s visible all the time, and it actually coded as a label, if there’s error messages, those need to be coded in a way that they’re attached to the field, so that if there’s an error, you know, oh, either there’s a typo in my email address, or I forgot to enter my phone number. Because if you don’t have that, like even if that error message is visible on the form, it’s not easily accessible to someone using a screen reader if it’s not coded correctly, and so you don’t do your forms correctly, and now you’re cutting off people from interacting with your site.

Tracy Apps:

I always get this where the error is an error occurred.

Natalie MacLees:

Yes.

Tracy Apps:

Great. Thank you for that-

Natalie MacLees:

Right.

Tracy Apps:

… helpful information. I have full visibility. I still, that confuses me.

Natalie MacLees:

Exactly, yes. Yes, a good error message should tell you what the error is and how to fix it.

Angela Bowman:

Do you feel like accessibility is hard or easy for those people building websites? And there are things like with WordPress, like themes and plug-ins or anything that will make it easier for you as a person building sites for a client to make your site accessible?

Natalie MacLees:

So, the thing about accessibility is there’s no part of it that is particularly difficult or challenging. I think what does make it seem so daunting is that it’s just so much. It’s so big. There are so many things. And where do you even get started? So, it’s always good to kind of look at what are the most common things that go wrong on sites and start there and start learning. And if somebody is building sites for clients and if I said, “Well, are the sites you build for clients accessible?” “Hmm, I don’t really know.” Well, chances are the answer’s no. If you don’t know, the answers probably no. But I would say, don’t feel a lot of pressure that the next site you build is going to have perfect accessibility, whatever that means. Learn something about alternative text, or proper heading structure, or a list, or ARIA Landmarks or how to set up forms, and do that for the next site, and then keep adding every site you build, add something else so that you kind of gradually build up that knowledge and every site is more accessible than the last one.

Natalie MacLees:

For WordPress, in particular, there are a small handful of themes in the repository that are marked as accessibility-ready, not as accessible because most of the accessibility of a WordPress site has to do what you do with it and not the theme itself, but they are accessibility-ready. Unfortunately, it’s only about 100 of them, but there are some pretty nice themes in that section that I lean on pretty heavily for my clients who don’t have the budget for a full-custom theme, so definitely check them out. There is no equivalent tag, unfortunately, for plug-ins, so if you were trying to build a WordPress site, it does get a little bit challenging when it comes to plug-ins to determine which ones are accessible, and then, sometimes, a plug-in might be accessible with a certain setting configuration, but you might change the settings and now it’s no longer accessible. So, I’d encourage everyone to harass all theme and plug-in developers constantly to say hey, is this accessible? Are these settings accessible? Because they should be building that into their products and making it easy of someone who is not technical in setting up a website to understand that if I set pale blue background with white text, that might be a problem.

Tracy Apps:

Yeah, it’s good advice. I say bug everyone very often. What kind of tools do you use or prefer to check accessibility on websites?

Natalie MacLees:

I really like the WAVE tool from WebAIM, which is just at wave.webaim.org. You can also do it as a browser plug-in. That one is really nice, and they recently re-did the UI about a year ago, so it’s very user-friendly.

Tracy Apps:

I saw that. It’s so much nicer.

Natalie MacLees:

So, if you’re a beginner, and you’re not really sure and not super technical, it will flag all of the issues and explain them, very nicely, so you can understand how to fix them. And then the other tool that I use a lot in my development process is axe from Deque, and that’s a browser plug-in. It is free, but they are working on a premium version that the beta is open and free, so if you’re a developer, I encourage you to try it. It’s really helpful. So, in addition to doing the automated tests, the premium version also walks you through some manual tests that it’s really nice.

Amy Masson:

So, I do some work with different departments at the local university when they need websites done, and, of course, one of the requirements is meeting accessibility, and that’s something I always try to do on the websites that I’m building, and these are like smaller grant-based projects that different professors are doing, but the problem I have is that once you hand-off the site and they start working on it, all of that goes to the wayside. Do you have a plan or a way that you encourage your users to maintain that?

Natalie MacLees:

I do, actually. So, I am a big fan of Mark Jaquith’s WP Help plug-in. If you’re not familiar with it, it lets you put a little help manual right inside the WordPress dashboard. It’s really just a post-type, but it’s like in the dashboard only, and you can organize that however you want, and you can have like I’ve got a bunch of little test sites across the internet. You can set up a help manual on a site, and then automatically import it into new sites when you set them up, so you don’t have to recreate the content over and over again. So, I will put extensive information in there with links to like WCAG’s text to decision tree, when I’m adding an image, does it have text in it? Is it decorative? Does it have a caption? Like all these things that you need, it’ll walk you through that. Proper heading structure. Proper use of a list. Paying attention to your reading level, which is something a lot of people forget which is for cognitive disabilities, ideally, the whole internet wouldn’t be much more than about an eighth-grade reading level. So, I put all of that in a manual in the backend, and then I also do hands-on training with my clients at the time I hand-off the site to walk them through all of those things. And I found that that’s really helpful.

Natalie MacLees:

Like, a lot of my clients are non-profit organizations or universities where accessibility is really important, and so the people who are there who are working on the site find it really helpful to have that information that they need for making good decisions with the site going forward.

Amy Masson:

That is really helpful to know because I never once handed over a site to anyone, including the people that are managing the sites at the university, that they have uploaded an image and actually wrote all text. It’s the easiest thing to do.

Natalie MacLees:

Yes. Another good plug-in to help with that is Joe Dolson’s WP Accessibility plug-in, which adds a column to the media library to tell you whether an image has alt or not.

Angela Bowman:

Yeah, and I use that on all my university sites and it also prompts you.

Natalie MacLees:

Yes.

Amy Masson:

I think it’s already built into the ones on our university server, so that one I’m familiar with.

Natalie MacLees:

Yeah, it has some other nice features too. I use it on almost every site.

Angela Bowman:

I’ve been building university sites as well, and that’s what got me into the accessibility because I had to put that into my contract to make sure it happened, but I’m just going to ask a super technical question-

Natalie MacLees:

Oh, sure.

Angela Bowman:

But I feel like I do 99% of things right, but then there’s some weird things like I have icons as a font in this pseudo-class on an element, and apparently, that gets read by the screen readers, and so there’s just those little things that I wouldn’t have known that was an issue unless I had accidentally read a CSS tricks article about using the data icon instead which you can put an ARIA hit-in on, and then use the CSS to style it. And I saw that when Elementor plug-in does icons, it does it exactly the appropriate accessible way, but when I’m doing this icon font in a pseudo-class in CSS that could be read by the screen reader, how concerned do we need to be about those things because sometimes we do that with CSS because it’s the only way to do it, and at what point do we say this is good enough versus like we really do need to reinvent things?

Natalie MacLees:

Yeah. So, different levels of accessibility are built even right into WCAG, we have A, AA, AAA, built into it, in recognition of the fact that you don’t have to build every single thing to be AAA-perfect accessible. There is some leeway, and even when I’m doing accessibility audits of sites for clients, every issue that I find gets tagged with a severity, and there are minor, moderate, major, and blocker. I mean, the main thing you want to make sure of, of course, is there’s no blockers, where somebody is just absolutely prevented from doing something because there’s some kind of issue. Like, the button on your form isn’t actually a button and can’t receive keyword focus, which is a problem I’ve seen. So, if somebody can’t use a mouse, now they can’t submit that form, and the people who can’t use a mouse are a lot of people. There’s a lot of people who are blind, and people who have mobility issues in their arms, or arthritis, so you’re leaving out a lot of people. So, having some text from an icon and read, definitely not a blocker, definitely not major. I would put that in the minor category.

Natalie MacLees:

So, if it’s something where you’re just kind of stuck and it’s like, oh, I just really need this icon here, like it’s okay, don’t do it every time and don’t do it on every site, but if there’s a situation where that’s the best that you can do, then that’s the best you can do, and somebody’s going to hear an extra word or two. It doesn’t stop them from doing anything or prevent them from understanding the site, so that’s a relatively minor issue.

Amy Masson:

Do you find that people are worried about not being perfect and so they just disregard it all together?

Natalie MacLees:

Yes. For sure. Yes. Like, well if I can’t do this perfectly, why would I even bother. And the reality is, so there’s a WebAIM did a report, and they’ve done it twice now to my knowledge, the Million … What did they call it? The Million Project, or something, where they did the top one million home pages across the internet and tested them for accessibility issues. An average site has literally hundreds of accessibility issues, but when you look at the list, there were seven or eight that came up just over and over again. Like, if all you did for accessibility was just focus on those seven or eight issues, that’s probably going to cover 80 or 90 percent of the accessibility issues on a site.

Tracy Apps:

I, especially when I’m working with larger companies and I get a lot of push back on things like that, I like to bring up a little bit about the lawsuits, the American with Disabilities Act, Title III, which is for accessible places which includes websites.

Natalie MacLees:

Yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tracy Apps:

I don’t know if you wanted to speak about that at all as well?

Natalie MacLees:

Yeah. So, that’s an interesting one because the Title III refers specifically to what are called “places of public accommodation.” Meaning, restaurants, movie theaters. And then there has been a big argument on whether or not websites count as places of public accommodation, and it’s very messy right now because the supreme court has not ruled on it, and the district courts are all over the place with some of them saying that they do count, some of them saying that they don’t, and then some saying that they do, but only for businesses that also have a physical location.

Tracy Apps:

I’ve heard that too.

Natalie MacLees:

Yeah. So, it’s really messy, and I have to explain this to clients all the time when they say, “Oh, I want my website to be ADA compliant.” Well, that doesn’t actually exist. It’s in this weird fuzzy gray area, so we’re all kind of assuming that what that probably means is WCAG AA, but I can’t make any guarantees because the law is very fuzzy right now.

Tracy Apps:

Do you think that with all of the shutdowns and everything moving more, relying online, is this going to become more of an issue? Maybe even more of a less of a gray line?

Natalie MacLees:

I hope so. I hope so. Yeah. Because I do think we need to re-examine the way that we approach web development and web design, and to think about how we can be more inclusive about that, and to really be familiar with the people, and the technologies, and devices that are used to access the websites that we build. So, if there is some big event that is otherwise negative that can have a silver lining, I would hope that wouldn’t be it.

Angela Bowman:

In reading your bio, besides being first on the scene for everything that’s ever happened on the internet of meaning and importance, you also do all these other crazy things, like there’s a software company you’re involved with that has a lot of different plug-ins, your author of a JCreator for Designers book, and you do a Website in a Weekend for non-profits. Oh, my gosh. Like we could just talk all day.

Natalie MacLees:

Yeah, I’m a very busy person. I stay busy.

Angela Bowman:

Oh, yeah, just-

Natalie MacLees:

I’ve always got a project.

Angela Bowman:

Yeah, what do you want us to know about that. I want to know about all these things.

Natalie MacLees:

Yeah, sure. So, probably the one that’s impacting my life right now the most would be N Squared, the little software company that I run with Nathan Tyler. So, we have five plug-ins so far that we’ve built together, and we’re hard at work on the latest one is I would say, maybe over a little half done. I mean it’s released and people are using it, but we’re building a premium tier with more features in it that we’re working on. And so I am currently doing that every Tuesday and Thursday, all day, and then working on Digitally, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, all day. So, just constantly just shifting gears. But N Squared is doing really well. We’re growing. We have a marketing person. We have a couple of support people working for us. We have a designer and another developer, so that’s all going really well and it’s really exciting. And I think it’s really exciting for us, too, to be able to offer employment to people during a pandemic. Like our marketing person, we actually hired after he got laid off from his previous job because they shut down because of the virus. So I think that’s exciting for us that we’re able to do that and have a positive impact on people’s lives in that way.

Amy Masson:

That’s awesome.

Natalie MacLees:

Thanks.

Amy Masson:

Well, thank you for joining us today. Before we go, can you tell everybody where they can find you online?

Natalie MacLees:

Sure. So, I got my little personal site at nataliemac.com that links off to everything else that I do. I’m not very good at any kind of social media, but I do have accounts under nataliemac at Twitter and Instagram.

Amy Masson:

Awesome. Well, thanks for being with us today.

Natalie MacLees:

Yeah, thanks so much for having me.

Amy Masson:

Thank you for listening. Interested in being on the show? Sign-up on our website womeninwp.com. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and join our Facebook group to have conversations with other women in WordPress.

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