This month, as we approach WordCamp US, we feature Bud Kraus, a WordPress trainer who has made a career in helping others learn about software. He also shares how he has developed an approach to using technology in order to overcome longstanding difficulties with his eyesight.
In this People of WordPress series, we share some of the inspiring stories of how WordPress and its global network of contributors can change people’s lives for the better.
Teaching WordPress strengthens your understanding
Bud has taught web design since 1998, with students from more than 80 countries online or in person. He was determined not to let his sight difficulties stop him from his wish to help others learn website building and maintenance skills.
As WordPress evolves and new features release, Bud decided to extend his training services around helping new and existing users improve and practice their skills. He supports others in open source through volunteering to speak at WordPress events, and encourages others to do so too. He also gives time to help produce material for the free-to-access resource Learn WordPress, which is part of the WordPress.org project.
As a contributor to the Test and Training teams, Bud is keen for others to try contributing to these areas and help support the project’s future development. One of his current training priorities is to help people with using the block editor and Full Site Editing. He is an advocate for the usability of WordPress today, saying: “I can design all aspects of a website now with a block.”
Using WordPress as a traditional developer
Bud’s WordPress journey began with a lunch at Grand Central Station in New York in 2009. A friend and former client was promoting the idea of using WordPress, which Bud initially resisted.
“I’m a code guy…,” he told his friend at the time. “I will never use anything like that.”
However, the friend persisted. Eventually, Bud gave it a try and found a new approach with things called themes and plugins. His first encounter was with WordPress 2.6. Bud signed up with a hosting company and found a theme where he could learn to edit and understand child themes.
He said: “Once I saw that you could edit anything and make it yours, I was hooked. The endorphins were freely coursing through my veins.” Bud was hooked.
Teaching WordPress strengthens your own understanding of the software
There’s an old saying that the best way to learn something new is to turn around and teach someone else.
Bud was already an instructor at the Fashion Institute of Technology when he thought, “I could teach WordPress!”
And so he did, packing classrooms all through those first years of WordPress as it swept through the design world and further.
But Bud had more to discover. He said: “Two big things were about to happen that were really going to change my life. They would show me the way to the WordPress community – not that I even knew what that was.”
Sharing lessons learnt with the WordPress community
In 2014, one of his students suggested he start going to the New York WordPress Meetup.
As he started going to WordCamps in New York City, he realized that WordPress was getting very large. What’s more, it had a community of people with whom he felt at home and could learn alongside.
Bud gave a talk for the first time in 2016 at the only WordCamp to this day that has been held at the United Nations. He shared his knowledge of “Lessons Learned: Considerations For Teaching Your Clients WordPress.”
From there, Bud went on to speak at other WordCamps in the US. He also volunteered as a speaker wrangler for his home camp in New York City in 2018 and 2019.
From speaking to writing about WordPress
At some point before the Covid-19 lockdown, Bud found another outlet, this time in writing.
Bud heard a magazine was advertising for submissions related to WordPress. His first attempted article did not make the cut.
So in his second submission, Bud took the risk of writing about something deeply personal – a topic he really didn’t want to write about at all.
He gathered his courage and revealed to the entire web design world that he was legally blind.
The article appeared as “Using Low Vision As My Tool To Help Me Teach WordPress”.
Since the age of 37, Bud has had macular degeneration in both eyes, which affects his central vision. It is a leading cause of legal blindness in the United States and many other countries.
He relies on his peripheral vision and finding ways to compensate. He also tends to see things in a flat dimension and has a difficulty discerning contrast – he is glad there are starting to be improvements in color contrasts in web design!
He uses tools like Speech to Text, larger sized cursors and bigger font sizes, and heavily uses zooming back in and out when working with WordPress. He is able to recognize patterns but has to rely on detailed preparation and memorizing materials.
In his first magazine article acknowledging this situation, he shared the added difficulties that technology creates for people with visual conditions, and tips that he had found to try and find alternative routes around them. He uses the technique of finding alternatives in his training work to help people learn and understand, realizing that all people have different ways of reading and understanding. His words and subsequent stories have inspired others and enabled more people to highlight accessibility. He describes himself as a ‘stakeholder in ensuring that the WordPress admin is accessible.’
A year after its first publication, the piece became a WordCamp talk, ‘My Way with WordPress.’ The talk was a hit and started many conversations about accessibility and the importance of raising awareness.
A few months later, he gave a Gutenberg talk at the first WordCamp Montclair. There was no way he could have done it from a laptop, so instead, he did it from his 27” desktop computer.
Bud said: “It was a presentation on Gutenberg plugins. Since I couldn’t do this from a notebook screen (the screen is too small and the keyboard is hard for me to manipulate), it was decided that I would bring in my 27″ desktop machine to a WordCamp. I’m probably the first person to ever have done this. It was good thing I only lived a few miles away.”
He added: “I sat behind my computer, did my thing, and every once in a while peered out to make sure people were still there.”
Different ways of contributing to WordPress
One of the main ways Bud supported the community around the software was through talks at WordCamps and helping others to speak.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, he was keen to continue contributing when WordCamps were no longer meeting in person. He turned greater attention to supporting the Learn WordPress resource, a free to use learning platform made by and for the community itself.
More training materials on the block editor can be found on Learn WordPress and his WordCamp talks are available on WordPress.tv.
Global reach and meaning through WordPress
Bud’s training materials and willingness to talk about accessibility have helped so many people find their way with WordPress. He in turn is an advocate for the community around open source.
He said: “The software is really good, and the people are even better.”
He added: “I get a sense of accomplishment whenever I launch a new or redesigned site. It’s also given me a great feeling to know that many people have learned WordPress around the world from my talks and presentations. This might just be the most gratifying thing of all.”
Share the stories
Help share these stories of open source contributors and continue to grow the community. Meet more WordPressers in the People of WordPress series.
Thanks to Abha Thakor (@webcommsat), Mary Baum (@marybaum) , Surendra Thakor (@sthakor), @Meher Bala (@meher), @Larissa Murillo (@lmurillom), and Chloe Bringmann (@cbringmann), for work on this feature. Thank you too to Bud Kraus (@trynet) for sharing his experiences.
Thank you to Josepha Haden (@chantaboune) and Topher DeRosia (@topher1kenobe) for their support of the People of WordPress series.
This People of WordPress feature is inspired by an essay originally published on HeroPress.com, a community initiative created by Topher DeRosia. It highlights people in the WordPress community who have overcome barriers and whose stories might otherwise go unheard. #HeroPress