Accessibility 2.0 Conference

Accessibility 2.0; A million flowers bloom, Conference. I attended the Accessibility 2.0 conference, held in London on 25th April, 2008.

While I won’t summarize all the things that the session speakers said (there are some links towards the end for that), here are some key things I took away from each presenter:

Open Data — Keynote Presentation from Jeremy Keith

This guy is usually quite funny, but this time he decided to read something he had written. I thought this was going to be a long and dry session, but instead it was very interesting, looking at the importance of

  • Open data for accessible information (to everyone) and for digital preservation
  • Standards for format longevity and innovation (bred by constraints)

He was approaching accessibility from the perspective of accessible data for everyone.

Assistive Technologies and AJAX by Steve Faulkner

Steve Faulkner is a noted accessibility expert and has lots of detailed information about accessibility on his blog (and in particular, some decent research on how screen readers work in different scenarios). His examples mainly came from Twitter, the micro-blogging tool.

There were some interesting examples of how WAI ARIA live regions would help make some simple features accessible, such as the text countdown that shows how many characters you have left to type, common on many sites where you fill in text areas.

(One of his points about the problem of using the abbr element’s title attribute to put in an ISO 8601 date time format eventually led to a public argument during the final panel session between Mike Davies and Jeremy Keith!)

Fencing in the Habitat by Christian Heilmann

Christian Heilmann works for Yahoo but has long blogged about accessibility, JavaScript and more.

This talk was about how not to approach accessibility. He has already published his slides and notes for the talk, so the only thing I will add here are my main take-away points:

  • There’s no need to scare people into doing accessibility anymore
  • It’s generally easy (despite a lot of misconceptions) and helps so many people. He described the immense joy some elderly people had when they were given a wii without any knowledge how to use it. Yet, very quickly they were having immense fun playing on it! Accessibility is more than guidelines; it is also about usability.

Rich Media and Web Applications for People with Learning Disabilities by Antonia Hyde

This talk was really interesting about how a group that is often left behind in accessibility implementations — people with learning disabilities — are affected by the web.

A number of instructive videos showed how some people can struggle with common features on sites.

She ran out of time but put up her slides on her blog.

User Generated Content by Jonathan Hassell

Jonathan Hassell is the head of Audience Experience and Usability for BBC Future Media & Technology. He also leads the BBC Usability & Accessibility team so had quite a lot of interesting things to say.

User generated content is of course a major issue in modern web sites when it comes to concerns like standards and accessibility.

One of the strategies Hassell mentioned was to use a moderator approach, accepting it is really hard to get end users to know about how to create accessible content. This way, a moderator adds accessibility and other things once the content has been created.

This is quite an expensive way to do thing, he accepted and sometimes will not be possible.

The other problem is that as more content moves away from basic text-based formats that is the web, assistive technologies will struggle even more to provide accessible alternatives. While not impossible, the implications include the following:

  • Those formats require accessibility be built in, or have alternatives
  • Content producers will become increasingly responsible for accessible content

The other point he stressed, like many others, is that accessibility is a misleading word; it is really an issue of usability.

As content becomes more multi-media the additional challenge he finds is how to make such multi media accessible in innovative ways. One example was using 3D and stereo sound in a Flash-based children’s game where they had to push a train carriage from the left part of the screen to the right hand side. By using 3D sound and stereo, audio feedback to a child who is blind or has poor eyesight, would still allow them to experience more of the game than usual. Another game showed sign language being used.

Another interesting point he made was regarding JavaScript: As a number of people have noted for a long time, there is a common misconception that JavaScript is an accessibility no-no. Hassell noted that it helped make the new BBC home page more accessible to screen readers, rather than less.

A Case Study: Building a Social Network for Disabled Users by Stephen Eisden

This talk was about the user testing, accessibility audits and technology decisions that come with building a social network for disabled users called Disability Information Portal (DIP). After evaluating a few different ways to do this, they settled on WordPress as the basis of their network, currently in pilot stage, http://www.dip-online.org/.

Eisden also noted that an accessible site was generally a more usable site, too.

Tools & Technologies to Watch or to Avoid by Ian Forrester

Ian Forrester runs BBC’s Backstage, a web site for designers and developers.

This promised to be an excellent session, but for some reason they only gave him about 20 minutes and he had some 80 slides to go through! So he had to cut really short which was disappointing. I had the opportunity to talk to him a bit more after the sessions were over, and that was really interesting. He has a good interest in XSLT too :)

Some of the points he did manage to get across were how some Web 2.0 sites made it hard enough for normal users to do things, let alone people with additional needs. Examples included hard to understand user licenses and terms & conditions; Flash videos and captioning; using various sites to import contacts or export data, etc.

Accessibility 2.0 Panel Discussion chaired by Julie Howell

This panel was an interesting enough discussion, chaired by one of the most prominent people in the accessibility circles. Nothing to really add here that is not captured in the notes by others listed below.

Slides and notes from each session

AbilityNet, who hosted the conference will be putting up videos and transcripts of each session shortly.

Jeremy Keith, one of the speakers, and well known for his work on DOM Scripting (I think he coined that term?) was taking notes during the session and posted them as follows:

  1. Open Data by Jeremy Keith.
  2. Making twitter tweet by Steve Faulkner.
  3. Fencing in the habit by Christian Heilmann.
  4. Rich Media and Web applications for people with learning disabilities by Antonia Hyde.
  5. User-generated Content by Jonathan Hassell.
  6. A case study: Building a social network for disabled users by Stephen Eisden.
  7. Tools and Technologies to Watch and Avoid by Ian Forrester.
  8. Accessibility 2.0 panel discussion with Mike Davies, Kath Moonan, Bim Egan, Jonathan Hassell, Antonia Hyde and Panayiotis Zaphiris, moderated by Julie Howell.

Christian Heilmann also did some live-blogging and posted his notes up on the Yahoo Developer Network. He also includes a number of additional links to speakers, and other live-bloggers.

Summarising the whole day

A common theme running through the day was that web accessibility is not just for disabled people; it is about usability and ensuring as wide an audience as possible can access the content.

Jeremy Keith also had a useful summary:

All in all, it was a great day of talks with some recurring points:

  • Accessibility is really a user-experience issue.
  • Guidelines for authoring tools are now more relevant than guidelines for content.
  • Forget about blindly following rules: nothing beats real testing with real users.

Jeremy Keith, Open Data and Accessibility, April 26, 2008

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    2 thoughts on “Accessibility 2.0 Conference

    1. On the topic of accessibility, I like the way you have implemented a zoom layout on this web site.

      I think a lot of ‘accessible’ web sites with fixed width are missing the opportunity of creating a zoom layout.

      Once again, nice one Anup.

    2. Thanks Jason.

      For years I have tried to use em-based layouts where I can (or %, depending on what is appropriate), rather than fixed layouts. Many fear it is hard, and sometimes there are rounding type issues and other small problems that occur, but generally it has been okay.

      I have often wished other sites would use this for their readers too (sometimes I find it easier to read a site when I am just tired — usability, not just accessibility).

      But, it may become a moot issue in a few short years as most major browsers move towards page zooming themselves. E.g. Opera (had it for ages), IE7 introduced it (though it seems a bit buggy) and Firefox has introduced it in version 3 (seems quite good).

      They all zoom the whole page (i.e. including images) though IE 7 has acknowledged mixed results. Smaller images, e.g. icons can become pixelated though, while other images seem to zoom well.

      Anyway, it may make em-based layout less of an important technique, once IE6 and Firefox 2 become less significant. Oh well, we move on :)

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