Regarding Accessibility in Gutenberg

Following the Gutenberg discussions in recent weeks, the Core Gutenberg team have posted an update on accessibility in Gutenberg, in which they try to establish there are some accessibility features in Gutenberg. This is true!

However, whilst what has been done is good, what hasn’t been done is what is important.


Indeed, there is some basic functionality – like copying and pasting – that is almost impossible with the new editor. Here’s an example given in the comments: “In the case of cutting/pasting 2½ paragraphs it’s not just hard, it’s impossible.”

This is something I have experienced too. If you select one paragraph of text then Gutenberg switches to block selection, so you can only select whole blocks of content, and not partial ones. And when you do copy content, you don’t just copy content, you copy the html and code comments that structure the blocks. I don’t think this is something people would expect. Copy text from the classic editor and paste it into Word and you get text.

Another example is keyboard navigation: they talk about blocks being selectable with the keyboard, and perhaps they are if you use the secret ‘slash’ selector (type / at the start of a block followed by the block name and you can select blocks from a list), but if you press the plus button and type a block name you can’t use arrows to select the displayed blocks (which is something I have tried and failed to do on more than one occasion).

I’m an advocate for Gutenberg, but these are a couple of the problems I have experienced, so I can only guess how much more frustrating it would be if I had a disability of some sort.

Jen Simmons recently tweeted about the Gutenberg Accessibility debate and put it better than I could:

I can’t stop thinking about the fact that @WordPress (which “powers 31% of the internet”), is about to ship a massive overhaul of their interface without making sure that it’s accessible. Why was #a11y not a blocker for every new feature, so nothing inaccessible was ever allowed?

In the comments Matt Mullenweg replied and said (emphasis mine):

We think that the current interface could be a ton more streamlined, but we’ve compromised a lot of the alternative approaches we’ve wanted to take based on accessibility feedback and trying to have a single interface that serves all types of users

The idea that Accessibility is a compromise is a fallacy. Making something more accessible makes things better for everyone. As I showed above, there’s areas where I have had the same problems that are raised in the comments.

Accessibility is for all. Not just physical and mental disabilities (and not just blind people) but people using one hand on a phone, or being distracted by children (or cats?), or on slow connections, or with temporary problems such as a broken arm, or a migraine, or even those that are not very good at computers. All sorts of things.

Microsoft have a much clearer list of the types of exclusions on their Inclusive 101 Toolkit.

  1. Permanent: experienced by those who have a disability such as loss of limb, sight, hearing, or speech.
  2. Temporary: experienced by those who have a short-term injury or are going through certain events for a short time, such as looking into a bright light, wearing a cast, or ordering dinner in a foreign country.
  3. Situational: experienced by those whose abilities can dramatically change in specific environments, such as being unable to hear well in a loud crowd, being visually impaired in a car, or new parents doing tasks one-handed.

Note that temporary and Situational exclusions can happen to any of us. They aren’t about physical disabilities but rather things beyond our control.

For something as complex as Gutenberg improving A11Y can only have a net benefit. There’s no downside!

If you want to do more with accessibility in your own work then this article, Pragmatic Rules of Web Accessibility, is a great read and covers a lot of the things you can do at a basic level. It’s where I shamelessly stole the list of exclusions above from (although I did make sure to read the Microsoft Inclusive 101 article too :)).

Was it good/ useful/ a load of old rubbish? Let me know on Mastodon, or BlueSky (or Twitter X if you must).

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