Derek Featherstone will present a keynote presentation Friday morning at the Ingeniux User Conference 2016. Derek is the team leader at Simply Accessible, and is an internationally known speaker and authority on accessibility and web design. In this exclusive interview we chat with Derek about the importance of web accessibility, how it's changed, and where it's headed in the future. Don't miss Derek's presentation, Meaningful Work: Designing and Building for Everyone, on Friday, September 30th at the Ingeniux User Conference!
Ingeniux: You’ve worked as a web professional for over 16 years and in that time you’ve become an authority on web accessibility and design. What first drew you to the field, and what sparked your interest in web accessibility in particular?
Derek: The biggest draw for me was the idea of including everyone. I used to be a high school science, math, and computers teacher and my goal was always to ensure that even people that said "I don't get it" when it came to those subjects, would still walk away with something useful and meaningful. I tried to create connections between the arts and sciences. I was really aiming to make sure the message we were trying to convey was for everyone. When I got into the web, accessibility was a great fit with that concept.
Ingeniux: At Ingeniux, we’ve noticed a surge of interest in web accessibility in the web experience industry, as well as some pressure for organizations to get their digital experiences up to standards. Would you say you’ve seen a growing acceptance by organizations of the importance of web accessibility? How so?
Derek: Absolutely - over the past 3 years or so, more organizations are realizing that accessibility needs are actually growing, and not going away. From what we can tell, organizations are also embracing the fact that accessibility isn't a one-time thing... it's an all the time thing. Doing a project to make something accessible is a good start. What it really takes to succeed with accessibility in the long run is making accessibility and inclusion part of the culture of an organization. If accessibility doesn't get built in to everything, then an organization is likely to find themselves in exactly the same position down the road: all kinds of accessibility issues that could have been prevented. Organizations don't want that, and we're starting to see orgs move quickly from "How do we do this once?" to "How do we do this from now on?"
Ingeniux: I'm sure it's safe to say that you've experienced some push back from organizations in the past around web accessibility. Have you ever been in a position where an organization asks you why they should spend money on web accessibility? What would you tell them in that scenario?
Derek: Most individuals and organizations understand that making things accessible is simply the "right thing to do" - but it isn't always that readily accepted. When that's not enough, we often talk about what accessibility means to people with disabilities. Fundamentally, it becomes an issue of "What do we stand for as an organization?" We dive into an organization's mission, their vision, their values and their intent - what are they trying to accomplish in this world? How do they define success? Once we know how to position accessibility within that frame of reference, it can become a meaningful part of realizing that organization's mission.
Ingeniux: Each year there seems to be new technologies that dominate and excite the consumer landscape. Is there anything up-and-coming right now in web accessibility, technology, and/or accessibility initiatives that makes you particularly excited for the future?
Derek: Voice. It has been critical for years, but there's a huge spotlight on voice driven interfaces right now. As the technology becomes more mainstream, there's a huge emphasis on designing interfaces that work via voice only. As more people become more aware of those requirements, there will be a huge benefit for people with disabilities that require voice interaction. There's challenges that lie ahead in terms of supporting multiple languages, accents, or even the possibility that someone might not be able to speak (either permanently, or even temporarily because of connectivity issues). Thinking of these scenarios will be a huge benefit to accessibility. I'm quite excited to see where all of this goes...
Ingeniux: If you could give one piece of advice to an organization just starting to approach web accessibility in their digital experience, what would you tell them?
Derek: When you're getting started with accessibility, it will look like a mountain. You can't and won't be able to get it all done in a day. Focus on bite-sized chunks... on things that you can do, right now. Be a keyboard accessibility superhero. Build accessible forms that use proper labels. Ensure that you create great text alternatives. Create a logical heading structure. Sure, there's more. But get started with those things, and you'll make lots of progress. The only way to climb that mountain is one step at a time.
Learn more about Derek on his speaker profile and be sure to catch his presentation at the Ingeniux User Conference 2016!
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