5.0 and Gutenberg are getting very close, but the WordPress Accessibility Team Lead has resigned over accessibility concerns
Last week Core Team member Gary Pendergast published a proposed WordPress 5.0 scope and schedule, which included a proposed release date of 19th November 2018, with a “backup date” of 22nd January 2019.
There are two strands to why this is a big deal:
- When 5.0 releases, there will be a ton of extra interest in WordPress, many users will use Gutenberg for the first time, and inevitably they’ll be a jump in maintenance and support requests.
- Rian Rietveld, the WordPress Accessibility Team Lead, has resigned, citing frustration at, amongst other things "the overall Gutenberg design, where accessibility hasn’t been incorporated in the design process".
These are both huge issues, so let's look at each in turn.
First, the date. The new editor will result in a rise in maintenance and support requests, and the proposed release date is three days before Thanksgiving (a major US holiday). This also coincides with Black Friday/Cyber Monday, two major eCommerce sales days. Thus, many in the US will have scheduled this as family time off, but might find themselves needing to work on Gutenberg issues instead.
Here’s a selection of comments from the release post:
“We are the WordPress 1%. The people we build WordPress for are not in these conversations, nor are they aware of what is happening. They trust WordPress to “do the right thing”. In this case, from my perspective, that is to at least avoid a major release a few days before a major holiday.” - Morten Rand-Hendriksen
“There won’t be a perfect time to release, but there certainly are times we can look at and go “This is probably bad…” I think this is a case of the latter.” - Mika Epstein
“Some of us would like to spend Thanksgiving week with our family and friends and not handling support requests for the users who unwittingly upgrade to 5.0 without knowing how big of a change it is.” - Justin Tadlock
This release date would conveniently get Gutenberg out in time for WordCamp US. Here's Carl Hancock:
“Just going to call… [out] anyone claiming “every date is bad for someone” or “every month has holidays somewhere” when defending possible Nov-Dec WordPress 5.0 release. It is trying to be rammed in for WordCamp U.S. where those November and December holidays are major ones… WordPress isn’t Apple.”
The Tavern also covers some of this reaction in a separate post (to its credit, as it’s indirectly owned by Matt Mullenweg).
This is a tricky one. As we know from WCEU, the release date for Gutenberg has always been as soon as possible, and that probably meant “already happened”. Thus, it is only being released “when ready”, but right before a major holiday and conveniently before WCUS does seem unnecessary. There’s still a lot of work to do, as Gary’s original post covers; but there's also still a lot of accessibility work to do, which brings us to the second strand of this discussion.
As mentioned, yesterday Rian Rietveld resigned as WordPress Accessibility Team Lead over frustration with accessiblity in Gutenberg. This is a really big deal, and hopefully a "wake-up call".
Rian's post covers the issues: the Accessiblity Team has been engaged in Gutenberg from the start, but have been fighting an uphill battle to get accessibility taken seriously or addressed. In some instances where functionality was tested, and then made accessible, it was later changed and made inacessible. This is obviously extremely frustrating.
The Accessiblity Team lacked REACT expertise so focused on training and raising GitHub issues; this positioned accessiblity as a bug which needed fixing rather than something which should be at the core of the design from the start.
A full-time developer focused on accessibility at Automattic is now working full-time on Gutenberg, but arguably retrofitting accessibility at this stage is too late.
At the heart of this issue is not the individual contributors to Gutenberg, but a repeat of the issue we picked up on after "cookiegate" at WordCamp Europe: a growing disconnect between some contributors and the WordPress leadership. Rian addresses this with a section "To Matt Mullenweg":
To Matt Mullenweg I want to say: please take better care of your community, because WordPress is nothing without it. Cherish the people who dedicate their (own) time and who work very hard to make WordPress the best it can be. Don’t ignore or make fun of them, but talk to them, guide them, inform them. Don’t be disconnected from the community, be part of it.
There's rightly been an outpouring of support from the community for Rian and her Team's work. This now needs to turn into action.
I've been writing about Gutenberg "drama" in this newsletter more or less every week for the last 18 months. I don't especially enjoy it and would really like, as John Blackbourn said this week, if the WordPress community – and especially leadership – can learn the lessons from the last two ears, where "the first phase of Gutenberg development has been disastrous from a project management point of view."
I'll leave you with this, from Carole Olinger: "If this attitude [of a lack of respect] towards the people who keep the project alive will not change, #WordPress will loose its most precious and valuable trump: a strong and passionate community!" Nobody wants that. It's time to do something. - Alex.