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Accessible Zen on ProfHacker

George Williams of the Chronicle of Higher Education’s ProfHacker blog featured Accessible Zen and other accessible WordPress themes in a post called, “Accessibility Ready” WordPress Themes.

The post is from February but I didn’t run across it until today thanks to Twitter. It’s great to see accessibility in WordPress getting some attention outside of the usual WordPress circle.

TinyLetter and a Big Win

Yesteday, I asked TinyLetter to improve the accessibility of its standard newsletter subscription sign-up forms.

The email newsletter service’s standard subscription sign-up  form lacked a form label, having just a placeholder element. Labels are critical for form accessibility. I’m toying with starting a newsletter and liked their service, but hesitated to sign up since I’m always concerned about accessibility.

They listened, acted quickly and should be applauded. If you look at one of their standard form pages, like this one, you’ll find a label hidden off screen. It plays nicely with the placeholder and works perfectly with screen readers.

More companies and organizations should take note. It’s easy to miss the simplest of accessibility requirements in the rush to release something or when balancing other priorities. I’ve done it too! But when you find straightforward issues, knock them out. You make improvements in accessibility by starting, and making one fix at a time.

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Weird Al’ Yankovic On Parody In the Age Of YouTube

Actually, I don’t view it as a competition at all. I think it’s wonderful that there’s a level playing field now. Anybody can upload their videos to YouTube and you don’t have to get the blessing of some record executive somewhere to get your stuff heard. If your stuff is good, chances are people will hear it.

Weird Al’ Yankovic in a piece on NPR about his latest album, parodies and the YouTube age.

I’m always interested on how the web intersects with creativity and publishing. It seems to be a similar story in many industries.

Being a Dad

A few days ago, my daughter turned eight weeks old. So naturally, that qualifies me to write a post about being a dad.

Most of what I’ve learned and experienced isn’t anything new to most dads, only new to me. But maybe you’ll find some of this helpful or humorous.

What I know:

  • The first two days and first six weeks are the toughest.
  • My wife is amazing and I’m constantly in awe of what she did and what she continues to do.
  • One cannot store up on sleep before the baby arrives. People say things like, “Get your sleep now.” It doesn’t apply.

What surprised me:

  • Caring for a baby isn’t that hard with a bit of patience, logic and love.
  • Babies make loud noises in many ways.
  • Just how fast she has grown. That shouldn’t surprise me!

What I love:

  • Rolling over in the morning and seeing her face.
  • Having her fall asleep on me.
  • The way she grunts when waking up.
  • Also, sometimes I think she tries to get up from my lap, her bouncy seat or the bed. I have a feeling she has big plans.

When I look at her face and she stares at me with those big eyes, I imagine her saving up all the things she’ll say to me in the future. I know I won’t have all the answers, but I hope to have a few. Being a dad is the most important thing I’ll do. I’m excited for what’s always new and just around the corner.

This Blog

I have a confession.

Sometimes when I find a new blog I like, or even an old favorite, I like to read the first post. The very first post. Nothing points to the truth of something quicker than its beginning.

I say all that to say that this blog never had a proper beginning. It just starts with a post about digital storytelling resources. It doesn’t give you any clues, lay any groundwork or provide any humor or suspense. You have no idea where I’m headed or what might make me get up in the morning.  Shameful, really.

So I’d like to give you a few of those in this post. Here’s goes…

The trouble with starting something is that it’s usually a good idea to know what direction you want to go in when you begin. Not necessarily where you’re going, but a direction. I had no idea when I started this blog in 2009. I have a better sense now, of course, but I won’t say that these things will never change or evolve.

From Stories to the Story of Me

I use to write stories every day as a reporter. Telling a person’s story was a privilege. One that I never took lightly. I think that’s part of what made me so bad at telling my own. I always felt uncomfortable writing about things I knew, learned or did. And I put this pressure on myself that it all had to be worth reading by even the harshest of critics. I struggled to put into words that in 2009, I was a bit lost – my story was a rough draft.

I came out of grad school at Elon, starting this blog as a class assignment (you’ll still find some assignments here). Did I want to stay in the content realm, do design or dive into development? I didn’t know and my blog content reflected that. Now, I’m a front end web developer with a passion for accessibility who thinks writing code is a lot like writing stories. I’m a new dad, a CrossFitter and addicted video gamer. And yes, I still like to write.

So where does that leave us? Me, the writer and you, the reader?

I’m getting better at telling my own story. I’ve nuked a lot of blogs over the years in doing so. Writing is a process, as they say. I feel more comfortable hearing my own words and not just my words setting the scene for someone else. I’ve realized lately that if I read this blog 30 years from now, I’d want to get a complete sense of who I am. Not just what I did at work or in the open source arena. These are my words and it’s also a privilege to publish them so I put as much of the story on the page as I can.

I’m going to post on more of a variety of subjects, from professional to personal, but only if they add value. We’ll see how it goes, but I know one thing. This is only the beginning.

Lessons from Building an Accessible WordPress Theme

This post is a summary of a talk I gave at WordCamp Lancaster in March, 2014.

A phone call that lasted less than five minutes started my obsession with accessibility.

Dave, Meet Accessibility

During my first few weeks on the job at The Arc as Online Communication Manager, I spoke with one of our board members who told me he was having trouble using our newly redesigned website. He liked the new one much better than the old one, he said, but still struggled with a few key areas on the site. He rattled them off as I scribbled on a notepad.

After we hung up the phone and I digested the conversation, I realized I only knew how to fix one of the handful of items that he listed off to me. He was blind and used a screen reader to navigate the web. I’d never used one, but knew I had to learn so I could build a better experience for not just him, but anyone who came to our sites. I followed Jeffrey Zeldman, the father of web standards, and understood the very basics of accessibility, but didn’t really know how challenging and rewarding web accessibility could be. I dug in. (Need to know more about what accessibility is? Read WebAIM’s introduction.)

WordPress + Accessibility

A few years later, I wanted to give back to the web and WordPress. I honed so much of my front end development and accessibility skills off of opening up WordPress themes to see how they worked. So it made sense to build my own theme and release it under the GPL, like WordPress. How would I make my theme unique among the many already out there? I would bake accessibility in from the start, of course! And I would learn a lot along the way.

Accessible Zen

I released Accessible Zen in the fall of 2013 as a simple, accessible WordPress theme modeled after the themes I’ve admired on Zen Habits, built especially for personal bloggers. It proved to be a ton of hard work, but worth it. Here’s what I learned during the process:

Keep Your Goal in Mind

I set out to build a simple, accessible WordPress theme, but it turns out that’s hard when the web world keeps changing and tossing out new ideas at you every day. A theme design could go in a trillion directions. The one way that kept me on track was just opening up zenhabits.net in a browser once a week to bask in its simplicity. It served as a visual reminder.

Lesson: If you love your goal, stick with it.

Good Accessibility is Undetectable

Why is accessibility hard? The answers to web accessibility challenges and problems aren’t always clear. So much of the right approach often depends on the context of the website or web application in question. Plus, you can’t really see accessibility, like a design or content – whether it’s done well or not. Accessible Zen is built on the back of Underscores. The underlying code isn’t much different and when I look at Accessible Zen, I can’t see what makes it accessible.

Lesson: Love your starter theme of choice and use it.

 Small Details Make a Big Difference

In accessibility, details matter. When creating Accessible Zen, I focused a lot of attention on things like color contrast, skip nav links, default link styling and read more links. All these small things helped make the theme much more accessible.

Lesson: Small stuff needs love too.

Recognize What You’re Doing

You’re making something!

I spent countless hours crafting the design and code for Accessible Zen. I wasn’t sure if anyone would like it, download it or use it. But shortly after I released one of the beta versions, I saw this tweet from Shane Jackson:

I could have stopped right there and the theme would have succeeded in my mind.

Lesson: Find someone who loves your work.

Today, Accessible Zen has been downloaded a few thousand times and is used by my friends and even a company made of up of assistive technology professionals who are blind. Not bad for something born out of a five-minute phone call.

If you’re interested in making WordPress more accessible, join the WordPress Accessibility team.