August 9th, 2019
You’ve probably heard that WordPress is open-source software, and may know that it’s created and run by volunteers. WordPress enthusiasts share many examples of how WordPress changed people’s lives for the better. This monthly series shares some of those lesser-known, amazing stories.
Meet Amanda Rush from Augusta, Georgia, USA.
Amanda Rush is a WordPress advocate with a visual disability. She first started using computers in 1985, which enabled her to turn in homework to her sighted teachers. Screen reader technology for Windows was in its infancy then, so she worked in DOS almost exclusively.
After graduating high school, Amanda went to college to study computer science, programming with DOS-based tools since compilers for Windows were still inaccessible. As part of her computer science course of study, she learned HTML which began her career in web development.
How Amanda got started with WordPress
Amanda began maintaining a personal website and eventually began publishing her own content using LiveJournal. However, controlling the way the page around her content looked was hard, and she soon outgrew the hosted solution.
So in 2005, Amanda bought customerservant.com, set up a very simple CMS for blogging, and started publishing there. She accepted the lack of design and content, and lack of easy customization because she wasn’t willing to code her own solution. Nor did she want to move to another hosted solution, as she liked being able to customize her own site, as well as publish content.
Hebrew dates led her to WordPress
At some point, Amanda was looking for an easy way to display the Hebrew dates alongside the Gregorian dates on her blog entries. Unfortunately, the blogging software she was using at the time, did not offer customization options at that level. She decided to research alternative solutions and came across a WordPress plugin that did just that.
The fact that WordPress would not keep her locked into a visual editor, used themes to customize styling and offered ways to mark up content, immediately appealed to Amanda. She decided to give it a go.
Accessibility caused her to dive deeper
When the software Amanda used at work became completely inaccessible, she started learning about WordPress. While she was learning about this new software, Web 2.0 was introduced. The lack of support for it in the screen reader she used meant that the WordPress administration was completely inaccessible. To get anything done, Amanda needed to learn to find her way in WordPress’ file structure.
Eventually, Amanda started working as an independent contractor for the largest screen reader developer in the market, Freedom Scientific. She worked from home every day and hacked on WordPress after hours.
Unfortunately, Amanda hit a rough patch when her job at Freedom Scientific ended. Using her savings she undertook further studies for various Cisco and Red Hat certifications, only to discover that the required testing for these certifications was completely inaccessible. She could study all she wanted but wasn’t able to receive grades to pass the courses.
She lost her financial aid, her health took a turn for the worse, she was diagnosed with Lupus and lost her apartment. Amanda relocated to Augusta where she had supportive friends who offered her a couch and a roof over her head.
But Amanda refused to give up
Amanda continued to hack WordPress through all of this. It was the only stable part of her life. She wanted to help make WordPress accessible for people with disabilities, and in 2012 joined the WordPress Accessibility Team. Shortly after that, she finally got her own place to live and started thinking about what she was going to do with the rest of her working life.
Listening to podcasts led her to take part in WordSesh, which was delivered completely online and enabled Amanda to participate without needing to travel. She began to interact with WordPress people on Twitter and continued to contribute to the community as part of the WordPress Accessibility Team. Things had finally started to pick up.
Starting her own business
In 2014, Amanda officially launched her own business, Customer Servant Consultancy. Since WordPress is open source and becoming increasingly accessible, Amanda could modify WordPress to build whatever she wanted and not be at the mercy of web and application developers who know nothing about accessibility. And if she got stuck, she could tap into the community and its resources.
Improving her circumstances and becoming more self-sufficient means Amanda was able to take back some control over her life in general. She was able to gain independence and create her own business despite being part of the blind community, which has an 80% unemployment rate.
In her own words:
We’re still fighting discrimination in the workplace, and we’re still fighting for equal access when it comes to the technology we use to do our jobs. But the beauty of WordPress and its community is that we can create opportunities for ourselves.
I urge my fellow blind community members to join me inside this wonderful thing called WordPress. Because it will change your lives if you let it.
Amanda Rush, entrepreneur