I’ve got quite the treat for you today: an interview with experience analyst Catharine McNally and experience strategist David Spira, who work at Phase2 and are passionate about accessibility on the web—in particular, the part of the web that involves Drupal.
They will be presenting, Easy Accessibility in Drupal 8: Practical, Compassionate, and Cost Effective at DrupalCon NOLA, which Catharine tells me will be an interactive and fun session. She has a passion for utilizing technology to create an equal web for all users, regardless of whether or not they have a disability. And, fun fact, she’s into photography, CrossFit, and cooking, not necessarily in that order. David has a background in web design, information architecture, content strategy, and interactive design. His fun fact is that he plays both the acoustic and electric guitar and is excited to check out the music scene in New Orleans this year!
Let’s find out how Catharine and David got involved with the Drupal community, the common mistakes people make around accessibility, and what they’re talking about at DrupalCon.
How did you get involved with the Drupal community?
David Spira (DS): Back in 2012, I was running a small platform agnostic UX and design consultancy, and was pitching for work with a large health care company. I had a friend over at Phase2, so we teamed up to pitch for the work, and won. That was my first serious Drupal project. A couple years later, I decided to join Phase2, and with it, the Drupal community.
Catharine McNally (CM): In 2011, I joined Phase2 with a focus on accessibility for one of our clients. It was my first experience with Drupal and it was exciting to learn about the platform and the possibilities with accessibility. My focus was distinguishing the accessibility requirements between development and content management, and this type of work continues today in my accessibility consulting with our clients.
What’s the biggest mistake most people make with accessibility on Drupal, and how can they avoid it?
(DS): The biggest mistake is bigger than Drupal: They don’t consider it at all. This isn’t a platform thing, it’s a problem that is endemic to the web. Big companies get dragged into accessibility via legal threats. Small companies don’t even think about it. Just the act of raising accessibility as an issue, and asking your team to keep it in mind throughout the design and development process is a big deal. You have to start somewhere.
(CM): The biggest? How about two of the biggest? The first is assuming that there’s not enough of a market to consider for accessibility. That is the one I hear the most: “But there’s not that many blind people accessing my website.” While we’re updating websites to serve this audience, it also has a positive ripple effect on everyone else from a usability, SEO, and development perspective. The second is the misconception that accessibility is “too hard” to even try to implement. While it may be intimidating to approach an accessibility project, once you focus on one-to-two things at a time, it becomes much more realistic and less overwhelming.
What does a day in the life of an experience strategist look like?
(DS): At Phase2, the experience team covers a lot of ground. On any given day I’m conducting discoveries, meeting with client stakeholders to better understand the needs of their business; researching our clients’ users; defining requirements; producing wireframes; seeking feedback/approvals on our work; testing our code for bugs; user testing our work to ensure that it is accomplishing what we originally set-out to do. All of this involves tight partnerships with our developers, project managers, account managers, and clients. One particularly interesting week, this job had me field testing an application during a humanitarian crisis response in the Philippines. We get around.
What are a few things you’re looking forward to at DrupalCon NOLA?
(DS): What I most enjoy at any conference is the serendipitous conversation: Meeting people, talking shop, getting inspiration from their work, maybe helping them with their own. The sessions are interesting, but the individual conversations that take place between them is what fuels me. Also… Cajun food and the music scene.
(CM): This will be my first DrupalCon, so I’m really excited about coming to New Orleans. I’ve heard that DrupalCon is an energetic time in which there is an exchange of ideas and conversation, and I can’t wait to be a part of this.
Tell us about your DrupalCon talk Easy Accessibility in Drupal 8: Practical, Compassionate, and Cost Effective. Why should someone attend, what are the takeaways?
(DS): Designing and developing your website with a few accessibility practices can have a very large impact on your website’s SEO, usability for all users, and it’s transformative for the millions of hearing and visually impaired users who are living in a world that wasn’t built for them. Putting a little effort into accessibility is a win for everyone. Added bonus: You won’t have to throw quite so much money at SEO consulting and search ads.
(CM): Our session is shaping up to be a fun one! We’re doing a few interactive exercises that everyone in the audience can participate in, so we’re looking forward to having everyone participate in the conversation. We’ll be sharing both perspectives of not only why you should implement accessibility but how it also provides greater benefit to the overall site. Those nuggets of wisdom are all back-pocket items you can take back to your project to steer development into one that is more inclusive of everyone regardless of ability.