We need to nudge governments to start funding and fixing accessibility issues in the Open Source projects that are being used to build digital experiences. Most governments are required by law to build accessible websites and applications. Drupal’s commitment to accessibility is why Drupal is used by a lot of governments to create ambitious digital experiences.
Governments have complex budgeting systems and policies, which can make it difficult for them to contribute to Open Source. At the same time, there are many consulting agencies specializing in Drupal for government, and maybe these organizations need to consider fixing accessibility issues on behalf of their clients.
Accessibility is one of the key selling points of Drupal to governments.
If an agency started contributing, funding, and fixing accessibility issues in Drupal core and Open Source, they’d be showing their government clients that they are indeed experts who understand the importance of getting involved in the Open Source community.
So I have started this blog post with a direct ask for governments to pay to fix accessibility issues without a full explanation as to why. It helps to step back and look at the bigger context: “Why should governments fix accessibility issues in Drupal Core?”
Governments are using Drupal
This summer’s DrupalGovCon in Washington, DC was the largest Drupal event on the East Coast of the United States. The conference was completely free to attend with 1500 registrants. There were dozens of sponsors promoting their Drupal expertise and services. My presentation, Webform for Government, included a section about accessibility. There were also four sessions dedicated to accessibility.
Besides presenting at DrupalGovCon, I also volunteered a few hours to help with Webform-related contribution sprints focusing on improving Drupal’s Form API’s accessibility. I felt that having new contributors help fix accessibility issues would be a rewarding first experience into the world of contributing to Drupal core.
Fixing accessibility issues in Drupal
At the Webform contribution sprint, Lera Atwater (leraa), a first-time contributor, started reviewing Issue #2951317: FAPI #radios form elements do not have an accessible required attribute. She reviewed the most recent patch and provided some feedback. I was able to re-roll the patch a few times to address some new remaining issues and add some basic test coverage. The fact that Lera and I focused on one issue helped move it forward. Still, our solution needs to be reviewed by Andrew Macpherson (andrewmacpherson) or Mike Gifford (mgifford), Drupal’s accessibility maintainers and then Alex Bronstein (effulgentsia) or Tim Plunkett (tim.plunkett), Drupal’s Form API maintainers. Getting an accessibility-related patch committed is a lot of communication and work.
This experience made me ask…
How can we streamline the process for getting accessibility patches committed to Drupal core?
Streamlining the process of fixing accessibility issues
The short answer is we can’t streamline the process of documenting, fixing, and reviewing accessibility issues. These steps are required and needed to ensure the quality of code being committed to Drupal core. What we might be able to do is strive for more efficiency in how we manage accessibility-related issues and the steps required to fix them.
While working on this one accessibility for free in my spare time, it made me wonder...
What would happen if a paid developer collected and worked on multiple accessibility issues for a few weeks and managed to move these issues forward towards a resolution collectively?
First off, I can tell from experience that most Form API and accessibility-related issues in Drupal Core as well as other Open Source projects are very similar. Most accessibility issues have something to do with fixing or adding Aria (Accessible Rich Internet Applications) attributes or keyboard access. A developer should be able to familiarize themselves with the overarching accessibility requirements and fixes needed to address the multiple accessibility issues in Drupal core.
Second, developers tend to work better on focused tasks. Most developers contribute to Open Source in their spare time completing small tasks. Paying a developer to commit and focus on fixing accessibility issues as part of their job is going to yield better results.
Finally, having multiple tickets queued for core maintainers is a more efficient use of Andrew, Mike, Alex, and Tim’s time. Blocks of similar tickets can pass through the core review process more quickly. Also, everyone shares the reward of saying we fixed these accessibility issues.
Governments should pay to fix accessibility issues
I’d like to nudge people or organizations to get involved. In the last month’s Webform 8.x-5.3 release, I settled on the below direct message within the Webform module’s UI.
My conclusion is that we need to directly ask people to get involved, and directly ask organizations to contribute financially (a.k.a. give money). I am admittedly uncomfortable asking people for money because I think to myself, “What if they say no?”
No one should say no to fixing accessibility issues.
The Drupal community cares about accessibility, governments have to care about accessibility, and governments rely on Drupal. Governments should pay to fix accessibility issues.
Talking Drupal and the U.S. Government
First, the U.S. government contributes code to Open Source via Code.gov. Second, the U.S. government requires all websites to be accessible, but there is no central department or team, ensuring that all government websites are accessible. All the U.S. government’s websites would immediately benefit from having a team dedicated to finding and fixing accessibility issues.
How can government and organizations start paying to fix accessibility issues?
The word “pay” is liberally used throughout this post to emphasize the need for governments and organizations to budget for and commit to spending resources for fixing accessibility issues. Either a government related-project needs to get someone on their team to fix accessibility issues or nudge (a.k.a. pay) a vendor or outside developer to fix accessibility issues.
We have to keep asking and experimenting with how we ask organizations to contribute.
Companies that work for governments should pay to fix accessibility issues
In an ideal world, governments should pay to fix accessibility issues. Realistically, some agencies in government can’t directly contribute to Open Source. As stated earlier, any outside vendor who works for the government can contribute to Open Source. Saying that “We care about accessibility and fix accessibility issues within Drupal” is a great slide to include in a pitch deck for a government project.
Maybe governments can mandate that vendors are contributors to the Open Source projects that are being used by a government project.
What is realistically possible?
Realistically, we need to need to fix the accessibility issues in Drupal and Open Source projects. Everyone in the world should have equal access to digital information and services. Every government needs to ensure that the software they are relying on is accessible.
In Drupal and Open Source, we ask individuals, organizations, and governments to get involved. Nudging governments to fix accessibility issues in Drupal and Open Source is just a very direct ask to fix a very specific problem that affects everyone.
There are two immediate ways for governments to get involved in fixing accessibility issues. Either governments dedicate resources to address the problem or they push their vendors to start addressing accessibility issues. In the Open Source community, we need to further embrace and encourage this type of contribution.
Embracing and encouraging governments and organizations contributing to Open Source
In the Drupal Community, we always acknowledge the individuals contributing to Open Source by listing maintainers and contributors on the project pages and even in the software’s MAINTAINERS.txt. We do recognize organizations supporting a Drupal project, but maybe we need to do more. In this day and age, we put corporation names on stadiums. Open Source has reached that scale that the organizations and government that contribute to Open Source are equally important as the individuals. Notably, in the case of enterprise-focused software like Drupal, where organizations are the target consumer, we need to figure out how to get these organizations involved and adequately acknowledged.
Acknowledging that we are already doing a lot
The Drupal community has accomplished something pretty amazing. We have one of the most accessible and secure Open Source Content Manager Systems on the market. We care about accessibility and security and work hard to fix and improve them. As a community, we need to always strive to grow and evolve. Nudging governments to get more involved in fixing accessibility issues will help make our software more accessible to everyone.