Introducing Joe LoPreste
Joe says he’s very passionate about inclusive design for WordPress and considers himself a web accessibility advocate. He travels around the US giving presentations to WordPress developers, designers, and agencies about web accessibility.
Tara: This is Hallway Chats, where we meet people who use WordPress.
Liam: We ask questions and our guests share their stories, ideas, and perspectives.
Tara: And now the conversation begins. This is Episode 114.
Tara: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Tara Claeys.
Liam: And I’m Liam Dempsey. Today, we’re joined by Joe LoPreste. Joe says he’s very passionate about inclusive design for WordPress and considers himself a web accessibility advocate. He travels around the US giving presentations to WordPress developers, designers, and agencies about web accessibility. Welcome, Joe.
Joe: Hello, how are you?
Tara: Hi, Joe. Welcome to Hallway Chats. Thanks for joining us today. Can you talk a little bit more about yourself?
Joe: Sure. I’m from Florida. I have two daughters, 18 and 15. I’ve been dealing with WordPress for a few years now. Like you said, I like to consider myself accessibility advocate. Well, we’ll see you. I guess only time will tell.
Tara: How did you get involved in that? How did you get started in a very hot topic, the past, I don’t know, a couple of years especially? But I know before that, too, but especially it seems to be growing. So tell us a little bit about how you got involved in accessibility specifically?
Joe: Sure. Well, me and my lifelong friends started a web development company about five years ago, and we just specialized in WordPress. Shortly after we started that, we got a call from a local government agency that was asking about Web accessibility, and if we could do it. I guess every good developer would, in the beginning, we took the job. We started our research phase of that, and that’s really when it grabbed hold of me.
I just saw the individuals that needed the help, I saw the ability to help, and I saw the lacking of help. Not that people aren’t out there helping but I just really saw like I could help. And it’s just kind of grown from there. The more I learn about it, the more enamored I get with it. That’s really about it. It’s just grown from there
Tara: And it’s not just specific to WordPress what you’re doing. I assume that you’re working on accessibility beyond just that platform.
Joe: Yes. We work on pretty much all CMS’s. It’s not really WordPress specific, but that is where I did get the start. I’m much better at the WordPress aspect of accessibility but we do all of them.
Tara: I have a confession that when I test sites, and I use some of the browser tools for accessibility, it always frustrates me because it seems like a nearly impossible task to check all of the boxes. How accurate is that? How deep do you go with that? I know that certain organizations need to have higher levels and others, they have requirements to meet legally. How do you approach that? Do you check all those boxes?
Joe: Oh, yeah, definitely. We have to. As far as accuracy goes, the automated tools are not very accurate. There’s lots of false positives. Lots of, I won’t say false negatives, but they don’t show a lot of the stuff. Really, in my opinion, the automated testing tools are meant to just kind of get the low hanging fruit that really should have been caught in development before it was launched. So I use a testing tools as just a starting point to get familiar with the site to get familiar with some of the problems. But that’s really about it.
Liam: Joe, can you share some of the more common accessibility challenges that you find on almost all the sites? So somebody brings you in and says, “Hey, can you help us?” and you say, “Yeah, here are the five of the ten things that I always see?” And if you just kind of list them?
Joe: Yes, absolutely. Contrast ratio is a huge thing. That’s in a lot of themes spit out great text for some odd reason. I consider myself an advocate against great text as well. Link descriptions are always a problem. You know, the click here, the read more, those are always issues. Alternative texts are always major issues for images and all noncontent, but mostly images. Lots of different input fields always tend to be either mislabeled or not labeled. Text spacing is a pretty big problem. I can pretty much go to 90% of the websites on the internet and fail on just for those few things.
Liam: Yeah, those are big ones. What does text spacing mean? Can you describe that a little bit?
Joe: Sure. When we’re building a site, we tend to build them on our laptop, but nowadays, like everybody knows mobiles kind of where it’s at. So when you shrink that, you got to make sure that your text doesn’t overlap or a lot of assistive technologies. Low vision individuals use those to increase the font size. So the actual recommendation is if your font sizes increased by 400%, that it still needs to maintain its proper spacing. No overlapping. You shouldn’t have to scroll left or right to read it. Things like that. Really it also gets into just the ease of use as far as properly spacing your letters from each other, proper line spacing.
Tara: Do you mostly take sites that are built and then you fix them, or are you building sites from scratch or a combination of both?
Joe: Well, at this point the most of our work is for remediation. Now that all entails either fixing a site or if you get a really large site with a lot of custom elements and stuff like that, we’ll just go in and fix that. But if it’s a smaller site, sometimes we’ll just rebuild it. A lot of times, it’s just easier to rebuild the site, because we’ve created some accessible themes, and we’ve gotten pretty good at it. So we’re used to just building come out.
Sometimes that’s a much cheaper option because for us to fix a site, first we have to audit the site, and then we come in and remediate it. Sometimes we just tell the client, “Listen, it’ll be better and cheaper if we just rebuild it from scratch.” We can make your site look…we tell them about 90% the same, but it’ll be compliant.
Tara: Do most of the people who find you, are they doing remediation because they’ve been caught and snagged or because they have a desire to do better?
Joe: Like you’d mentioned in the beginning, accessibility is becoming a hot topic, because of all the lawsuits and everything, including the drive by lawyers. So most people that contact us, most of them have not been sued, but they all know about…they’ll either have a friend that was sued or colleague that was sued, or they’ll get noticed from the company saying, “We’re worried about this.” So they’ll reach out to contact us. We have dealt with a few companies that are in the middle of a lawsuit, but the majority of them are not.
Liam: Joe, I’m guessing from what I’m hearing you share so far that your background is more in development than in design. Is that correct?
Joe: Yes. I am not a developer. I mean, I can do some stuff with the assistance of Google and YouTube and all that stuff. I mean, I can do things, but I am not the go-to developer.
Liam: Is your then your expertise is around accessibility knowledge then, right? And then so presumably, other people in your company handle the development and the design, which you’re just flagging up the accessibility challenges in there or some shortcomings?
Joe: Yeah, for the most part. I mean, I will jump in…
Liam: I don’t mean just by the way. There’s a lot to that, I just…
Joe: Yeah. No, absolutely. That’s pretty much it for the most part. It’s mostly about time management. Because, you know, I’ll break down a website and I’ll make a big list, and I have all my steps to go through. I’ll work very closely with the development team every step of the way. I did get my started development. When we started the company, it was just me and my partner. We were everything. We were the developers, designers. We were everything just like I’m sure you too know, just have to wear all hats.
Tara: Joe, I’m going to move away from some technical stuff, because I know I could probably keep talking about this for a long time. And we’ll probably end up coming back to it because it’s a fascinating topic, and like your clients, I hear all this accessibility talk and worry about my own sites. And like I said, when I tell them sometimes I fix things, and sometimes I’m not sure what is actually broken.
But anyway, I wanted to ask you a question we ask everyone. I’m going to take it in a little bit of a direction as well. Because accessibility is something that serves others, and so I want to ask you, how you define success and how that fits into your professional work that you’re doing for accessibility if it relates at all to the service that you’re providing. In general, how you define success, but also related to the work you’re doing.
Joe: Right. Success is so different for everybody. Me personally, my personal success is finding that happy medium between a professional success and a personal success with my family. So it’s a tough question. I find the most value when my kids really are able to…they make comments here and there just about showing them that you don’t have to do a nine to five. You don’t have to work for somebody else. You can make your own way in this world, regardless of which way it is and make your own path.
And being able to bestow that and show it as an example to my daughters, that’s a big deal to me. That’s a really, really big deal to me just because I see so many people on a day to day grind, they’re just miserable. They can have amazing jobs, and be making tons of money, and they’re just not happy. Something’s just missing. So I really try to make a point to have that medium to where I kind of work when I want and I make plenty of time for the kids. And they see that.
They’ve actually made some comments before about being quote-unquote, “an entrepreneur” or just kind of work for yourself and make your own way. I try to just tell them that everybody out there making this world the way it is no smarter than then we are. We have every opportunity so we don’t have to follow in somebody else’s path or shadow.
That’s kind of how I define success, really just showing my kids that you can do it, and then we can live a happy life, and go and do things all the time not because of money, but because of the freedom that I’ve created by not following in somebody else’s footsteps or shadows. I don’t if that makes sense or not
Tara: Yeah, it totally does. We hear that from people. A lot of people that we have on Hallway Chats are self-employed people or people who have that flexibility of schedule, and they often list that as something that they consider related to their definition of success.
Going a little bit deeper into this, what I was talking about earlier in terms of what you’re doing with the web development for accessibility, I think all of us who build websites for other people, organizations, we feel good about helping their business and building a website that works well, and it’s user friendly, and checks all of those boxes. But for you, accessibility means a lot more than that. I mean, it is related not only to the website owner, but it’s really for the users of the websites, which of course, we think about when we’re building websites, but not to the degree that you are, which you are potentially making a huge difference for people to be able to use a website that they wouldn’t otherwise have been able to use. So paying attention to that. I’m just wondering how that feeds your feeling of success and your feeling of pride in what you do.
Joe: Oh, absolutely. No doubt about it. That is absolutely how I feel. I feel like I’m actually helping people, which is a good feeling.
Tara: Have you done user testing? I’ve gone to workshops and seminars where they show…the voice assessed…What’s the name of that? Why am I forgetting the name of that? Text reader.
Joe: Oh, like screen reader or something?
Tara: Yes. screen reader.
Joe: Okay. Yeah.
Tara: I mean, have you watched people seeing the impact of the work that you’re doing on people who need it?
Joe: Well, I mean, I haven’t watch somebody use a site that I’ve worked on. I’ll say this, through my travels of the US and WordCamps and stuff, I’ve met a lot of low vision individuals that are just as excited about helping me as I am helping them. So we will have them take a look at some websites that we have fixed or unmediated, and look at their feedback. And I have had on a few occasions them say, “Hey, that was actually really pleasant for me to navigate and use, and tell me that they appreciated what I was doing. So I don’t know if that’s quite on par with what you asked.
Liam: It is. No, it totally is. When I think about that there’s an extra level of motivation and satisfaction that I think that you may have that others may not when they’re just building websites. Without that focus, I guess is my point I’m kind of having a hard time putting my thoughts into words today.
Joe: Yes, absolutely. I mean, there’s over one billion people in the world that have a disability in. Like 250 million people have a vision disability. When I go to these WordCamps and stuff, I’m talking to developers and on my mind, every developer I can help, I just say they can help 100 people by building an accessible site. So I started doing the math and I just started smiling.
Tara: Yeah, that’s great. My brother is legally blind, and I know he has a hard time often on the web. Thankfully, now more with the ability to talk to text and that type of thing, they’re helped by that a lot, I think but it doesn’t help to navigate the website for sure.
Joe: Right, right.
Tara: Thanks for sharing that.
Liam: Joe, who are the bulk of your clients? Is it mostly government or private business?
Joe: At this point, the bulk of our clients are governments or individuals doing government contract work. Because to do government contract work, you actually have to sign a piece of paper saying your website is Section 508 accessible. And really, a lot of people just sign them away. Not really too worried about it. But that tends to be the bulk. We do get tons of other stuff. I mean, there’s recently we did a local Marina. So there are tons of random companies. But I would say at least 75% are government agencies or people doing business with them or nonprofit.
Liam: You mentioned Section 508 accessible. Can you talk about that a little bit? What is that?
Joe: Yeah. Well, Section 508 is the actual law the government put out stating that websites have to be accessible. They’re not 100%. There’s some gray area in there, but what they do is they refer back to WCAG. The WCAG guidelines. You’ve got AA and AAA. They say as long as you’re at least double AA compliant of the WCAG guidelines, you’re section 508 compliant. So section 508 is more the American version of the law, and the WCAG guidelines are the worldwide standards.
Liam: Those standards have been around for a while. Back when I was UK-based, the UK was probably about five or six years ahead of the US, at least, in terms of government legislation to accessibility. I’m glad to see it finally making its way here and making the web more accessible for people on this side of the ocean as well.
Joe: Yeah, absolutely.
Liam: Joe, we mentioned in your introduction that you go to WordCamps and you talk to people? How much traveling are you doing for your business these days?
Joe: Quite a bit, actually. Just this year alone, I’ve been to Miami, Orlando, Jacksonville, Atlanta, Raleigh, Durham, Birmingham, LA. I just came back from Nevada, and New York. That was a personal I was a personal achievement of mine gave a presentation right off of in Manhattan, right off of Times Square that as a big deal. I’m headed out to Philly in a couple of weeks, and then we’re doing Dallas few two weeks after that.
I’ll probably take November and December off just because I want to kind of relax a little bit. Hopefully, I’ll have the opportunity to pick it right back up next year. Because I request to speak here and they can they get tons of requests. So I look at it as Hey, next year, I might not be able to do this. So I’m taking all the opportunities that I can that’s laid before me in the moment.
Liam: Yeah, I appreciate that. How do you balance client deliverables when you’re traveling as much as you do? I appreciate that you’re giving to the community and you’re sharing your knowledge, and that’s great, and I support that, and I applaud you for that. But at some point, you also got to get back on the computer and finish that project.
Joe: Right, right. Well, the reason why we got into the software business, at least for me was the dream of a digital nomad – not being locked down at a desk or a house. No matter where I go, as long as I have internet, I can work and I can generate income, and do what I need to do to maintain. So I’ve really looked at this last year 2019 as the opportunity to really put that into practice. Because I work on my laptop at home or from my other companies office, stuff like that, but I’ve never really taking it on the road. I had dreams. So I’ve kind of been able to make that a reality this year.
So you know, I’ll fly in on a Friday. Friday night, I usually hang out in a hotel, do some work, and then the next day, I’ll give a talk and then go out and experience the city, do some more work that night in the hotel room and then Sunday fly home.
Liam: That sounds like a productive way to go. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about your adventures and digital nomadism? What’s something you’re willing to share, like, “Oh, yeah, if you’re thinking about doing this, don’t because so it seems like a good idea, but turns out it’s not”?
Joe: I see a lot of similarities with the digital nomad as I did when I first got into business for myself. It takes a lot of self-discipline. Because it’s so easy to say, “I’ll do it tomorrow,” and you don’t have a boss screaming down your throat. You don’t have these necessarily the deadlines you would have. We do have deadlines, of course. You got to have that self-discipline, and you got to be able to stay focused. It’s real easy to lose focus.
Once I first started doing this traveling, I really kind of lost myself in going to these new places because I’ve never been out to the west coast before. So just going around there, you know, I got to reset and refocus, be like, “Oh, yeah, there’s a reason I’m here.” And you got to be able to do that. And if you’re not able to do that, it’s going to be a tough run.
Tara: Can you tell us a little bit about WordPress as it applies to accessibility? I don’t want to get deep in the weeds here, but I know, there’s been a lot of talk, and I know we had some leads on the accessibility team leads in the past year. How is WordPress doing in your opinion when it comes to accessibility?
Joe: Well, there was a lot of backlash when they switch to Gutenberg because it did take a step backwards. But at the same point, part of that, in my opinion, is nobody likes change. So when change happens, there’s always that initial pushback and backlash. I think a lot of that had to do with just people didn’t want change.
But also I’m part of the WordPress accessibility team, and we have a Slack meeting every Friday. They have a list of bugs and errors that are strictly for accessibility. And these people are working their butts off one by one to knock these out. There’s an amazing amount of open communication and a tremendous amount of help. It really is amazing. Before I got to that point to get on that team, I kind of felt the same way a lot other because I’m reading all the same things everybody else is reading. So I kind of was having the same feeling. But then I got involved and I started to see that these men and women are working really hard. They’re just as passionate about it as I am, if not even more so, and they’re way smarter than I am. So that really makes me feel good about WordPress and accessibility. They are moving in the proper direction, and it’s because of these individuals working tirelessly to get it done.
WordPress is a community CMS and it’s really shining. On the back end with accessibility, 99.9% of the people in the world who use WordPress don’t see that, don’t see how hard these people are working on the back end. I don’t know if that answered the question.
Tara: It does, and thanks for sharing that. No, I really appreciate it. I think a lot of times, it’s easy to be critical when you don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes. I had worked on Capitol Hill for a long time, and we always especially in these days, a lot of people are very critical of government officials and politicians. While I’m sure there are many who don’t meet up to expectations, there are a lot who work really hard there too. So similar kind of thing. It’s easy to judge when you’re not there seeing how hard people are working. So I appreciate your sharing that experience with us.
Another question that we ask everyone on the show, Joe is about advice. If you would share with us some advice that you’ve received and implemented in your life that has been important and impactful for you?
Joe: Oh, yeah. I mean, just general advice that’s not specific to what I’m doing would really just be follow your heart. Do what your gut tells you to do because the world is a tough place. And this is one thing I really try to teach my kids that there’s a very good possibility that you’re going to be surrounded naysayers and people not wanting you to succeed for whatever reason. Not for some nefarious reason or anything, but it’s just our society has kind of, in my opinion, turned that way. So just to be able to block that out, or really, in my case, use that as fuel to continue what your heart and your gut tells you you should be doing. And if you do what’s right, and if you do what you think, is helping people, the money will come. Everything else will come after that. So do what you want to do, and how you want to do it. Make your own path.
And don’t listen to anybody else. Because they will try to steer you onto the path that’s already been laid because that’s where they went, or that’s where their parents went or whatever the case may be. Don’t listen to them. Shut all that out and do what you knows best. And you’ll be thankful for it in the end. Fail or succeed, you’ll be thankful.
Liam: I like that. Joe, how do you discern what your gut is telling you to do? And I’ll ask that in kind of two ways. One, big and thematically, I want to go into business for myself is one thing. But then, okay, I definitely want to do that. What is my gut telling me to do is a practical action stuff to get there. So kind of that? How do you do it at the big level, and then how do you trust yourself or learn to trust yourself or discern what your the probiotics in your gut are telling you to do as far as the next step?
Joe: Well, that’s a tough one because your guts going to be telling you one thing in your mind’s going to be super fearful, because that’s I think, just our natural reaction, and that’s good. They say that brave is just is scared as a scared…or whatever the saying is. You only need to be brave for one or two seconds more.
That’s a good question. You definitely have to weigh out everything. You have to think real long and hard because your gut will tell you one thing, and your mind’s going to be telling you another thing, and you’ve got to do your due diligence really to figure out what path you should be taking. In my opinion, if everything’s equal, go with your gut. But there are times where common sense or your mind lays out a very good case to not do something. And sometimes you have to listen to that. I guess just like everything else, you got to find the medium. You got to find that in-between what your guts telling you and make sense. I guess that’s about it.
Liam: Yeah, that’s a good one. That’s a good one. I want to go back to what you you shared about your definition of success around the medium. One of the things that I picked up on was the medium between work and time with your family and your particular with your daughters. How do you navigate that kind of week in week out? I get that it’s a priority for you. But if you’re traveling, and you got a new project in the door, and you’re trying to get land to this other project, that can be challenged to balance at all. What works for you? How do you try to keep yourself on the right path?
Joe: I’m in a unique situation to where I am separated from my wife so I have my kids 50% of the time, which is, we do a little bit different than other people. We do a three and a half days a week. So they’re with mom, three and a half they are with me three and a half. So I travel on the three days that I don’t have the kids. And if I can’t make it back, I won’t even sign up for that WordCamp. So the traveling part doesn’t take me away from the kids.
Then also being able to work on my own time. When the kids are at school, I’ll do some work in the afternoon. And then I’m always picking them up. And then when they go to bed, I’ll do a couple of hours work at night. I’m able to kind of spread my workout so it doesn’t interfere with that time. But at the same time, I also make it a point to do work sometimes in front of them to show them that it’s not all fun and games. That I’m not working and someone’s just depositing checks in my account. I really am working for this. I think I’ve done a pretty decent job with that.
Before the whole digital development company, I have a restaurant and this is kind of where I learned this because I completely overly entrenched myself and my original company, which is a restaurant and I overdid it. I just had to steered back to the center and just set up personal boundaries for myself to make sure that doesn’t happen because I’m kind of a workaholic. If you let me go, I’ll just work and work and work and work because I love what I’m doing.
Tara: Yeah, restaurants are hard to have a balance between work and life.
Joe: It was very difficult. But I wouldn’t change it because it led me to where I’m at. I’m just in a good spot.
Liam: That sounds like that’s a conversation we can go off for hours on is trying to find the balance of work and doing what we love. But alas, Joe we are coming up on our the end of our time together, which makes me sad in some ways because I’ve really enjoyed this. Before we say goodbye, can you share with us where our listeners and audience can find you online, please?
Joe: Sure. Our website is stpetedesign.com. I’m on Twitter @JosephLopreste. That’s pretty much about it.
Tara: Thanks so much for joining us. Thank you, Joe.
Joe: Oh, thank you for having me. Absolutely. I really appreciate you guys and your time. Thank you.
Tara: You too.
Liam: It’s our pleasure, Joe.
Liam: See you soon.
Joe: Bye. Thank you.
Liam: Thanks for listening to the show. We sure hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.
Tara: If you like what we’re doing here – meeting new people in our WordPress community – we invite you to tell others about it. We’re on iTunes and at hallwaychats.com.
Liam: Better yet, ask your WordPress friends and colleagues to join us on the show. Encourage them to complete the “Be on the show” form on our site, to tell us about themselves.