Accessibility 2.0

Accessibility 2.0 is a one day conference hosted by AbilityNet. With six presentations and two panel discussions, topics ranged from mobile interface design and accessibility beyond the desktop, through to HTML 5, WAI ARIA and Silverlight accessibility.

Considerations for Accessible Mobile Application Graphical User Interface Design

Greg Fields from RIM kicked things off by presenting 10 guidelines for accessible mobile interface design. Several of the guidelines reflected best practice across all digital content types, for example colour contrast and logical grouping of information. Other guidelines focused on the importance of using native UI libraries and inheriting global settings to prevent conflicts with user defined settings.

Finite Incantatem: Neither Accessibility Nor Technology Is Dark Magic

Christian Heilmann from Yahoo! used Finite Incantatem, the charm from Harry Potter, to explain why he believes that accessibility and technology are not dark magic. Presenting a series of examples, he demonstrated the innovation that can happen when technology, accessibility and imagination come together.

Towards the end of his presentation, Christian spoke briefly about the need for passion and talent within the web community. Without the talent to innovate,, and the passion to challenge established thinking, we cannot build a better web. Christian then asked the audience to get to their feet, grab their asses and swear to do everything in their power to make the web a better place.

Panel Discussion – Accessibility Beyond The Desktop

Discussion focused on the challenges of building one web for everyone. Personalisation came through strongly as a potential way forward, with the thought that data from one original source could be tailored to suit an individual’s requirements. Bandwith concerns were raised when the suggestion of using CSS to control delivery of content specific content was made. It was also pointed out that many people use mobile sites out of preference on their desktops because of the perceived improvement in accessibility.

Read Henny’s notes from the panel discussion: Thoughts around universal access on mobile.

Understanding Deafness: History, Language & the Web

Lisa Herrod from Scenario Seven talked about the history of sign language, tracing its roots back to a small village in Kent in the 1600s. With the migration of Deaf people to America during that time, sign language also migrated and began to evolve into the language of today.

Lisa also explained that people who sign as their primary language are a cultural group, hence the use of a capital D when referenceing them. It’s the same as referring to the English, or the Chinese. People who perhaps lose their hearing during their lifetime, and who do not sign as their primary language, tend not to consider themselves part of this cultural group. It’s a clear example of the difference between the medical and social models of disability.

HTML5 & WAI ARIA Happy Families

Steve Faulkner from The Paciello Group talked about two emerging standards from the W3C: HTML 5 and WAI ARIA. HTML 5 is the successor to HTML 4.1. It is still in development, but some browsers are already building in support for small parts of the specification. For the moment though, no access technologies support HTML 5.

Steve went on to talk about WAI ARIA, a standard that allows developers to build accessibility into rich internet applications for keyboard only and screen reader users. The specification hasn’t been formally published yet, but support across both browsers and access technologies is already good.

Inclusive Design

Mark Boulton from Mark Boulton Design spoke about the designer’s role within accessible web development. He stressed the need to introduce designers to accessibility appropriately, and not through lengthy reports and complex guidelines.

Mark explained why he feels accessibility has been marginalised, and disassociated fro user experience design. Accessibility should not be left until last, or added as an after thought. It should be considered as part of the core design process.

Silverlight Accessibility

Saqib Shaikh from Microsoft echoed Mark’s thoughts when he spoke about how often accessibility is considered an optional extra or something that can be left out if budgets are tight. Sometimes a more subtle approach works best though. Saqib spoke about his efforts to promote best practice accessibility by talking to his fellow developers, and encouraging them to build in accessibility as they went along.

Saqib went on to talk about Silverlight specifically, and some of the accessibility features introduced in version 3.0. I’m afraid I missed some of Saqib’s presentation, as we were preparing for the panel session.

Panel Session – To comply or not to comply?

The session looked at how guidelines and standards fit into the process of developing web technologies. Testing with people with disabilities was also discussed, and the dangers of testing with expert users was highlighted.

When looking for people to test with, focusing on the target audience and then finding people with disabilities within that group. In other words, if your website is for children, find young people with disabilities to test with, as they fall into your intended target audience.

The panel were asked why devices designed for accessibility were so often not designed to be beautiful. Although this tends too often to be the case, a community of people celebrating modern design in assistive technology can be found at Enabled By Design.

Closing Thoughts

Where do I begin? For me, the cultural insight into the Deaf community was really fascinating. I was already aware of the social distinction, but learning more about the historical development of sign language and the way that digital communication transformed social interaction for people with hearing impairments, really made a difference.

Another clear message was the need to celebrate innovation and creativity. There is so much happening with web, mobile and console technology, and so much of it is happening with people at heart. With a little imagination,, a little collaboration and a little effort, the possibilities are limitless. Let’s do it!

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