The hubbub surrounding Gutenberg (soon to be known only as “the block editor”) has been intense since early October. For the purpose of this post, I want to put aside discussion of the process that lead to the release. Instead, I’m going to make my own specific recommendations for what users of WordPress should do.
First, this is based on the assumption that you will stay on WordPress. Unless you have a pressing need to change content management systems, I think that switching right now is premature. The accessibility team has doubts about Gutenberg, but we may be too close to the issues and preceding drama to be fully objective. You should assess the platform for your own needs.
I think that concerns that WordPress is turning away from accessibility are also unfounded. This process has been messy and painful, and the accessibility team has not agreed with the Gutenberg team on some fundamental principles. However, the end product – while imperfect – is considerably better than anything else on the market. What the future will hold is still in question.
Thankfully, recent changes to the Classic Editor plugin will make it easier to learn Gutenberg without depending on it. Choosing the classic editor is no longer an all-or-nothing option.
- Install the Classic Editor plugin, or have your administrator install it for you.
- Go to WordPress > Settings > Writing to configure editor settings. Set the default editor to the preferred environment for the majority of your users. I recommend the Classic Editor.
- Configure the setting “Allow users to switch editors” to allow users to change their preferred editor.
The greatest concern I have right now for users of assistive technology is that the Block Editor will be time-consuming to learn. Dropping a user into a situation where using the Block Editor is necessary to their job will not lead to success.
While I believe that the majority of the editor is accessible (in the sense of “possible to use”), it is a very new experience, with many custom shortcuts to learn before it can become intuitive to use.
The option to allow users to switch editors is a key feature. This will allow users a chance to learn the new editor before becoming dependent on it.
If possible, you should get a second user account on your sites. Have that account configured to use the block editor, and start learning. Many of the keyboard combinations are exposed directly in the user interface.
Gutenberg User Documentation
You can access the entire list of keyboard shortcuts by pressing Shift + Alt + H. Some of the keyboard shortcuts have alternatives, due to the difficulty of identifying universally usable shortcuts.
Claire Brotherton has written extensive documentation on the use of Gutenberg for users of assistive technology, destined for the official WordPress Gutenberg documentation, but it is not yet published. I’ll update this post with a link to that documentation once it is live.
Why am I recommending the Classic Editor by default?
Accessibility aside, the WordPress ecosystem is not, on the whole, ready for Gutenberg. Gutenberg itself is probably ready for production. It’s not ideal, but is certainly vastly better than any of the other block-based editors you’ll find. However, you should approach it with the assumption that it will not be fully compatible with the total combination of your theme and plugins.
Gutenberg is a massive change to how the core WordPress experience works. While the Gutenberg team has worked hard, it is foolhardy to assume that every plug-in installed in 2007 and abandoned by its developer 4 years ago will be 100% compatible. But that is a description that could match any of thousands of plugins in the WordPress repository.
It isn’t just old, abandoned plugins that are at risk of breaking. There are well-maintained plugins with months of labor put into supporting Gutenberg that are not yet at 100% compatibility.
One thing that Gutenberg may do (and is a good result) is cause a sharp drop-off in the usage of old and abandoned plugins. However, you’re going to need to take some time to figure out what plugins you’re using are no longer viable and find replacements. Some of those plugins may not have any compatible equivalents. This process isn’t something you want to just dive into casually – you’ll need to schedule a close review of your WordPress set up.
And I don’t think you want to do that in December.