- Artwork by Eli Jorgensen
Derek Featherstone teaches us how designing for people with disabilities is really just better design for everybody. He shows us how people with disabilities aren’t different from us, they just use different tools to accomplish the same things. He encourages us to apply empathy to grow our skills in learning how to design for accessibility. He also reveals how taking small steps to incorporate something new into our design process could change everything.
Derek Featherstone is an internationally known speaker and authority on accessibility and inclusive design. He has been working on the web since 1999, starting as a web developer. He migrated to the field of accessibility and quickly discovered the need to move thinking about accessibility and inclusion into the design process. He founded and led an international team of accessibility and usability experts at Simply Accessible, which was recently acquired by Level Access, where Derek is now the Chief Experience Officer – focused on ensuring that accessibility and inclusion are seen as an integral part of user experience and service design, rather than as a simple checklist afterthought. Derek lives in Ottawa, Canada with his wife and their 4 children. He’s also a fitness instructor and 3 time Iron Man triathlon finisher.
- Origin Story (5:53)
- What Were Your “Aha” Moments? (12:02)
- Why Do We Tend to Forget About Disabled Users? (17:15)
- Tools Disabled Folks Use to Navigate (20:47)
- Accessibility, Greater Than Aesthetics (31:37)
- Has Designing for Accessibility Ever Made Things Worse for Majority of “Able” Users? (36:14)
- Story of Biggest Triumph in Designing for Inclusivity + Accessibility (42:36)
- What’s a Roadmap for Learning this Stuff? (44:56)
- Contact Info (47:35)
Derek Featherstone’s Twitter
Derek Featherstone’s Website
Derek Featherstone’s Lynda Courses
Simply Accessible Examples
Extreme Design (An Event Apart) [VIDEO]
Design for others’ current disabilities… and your future ones [ARTICLE]
Jason Ogle: Derek welcome to User Defenders, I’m super excited to have you on the show today.
Derek Featherstone: I am super excited to be here so thank you for having me.
Jason Ogle: Absolutely! The Iron Man I can tell you, Derek, that the only Iron Man I finished is the one starring Robert Downey Jr. Can you talk about that for a minute? I mean that’s a lot of training, right? The Iron Man stuff…
Derek Featherstone: It is. It’s more training than I expected. Now having said that, I haven’t been doing any Iron Man training recently; this is things that I did between around 2007 and 2010, 2011. I’m actually looking forward to getting back into it but it’s not something that I’ve been able to do to recently but its way more than I thought it was going to be at the time. To the point where I think peak training time we were training about you know somewhere between 15 and 17 hours a week to in the pool, open water swimming, biking and running. With those three things, we were probably training about 15 to 17 hours a week.
Jason Ogle: I bet you some of that tenacity in your training has spilled over into what you do for accessibility and design and things like that. So, I’m really excited to learn more about how that ties into your discipline to what you’re doing today and what you’ve been doing for frankly for quite a long time. So, every superhero and you are a superhero Derek, has a secret identity and origin story. Let’s talk about yours. I’d like to start the show by you taking a few moments to give us a look into your personal life.
Derek Featherstone: Sure! So, I have a disability myself. I don’t consider it to be a major disability or anything like that it’s something that I’ve never let stop me do anything and I was born with a club foot, which means that my left leg was facing straight but my left foot was basically pointing and hooked in towards my right foot. I had surgery when I was three years old, I used to have to wear these shoes that turned my feet out and had a metal bar between them so that I know it was kind of to try and get my foot pointing outwards since it was naturally kind of hooked inwards and that’s something I remember my dad telling me stories about you know the doctor said, “Well, you know you shouldn’t expect them to be too active or anything like that.” I just didn’t really listen to that part. I guess I was you know pulling myself up in my crib and still happy as could be and didn’t really know any different because. I’ve got this set of shoes on with a bar in it you know no big deal. Of course, I wasn’t consciously thinking that but I didn’t really know any different at the time so I grew up with that.
I don’t think that it didn’t have much impact on me from a disability perspective but it certainly, I never let it get in the way of me doing any of the things that I wanted to do. I was pretty active as a kid. I played all kinds of sports basketball, rugby, volleyball, soccer, football you know as many things as I could fastball all of them. I really never let it get in my way and just kind of did whatever I wanted to anyway. My left leg is weaker and I’m certainly finding now as I’m getting older that it’s you know I’m a little bit less active now and therefore, my left leg is, I’m finding…
I notice it a little bit more now it’s definitely a smaller size than my right leg. It’s definitely weaker than the other but that’s I think part of kind of my foundation of growing up and who I am. I had you know a lot of different experiences growing up; I used to be a high school teacher and I was very much into multiple intelligence theory which you know lots of people don’t really agree with or sort of challenge as a valid theory.
Jason Ogle: What is it?
Derek Featherstone: Multiple intelligence theory at its core is this idea; that we have different ways of knowing things and different types of intelligence and so you will often hear people say things like, “Oh, she’s a really hands-on learner” or “He’s a visual learner” or whatever it is and so that really is speaking more to their learning styles in the way that things connect with them and the way that people are able to make sense of those things.
Multiple intelligence is really kind of this idea that we all have varying degrees of intelligences in different ways. Ultimately, what I was really trying to do with that when I was teaching high school was really finding ways to connect what I was teaching with all of my students regardless of the type of learning style or the learning modalities that they preferred.
It was really about the message and the lessons being important for everybody and not just people that were you know I was a biology and chemistry teacher so I taught biology, chemistry and computers. My goal was that those things didn’t just matter or make sense to those people that were very mathematically or logically inclined or scientifically minded. From the beginning, I was trying to do things that really connected with people that were really interested in the arts. I would do things where I would encourage people to write poetry about the science concepts that they had learned and things like that so that it helped connect for them. In many ways, it’s really about that message being for everyone and that those lessons being for everybody.
When I started doing stuff on the web accessibility, it just kind of made sense.
This content, this stuff that we’re doing, this functionality whatever it is really is for everybody not just for people that are using a particular browser or aren’t using assistive technologies or have full use of their senses or whatever. It was really a thing for me that made a whole lot of sense when I started exploring the accessibility world and the rest is kind of like that’s what drew me into it and then it became something that I just for whatever reason really became passionate about.
It was something that I saw as really important and I had lived with my grandparents in my teens for some of the first summer because; I was working and where they lived was closer to where I was working so I lived with them and my grandfather in the mid-1980s had a stroke and living with him I was helping him all the time with things and I saw some of the struggles that he had with accessibility in the physical world, you know tripping over curbs and things like that because ;there wasn’t a good easy ramp for him to walk up and things like that. For me, there’s a whole lot of stuff that kind of all came in at the same time that are you know all these different thoughts that I think contributed to me naturally gravitating towards accessibility. There’s a whole lot there I think that goes into it and it’s really this composite picture of all these experiences that I had that I think have led me to where I am today.
Jason Ogle: I was going to say like this show is superhero themed as you know and it’s just really it’s interesting to look into your back-story and even just the little that you’ve told us so far about you know kind of where you came from and I think about you know your foot. It is a club foot. Is that what you called it?
Derek Featherstone: Yes.
Jason Ogle: I think about that and I think about the experience helping your grandfather and just kind of trying to put yourself in his shoes and I feel like there’s so many superheroes that have some sort of condition or ailments that by every account should actually hold them back from their full potential, yet they actually use that as a superpower. They turn it into a superpower to help others and I just feel like that’s your back-story already Derek is just showing me a lot of parallels with actual superheroes. I just I love that. Can you go into some more things that maybe just were Aha! Moments for you on this journey of kind of putting yourself in other people’s shoes especially, the seemingly and unfortunately, a largely forgotten disabled population that are using technology?
Derek Featherstone: Sure! I know one of the things that was a moment for me was pretty early on in my career. We were doing some work and we were doing accessibility specific work and there were times when people were coming to us for technical advice and we always recommended yes we can give you the technical advice on how to implement things. That’s a great starting point but it can’t be the ending point. Ultimately, we said we need to do some work after we’ve fixed all the things that we’ve shown you. We want you to put this to the test with real people and let’s test this with people with disabilities in a usability type session rather than just relying on us giving technical advice and going to fix all of those things.
Let’s put this to the test with real people that use assistive technologies every day because they rely on it because they need it. There are a whole lot of moments where we would go to a person’s house or their apartment and we would be sitting there with them and doing usability testing and having people try to complete tasks that we knew could technically be done. Seeing and hearing their reactions when seeing somebody use a system that we had helped become more accessible and seeing a person try to get through filling out the form with an onscreen keyboard where he was typing you know using that on screen keyboard, he was typing one character every 3 to 5 seconds and seeing a form time out because there was just way too much stuff there or seeing those moments where we get partway through a process or we were partway through the process and we get a two-thirds of the way through and then he suddenly prompted for something that we really should have prompted him for at the beginning of the process.
For me, if you tell me that I need my driver’s license at the beginning of a process, I’m going to go and get it I’ll have it handy and I’ll have it ready. If you don’t tell me at the beginning and I need it two-thirds of the way through, it probably takes me 30 seconds to a minute to go get it and continue where I’m from with this gentleman needed his identification to be able to proceed. It took him like 10 minutes almost to be able to not only find it because; he didn’t need it very often but not only find it but to be able to work his way around his apartment to get to where he was to work around his workstation where he was sitting where he was set up with all of his assistive technology, having to stop and having to go and get that and bring it back and then continue.
The impact on him of not having that stuff available upfront was just way more impactful than it was or would have been on me because I could have been able to get my stuff, my identification really quickly. Moments like that where you just realize you know you pass these things off as well that’s a little inconvenience. There are all kinds of moments where that little inconvenience to me as a person without a disability really becomes significant for someone that does. Those kinds of moments are just there. I don’t want to say they’re mind-blowing but they’re more like those as you said it’s like those Aha! Moments where the light bulb goes off and you realize I’ve really missed something big here and I should have done this differently. We should have made this design. We all know that we should give people the requirements upfront before they are about to go and fill out a form. It really drives home the impact of not doing so when we do usability testing with people with different disabilities.
Jason Ogle: I’m just kind of thinking about this right now this whole thing. I think Eric Meyer I think it was Eric Meyer who said, “When we say edge case we really just define the boundaries of what we care about.” I feel like so often that I’m totally guilty, I’ll raise my hand you know I’ve just kind of forgetting about a lot of these folks that are just they’re not us. I mean they’re complete opposite from us. I know you just described a scenario just one where you observed a fella trying to type and he was not able to do. I mean it took him 10 minutes to type maybe a sentence, right? I mean that’s one of those eye-opening things where we just you know like the edge cases I feel like this is really the core of edge case if you think about it. Why do we tend to forget about these folks so often when we’re designing experiences?
Derek Featherstone: I’m going to challenge you a little bit on that because; I think you know you said there are you know these people aren’t like us. I would actually say these people are exactly like us. They just use different tools, they use different tools or they have you know maybe they don’t go as fast as us but there’s a whole lot about people with disabilities that is exactly the same.
You know usually their motivations, their goals, the things that they’re trying to achieve on any site; they’re going to be exactly the same as us. I would say they’re more similar or more the same than they are different. I would challenge that notion that they’re different. It’s just that their method of execution is different or they’re the tools that they use are different.
We did a usability session yesterday with a client and we were just kind of doing a walk through and stuff. The young lady that we were working with I asked her about her assistive technology issues. She is paraplegic and she was using Dragon Naturally Speaking to use voice recognition for everything that she does on her computer and she is quite good at it. There are some things that kind of slow her down at times. But I asked her what other assistive technologies if any do you use? And her response was brilliant she said “Yeah, my Amazon Echo.” And she said I use it. She’s paraplegic so it’s difficult for her to get around her house or her apartment she said, “I use the Amazon Echo to be able to turn on and off my lights easily.
I use it to unlock and open my front door when my caregiver arrives. Her whole perspective, this tool you know the Amazon Echo for me, it’s totally a convenience tool but for her as somebody that relies on a voice user interface, it’s actually now a core piece of her assistive technology. She’s just using a different tool to do the same thing instead of her walking and opening the door by hand. She’s getting Alexa to do it for her and instead of walking over and flipping on the light switch or flipping off the light switch, she’s getting Alexa to do it for her. The thing that she’s trying to do in her day to day life are exactly the same, she’s just using a different set of tools to get it done.
Jason Ogle: Thank you for correcting my framing on that Derek. This is kind of an example of me just not understanding and me not being in the same environment as disabled folks who are doing their best with the tools they have. I appreciate that man and you’re right. They aren’t different; they just use different tools to navigate. Speaking of which, can you go into because; this is completely like I’m a guy asking questions to you Derek, as somebody who’s I think in a lot of ways representing The Defenders listening too who are especially just kind of diving into this field. I’ve been at this for a long time and there’s still a ton I don’t know about you know how disabled folks navigate a website or how they use a mobile app or can you shed light for us like what kind of tools like, different disabilities and what kind of tools that maybe these folks use and some of the challenges inherent challenges with some of these tools?
Derek Featherstone: Sure! You know there’s a full range and there’s pretty much everything you could possibly think about and I’ll say this to you first as well. You’ve been at this for a long time and there are all kinds of stuff that you don’t know because you’re not immersed in it every day. I’m for the most part immersed in it every day and I’ve been at this for a long time and I still learn new things every day. That’s the reality that we have. I mean, I know a lot of things but there are new little nuances and insights that I gain from working with people with disabilities and understanding the tools that they use in a more detailed way and understanding how do we make this better.
That comes from all of these insights and so for me that’s part of the reason I love it is because; I’m constantly learning new things as well. I love that about this field. I think it’s kind of that’s part of why I’ve always thought and felt that accessibility is just part of user experience. It’s not a fixed thing like this is how things work for somebody that is blind and therefore we know how to fix all of the problems. It’s not a set black and white thing.
There are new things coming up all the time, new technologies. I really think it’s a big part of overall user experience. It’s not just about the tools.
It’s about people trying to get stuff done that happen to be using tools so there’s I would say broadly about five different, four or five different categories of different disabilities and they’re pretty wide-ranging. I would say to people that have low vision, for example, may have completely different needs. We might have two people that are on the autism spectrum. There’s no comparison between them because they have completely different needs and characteristics between them. We generally talk about visual impairment, hearing impairment, mobility or dexterity impairment and then things that kind of fall into the realm of neurodiversity and those might be things like literacy-related issues or attention-related issues, numeracy related issues the need for predictability and consistency and an interface.
We all need consistency and predictability and an interface but someone that is on the autism spectrum that person that’s autistic might actually need that predictability in order to be able to move forward, whereas it’s a small pain for us to have this unpredictable interface where things change from one screen to the next. For someone that’s autistic, they might require it. And so there’s all kinds of you know I would say this. Anything on the cognitive and the neurodiversity side there are. That’s kind of the least well-known area of accessibility. That’s a big research area that people are putting a lot of time into these days is figuring out what can we do that focuses on the cognitive side, that focuses on the neurodiversity side.
There are things that are new techniques and new technologies are always being built. I would say probably up until about five or six years ago, people didn’t really ever talk about things like vestibular disorders or vestibular type issues. There’s growing kind of groundswell behind, it’s not even necessarily groundswell, it’s not like it’s a movement but its better understanding of what is happening. In vestibular related issues, your vestibular system is like your inner ear and it contributes a lot to your balance.
One of the things that we’ve started to find is that; people with vestibular related issues when they’re looking at animations on a webpage and we’ve got parallax type effects. You know that feeling of vertigo that you get when you’re standing at the base of a tall building and you look up and you’re like “Whoa! You know I’m not feeling too good.” The buildings started to wobble and that sort of thing to various degrees.
Jason Ogle: All of a sudden you’re a star in inception.
Derek Featherstone: Exactly! For some people with different types of vestibular-related conditions, that’s what their entire life is like looking at a screen that’s doing animations that can cause dizziness that can cause it, can even be more severe can cause headaches and migraines, nausea things like that. That’s something that we didn’t really hear about until about five or six years ago and people are becoming much more aware of it to the point where Apple built into the iOS preference for you to basically say it’s a reduce motion settings so that all those animations and fun interfaces that we think we’re creating. Since they can actually cause significant pain or discomfort for people with vestibular related issues, they actually have the ability to go in and turn that setting off so that instead of animating the effects in the interface are done in a different way. Instead of an animated thing, an animated page turn, it might be fade or something like that where there’s no animation that’s going to trigger dizziness or nausea or things like that.
Jason Ogle: Or maybe a seizure even.
Derek Featherstone: Potentially, yes! These kinds of things are changing all the time and we’re learning more about them. I kind of love that. When we talk about the cognitive or the neurodiversity side of things, things are changing and we’re digging in a little more to be able to understand those things better. In terms of visual impairment, we have tons of different vision so some people will be completely blind and require a screen reader. Some people will have different forms of low vision and so they need maybe a magnifier or maybe a magnifier and screen reader combination. Some people, for example, have no peripheral vision and some people have no central vision where they only have peripheral vision and that has an impact on how well they are able to visually see an interface and interact with it so they might have a magnifier tool that increases the size of their screen to say 400%.
If somebody magnifies their screen by 400%, they’re seeing roughly one-sixteenth of the screen at a time. Think of the screen, look at the screen you’re looking at. Now, while we are talking and envision like one-16th of the screen actually taking up the entire thing and you can see that you know there’s actually some interesting things that might happen if that’s the case. For people with low vision, we often see that multi-column layouts or things that are way off to the right-hand side in a sidebar for someone with low vision, they may not even exist because they may not even know that it’s there. Those are some of the kinds of things that we see. There’s really a lot to it. I mean literally we could talk about each sort of I don’t even like saying type of disability or category of disabilities but it’s sort of a useful structure that people have used to group things so we could probably talk about each different type of disability pretty broadly for an hour each. There’s so much to dig into.
Jason Ogle: I believe it!
Derek Featherstone: Some people are completely blind. Some people have low vision. Some people are completely deaf or maybe just you know may be hard of hearing, may have some hearing in one ear and no hearing at all in the other ear and that makes dealing with stereo content difficult for them and they have to change everything so that everything is converted to mono so that it pipes it all through their one ear. Maybe they need sign language or captions for everything. On the mobility and the dexterity side, there are lots of different things that we do at interfaces that make it a challenge for people with mobility or dexterity challenges to operate. So, really tiny targets!
I feel this when I’m working on my phone, the little tiny targets are difficult for me to hit. Multiply that by a factor of 20 or 25 and imagine what that might be like or imagine what it’s like for somebody to try and use a mouse when they’ve got an intention tremor. An intention tremor is when they’re actually concentrating on something, their hand starts to shake. Using a mouse can be quite difficult. They may need to rely on the keyboard for things. That’s one of the main reasons that we need to be able to use a keyboard for everything is that there’s all kinds of people with different types of disabilities that require keyboard usage.
Some people will be blind they need to use a keyboard because they can’t see the screen and they can’t see the cursor to even know where the mouse is. They have to operate everything by keyboard. There’s lots of different scenarios out there where things like keyboard access become really important and it becomes one of the most important things I think that we give advice to clients about is you need to make sure that you absolutely nail keyboard accessibility because; it impacts all kinds of different groups of people.
Jason Ogle: Yeah I was thinking, first of all, I want to say God bless Apple for adding that motion feature turning off the motion and the accessibility areas. I’m kind of hard on Apple sometimes but I think it’s just because we expect so much from them because they’ve done such amazing things. I just, I appreciate you putting that out there, Derek, that’s amazing and Apple’s really I think they’ve become really great champions at empathy for accessibility issues and adding features like this.
There was a whole probably undiscovered area in settings right that probably very few of us have gone and looked at or maybe you know just some of us have. I feel like that’s a neat testament to Apple, so way to go Apple on that. I was thinking about the vision aspects and man navigating the web must have been hell for a lot of visually impaired people in the 90s. You remember how we were a lot of it was small, light gray type, remember that? That was really hard to adjust.
Derek Featherstone: I do remember that I’m actually sad to say that there’s still way too much really tiny light gray type out there now. You know we see that all the time and you know the funny thing is maybe it’s not funny at all but we think of things in an interface that people try to mute or kind of not draw attention to but things that are required to be there like legal terms and conditions. Well, you put that legal terms and conditions in really tiny type and you put it in a lighter gray text so that you almost don’t notice it in the interface. What does that doing for people with low vision that are really going to struggle to see that?
They’ve got actually do work to even hunt for and find that text in the first place. Then you know many people with low vision will have tools that they can employ to transform that text and make it so that it’s not like grey text on a slightly darker grey background. They can they can apply tools to it to make that stuff stand out. They need to even know that it’s there in the first place and that can often be one of the challenges. There’s a whole lot of it still going on out there. And there’s even regulations in place in the healthcare industry that don’t allow you to put legal terms and conditions in text that would be smaller than a certain size and would fail from a color contrast perspective for just that reason. We don’t want to put terms and conditions in text that we know people that are aging just won’t be able to read.
Jason Ogle: Just because it makes the design look less sexy. That’s a lot of our rationale let’s be honest.
Derek Featherstone: That’s mostly our own ego and self-importance kind of coming through and I say this as a person that has done that before. I’m not saying this without, I’m calling myself out here as well.
Jason Ogle: Raising my hand too!
Derek Featherstone: Yeah, exactly. Are we really that oh man I’m going to say this. Are we really that precious?
Jason Ogle: Good point! I’m glad browser manufactures too. I think browser manufacturers have stepped up a little bit here too for the settings in the browsers.
Derek Featherstone: Yeah, definitely and most browser vendors are at the point now where they are including a lot of readability tools with their browser by default, which is basically it used to be like a browser extension or a readability browser extension. Well, those things are now like getting built into browsers where you can just basically say eliminate all the junk on this page and normalize it so that it’s this color, this size text and this color for the text. Put together a good base background and foreground color and let that ride and you can turn that on and off with a switch and I think that’s pretty helpful. Particularly for cases where we have this sort of the unfortunate effect of people putting a really low contrast text in their sights. I’ll have to say this too.
While I’m happy that that tool is there, I hate that we have to rely on it because that whole readability thing that we do, we know about it because we are nerds. Probably, every single person that is listening to this podcast is way more nerdy than the average person and I would bet that there’s all kinds of people that need that kind of functionality that just don’t even know that that browser functionality is there.
Jason Ogle: Yeah, absolutely! You’re right about that. I’m going to play devil’s advocate here and I’m going to ask a question that may come off a little insensitive but I am genuinely curious about this because I have a feeling that this is a scenario that is encountered more than once. I would imagine in trying to design digital experiences and Derek and Defenders listening, I’m going to link to some of the talks said that Derek has done he’s an incredible speaker and he does a straw test which is amazing.
It really helps increase your empathy for folks with especially with visual impairments where basically what he does is he puts he says make a straw in you know put your hand in front of your eye and you close it and then you look at the screen and it just literally quite literally put yourself in the shoes of a visually impaired person on how they experience a lot of digital experiences. I want to ask a question and it’s about designing for accessibility and you’ve done some amazing things at simply accessible now acquired by level access which is awesome. Congrats by the way.
Derek Featherstone: Thank you!
Jason Ogle: Yeah, you guys have done some interest really interesting things. Even creating design patterns that really didn’t exist like I’m going to sight a couple of examples before you ask me questions so I’m building this up. You guys have made like even icons, you’ve had to come up with unique icons for the column which I thought was brilliant, a brilliant solution.
Again the straw test with four tables and we do use a lot of tabular data on the web still and we always will I believe. I love that idea about how you can actually select a cell and it’ll bring the column and row headers right into context with that data. I thought that was brilliant. You had to come up with an icon to as best you could to describe what’s going to happen when you click that. There are a lot of things that you’ve done for this cause and I want to ask you, have you encountered instances where designing for accessibility has made life better perhaps for a smaller percentage of disabled users? But maybe worse or more confusing, for instance, with new design patterns etcetera, for a larger percentage of more able “able users.”
Derek Featherstone: I wouldn’t have to say no and the reason for that is almost every single time that we have made an accessibility improvement in a design; it has almost always made it actually better for people without disabilities. There’s this idea that people have said in many cases accessibility is ugly. Right or accessible sites tend to be uglier and we can’t have our brilliant design. But I look at it and frame it in a completely different way.
There’s actually you know the need for accessibility and inclusion is just another design constraint that we need to work within our designs and it actually in many ways I think pushes us to be better designers.
So, we’ve seen in fact we’ve done I’ve sat with world-class design teams that work for world-class agencies and we’ve gone through accessibility improvements that they’ve needed to make in their designs. I’m not talking about the dev side of things here, I’m strictly talking about the designs and they have said to me after we’ve gone through most of a full day workshop on inclusive design, we’ve made all kinds of improvements and they’ve said directly to me “Derek, this is you know this is good.” Sure these designs are all more accessible now. Each one of them is just a better design, period.
Jason Ogle: I love it!
Derek Featherstone: I’m a big believer in the idea that when we design things intentionally to be more inclusive, we are making them better for everyone to begin with. That case where doing something in an accessible way has resulted in something that was more cluttered or was more difficult to use for people that weren’t disabled, I would argue that those designs were actually more flawed from the beginning and we were treating it like it was an add-on rather than something that was right there.
So, it’s not say more difficult to use for people without disabilities because it’s accessible. It’s more difficult to use because; we actually made it difficult to use for people with disabilities in the first place. We’re compromising or we’re getting to the point where we’re not doing things the way that we really should and building it into the design from the get go, we’re actually adding it on as an afterthought. Often when we’re doing that, we’re making compromises that we shouldn’t really and so we end up making it more difficult in the long run rather than being easier to use for everybody. There are very few cases that I have seen and if you asked me to come up with one, I don’t even think I could. When we get to that point, I would say this because; we have gone down that road before where we’ve said here’s the things that we need to do to make this more accessible.
What that is led to is people kind of pushing back and saying well if we do that here’s the effect of that and now this design is harder to use or it’s more cluttered or whatever. It’s more ugly. That’s the time to push back and say then we need to start rethinking this and go back even further because this feature the way that it needs to be in order to be inclusive and to be accessible, we need to start rethinking that so that we can get to a design that actually works for everyone. So to me, it’s more when we get to that point it’s more cluttered or more ugly or less appealing because; it just wasn’t a great design in the first place.
Jason Ogle: So, well said Derek, and I love what you said in one of your talks too and you just reiterated it you know a lot of what makes things more accessible is really just better design. So I love that that’s a wonderful and inspiring takeaway for all of us to consider and to contemplate. I know we’re running short on time. I got a couple more I want to ask you. Can you tell us you’re most moving story of what you’ve witnessed personally as the biggest human center triumph just by designing for inclusivity and accessibility?
Derek Featherstone: Yeah, I think actually very recent, we were doing usability testing with a client and I still get Goosebumps thinking about this moment. We’re working with a client wonderful client startup in the Bay Area and they had a lot of work ahead of them. They actually were facing you know they had a legal settlement and they needed to they were very design-centric.
They knew they needed to do a bunch of technical things but they really wanted to not have an impact on the design. We worked really hard with them over the course of a couple of years and most of the work actually compressed into about a year. They got to the point where they had fixed all the things that we had found in the representative testing session and assessment that we did. They fixed 473 issues that we found, they filed and fixed another thousands of their own. They really embraced accessibility from the design phase and follow that through to execution. When we were doing some usability testing at the end to verify and validate that yes this was what it needed to be. They actually had people with disabilities say and I’m getting goosebumps now just thinking about it.
They actually had people with disabilities that were using their service in the usability test say, “This is awesome, and where can I sign up?” Because; I want to become a customer, that moment was like probably like one of the best moments that I’ve ever experienced in my career. Just to hear that validation but also to hear that people wanted to sign up for that service because of how accessible and how successful that client had become. That’s a really special moment to me.
Jason Ogle: I’ve got goosebumps Derek myself I’m actually a little choked up but I think that that’s just an incredible testament to the work and that’s just one story to the work that you’ve been doing for many years and championing. I want to say I want to ask you because I know our Defenders listening I just know it, they’re also feeling the same way. They’re feeling inspired and they want to even if it’s baby steps even if it’s small steps toward working this into their design process. What’s a roadmap you can offer to those of us who just want to really go all in on learning how to do this stuff?
Derek Featherstone: Yeah, I think the very best way. I mean obviously, there’s you know there’s good courses to get you started and I know you know I’ve got I’ll throw in a little plug here on lynda.com I’ve got a couple of very design-centric accessibility courses that they can get to on lynda.com. One is called the Foundations of UX accessibility and the other one is accessibility for web design, really focused on the design side of things so those are a great starting point. I would also say that the best way to understand designing for inclusivity is to actually start doing it and to incorporate people with disabilities into all the work that you do even if it’s just getting out of your office and going and talking and sitting with people with disabilities as they use things just try to understand that better. That takes you a tremendous distance in terms of being able to understand these people with different disabilities that I’ve been talking with.
They are the same as me, they’re trying to do the same things. But here’s the tools that they use and some of the things that I can build into my design and to my development techniques so that they can have a much better experience working with this interface and I can tell you tons of stories. Until people get out there and go outside of their get outside of their normal routine of designing within their own heads and or designing for people that are just like them until we get out and start actually talking with people with disabilities and incorporating them into our process, we’re not going to have that much significant change.
I think that’s one of the best ways forward for people is to take one thing about your design process and figure out how to incorporate people with disabilities in it whether that’s near the beginning of the design process, the middle or the end. Anything that you do is more than what you’re doing right now. Like take one more step and incorporate something new even if you do something new every two weeks or every month. Talk to one more person. That will change. I think that will change everything.
Jason Ogle: So, good Derek. Can you tell our Defenders who are no doubt inspired like I am, the best way to connect and to keep up with you?
Derek Featherstone: Definitely. IamFeather on Twitter. That is my preferred handle in as many places as I can get it. Twitter is IamFeather on Twitter. I’m Derek Featherstone on LinkedIn. That’s another great place to connect. That’s probably the best place and I’m fairly active there and my DM’s on Twitter are open too. I’m happy to answer questions and chat with people and just kind of connect that way so very happy to do that.
Jason Ogle: Derek superheroes typically possess a strong moral code including a willingness to risk one’s own safety in the service of good without expectation of reward. You are a superhero my friend. I want to close with this quote from Sir Tim Berners Lee. I think I got this from you. I’m sure I did. “The power of the web is in its universality access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect”. Derek, thank you for being a champion for many years and continuing on! Thanks for fighting for users and fighting for all of us as well and helping us to learn more about this stuff. Just keep doing what you’re doing man. I really appreciate you. I just want to say last but not least, fight on my friend.
Derek Featherstone: Thank you! You know I will and you too. Thanks so much for having me and letting me share with your listeners.
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