The speaker interviews – Derek Featherstone

For the fourth of our speaker interviews, we managed to catch up with Derek Featherstone in the midst of his quest to see how many frequent flyer miles it’s possible to accumulate in a single year.

Webstock: In hearing you talk recently at Web Directions 09 and Edge of the Web, it seems you want to move beyond delivering “mere accessibility” and actively work to create more fulfilling experiences for those who access the web in different ways. What are some examples of this? And why it is important?

Derek: Here’s an example – lets say we need to have a user click on something in the interface. We need to ensure that this is keyboard accessible — we can use a link, some type of button, or even a span with an onclick attached to it, and appropriate tabindex values so that it exists within the natural tab order of the page. All of these can provide a technical level of compliance and be keyboard accessible. However, moving beyond this technical compliance and into the realm of user experience, only one of those options might provide the most intuitive control that matches its purpose and expectation of the user. Which one really depends on the scenario, of course, but making that decision is something that we must do. Just because we can create a technically compliant solution doesn’t mean that we’ve created an interface that is efficient and useful for people with a variety of needs.

Webstock: For developers and designers thinking about accessibility, what’s more important – empathy or technical understanding?

Derek: 42.

They are both critically important to two aspects of accessibility. The first is truly understanding what problems we’re faced with, what opportunities there are for creatively providing solutions that meet
everyone’s needs regardless of ability. The second is being able to implement something that solves those problems. Empathy helps us realize what the problems are, and technical understanding helps us
with the implementation. I believe we need both to make sure that we’re solving the right problems, effectively.

Webstock: What can participants look forward to in your workshop at Webstock?

Derek: My goal is to make even the seasoned developer or designer look at accessibility issues with a new twist and consider things that they hadn’t before. They will also walk away with new techniques and strategies that will help them when striving to build accessible and usable web apps.

Webstock: February will be your first time in New Zealand. Anything in particular you’d like to do while you’re here?

Derek: I’ve got a long list of things to see and do while there, but I think tops on my list is to go to a Super 14 match. I played rugby union at home in Canada for close to 20 years, and I’d love to see a match while I’m there.

Webstock: Which speaker are you most excited about seeing at Webstock 09?

Derek: It is a toss up between Annalee Newitz and Toby Segaran. And Derek Powazek. I haven’t heard any of them speak before, and they specialize in areas in which I’m not embedded. As much as possible, I hope to broaden my own horizons when I’m speaking at a conference by getting to sessions that discuss areas I wouldn’t normally investigate on my own.

Webstock: Thanks Derek! The rugby scheduling gods are smiling as the Hurricanes are playing in Wellington around Webstock time. You too can experience the unique blend of excitement, disappointment and heatbreak that comes with supporting the Hurricanes!