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Mike Gifford discusses Drupal, Accessibility Related Issues, and the Amazing Drupal Community

Updated on December 4, 2017

6 Min Read

Mike Gifford is the Founder and President of OpenConcept Consulting Inc., a web development agency specializing in Drupal powered projects. With over 16 years of experience in architecting secure, scalable, inclusive, and sustainable solutions for the not-for-profit, public and private sectors, Mike Gifford is involved in making the internet a better place using open-source software.

Pushed by a desire to build better and more inclusive software, Mike has been involved with accessibility-focused software development since the beginning of the 1990s. He has been spearheading accessibility improvements in Drupal since 2008, and officially became Drupal’s Core Accessibility Maintainer in 2012. A techie at heart, Mike likes to get into the code whenever he gets the chance.

Mike Gifford

Cloudways: Hello Mike, and thank you for taking out time from your busy schedule for this interview :). Firstly, would you tell us about yourself and your career?

Mike: I am the founder and president of OpenConcept Consulting Inc. I started this business in 1999 after working in the NGO sector in Ottawa. I realized that there was a huge opportunity for organizations to collaborate through open-source technology for achieving a higher purpose. I am inspired by what people have been able to accomplish when there is a culture of sharing first.

I have been privileged to be able to use my position to also work on issues of web accessibility, open government and the challenge of making businesses a force for good.

OpenConcept is a Certified B Corporation and I play a leadership role in promoting ethical businesses and the role that they need to play in modern society.

Cloudways: Being a core maintainer for Drupal, what do you think of events such as DrupalCon and DrupalCamps?

Mike: Drupal community events are great. I try to attend as many as I can and always learn something from the people I meet there. I also enjoy the Global Sprint Days and engaging either physically or virtually to help advance code that we all depend on.

Especially with Drupal 8, the community will need to invest in educating both the new and old developers.

I am looking forward to attending DrupalCon Baltimore later this year. Community built software is always going to be stronger when people are able to get together and meet in person occasionally.

Cloudways: What inspired you to get into Drupal and how was your early experiences?

Mike: I have now been a member of for 11.5 years.  I really should have made the conversion earlier, as one of my early developers had pointed it out to me a year or two before. At that time I was already invested in our old CMS, where I was the lead developer. We had been able to create a platform that was more multilingual than Drupal at the time and that was a critical element for our clients.

After talking to members of the community, I realized that it would be impossible for me to keep up with the number of features that were being developed by the Drupal community. They had the required critical mass and the interest was building. They also had a much cleaner Core infrastructure which would make it easier to build on.

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Most importantly, though, I liked the people I met who were involved with Drupal. They were generous with their time, funny, and engaged in a lot of things that I cared about beyond code. It was a community of people that I felt was stronger than the code.

Cloudways: What is the primary focus of your agency, OpenConcept?

Mike: OpenConcept is primarily a Drupal development shop. We have taken on some clients that are now using WordPress, but Drupal is still very much our focus. We also have not expanded into design, strategy or UX work as we feel that there is value in partnering with others who have specialized in these areas.

The web has gotten increasingly complex since we started. We build Drupal websites but specialize in websites that are accessible and secure. Since 2009, we have been spearheading accessibility changes in Drupal Core as well as in the culture of the Drupal Community.  This has given us a global reputation which we hope to build upon.  We have also produced a Drupal Security Best Practices ebook, in which we have consolidated many of the best practices for the community.

Cloudways: As a Drupal Core accessibility maintainer, what are your current responsibilities?

Mike: Review patches, investigate accessibility problems, engage with accessibility community, and help educate developers. Much of the work involves responding to comments in the issue queue and attempting to nudge the community ahead. Earlier this week, I was engaging with people about HTML5’s autofocus, and seeing if we could get some user agents (especially Firefox/Chrome) to add a configuration option so it could be disabled.

There are still quite a few open accessibility issues in Drupal 8. Reviewing those and helping to nudge issues ahead takes a great deal of time. I also am watching what the new concerns are in web accessibility and try to tweet news to help raise awareness about new best practices.

Accessibility is very similar to security. It is a journey, not a destination. There is always room for improvement.

Cloudways: What are some of the features and options you would like to see in Drupal? What do you think is the future of Drupal?

Mike: Specifically with Accessibility, I really liked what Andrew MacPherson said in his Future Directions for Drupal Accessibility talk at DrupalCon. There is a lot more room for automated testing tools. They really have come a long way, and we should be testing for common errors through automated tests with every build. One of the other issues that I am quite passionate about is the Inline Form Errors module that we were able to bring into Core as an Experimental module. Unfortunately, there are still some pretty important issues with the Forms API that need to be resolved before we can get this approved as the default error pattern for Drupal.

Beyond accessibility, there is a lot to look forward to in the Drupal community. There are some really significant changes in Drupal 8 which should make it easier to adopt, particularly for larger clients. Its flexibility, I hope, will make it a go-to, not just for public websites, but also for other critical business functions. We see so much potential for intranets, CRMs, Project Management tools and learning courses to be built using Drupal 8.

Cloudways: Ok enough serious talk :). All work and no play make Jack a dull boy! What do you do for fun?

Mike: Mostly I would say that I enjoy traveling and taking photos.

Note: You can go here to check out all the photos I upload to Flikr.

It’s an unusual type of fun, but I also enjoy politics. Living in my country’s capital, it is easier to get engaged in both national and international events.

I enjoy spending time with my family and friends. I am also increasingly spending time with a bouncy puppy that we got earlier in the year. She’s a Whoodle (Wheaton Terrier/Poodle cross).

Cloudways: Whom do you admire and would recommend Drupal newbies to follow in the Drupal community?

Mike: There are so many great folks in the community. Many people in the Core team are also incredibly humble and have taken the approach of inspiring people to innovate within the platform rather than dictating.

I am a bit of an old-timer these days.  That being said, I would recommend:

  • webchick – she did such a great job leading the team with Drupal 7
  • xjm – she did an amazing job to get Views into core
  • sun – really helped with some complex core issues for so many years
  • Crell – always pushing great ideas about PHP/Drupal and future directions
  • Jeff Burnz – AdaptiveTheme is still our go-to and I enjoyed engaging with him

Cloudways: Would you like to share a picture of your workplace with the readers?

Mike: This is fairly representative:

Team at Work

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Hamza Zia

Hamza is a Drupal Community Manager at Cloudways - A Managed Drupal Hosting Platform. He loves to write about Drupal and related topics. During his free time, he can be seen obsessing over Football, Cars, Android and Gaming.


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