097: Elena Brescacin Designing for Inclusion


About Elena Brescacin:

Elena Brescacin works as Inclusive Designer at Tangity, a NTT Data design company. Totally blind since birth, her passion for technology allows her to find best solutions to everyday life’s challenges; there’s no tech gadget she doesn’t own, or at least know. Other hobbies include playing chess, word games, true crime podcasts and she maintains a blog in Italian together with an HIV positive friend where they invent stories against HIV stigma.

Find Elena Brescacin: WP Speakers | WordPress Profile | GitHub | Website | LinkTree


Women in WP | WordPress Podcast
Women in WP | WordPress Podcast
097: Elena Brescacin Designing for Inclusion
Loading
/

Show Notes

Transcript

Angela Bowman:

Welcome to Women in WP, a bimonthly podcast about women who blog, design, develop, and more in the WordPress community. Hi. Welcome to Women in WP. I’m Angela Bowman.

Tracy Apps:

And I’m Tracy Apps.

Angela Bowman:

Our guest today is Elena Brescacin. Elena is joining us from Italy. She’s a content creator writing real life and fantasy stories in WordPress. When WordPress started becoming popular, the visual editor was not accessible to blind users like her. However, since 2021, the Gutenberg Editor has made editing much easier. We are excited to hear about Elena’s journey in WordPress and how she has made use of the new and improved accessible user interface, as well as learning more about her stories and what her interests are. Welcome, Elena.

Elena Brescacin:

Hi.

Angela Bowman:

We’d like to start off each episode asking our guests how they got into WordPress. How did you get started on this crazy journey with all your online writing and everything you’re involved with?

Elena Brescacin:

Well, WordPress, I knew WordPress in about 2003 or ’04. four. I don’t remember the exact year, but I was curious about blogging, what the blog was. I was reading many blogs about other people. They had a personal diary with dates, with discussion with stuff, and I was starting to become curious. So the first version was in English, but then the community, Italian community started to grow. The man who encouraged me to go to WordPress, not to give up, was a man, the first man who worked in WordPress, Italian, and he is called Paolo Valenti, Wolly for France. He’s known in WordPress as Wolly, but unfortunately, he’s passed away. He passed away one year ago, but his mission is still living, and I want to bring him a good memory from here.

So I started with WordPress. My first project was a site about audio editing. I was learning to have fun with sound. I created the stories, recording stories by voice synthesize.

Tracy Apps:

Oh, nice.

Elena Brescacin:

Yes. Now I am starting again, but I have less time. It’s more difficult to find free time. So I was sharing my project and my tips and tricks how I use my audio editors. Then that project went away because I didn’t find the sighted help for things, for images, for whatever, and the blog was, I say it was naked because it had no images, no graphic, nothing. It was like a tree without leaves and flowers. In winter, you see only branches and wood.

So after that, in 2009, I started a blog, a personal blog talking about technology abuse and the misuse because I had a bad experience about cyber bullying and some dirty things, but then I closed that blog because I did not like any longer to write about my personal business. It’s my business, my life is my business. Then I abandoned it until 2019 that I started that … My friend, another guy, we started to write some stories that were among friends before, a Facebook private list, and then I said, “Why don’t we create a website?” This guy said, “But you will respond about the website. I have no knowledge. I have my eyes, my sight, I can see, but I cannot help you in this.” Now I am playing with words. “I have my sight, the capability to see, but I cannot help you with your site, your internet presence.”

Tracy Apps:

Oh, funny. I love that.

Angela Bowman:

So then you had mentioned that in 2021 you felt like things had really changed with Gutenberg, and it’s really interesting. I’m sure Tracy’s heard all the same things I have where people have a love or hate relationship with Gutenberg, and many people miss that old tiny MCE text editor. I don’t. I like the Gutenberg blocks and that editing process. Personally, I see the benefit of that, but I’m curious. I was so curious to read how you felt like that improved the accessibility of WordPress a lot. Can you give us a sense of the before and after, like an example of what was hard in the editor before and what made it easier with Gutenberg?

Elena Brescacin:

Well, the tiny MCE or CK editor had some basic keyboard access, but every time you had to format the text or whatever, you had to remember or to remember the keys to press or to access to access the formatting toolbar, then choose, then go back to the editor and so on.

Angela Bowman:

Yeah. So I imagine it would be harder to navigate within the body of your text like if you wanted to bold some piece of text or make it a heading or make it a bullet list, and then at least with Gutenberg, you have that navigator list and you can navigate through your structure of your page probably. Is that correct?

Elena Brescacin:

Yes. I noticed a wonderful thing that Gutenberg … Gutenberg’s philosophy is like a screen reader’s philosophy. I mean, let me give an example. The code, the page code is made of sequential elements, the header, then the body, then the footer, and so on. So when you have the page on screen, one menu with, sorry, one content with a sidebar, a right sidebar, sidebar is to the right of the content, you see it to your right side. On the code, on the full site editing, no, it’s called the Site Editor now you have the header. It’s like a document. Gutenberg is like a Word document. You have the header, then you can choose if you want to group the contents in a singular group or not, the header, the content, then the right sidebar, and then the footer.

So what happens, it happened that the sighted person who is helping me to restyle the site, the website knows, has become aware about what happens because I have a glossary page. She said, “Put the letters, navigation menu, A, B, C, D, and so on to the right sidebar.” So we sighted people signed them there, but if you are a screen reader user, the right sidebar menu is sequentially-

Angela Bowman:

After the content does not work.

Elena Brescacin:

So you have all the words list and the glossary list. This was bad because it didn’t help. So we found a compromise, a compromise, and the left sidebar didn’t work because I found the letter before, even before the two or three paragraphs telling me what the glossary is about.

Tracy Apps:

Yup, makes sense.

Elena Brescacin:

So we found the compromise about, first, the content, then the navigation menu block with the letters, and then all the words with headings, anchors and stuff, and then the right sidebar with other information. So with the menu, repeated letters menu. Well, another thing that it’s important about Gutenberg, that tiny MCE or CK editor didn’t have is the ability to move code parts, text parts from a place to another. I found a bug on that because if you move with CTRL Alt Shift T or Y, if you go up or down, screen reader does not talk, does not say you moved the block. It talks when you use the ALT + F10 and then you choose the arrows move up or move down. That works. I just opened an issue on Gutenberg GitHub repository.

Tracy Apps:

Great. Yeah.

Elena Brescacin:

Because it’s important to improve the block editor. It’s important that we users make the difference, instead of complaining, protesting on social networks and so on. We must contribute to the community.

Tracy Apps:

I agree, and that is one of the things … I do a lot of accessibility work inside and outside of the WordPress community, and one of the things that, to your example of that glossary and that navigation of having things like the full site editing allows you to be able to … Because before you had basically the frame around the content, and then all the content was just smooshed in there. So if you needed to and have some content and then a navigation and then more content, it was really, there was a lot of hacking, basically, you had to go and a lot of shortcuts and things that were not necessarily good.

So I definitely think, and I remember early on just what the code that Gutenberg and the block editor produces is more accessible from my tests and everything, which is really, really good, and they’ve definitely baked those things in. For me to hear from your point of view of using the editor itself is exponentially more important for me because that is super important because if we are not … The whole idea of WordPress, the motto is to democratize publishing, and if we don’t have it so that everyone can publish, we are not fulfilling that goal of letting everyone be able to publish.

Elena Brescacin:

The most important thing is that with, yes, Site Editor, now I can customize the behavior of a single article or a single page without having to install tone of plugins, and without knowing code, without knowing code and the feedback I can ask once I have learned it correctly, the society, the feedback I can ask is much, much less than what I had to do with the basic things, classic things. What makes me very, very sad is I learned some days ago that most blind community is still using classic editor.

Tracy Apps:

Really?

Elena Brescacin:

And so I said, “Please turn 2024, please.”

Tracy Apps:

Well, hopefully more people listening will … I think it’s not only important to have more people using that, but also to recognize and finding more of those bugs to open up more of those tickets.

Elena Brescacin:

Yes. I insist on this. Using the platform helps the community to find errors because, I mean, we do not have a nuclear bomb in hand. The world is not exploding if you turn the damn block editor on.

Angela Bowman:

Yes, yes. It’s not exploding if you turn the block editor on. This is a T-shirt, this is-

Elena Brescacin:

We’re going to have a whole merch line just-

Angela Bowman:

You will survive.

Elena Brescacin:

I don’t want it because there are bug. There are bugs, but if you never get to do with that bugs, if you ever get in touch with those bugs, you will never test them, see where they work and where they not. Talk about them and allow the community to adjust them, to fix them.

Tracy Apps:

So I have a question. As someone who is sighted, what kind of ways and tools can I use to make sure that what I’m building is accessible for someone who is not sighted or what kind of training or where can I get some more information on how to make sure that I am including more people in whatever I create?

Elena Brescacin:

Oh, well, there are many tools. The WAI, Web Accessibility Initiative from the W3C, web content accessibility guidelines, they are very, very complex. Then there are many resources, WebAIM, web accessibility, digital, oh, my god, I don’t remember. Deque University, D-E-Q-U-E University, there are even some courses. Then I don’t remember the other site, A11Y Digital or something similar because in social networks and websites and so, accessibility is shortened in A11Y because the word accessibility has 11 letters between the A and Y.

Angela Bowman:

Right. Oh, that’s so creative.

Tracy Apps:

I remember because that started because if you make it as a hashtag on a Twitter, on a tweet, it takes up more than half of the tweet.

Angela Bowman:

When I’m building websites, I’ve started turning on my screen reader so that I have the screen reader read through pages, and then I’ll move things around based on the logic of the screen reader too.

Elena Brescacin:

Yes, but I found also some mistakes on the table of contents. You know the anchors bringing you down on the page?

Tracy Apps:

Oh, yeah.

Elena Brescacin:

There are many, many plugins, which give you this feature of table contents, but you click on the chapter titles and you go back visually, visually. They show the content of the desired chapter, but the screen reader focus remain on the index.

Angela Bowman:

So when we were just talking, I was thinking about this one client site, and they’re actually doing a webinar on accessibility, and I was checking the anchor text. It was not a table of contents, but it kind of functioned like that, like a button with a anchor text, and it was going to the registration form, but the focus wasn’t going to the registration form. So if you were keyboard navigating, for example, it scrolled you visually down, but then if you press the tab key, it didn’t enter into the field. It was interesting. I just made one change and it actually then changed the focus to be correct.

It was silly why it didn’t work because it should have worked the way it was, but it didn’t, and it was just a quick fix, but I’m checking now my table of contents. I use Elementor for these sites, and I’m just seeing if … No. So also, their table of contents does not take the focus there. So what happens is it visually scrolls down to that place, but then if you press the tab key again, for example, then what happens is it just goes back up to the table of contents, so the focus is not going there.

Elena Brescacin:

Another issue, you mentioned Elementor, the page builder is different than Gutenberg.

Angela Bowman:

That’s right.

Elena Brescacin:

If you Google, who knows, Elementor accessibility, diving accessibility, whatever else accessibility, you find lots of resources about how to create accessible content with those builders, I mean, how to make the front end accessible.

Tracy Apps:

That’s what really useful.

Angela Bowman:

Yeah. Well, just the front end, but then I imagine the backend of those builders is not very accessible at all.

Elena Brescacin:

The only one which is accessible by backend but is doing its best to be more accessible as it can is Gutenberg. Like it or not, it’s Gutenberg.

Angela Bowman:

Yup.

Tracy Apps:

Well, I mean, good. I mean, I’m glad that the core editor is the most accessible because if it wasn’t, that would be a problem.

Elena Brescacin:

It has some troubles, some bugs. I will gradually warn the appropriate things, but it’s the best as we have now.

Tracy Apps:

But that’s good. It’s going and it’s improving. That’s perfect.

Elena Brescacin:

It can and must improve, but for now it’s not or you get a classic team without Site Editor and here, sorry, hire a sighted person and, “Take it. This is my site, this is my blog. Please change my team. I trust you. It’s in your hands,” but it’s not the best solution because you literally give to another person the keys of your house. It’s not the right way to go.

Angela Bowman:

Yes, yes. Yeah, it’s definitely been eyeopening to use the screen reader-

Tracy Apps:

Oh, my goodness.

Angela Bowman:

… to navigate websites because of all of these things, but yeah, the page builders have not … Well, they’re not even mobile-friendly. The page builder editors, you can’t even use on tablet or phone. If I’m traveling and I don’t have my computer and I need to make a change on the site, I can’t even use my phone. It’s not even accessible to sighted users really in as much as it should be, but Gutenberg, I think that is a testament to the WordPress community’s commitment to accessibility.

Elena Brescacin:

Yes. Let me say the important thing. What’s making me near the Site Editor is that in 2021, I met on Facebook on a Facebook group another woman who is called Gloria Leoni. She’s been a speaker in two WordCamps. She will speak into WordCamp Europe too, and she has spoken about the site editing last year, 2023. I spoke into that WordCamp too in Verona last year. I had an Italian speech, but this woman was the one who introduced me to the WordCamps. In 2021, I had another speech to online worker, and then we met in-person in Verona last year, me and Gloria. In the end, when me and Alex, the guy who my content helper, decided we must restyle this damned blog.

I said, “I can ask Gloria.” She’s working by herself. She is a WordPress trainer. She’s a web designer. She helps business, small businesses, solopreneurs and so on. So why not believing in the woman who has believed in me at first? So I called her. I went to her website. I called her and said, “Please, if you can help me, I will be glad to you. I will hire you.”: Of course, I’m paying because they are, every lesson has a cost, but she’s customizing lesson to my own needs. I mean, we are learning from each other.

Angela Bowman:

I love that. That’s amazing. So she’s going to be speaking at WordCamp Europe?

Elena Brescacin:

I think so.

Angela Bowman:

That’s cool.

Elena Brescacin:

I saw her in the program, in the schedule.

Tracy Apps:

For this coming year?

Elena Brescacin:

Yes.

Tracy Apps:

Nice.

Elena Brescacin:

It’s in Italy, in Europe, yes.

Tracy Apps:

Great.

Elena Brescacin:

I also applied, but my application was declined.

Angela Bowman:

Are you going to attend?

Elena Brescacin:

No, I don’t think so because it’s very, very confusion. So if I had to speak, I would have gone, but I should find someone to help me, to assist me across the camp and so on.

Tracy Apps:

That makes sense. Yeah.

Angela Bowman:

I think we can always find you a person.

Tracy Apps:

Yes.

Angela Bowman:

There are so many wonderful people. So if you were able to go, we know so many people we would, and yes.

Tracy Apps:

Could have Tammy Lister, who is speaking-

Angela Bowman:

Oh, my gosh. We have so many people.

Tracy Apps:

… who was just on our last podcast.

Angela Bowman:

Yeah, Michelle Frechette, I wonder if she’s going this year.

Tracy Apps:

She is.

Angela Bowman:

So before we end our conversation, we’ve talked a lot about WordPress, but WordPress is not the most interesting thing about you. There’s a lot of interesting things about you, Elena. So you write fantasy stories in Italian fiction, and then you mentioned that you have this focus on HIV advocacy as well. So just speak for a few minutes, tell us about that.

Elena Brescacin:

Oh, yes. Well, my former partner, former boyfriend lives with HIV since 1993, and I had lived with him what the meaning of stigma is double stigma because we are both blind. So he had to experience two kinds of discrimination for blindness and for the virus, but my activist about HIV started in 1993 when I understood that every information family and school gave me about the virus wasn’t true. They said you cannot kiss, you cannot touch. They were very, very, very scared about it in those times.

So I said, I promised to myself much, much time before knowing, meeting this guy, I will do whatever is possible to avoid that other people live the same misinformation I have experienced. So when I split with my boyfriend, I wrote an article in another WordPress blog, the personal blog I had about how frustrated and unhappy I was with the television service. In a few days, a guy contacted me, a guy who at that time was working for that service, for the service. I felt scared because, my god, he’s going to sue me, but he said, “What can I do to help you? Because we do not have all the description. We do not have stuff. How can I help you to watch the TV, the films, the movies?”

So we started chatting, and I jokingly said, “If you have the same TV service, we can watch it together and you are the audio description.” He and his boyfriend was arguing about how to describe because his boyfriend described me the colors of the people who were wearing clothes and my friend described the actions, but now it’s changed. In the end, he came out with me and said, “The truth is not I contacted you for the TV. I contacted you for the video.” I have a video on YouTube in Italian. That video, I performed with my former boyfriend about HIV and AIDS, it was for the … What’s the name? Sex education, an association about sex education we’re talking. He said, this guy, my now blog helper said, “I am positive too. I am positive like your boyfriend. I contacted you not for the TV. The blindness and the TV is an excuse. I want to talk about my experience. I want to hear your negative point of view, HIV negative point of view because my boyfriend So-and-So …”

In the end, we became friends and we started joking about the double meaning of the word negative. He said, “You are bringing negative energy around,” and from there, we started to think about this project and we said, “Why don’t we create, why don’t we reverse the world? The way to fight HIV stigma is to send it from where it comes.” So if in the real world the HIV negative people reject and discriminate the positive people in the positive world, the positive people discriminate the negative people.

Angela Bowman:

And that’s the fantasy fiction.

Elena Brescacin:

Yes. Exactly.

Angela Bowman:

I love it. I think about this woman science fiction writer who wrote The Left Hand of Darkness. Why am I blanking? Left Hand of Darkness because she had some of those. Ursula Le Guin has a lot of that style in her science fiction writing of flipping the tables on things.

Elena Brescacin:

Yes. There are many, many stories. There is another on Apple TV that is called See and The World is Blind. So if the world can be blind, the world can be deaf, why don’t we propose a positive world? Because the difference is, one, the negative can become positive, but in the positive world, the virus has right of word, right of vote. Even if the negative wants to be positive, the positive wants to turn the negative, to upgrade the negative status, but if the virus doesn’t want, nothing happens.

Angela Bowman:

Oh, wow. That’s awesome.

Elena Brescacin:

This is a simple way to explain the fact that that in the real world, if the HIV positive person takes medicines regularly, they cannot transmit the virus called U equals U, undetectable equals untransmittable. Another word double meaning is the word AIDS, put it capital letters of A-I-D-S, its I thing, but in lower case, it’s the plural of aid. So screen readers are aids, and that’s why the idea of the virus talking started from there.

Angela Bowman:

Oh, wow, wow.

Tracy Apps:

I love that.

Angela Bowman:

Bring it full circle.

Tracy Apps:

That’s so creative.

Angela Bowman:

That’s amazing. So as we wrap up, where can people … I know you’re working on a refresh of your website, but when it is back up, what is the URL for your website?

Elena Brescacin:

oh, it’s plusbrothers.net, but I will change to the English and it’ll be plusbrothers.net/english. Plus Brothers is even a game of words because plus is the sign, plus sign. In English you say plus, and it’s an assonance with the Plus Brothers because the virus, original virus is from Freddie Mercury, so it’s connected to music.

Tracy Apps:

Oh, yeah. Plus Brothers, oh, my goodness. Love it.

Elena Brescacin:

The biological connection, the biological bond among the positive world brotherhood.

Angela Bowman:

Nice. Love it.

Tracy Apps:

Love that.

Angela Bowman:

Thank you so much for being on today, and we will include as much as we can in the show notes, as well as I’ll include some extra accessibility links for anyone who’s interested in pursuing accessibility. I’ll post the links to the WP Accessibility Meetup led by Amber Hines. I’ll put some tools that I’ve been working with that are at least get you started on some accessibility efforts on your own websites and thinking about it, and yeah, thanks a lot.

Tracy Apps:

Thank you so much.

Elena Brescacin:

Yeah.

Tracy Apps:

Thanks for listening. Follow us on Instagram and Twitter or join our Facebook group. We would be honored if you subscribe to the show. You can find us on Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play, and iTunes. Finally, if you want to be on the show or know someone who would, visit our website at womeninwp.com. Until next time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Top