WordPress Accessibility Team Lead Resigns, Cites Political Complications Related to Gutenberg

WordPress Accessibility Team lead Rian Rietveld has resigned due to what she describes as political complications and problems with working on Gutenberg accessibility.

“The last year, especially the last few weeks have been too politically complicated for me,” Rietveld said. “It’s better that someone else takes the lead now.”

Her post outlines challenges the accessibility team has encountered in working with Gutenberg without having a skilled React developer on their team. Their contributions have primarily been limited to testing and reporting issues. Rietveld said team members experienced frustration when they tested and improved functionality but saw it changed at a later stage, breaking accessibility requirements again. She also cites a lack of commitment to keyboard testing new features before implementation.

Rietveld said she used her network to try to get more companies and developers with React skills involved in Gutenberg accessibility contribution. In March, tests they ran on the plugin revealed a staggering number of Gutenberg accessibility issues that remain unresolved.

“The results indicated so many accessibility issues that most testers refused to look at Gutenberg again,” Rietveld said. She included a statement from fellow contributor Andrea Fercia, who has been highly active in testing Gutenberg functionality and reporting issues:

While the Gutenberg team has worked hard to implement some fundamental accessibility features (e.g. focus management, navigate landmark regions), the overall user experience is terribly complicated for users with accessibility needs at the point the new editor is barely usable for them.

The main reason for this lack of overall accessibility is in the overall Gutenberg design, where accessibility hasn’t been incorporated in the design process.

Feedback from accessibility users has been constantly evaluated and Gutenberg is actually a regression in terms of accessibility level, compared to the previous editor.

The Gutenberg project now has a dedicated developer from Automattic, Matthew MacPherson, who is working on accessibility issues and Rietveld said she hopes the core accessibility team will continue to offer him all the support he needs.

Rietveld’s resignation is a major loss to the WordPress project. For years her leadership and contributions have demonstrated the project’s commitment to serving those with a disability.

In 2016, she was instrumental in WordPress adopting accessibility coding standards for all new and updated code. Rietveld was recognized by Knowbility.org as “a knowledgeable, dedicated, and effective advocate for accessibility in the global WordPress community,” whose achievements had a major impact on the application used by more than 25% of the world at that time. She took first place in the Individual Achievement category of the Heroes of Accessibility Awards.

News of Rietveld’s resignation roused an outpouring of sadness and gratitude on Twitter. The WordPress community thanked her for her work and that of other accessibility contributors, whose efforts often go unappreciated.

“I’m not leaving WordPress nor accessibility, and in fact maybe now I can actually work on accessibility again,” Rietveld said. “I will keep giving talks and workshops. I also want to do research and work on tickets. But in my own pace.

“I will join the a11y table if asked on contributor days, but maybe I’ll just go to a museum instead.”