Triple Bottom Line

Beyond Web Accessibility

November 16, 2022 Taylor Martin / Derek Featherstone
Triple Bottom Line
Beyond Web Accessibility
Show Notes Transcript

Derek Featherstone, accessibility expert, speaker, author, teacher, and creator of two accessibility courses on LinkedIn Learning. Derek has a rich history of building accessible websites and has become a visionary and leader in the accessibility and inclusion space. He discusses how big business are addressing some of today's most challenging accessibility issues, and how to bake accessibility into the DNA of your company!  https://www.linkedin.com/in/derekfeatherstone
  

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Triple Bottom Line | Episode 42 | Derek Featherstone

[Upbeat theme music plays] 
Female Voice Over 
[00:03] Welcome to the Triple Bottom Line, where we reveal how today’s business leaders are reaching a new level of success with a people-planet-profit approach. And here is your host, Taylor Martin!

Taylor Martin 
[00:17] Welcome, everyone. I have Derek Featherstone on today. He is an accessibility expert. He’s also a speaker, an author, a teacher of two accessibility courses on LinkedIn Learning that I highly recommend you check out because that’s where I found Derek. I’m always trying to sharpen my accessibility toolkit. I came across one of Derek’s courses and I learned a few things. I was like, hey, this is great information. I sent him a message on LinkedIn and then I went to his profile page. I really enjoyed his resume and then I started following him and I’ve been doing that for the last half year or so. I’ve really enjoyed what he’s been posting and so I reached out to him to see if he could be on the show today. Derek, I know you’re more than just an accessibility advocate. Can you tell our listeners a little bit more about your history, your background, and how you became in the position you’re holding today?

Derek Featherstone
[01:08] I’d love to. In the mid to late 1990s, I was a high school teacher. I got to the point where I decided it was time to leave teaching high school. I actually started moving into the tech field by becoming a technical trainer, as they might have called it back then. As part of that transition, it was very natural for me to do that giving my teaching background, I also had this massive desire to do things on the web because it was exploding at the time. I had been building websites for my students and for my coworkers from the early to late ‘90s. When I decided I wanted to leave teaching, the web was a really natural direction for me to head. I wanted to teach people how to build websites. I also wanted to do that authentically from having experience designing and building websites so that I was teaching them not from things that I learned in a book.

As I started doing that, started to grow that company, I got to the point where I had been exchanging in accessibility work. I’d learned about accessibility. That was a really natural fit for me. I have some disability in my family, my grandfather. I have a disability myself. I was born with a clubbed foot. A lot of those things resonated, and as I was working on the web, accessibility became really obvious to me as a direction that I wanted to head. I started out designing and building websites and doing so in accessible ways. That just helped build a business that ended up being focused entirely on accessibility. I’ve been in the industry since 1999, and ultimately, gone through the last 23 years growing my accessibility expertise and portfolio, if you will, over that 23-year period. It’s really clear to me that this is the work that I’m supposed to be doing.

Taylor Martin
[03:23] That’s awesome. When you were first introduced and started to understand what web accessibility was, you immediately aligned with it because you understood the importance of what it stood for.

Derek Featherstone
[03:35] Yeah, a big piece of it is just understanding that, I think [inaudible] said it best, like part of the underlying value of the web is its universal nature that everybody can use it. Accessibility is fundamental to that. For me, it immediately became clear that this unlocks a lot of things for people with disabilities that didn’t have good ways of participating in society and democracy, in trade and commerce and being able to buy things online or get services online. The value to not have to travel somewhere to get services, that’s valuable for everybody, but the potential value to that to somebody with a disability is even greater. We see that all the time. When I talk with people with disabilities or learn about their experiences, some of the barriers that they face, it’s difficult for people, I think, without disabilities to understand that a thing that I might do – I might just literally get up right now and go off to my vehicle, drive 20 minutes, pick a thing up at a store, and then come back, or I can go to a doctor’s appointment or anything like that, and it’s not necessarily that difficult, but when you think of somebody that doesn’t drive or cannot drive and what it takes for them to go and do the exact same thing, it’s pretty significant. There’s barriers that we just don’t even think of.

A lot of people talk about a disability tax. There’s this extra overhead, that might not even be the right word for it, but there’s an extra tax on people with disabilities to do things that people without disability just take for granted, whether that’s I need to arrange a ride and that takes me – I need to go now and I need to arrange a ride and that ride can’t be here for an hour and a half and then they only have a small window when that friend is available to help me, or just the fact that it might take somebody with a disability proportionately more energy to do something is barriers that many people without disabilities just don’t even consider. There’s a lot to it. It all just connected for me. The things I’m saying now, I didn’t have this understanding in 2003, 2004, 2005. These are all things that have connected since then. It was definitely a little bit simpler of a story back then when it was really – a lot of it for me was this is the right thing to do. I know that it removes barriers. It’s through doing all the work that I ended up doing with different clients and with different organizations that helped me see all of the impact of that work in a different way.

Taylor Martin
[06:53] I was introduced to accessibility in 2009, I believe. I was hired by a company, which was Vox Verde at the time, Green Communication, Green Voice. We were really focusing on sustainability. This website project came on where we were hired to work on with another company, a PR company. They had accessibility requirements. This is the first time I ever heard of what is web accessibility. I was just thinking for those that are listening that may not know what web accessibility is, it’s basically a process that we do visually when we design a website as well as the coding that goes behind it to ensure that anybody can access the content on that page through third-party software or hardware. We do this by following the web content accessibility guidelines, also known as WCAG or some people just say WCAG. That’s kind of been the golden standard. You’ll know, if you look it up, you’ll see I think it’s 2.1 right now, the version, and you’ll see version A, AA, and AAA. I’ve never designed to single A because it’s so low on the bar, but AA is where we spend all our time. Every once in a while, we have a client that has a high degree of people with disabilities and we code to AAA, but that’s really uncommon.

When I came in to understanding about accessibility, it actually really resonated with me just because I just thought why should someone not be able to access everything that I get to access on this amazing thing called the internet? Then I started to learn that it’s only like 10% of the internet is accessible. I’m just thinking to myself, that’s just not right. Shortly thereafter, we changed the name of our business to Design Positive because it was just a bigger and better umbrella. We started working with companies that believe in what we believe in in this cause as well as sustainability. It had a huge impact on me. Like I said earlier, I’m always trying to learn more. When I found your course online, I was intrigued with some of the things you showed me that I had never heard before. Most of it was more coding, I’m more the accessibility designer. I do the user interface and user experience and things like that. I want to talk about where the state of accessibility is right now, web accessibility, because corporations, I feel like corporations are finally starting to take notice of it. When you get the bigger corporations to start to take it seriously, then the competition that’s going after them is going, too, and it just trickles down to other businesses. Do you see it that way? How do you see it?

Derek Featherstone
[09:39] I think awareness is starting to get to an all time high. I think our, as an industry overall, just tech, technology industry overall, the execution and excellence in practice doesn’t match the awareness. Awareness continues to go up. I think a lot of people don’t know what it means to actually put that into practice. How do we live this? I think when a lot of people are thinking about accessibility and inclusion, they’re thinking about that standard, about the web content accessibility guidelines. They’re thinking about that standard as where they need to be. I would say from my experience, and I think I’ve said this probably thousands of times over the last 20 years, those guidelines are the starting point, not the end point. I think a lot of people don’t necessarily understand that, because when they’re new, there’s suddenly this, oh, look, there’s this wonderful checklist of things that we can do to make things better. That’s fantastic, but I think people find as they go on their journey that that’s ultimately not enough. It’s good, yes, we can make things technically accessible, but we can’t stop there.

We create digital experiences all the time. We use words like we want this to be a seamless experience. We want to create something that’s really easy to use. We use those words when we describe apps that we build or sites that we design or whatever it is, we use that kind of language, and then we turn around and say, except if you have a disability, you get this thing that meets the minimum technical standard compliance. There’s a big incongruity there between those two. I like to think about it as the technical standard is a starting point. That’s a great place for everybody to start. There’s nothing wrong with that. What I think people find is, as they create things that meet the technical standard, and then they go and work with people with disabilities and they put some of those things in front of people with people with disabilities, they find that that thing that they built to the technical standard is not nearly as easy to use as they’d like it to be.

I remember this, in 2003, I was working on a website. I coded it the way that it’s supposed to be most successful. It was technically correct. I went and I sat with a gentleman that used a screen reader, shared the site with him. He started going to the site and we got to the navigation that I had built, which I was pumped, man. I was pumped. I was like, this is the most accessible thing ever. This is such a cool technique. I’m really looking forward to this. I think this is the right way to do it. He got to that navigation with his screen reader and he tried to use it and it basically made it worse for him. It was not easy to use at all. It was confusing. It was not intuitive. It made him have to go through extra steps to get to the page that he was trying to get to. I was like this is – wait, this isn’t right. I’ve built it to the technical standard. Why isn’t it working the way that it’s supposed to?

It’s because this is a very complex ecosystem. We have browsers. We have computers and their operating system and the APIs that are there and the assistive technology layer. There’s so many different layers. Then when you add in the fact that people with disabilities are literally like everybody else in that they don’t nerd out on technology the same way that web creators often do. I’ve worked with a lot of people before where they don’t care about how the web is built. They just know that it’s not working for them. Meanwhile, I’m doing all kinds of detective work to try and figure out how to make this thing work properly and I’m nerding out on it. They’re like I just want this to work. Most people with disabilities that I’ve worked with over time have not had that same level of nerding. Not everybody wants to be a nerd that’s building the web. They just want to use the thing.

I think there’s just a disconnect in – and this is not unique to the way the think about people with disabilities. This is actually very common. We often, as creators and builders of apps, of sites, of whatever, we expect that the people that are using it are kind of just like us and that they’re nerded out on it and they’re going to know exactly how to operate the keyboard for something really technically challenging. Most people actually just don’t care. They want it to work simply. They don’t want to know that in order to open up this menu system that I press the spacebar and then I use the down arrow key and then the down arrow and right arrow and down arrow and right arrow and move over and that I can hit the escape key to shut all that down at any moment. We create these things that we know are technically correct but lots of people don’t care that it’s technically correct because it’s hard to use. That’s not just people with disabilities. That’s anybody. That gets amplified with people with disabilities, I think, and the way that we tend to approach accessibility as an engineering pursuit as something where it’s all about code. We forget that ease of use side of things that needs to be there for people with disabilities, too.

Taylor Martin
[16:22] Two things I want to highlight with what you just said. One is I always tell people that when we design websites to be accessible, design and code them, it’s a win-win for everybody involved, but I agree with you about the testing. Do you have a service that you’d like to highlight and give two shoutouts today about for a service that actually can test a website for accessibility by people with disabilities?

Derek Featherstone
[16:50] Awesome question. I think for most organizations that want to do this, the very best way to do it is to actually recruit people yourself and do some of that, whether it’s really formal research or very informal. I think people are better off doing that themselves. Now, if you need someone to get you going and you want to get started, I mean, there’s all kinds of organizations out there that can do that for you. If you look at – if you do a search for accessibility consulting companies or accessibility agencies, any one of the top like 10 to 15 are probably going to, and should be, are very likely to employ people with disabilities themselves but also have connections to third-party organizations where that the company or the agency, they can do – they can coordinate and run the study, or sometimes they can just do the recruiting for you to recruit people with disabilities because they’ve got good connections with national or international or local advocacy groups for different types of disabilities. I think that’s the best way to go. There are lots of agencies out there that offer that service, probably too many to name. I’m totally not going to shout anybody out right now. Also, because I used to – I mean, that’s where I used to work. I mean, that was what we did and I have too many friends in too many places to only shoutout two.

Taylor Martin
[18:34] One thing that I wish there was, I wish there was just a place where I could log online and just say here’s a new website. Please check out these first ten pages or the navigation or just navigate them to the place I want them to look at and have this type of disability check it, and not just one person, like five people or ten people with this disability check out this, and another five or ten with this disability. I wish I could just have something like that and then just get a report like a week later or something just so that I could bypass some of these other firms. Because to be quite honest, sometimes when you engage those firms, they’re not inexpensive for some nonprofits that we do work for so we typically have to find someone that has a disability or find someone that knows someone in the company to look at it. I just wish there was like a quick plug in play. If you can make that happen, Derek, that’d be great.

Derek Featherstone
[19:28] There are people with disabilities, I believe, that are involved with or are testers on things like usertesting.com. There’s other services that do something similar. I can’t remember the one right now. There’s a program by Knobility, K-N-O-W-B-I-L-I-T-Y, that run a program called Access Works. I know they’ve got partnerships where they provide people with disabilities or are coordinating people with disabilities to work with another platform. I can’t remember the name of the platform right now, but Access Works from Knowbility is another place to go. I will still say, though, that a lot of the value comes from interacting and talking with people with disabilities yourself.

Taylor Martin
[20:20] Oh, 100%, that’s why I wanted to have their point of view as opposed to some software. Because when it comes down to just software, there’s no software that’s 100%. I mean, I’d say most of them are 80% at best. One thing I think we had to just get out on the air is people that don’t realize it when you have a website that’s not accessible, it does leave you open for litigation, especially if you’re in California where half the lawsuits come from for disability. They come from California because of certain laws they have there. Having said that, again, I go back to what I said earlier where, when you design a website that’s fully accessible to people with all abilities, it just makes a better user experience for everybody and it increases your SEO because the SEO, the search bots, can go through your website easier and find out all the information and drill through and grab everything they need and get you higher up on the totem poll on the search results.

Derek Featherstone
[21:22] Yeah, a good friend of mine, he passed away many years ago, he was actually more like a – I mean, he was a friend but he was also like a mentor in many ways, really well known in the accessibility industry, John Slatin. He was at the University of Texas in Austin.

Taylor Martin
[21:42] Oh, that’s where I’m at.

Derek Featherstone
[21:43] Massive accessibility hotbed down there in Austin, Texas. That’s where Knowbility is based and… 

Taylor Martin
[21:50] I was just going to say that earlier.

Derek Featherstone
[21:51] Yeah, lots of – I know lots of people down there. John Slatin used to say this just so very matter-of-factly and it was just wonderful the way he did it. He just used to say all the time, “Accessible design is good design.” At its most fundamental, it’s so true and has just this massive gravitas to that statement because it is – you look everywhere. When almost every workshop that I’ve done in my career where I’ve had groups of people working on accessibility related things, they’ve almost always said to me, “Derek, yes, we just improved this, made this more accessible, but this is just a better design, period,” and I’m like 100% it is. It almost always is. I think that’s valuable. I’ll say that generally speaking is true. I also know that within the disability community, there’s a balancing act that needs to be done. We talk about, I’m sure you’ve heard of or talk about the curb cut effect before, the idea being that curb cuts on the street, they’re there for people with disability so that they have access, proper access, has all kinds of wonderful benefits, side effects for parents pushing their children in strollers, or for skateboarders, or for cyclists or – well, they’re not supposed to be riding on the sidewalks anyway, but for lots of other people, there’s benefits. The thing that I always have to come back to in my mind, even though those side benefits are there, I need to always remind myself that the benefit to everybody else is convenience. The benefit to someone with a disability is access.

That access is a fundamentally protected right. Yes, the curb cut is beneficial for other people, but we just need to remind ourselves that it’s not just about all those other side benefits and that it’s not valuable to do accessibility solely because it happens to benefit other people. That happens a lot in the conversations. I know I’ve had conversations for years with executive leaders at organizations. The minute that you tell them that the things that you want to do for accessibility benefit other people or have this other effect, that’s when they sign on. They’re not signing on because they know that they need to do it for people with disabilities. That’s the balancing act that I think is really, really challenging for a lot of us to think about. I’ve actually toned down over the last six or seven years the amount that I talk about those extra side benefits, because they’re there. There’s no question that they’re there, but I want people to be making the decisions primarily because it’s the right thing to do. We’re talking about people with disabilities and that them having access is valuable enough to make it worth doing.

Taylor Martin
[25:22] Again, I think we’re still at around 10% of the internet is accessible. It’s just sad. The big thing that I see, the largest hurdle for making accessibility standard operating procedure is just baking it into the framework of the business. It has to do with education, getting leaders involved but all the doers, the project managers, all the people along that thread of a project, they need to understand what accessibility is. Because then it’s not like this added thing, an added checklist. It’s just baked in. You’re just making things happen and you know – because I know that’s the way it happened for me. When I first started, it took me a year or two to really get my feet firm on the ground, but once I did, people say, well, we’re going to design this website for you and it’ll also be accessible, they’ll be like, “What is that?” Then I would tell them and then they’d say, “Well, is it extra?” and like, “Well, we don’t design websites unless they’re accessible, just flat out. You’re going to get an accessible website or you’re going to get it from somebody else.”

I think that if we can come up with a way, maybe you and I here right now, come up with a way, a solution where we can get companies to bake that into their framework of their business because the accessibility angle, like you mentioned with the curb cuts, it does have all these other benefits. I know that it’s really great to do it for people with disabilities but there are so many benefits, I had to line them up when I talk to people about them because I don’t know where they fall on that spectrum. They might be really in tune with money or they might be in tune with SEO or they might be in tune with disabilities because their uncle or somebody is – I don’t care. I just want it done. Again, my biggest thing is how do we get corporations to bake it into their process.

Derek Featherstone
[27:10] I think part of what you’re speaking about it bigger than just accessibility. It’s the higher level kind of principles, if you will, of diversity and inclusion. If a business values diversity in other ways, then it’s a very short line for you to draw to connect that dot to, say, accessibility and the work that we’re doing, that’s a different element or a different lens on diversity and inclusion than what people are normally thinking about or most often thing about.

Taylor Martin
[27:49] We just had a podcast on DEI and this lady was using virtual reality to let people walk in someone else’s shoes for five, ten minutes so they could see what they were going through because of whatever process or project they were working on and they would show them how it was not accessible or inclusive to that person. I thought that was genius because it’s really hard to see the world through someone’s eyes. You can listen to somebody come in and talk and give this speech and everything but it goes in one ear and out the other because you don’t have that visceral reaction. I don’t know. Maybe virtual reality might play a bigger part in this. Because I think once people see that, it does change them.

Derek Featherstone
[28:35] It does, for sure. I mean, the most obvious supporters of accessibility tend to be, as you said, people that have disabilities themselves, or people in their family that are disabled, or people that have had some experience with those barriers and understand them a little bit more. They’ve got in some way, shape, or form lived experience that influences their thinking and the way that they’re approaching things. For me, I think there’s other solutions that go a long way as well, just engaging with people with disabilities and having them share their stories or sharing their stories with maintaining the voice of that lived experience and sharing those stories. We’ve done things over the – years gone by where we have recordings of people with disabilities using somebody’s website or their webapp or whatever it is or their iOS app or Android app. When you share some of those barriers and recordings of those barriers and people with disability commentary sharing that with leaders of a business, small or large, that carries weight. It carries a lot of weight.

I think what we used to talk about in terms of empathy is you need to walk a mile in some other person’s shoes or whatever it is. There is an aspect of that. I saw a redefinition of empathy by Brene Brown recently, I don’t know if it was a redefinition or her redefining it, but it was a great quote that she said, “We should no longer be thinking about empathy as walking a mile in somebody else’s shoes. Empathy is actually about listening to other people’s stories and respecting their lived experience and taking that at face value.” When you’re walking a mile in somebody else’s shoes, you’re not actually walking a mile in their shoes. You’re simulating it or you’re getting some of that. I think one of the things that we need to do to make this work well is authentically represent the voices and lived experience of people with disabilities. I agree. That VR may be helpful, but I think the thing that needs to go with that VR experience is now we want you to talk with these five people with disabilities. You’ll understand their stories in different ways now. You may pay different attention to it. You may give their stories more credence because of what you’ve just been through in that VR experience. I could also be wrong. I don’t know this for sure, but I think knowing that both of those things are powerful, finding a way to combine those I think has a lot of potential for changing minds or mindsets or just opening up people’s horizons to new things that they haven’t experienced before.

Taylor Martin
[32:03] When we do brand guidelines for companies, we’re starting to include accessibility pages for color contrast and things like that so they can see how their brand colors may need to shift a little bit when it goes online. We do that a lot with our brands whenever we design websites. Sometimes it’s not the exact blue or red or orange or whatever. It has to be a little bit darker to get that high contrast. I see that as just another step. It’s just trying to get accessibility in front of people, whether it’s the communications people – because you can also talk about diversity in the branding guidelines. You can talk about inclusion. You can talk about anything you want to in your brand guidelines. The door is wide open. I think to tie that question up is I think we’ve just got to keep getting the stories across, like you just mentioned. If that’s with virtual reality in our future, which it very well might be because it sounded extremely compelling, I can’t wait to try it, and like I mentioned, baking it into the brand guidelines or their mission statement or values or whatever, and then the team and education, management, everybody’s got to be involved. You can’t just shelf it down to one person. It’s got to be a lot of people. Half the company needs to understand what web accessibility or accessibility means.

Derek Featherstone
[33:26] Yeah, at some point, to do it well, whether it’s a large organization or a small organization, it’s a cultural pillar, if you will. That understanding of accessibility, of disability, of diversity and inclusion, that has to be there for the work to succeed. Because I’ve seen lots of organizations that don’t have accessibility baked into their culture or into their processes or the way that the business thinks, but they go on a two-year journey and they end up producing something that’s really accessible and they make lots of strides and it’s fantastic, but then four years later, they’re right back where they were because it wasn’t really part of the culture. When the people that were champions in some way, shape, or form, they’ve moved on from the company, there’s no one there anymore that’s kind of banging that drum all the time and reinforcing the message, when they leave, it goes with them. That’s why I think it’s got to be – this is all – feels all very philosophical, but it’s got to be part of the culture for it to be a thing that matters to the company in the long run. Otherwise, there’s a danger of it just being like, oh, this is a one-time thing. We’ve done that. Now we can move on to all the other things that we wanted to do. That cultural piece, which I think, to your point, is that awareness throughout the teams that we value this. It’s part of our company values that this is important to us, all of that needs to be there for it to be successful in the long run.

Taylor Martin
[35:14] What would you say to somebody listening that is a business leader that still isn’t convinced? They still see it as an expense that they have to put on the bottom line of their balance sheet.

Derek Featherstone
[35:28] Yeah, on the expense side, that one always comes up from years of consulting in this space, there’s always an expense, but that expense ends up – there’s lots of ways that that expense is taken care of. As a business, you suddenly – if you are showing that you – if you transform a business, if you don’t have diversity as part of your values and then you start to work that in and you change that over time, you’re opening yourself up to more, to a larger market if you have accessible services, if you have accessible products. If you are publicly talking about the fact that disability inclusion is important to you, that messaging resonates with lots of people. It increases your total addressable market or whatever business term you want to put on it.

The other thing I would say is most people look at it as an expense, which is fair, but they don’t look at as an expense in the same way they look at other expenses. What I mean by that is, yes, accessibility is going to cost you more, it’s going to cost you more right now because it’s new to you, because you’re learning, because you don’t know anything about it and you’re on that path. It’s not that it inherently costs more. It’s costing you more because you don’t know it already. If you had your entire infrastructure running on – you had a webapp or an intranet and it was all built using Ruby on Rails and you decided that you wanted to switch that over to Python but nobody knows Python, there’s a learning there that is involved that is going to cost you more for that decision, too, just like if you were using Sketch for everything and you switch to Figma, you need to learn that new tool and there’s a cost to that as well. The cost for accessibility is really because you’re learning it because it’s a new thing that you’re adding to the way that you do things. It’s not because it’s accessibility. It’s because you’re learning. That cost or that realization about why it’s costing you is part of what opens the door to the realization that this is actually just making us better as a company. It’s not that accessibility is always going to cost you X amount. You’ve got to invest in it because you don’t know anything about it right now.

Taylor Martin
[38:06] I want to circle back to what you said earlier about when companies have that skillset in their company and then those people leave and take that skillset with them. We just had a podcast last week about how leadership, sometimes when they leave, like a top leader, ring maker or whatever, they leave and all their knowledge goes with them. We have to find a way to try to download that knowledge with leadership, with accessibility and a thousand other things, but that’s something that we just don’t seem to do in business these days.

Derek Featherstone
[38:45] I’ve thought about this for a while. I think I did a conference talk in, I’m going to say, 2015 or ‘16 or something like that, and it was called – maybe it was ’17. It was called “Where Accessibility Lives.” You can find versions of that online. Keep in mind that it’s all so old now. One of the concepts in it is where should accessibility live in an organization. I’ve always gone back to like, this is straight out of just business 101 kind of stuff, but if you want it to succeed, it’s got to live in people, process, and tools. You need to be in people so that it’s part of the culture. You have the education, the awareness side of it. You build it into the process so that it becomes the natural way of doing things. You have tools to support it. The reason that you build it into all three methodically and regularly is so that, if people leave, which you’ve also got to build into your process and into your tooling, if the people leave, it’s got a chance to continue on because it’s in the process and the tools and the way that you’ve built things to work. By the same token, if you have the same people there and you have a process there and you want to swap out a tool for something else, you can do that because it lives on in the process and the people while you’re changing the tools. At the same time, you can change process at any time. You can throw your old process out, but if you’ve stood up tooling and have really good accessibility awareness and cultural understanding within the people, the new processes that come in will have accessibility infused into them. If you have it in all three, if one of them changes, you’ve still got it living in the other two. That makes a huge difference in terms of how you can keep things moving and evolve over time.

Taylor Martin
[40:47] I think there’s a lot of things we could do, businesses could benefit with that type of process, but I also think that sometimes we just need to have more apprentice and mentorships within a company so that information is open and more giving and flowing. Because I feel like that’s such an – it’s an easy lift. That’s something that’s been around for the ages but it just seems like today with all this technology and email and text messages, it’s just too much. We’re overloaded. We don’t have time for that kind of stuff. There’s a lot of value in it and I keep coming back to it.

Derek Featherstone
[41:21] You’re absolutely right. I think it’s one of the most important things that we can do. Some of my favorite trainings that I’ve done, workshops with teams at large and small companies on accessibility, working with them, say, over, I don’t know, a three-week period and having three sessions together or something like that, one of my favorite ways to wrap it up was always to say to them, “We’ve gone through this. We’ve been doing this for three weeks, four weeks, whatever it is. You’re now in charge of the next group that’s going to come through this. What are you going to teach them?”

That concept of learning and then teaching it to somebody else does two things. One is it reaffirms that that’s a cultural thing that we need to do, but the second thing that it does is, when you have just gone through a learning experience and you’re putting something into practice in your work and you are told that you are in charge of mentoring or putting together the program for the next group of people, that forces you into a mode where you are questioning all the things that you’ve learned from it. It forces you to make meaning of it in your head, to make sense of things, to rationalize things, to be able to say, okay, so if I only had one hour, what would be the things that I would tell them? That forces you to go through all the things that you’ve learned and prioritize to make sense, to really bring that together.

I’ve always noticed this as a teacher for years. I have a biology and chemistry degree. Those were two of my teachable subjects when I was teaching high school. I learned some of those biology concepts better when I was teaching them because I had to teach it versus when I was learning it in school myself. The act of teaching somebody else something is a very powerful learning tool, even though that’s not the way you’re thinking of it, you’re preparing to teach somebody else, that is a phenomenon that is pretty well known that learning something in order to teach it takes you deeper than you might think it would because you have to think about how other people are thinking about it. I love doing that from a teaching the next wave and encouraging the participants that I’ve been working with, encouraging them to teach others. It does two things. It keeps them going on that path and reinforcing it, as I said, really makes them question and wrestle with the things that they’ve learned about it.

Taylor Martin
[44:16] Yeah, teaching somebody or teaching somebody anything always makes you more of a master of whatever that item is. That completely aligns with what I’m thinking.

Derek Featherstone
[44:27] You just summarized and said in ten seconds what it took me ten minutes to say.

Taylor Martin
[44:33] That’s what I do, though. I condense things down to little snackable statement taglines. Derek, what do you want to see the next generation of designers and coders to be doing in the accessibility space?

Derek Featherstone
[44:49] Two things, one if philosophical, one is practical. Super practical one, I think, engage more people with disabilities, no matter what you’re doing. If you’re a developer, designer, engage with people with disabilities. You’ve got to hear their perspectives, learn from them, invite them into the process to be co-designers, cocreators, participate in the design in different ways, not just be passive recipients of the thing that you design or create. Have them be fundamentally part of the creation of that product or that site or whatever it is that you’re doing. That engagement is massive and practical, very practical benefit.

The other thing that I would love to see, and this is the more philosophical one and I hope that this makes sense. I hear stories all the time of people that work at a company or they do accessibility work, and when they leave that company, they go somewhere else where accessibility is not important or it’s not already part of things. Things usually go one of two ways. They either let accessibility take a back seat and they look at the place that they’re at and they say, okay, that’s not important here so I’m not going to – I’m not going to focus on it. I’m not going to worry about it as much. The other way that it goes is I’m going to become a champion for this and I’m going to make this more important here, make this a thing. I think there’s an old saying, I can’t remember exactly what it is, but it’s something along the lines of integrity is what you do when you know that people aren’t watching.

Taylor Martin
[46:31] Yeah, when no one’s watching.

Derek Featherstone
[46:33] I think that happens sometimes in accessibility. If it’s not being called out as something that’s important to the company, then people maybe stop doing it, they stop that practice. I would encourage everybody that is – because all the young folks that are in their early – in their careers right now, over the next 30 years, 40 years, whatever it is, they’re going to have more – they’re going to work with more organizations probably in that time than 50 people did like 10 years ago. The number of organizations that they’re going to be in is massive. Carry that accessibility commitment and ideology forward and be a champion for it. Take that wherever you go. Learn about it now. Take it everywhere you go and encourage other people to get on board. Make that part of what you do as you progress through your career.

Taylor Martin
[47:31] Well said, Derek. Well said. We’re going to wrap up today’s show. Derek, thank you so much for being on today. What are some ways that our listeners can reach out to you or follow you on social?

Derek Featherstone
[47:43] The two best are Twitter. I am Feather on Twitter. You can find me on LinkedIn. I am not super active on either one right now because I’ve been going through this – just a lot going on at work right now, but LinkedIn just Derek Featherstone on LinkedIn. You can find me there. You can find my LinkedIn Learning courses. That’s another good way. If you look for my LinkedIn Learning courses, that is connected to my LinkedIn profile. There’s another Derek Featherstone out there. There might be more than one. He’s actually in the music industry. That’s not me. I get lots of people connecting with me on Twitter and they’re in music and I’m like, nope, you’ve got the wrong guy, but it’s totally fine. He also has a beard and is kind of like about the same age as me.

Taylor Martin
[48:35] Oh, my God.

Derek Featherstone
[48:37] We actually, one time, we were both speaking at South by Southwest. Our photos were crossed up on our badges and were like – the two of us were mixed up in the system. He was supposed to be doing an accessibility talk and I was supposed to be doing something at the music festival and we were crossed up in there. I love it because I was like that’s not me. We went through and we changed all the data as I was registering and picking up my badge. We finally got it sorted and I got mine and I realized afterwards and I’m like, oh, I know what’s happened. That means that the other Derek Featherstone had to do exactly the same thing that I did and undo all of the other work as well and I’m like – someday I’m going to meet him and we’re going to take some photos together. I know that that’s going to happen at some point.

Taylor Martin
[49:34] I think when people reach out through LinkedIn, I say go for the learning lessons that you did, the classes you did on LinkedIn because they were great. Again, that’s how I started to follow you on LinkedIn and I really appreciate what you have posted and I’ll continue to follow you. Once again, Derek, thank you so much for being on today’s show. I really appreciate it.

Derek Featherstone
[49:56] Thank you, Taylor. 

Taylor Martin
[49:58] Over and out, everybody. 

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[49:59] Thanks for tuning into the Triple Bottom Line. Your host, Taylor Martin, is founder and Chief Creative of Design Positive, a strategic branding and accessibility agency. Interested in being interviewed on our podcast? Then visit designpositive.co and fill out our contact form. If you enjoyed today’s podcast, we would appreciate a review on Apple podcasts or whatever provider you are logging in from. This podcast is prepared by Design Positive and is not associated with any other entity. We look forward to having you back for another installment of the Triple Bottom Line.

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