Improving the Settings API for accessibility and ease-of-use

On January 2nd the first meeting to discuss improvements of the well-known, but not well-loved Settings API took place in #accessibility. After a healthy discussion the next meeting was set to take place last Monday. Since the suggested improvements are not solely related to accessibility, the location for the meeting was moved to #core. This post is a recap of what was decided during these two meetings.

Archives of the full conversations:

Attendees: @afercia, @flixos90, @helen@joedolson, @johnbillion, @rianrietveld, @sc0ttkclark

First Meeting

The original reason for calling these meetings were several accessibility problems on WordPress settings pages. To quite some extent, these are related to the table markup that is automatically printed by the current Settings API. On a related note, it was mentioned that being required to write callback functions for rendering each and every field is a major drawback. Providing default callbacks would thus not only make it easier to work with the API, but also further improve accessibility as these callbacks would all be reviewed by the team. So the two main goals that were figured out were:

  • Add some basic support to automatically render fields so that plugin developers no longer need to write their own callback functions for basic fields.
  • Get rid of the table structure to improve accessibility. Furthermore the accessibility team should also ensure that the markup generated as the core field output is accessible.

The first meeting was also centered on whether these improvements should be tackled through means of the Fields API project, a new “Settings API v2” or improving the existing Settings API. In the end it was decided to continue working with the existing API, mainly for the following reasons:

  • The Fields API project is a huge effort that will still take a while until it can possibly be merged into core. Still, it will follow up with the changes that will be introduced in the Settings API, as @sc0ttkclark pointed out. While printing fields is certainly the focus of the Fields API, introducing a few technically simple callbacks in core at this point will not be a problem as these can be migrated to the Fields API ones at any time.
  • While the existing Settings API has its problems, it appears to be possible to handle the necessary improvements without running into backward-compatibility issues. A completely new Settings API could have further benefits, but it would leave many users behind that would need to manually migrate, and furthermore would take much longer to scaffold and implement.

After the meeting, a general ticket for the task was opened at #39441. The ticket description provides more information on how the two identified goals should be accomplished. In addition to the technical details, the first part of the accessibility measures will be to create an HTML-only prototype of what a better settings page would look like. It should be created without the limitations of the Settings API, so that the result can be the best possible example for what the enhanced Settings API should produce.

Second Meeting

@rianrietveld had four items on the agenda for the second meeting.

  • At first, everyone was asked to review the patch that @flixos90 provided on the above ticket. The patch only applies to introducing default field callbacks, so it still lacks adjustment of the table markup and a proper accessibility review, but it shows a possible technical approach.
  • Related to the patch, a tiny plugin was created and uploaded to the ticket as well. This plugin allows for easy testing of the functionality. For easier collaboration and possible iterations, that plugin has now been moved to GitHub. Feel free to try it out with the patch applied.
  • Some results of an accessibility test for form elements that was conducted by the accessibility team were revealed as a preparation for the prototype settings page in HTML. A few major issues to consider were discussed, for example the requirement of IDs on every field, the proper usage of fieldset and legend elements and the problematic usage of <input type="number"> for Dragon NaturallySpeaking speech recognition software. For creating the HTML prototype, it was decided to focus on replicating the core settings pages “General” and “Discussion”.
  • For the next step of the efforts, @afercia volunteered for creating the prototypes. As of now, the field markup he created for the two replicated settings pages can be inspected on GitHub (last two items in the list). These will probably be discussed in the next meeting.

If you are interested in helping out, there are several ways for you to do so: Please review the suggested improvements, the HTML prototypes and/or the technical approach. Feedback can be provided on the ticket, this post or by participating in the upcoming meeting/s. The Settings API meeting takes place biweekly on Monday at 17:00 UTC, so feel free to drop by. The next meeting will be on Monday, January 30.

#accessibility, #settings