Interview with Andrew Nevins — Drupal and Accessibility Expert
Front-end developer and accessibility expert at Microserve, An Investis Digital Company.
Tell us about yourself and your work
I’ve been a front-end developer working with Drupal and Django CMS systems in digital agencies within the UK. My accessibility journey started 8 years ago as a graduate developer where I was lucky enough to be mentored by people who really cared about inclusive design.
What qualifications do you have that have influenced your work?
I recently pushed myself into taking the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) exams. I learnt so much more than I thought I knew around digital accessibility, disability types and new areas such as education and law.
Passing the Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies (CPACC) and Web Accessibility Specialist (WAS) exams helped me establish subject matter expert knowledge. I was then able to implement more effective and strategic accessibility improvements, such as adding processes to check for accessibility in each department of my organisation.
Why accessibility? What does accessibility mean to you?
Accessibility is good design. We all strive to create interfaces that are effortless to use and information that is clear to read. Accessibility goes one step further by keeping a voice for people with disabilities.
How has your approach to accessibility changed over time?
In the last 2 years, I changed the way I think about accessibility. I used to think that accessibility was to enable people with disabilities. I now understand that although people are medically diagnosed as having disabilities, their diagnosis is not the reason for exclusion.
It is society that excludes them.
Society, us, the web and our physical environments place barriers in front of people that do not fit in with the way things have been designed. It is us that disables them and it is our responsibility as members of the same society to remove accessibility barriers and change our design practices.
What changes have you seen in Drupal regarding accessibility?
Drupal 8 has seen great features for improving the experience of people using screen readers and people using keyboards. We now have more semantic HTML, form errors are programmatically associated to form fields, CSS is clearer for hiding text to screen readers and my favourite one, the TabbingManager helps you constrain keyboard focus for things like pop-ups.
Have you any experience of resistance or enthusiasm in the public sector since WCAG was introduced?
The Government Digital Service (GDS) has been a source of inspiration for their enthusiasm when implementing inclusive design practices across the public sector.
They have created an open source library pattern named the GOV.UK Design System that is strongly based on evidence from testing users. GDS also publish their research findings that benefit the wider digital industry, such as identifying that the ‘number’ HTML input field should be used with caution as it contains accessibility and usability issues.
I saw you’d posted about the BBC’s 210 (plus) Accessibility Champions; what does this mean to you?
An accessibility champion is someone who takes extra responsibility to look out for accessibility in their or their colleague’s work. Accessibility champions should be accompanied by business-wide commitment to accessibility and support networks.
Without shared commitment, we can find too much responsibility being allocated to accessibility champions. This leads to a high burn-out rate and is not a good long term solution to accessibility. I believe this is why accessibility champions are usually hard to come by.
When I learnt that the BBC has over 210 accessibility champions it blew me away. It left me to imagine what a great inclusive place the BBC is to work for. To have so many accessibility champions there must be a large and sustained effort to support those champions and build accessibility across the organisation.
If you’re wondering how mature an organisation is with accessibility, ask how many accessibility champions they employ.
What question do you always want to be asked about accessibility but never get asked?
I would love it if people came to me and asked for one thing that they could incorporate to improve accessibility just a little. I’m all in for small and manageable changes. One small change shared across many people is an invaluable and large step towards inclusive design.
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Andrew is a front-end developer and accessibility expert at Microserve, An Investis Digital Company.