The W3C Drops WordPress from Consideration

September 27, 2020

Topics: Accessibility, Web standards, WordPress.

Yesterday morning, one of my fellow WP Accessibility Day organizers pinged me with the message that they hoped that Studio 24’s decision to drop WordPress because of accessibility flaws would lead to a new version of WP focused on accessibility improvements. My first reaction, predictably enough, was:

Who is Studio 24, and why should I care?

Because, frankly, I saw that comment and had no idea what it was about or why I should care. On exploring the topic, and finding myself cited in the WP Tavern article that finds this important, I guess I feel some need to voice an opinion. Though only because of the size of the drama; and certainly not because of the decision that the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) and Studio 24 made.

To begin, I feel it’s an absurd degree of arrogance for anybody in the WordPress community to think that their pet content management system has any degree of entitlement to be used or even considered for any project, anywhere. While I don’t feel that the WP Tavern article itself conveys that sense, there are certainly some comments that do.

Major Topics of Concern

The W3C (gasp) chose proprietary software

The article appeared to focus heavily on whether or not it’s OK for the W3C to use software that isn’t free and open source. Well, yes. Obviously it’s OK. The W3C is under no obligation to prioritize software based on arbitrary license requirements. The statement that the “W3C has a strong preference for an open-source license for the CMS (Content Management System) platform” is in no way a requirement. It’s a preference; nothing more. If they had found an open-source license that met their requirements, that would be great – but they didn’t, so requirements take precedence over preferences.

Gutenberg might not be stable? Really?

As a second topic, the decision appears to be derived from concerns about the stability of the editor environment. This is clearly a well-founded concern. The official stance on the classic editor plug-in essentially leaves it up to the non-existent WordPress decision-making process to end support at some undefined point in the future. If there was a definite date, that clearly provided adequate time for the development of an equivalent support base (for example, 2025 might be feasible), that would be something one could plan on. If there was a definite commitment to keep the classic editor supported indefinitely, that wouldn’t be a concern. Gutenberg is in no way stable, and is not something I would expect any organization to make long-term plans based on.

WordPress offers poor internationalization support

Well, yes. WordPress has no built-in support at all for multilingual content. The W3C is an expansive international organization that produces content in many, many languages. Sure, there are plug-ins that can add support; but don’t imagine in any way that’s equal to having core support. This item seems to have gotten short shrift in most of the conversations about the W3C’s decision making, but it is an enormous problem for an organization like the W3C, and should not be underestimated.

Gutenberg doesn’t offer best-of-class accessibility

Last, accessibility. Which is where I was cited, of course. The specific paragraph citing me reads as follows:

Accessibility consultant and WordPress contributor Joe Dolson recently gave an update on [the] Gutenberg accessibility audit at WPCampus 2020 Online. He reported that while there are still challenges remaining, many issues raised in the audit have been addressed across the whole interface and 2/3 of them have been solved. “Overall accessibility of Gutenberg is vastly improved today over what it was at release,” Dolson said.

When I read that statement, I feel like it implies that I gave a positive report on the accessibility state of Gutenberg in a way that isn’t really accurate. Both those statements are absolutely true: two-thirds of the issues reported in the initial accessibility audit of Gutenberg have been solved, and the overall accessibility is, indeed, vastly improved over the release, as would be expected given the first piece of information.

But it ignores the fact that those accessibility issues are not the only concerns raised on the project. They only encompass issues that existed in the spring of 2019. Since then, many features have been added and changed, and those features both resolve issues and have created new ones. The accessibility team is constantly playing catch up to try and provide enough support to improve Gutenberg. And even now, while it is more or less accessible, there are critical features that are not yet implemented. There are entirely new interface patterns introduced on a regular basis that break prior accessibility expectations.

And the statement that Gutenberg is vastly more accessible than at release is not particularly significant. At release, it was woefully inadequate; now it’s bearable and largely usable, but in no way enjoyable. And in certain respects, it is lacking extremely basic features, such as support for adding video captions within Gutenberg.

My summary, a wholly personal opinion

Gutenberg is not mature software. It is still undergoing rapid changes, and has grand goals to add a full-site editing experience for WordPress that almost guarantees that it will continue to undergo rapid changes for the next few years. Why would any organization that is investing a large amount into a site that they presumably hope will last another 10 years want to invest in something this uncertain?

Gutenberg does not provide adequate accessibility for the organization that defines standards for web site accessibility and the accessibility of authoring tools. If we’re looking at a small organization, or an environment where you know exactly who is administering or authoring within your admin environment, then yes – WordPress offers an adequate level of accessibility, within a defined set of parameters. For a large organization, and for this one in specific, WordPress is in no way adequate.

WordPress does not offer internationalization of content or a core method to handle multilingual content. It just doesn’t.

Finally. Why should anybody outside of the W3C and their chosen vendor care what choice they make? If you’re not actively editing documents on their web site, then it’s really none of your business.

I know that I had more thoughts while thinking about this topic that haven’t made it into this post; but they’re just going to have to say unsaid. Not everything that comes to mind needs to be published.

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1 Comment to “The W3C Drops WordPress from Consideration”

  1. Your clarity is refreshing and appreciated.