Molly Holzschlag


It was 1999 and I was at the National Association of Broadcasters conference in Las Vegas. At that time I was deeply involved in digital video. Apple was introducing Final Cut Pro at NAB that year and I wanted to be there. There was a pop-up bookstore with books on a wide range of technical topics and I was idly perusing them when I saw a book on HTML by Molly Holzschlag. The book was “Web by Design: The Complete Guide” published in 1998.

I started using HTML in 1995 and had created or helped to create a few websites, one for the college where I worked, but this was always in addition to my other work. Shortly after I started reading Molly’s book I had a chance to change jobs. One of the responsibilities was management of the website for a big educational organization. Based on reading Molly’s book I applied for and got the job. I began to think of web management as a career because of Molly.


Soon after getting that job we hired Molly to come and teach an HTML class and that’s when I first met her. I feel she’s a kindred spirit. She knows what a half sour is! We stayed in touch, renewing our friendship at conferences and trainings. I was, and still am, in awe of her skills. She’s a champion of open web standards and accessibility. And here’s the thing about Molly: she believes in an open accessible web. Not a Verizon web. An open web.

“If Tim Berners-Lee is the father of the Web, then Molly Holzschlag is its fairy godmother.”

Ultimately Molly’s work is about people and access to information. That’s what drives her. Molly cares deeply and gives freely because she knows that access to information is empowering. If you look at Molly’s Wikipedia entry it says “web evangelist.” One of the definitions of evangelist is “any zealous advocate of a cause.” And Molly’s cause is people and access to information.

Giving Back

I invited Molly to come here to Santa Monica to speak at Global Accessibility Awareness Day on May 9, 2013. She gave a very powerful talk which touched many people. I still have people mentioning that talk to me. She was supposed to fly out the day after but instead I was taking her to the emergency room. That was a turn for the worse of a serious health issue threatening her life and eventually her financial well-being.

I tried to set up a fundraiser with Molly some months ago but her heart wasn’t in it. I know she didn’t want to ask anyone for help, didn’t want to be a burden to anyone. Claudia Snell @claudiasnell and I had been in touch about Molly’s situation from the beginning. Last week Claudia contacted me to tell me that Molly was ready to accept our help. Claudia told me that Molly said we should contact her great friend Sharron Rush @sharrush of Knowbility. Sharron was already on board and ready to take action. Sharron had been talking with Brian Sullivan @BrianKSullivan, the founder of Big Design Conference, who had already done a fund raiser for his friend Keith Anderson @suredoc, and that’s how it all came together.


Brian set out to enter the information into the account on on the evening of Wednesday November 6. He was going to check back with us to take a look at what he had written before activating the campaign. We all woke up the next morning to find that we had raised $34k while we slept. According to Brian:

“When I had written the copy directly into the site, I clicked a button labeled Continue. It activated the campaign. Yes, I encountered a usability issue, but we rolled with it.”

Now, it’s Saturday night and $54,166 has been raised by 819 people in 4 days. And it’s all because of the generous people of the internet community who have gathered around Molly like a pod of dolphins raising a sick dolphin to the surface to breathe. Or maybe it’s more like a blessing of unicorns. LOL. There have been 2.5k social media shares about #TeamMolly in lots of different languages. Some common themes are Molly’s generosity, her teaching, her dedication to open standards and accessibility.

My High Point

The high point for me today was this Tweet from Molly:

@mollydotcom: Just wait until I’m out of this bed @AccessibleJoe – I’ll have some strong years in me. There is nothing we can’t accomplish together.

I’m going to sleep tonight knowing that the internet community and #TeamMolly have achieved something great this week and the fundraising is not over yet. There have also been pledges of about $25K worth of workshops being offered with proceeds going to #TeamMolly. This outpouring of generosity is wonderful to behold. And it’s all because Molly has always put people and access to information first, and it’s also because she let us help her.

April 2015 Update

Molly is not out of the woods yet, there is a second campaign to help her through continued tough times and I hope you’ll consider giving back to her some of what she has added to so many people’s lives. Thanks.

Accessible WordPress Themes

Are There Accessible WordPress Themes?

Recently I had a Twitter conversation with Marco Zehe @MarcoInEnglish in which he asked me about availability of accessible WordPress themes. I’m asked this question all the time.

WordPress Accessibility Team members have been working very hard on core, documentation, and a theme check process for accessible themes. We’ve devised an enterprise accessibility statement for WordPress. We have prepared a draft accessibility theme check process.

We have prepared the way for accessible WordPress themes to be created, uploaded, theme checked for accessibility, and made available in the WordPress Theme Directory. I’m attempting to do something about the lack of accessible WordPress themes with Cities, but the fact is that there are still very few accessible themes available. Here is a list of themes that claim accessibility.

A List of Accessible WordPress Themes

Themes constructed based on accessibility principles are only accessible in practice after they have been loaded with content and resulting pages are checked. Some of these are child themes, and you have to load the parent theme first. Some of them are not available in the theme directory and require manual uploading and installation.

In Theme Directory

Not In Theme Directory

Cynthia Waddell

Cynthia Waddell passed away Wednesday, April 3, 2013. She was a tireless advocate for persons with disabilities. Cynthia was the Executive Director of the International Center for Disability Resources on the Internet. I heard her speak many times at the CSUN International Conference on Technology and Persons with Disabilities. She participated in the formation of Section 508, and she went on to focus on Information and Communications Technology, speaking at the United Nations and all around the world.

Hall Meetings

To me the best part of a conference is talking with people. Meetings in ballrooms and hallways are often very productive. So it was no surprise when, in 2009, after Cynthia delivered another wonderful presentation at the CSUN conference, that I found myself at the front of the room talking with her. Glenda Sims @goodwitch soon joined us.

VPAT Means What?

One thing led to another and the topic of Voluntary Product Accessibility Templates (VPAT) came up. A VPAT describes how a product or service addresses U.S. Section 508 guidelines. I noted that in my dealings with vendors who had VPATs I had come to see them as generally divergent from the testing that I was doing. Cynthia and Glenda agreed. Soon we were tossing around ideas for a more accurate backronym for VPAT. In short order we had a satisfactory work product. VPAT, we said, actually stands for Very Packaged Alternate Truth.


Cynthia, for all of her many wonderful accomplishments, was still very approachable. She often took time to stop and talk about what she perceived as the pressing needs of the world for accessibility. She was truly a visionary, following her passion, doing her life’s work in a focused, purposeful fashion. I’ll always think of her when I waver on my path, and I’ll always remember that moment of fun Glenda and I shared with her.

Mel Pedley


Mel is a mainstay of the WordPress volunteer accessibility group, devoted tirelessly to leading discussions and devising solutions. She offers WordPress and web design services at Black Widow Web Design. I asked her a few questions and she replied.

Shoe Size?

Um – none! I’m much happier padding around barefoot or in stocking feet, preferably in my own hand-knitted socks (what can I say – knitting socks is actually algorithmic & I have the PHP scripts to prove it).


Getting the current Make WordPress Accessible group up & running. The previous mailing list died almost as soon as it was created and there was a lot of negativity when this group was set up. It’s taken a while but I think we have a really good core group now with a growing following.

Biggest Challenge?

WordPress is huge – both in terms of scripts & its development community. Web accessibility, almost by definition, impacts almost every part of it. Trying to keep up with new developments and ensure that accessibility remains high on the list of priorities is a massive task.

Change Most Needed?

Information, feedback & practical suggestions. The will is actually there in many cases. It’s just that developers are unsure how to check for access barriers and what solutions they should be implementing. The more dialogue we initiate, the more chance we have of better, more informed, core developers.

Growth of Make WordPress Accessible?

More bodies! We need developers so that we have a range of skills to draw upon when advising core developers. Talking in generalities is all well & good but if we can come up with hard, practical suggestions (right down to what markup tags to use or a bit of jQuery that works), the far greater the chance that we will get the right changes implemented quickly. Longer term, it would be great to have devs with accessibility experience in every WPORG team submitting code patches.

Disabled Users Needed?

We also need more disabled users to get involved. The greater the range of disabled user groups we have working with us, the greater the chance of identifying barriers and removing them.

Joe Dolson


Joe is a very talented developer who devotes considerable time to the WordPress accessibility group and to creating and maintaining outstanding WordPress plugins such as WP Accessibility. He is available @joedolson and provides WordPress and web consulting services at Accessible Web Design.

Shoe Size?



In terms of completed projects, I’m proud of my WP Accessibility plug-in, for what it offers. In terms of incomplete projects, I’m most proud of the push for better exposure of accessibility as regarding themes.

Biggest Challenge?

Effective communication. As an open-source, community-developed project, effective and efficient information sharing is very important. It’s not possible or practical for everybody to keep updated on every aspect of development in WordPress core, let alone elsewhere – so communicating well is crucial – and not something we’ve always done well.

Change Most Needed?

The changes aren’t just something that need to happen in the WordPress community. It’s a change that needs to happen on a far broader stage: if accessibility achieves an equal voice on the stage of web development, that will shift into the WordPress community. But as long as accessibility is not fully mainstream in all web development, it has no chance of making it that far in any community. It comes back, again, to the open source world: the contributors to WordPress all need to buy into accessibility, and understand it as a priority. The only other option is to build WordPress as an open source police state — but that would not be an improvement, as it would also crush the environment of contribution to the ecosystem.