Takeaways from WordCamp Europe 2021: Enhancing the Accessibility of a Plugin, a Use Case

At WordCamp Europe 2021, Rian Rietveld and Morgan Key presented Enhancing the Accessibility of a Plugin, a Use Case, sharing their experience of improving the accessibility of the Gravity Forms plugin.

If you’re not familiar, Gravity Forms is a popular form plugin that allows WordPress users to easily create forms, from simple forms to complex forms.

I’ve known Rian for years through the accessibility community and didn’t want to miss her talk at WordCamp Europe this year.

Shoutout to Morgan and Rian for sharing the text of their presentation on the Level Level website.

Here are my takeaways from their virtual presentation as well as notes from the after-presentation Q&A session (which isn’t included in their text version).

Enhancing the Accessibility of a Plugin, a Use Case

  • Accessible web forms are important, they need to work on every device and operating system
  • One of the goals of the Gravity Forms 2.5 version (released in April 2021) was to make sure users could build accessible forms
  • To meet that goal, Gravity Forms needed to learn how accessible the current plugin was and hired Rian Rietveld to conduct an accessibility review
  • To conduct the review, Rian used the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 AA level and checked the HTML for semantics
  • Tools she used for testing: keyboard, browser inspector for Chrome and Firefox, accessibility tree, screen readers (VoiceOver on iOS and NVDA on Firefox), aXe DevTools as well as the WC3 validator website to test the HTML
  • The review revealed Gravity Forms needed better feedback for screen readers, better keyboard accessibility, and improved feedback for form errors
  • Issues found in the review were entered into GitHub
  • Before any changes were made, the team discussed possible solutions with Rian. Accessibility is important, but you need to consider not breaking things for users.
  • Making a plugin accessible requires thinking and planning. The team needs to consider accessibility in every step they take. It’s crucial to train your team and support staff about accessibility.
  • Three concerns made implementing the accessibility changes challenging: 1. Backwards compatibility 2. Flexibility 3. Communication with our users (needed to teach users how to make accessible forms)
  • Gravity Forms published helpful accessibility guides on their website, with specific guides for content providers, developers, and designers
  • Another helpful resource on the Gravity Forms website: accessibility checklist for Gravity Forms
  • The accessibility review was conducted in 2019. In March 2020, the Gravity Forms development team began implementing feedback from the review (which took almost six months).
  • Before Gravity Forms 2.5 version, the layout of the form was created with list items
  • In the 2.5 version, the form design was updated to use div and fieldset as well as ARIA
  • In addition, the 2.5 version form error messaging is built differently than in previous versions
  • Advice for other plugin developers looking to build accessibility into their projects? 1. Don’t break stuff. 2. Hire someone (or someone in house) who knows accessibility well.
  • Focusing on accessibility is a team effort. Everyone has to be motivated. It’s a continual process, don’t expect quick fixes.
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About the Author

Deborah Edwards-Onoro helps small businesses, consultants, nonprofits, and higher ed with creative and distinctive websites. Deborah shares her expertise with web design, user experience, and accessibility on her blog, social media, and at meetup events. As organizer of Refresh Detroit, West Metro Detroit WordPress, and Metro Detroit WordPress, she encourages members to share their knowledge and experiences. In her free time, you'll find her birding, shooting photos, reading, or watching tennis.
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