Category Archives: SXSW 2009

More reflections on SXSW and accessibility

There were more accessibility panels, and mentions of accessibility in other presentations than at any other time that I recall. Susan Gerhart is a software engineer who was at SXSW for the first time as a panelist. She has lost her sight to eye disease over the past several years and is living in a city, Prescott AZ, that is not rich in support as she adjusts to the new world she lives in. Blogging at As Your World Changes, her observations are astute.

Shawn Henry introduced accessibility basics in an engaging and thorough overview, although when she mentioned that John Slatin had been scheduled to present with her, many in the audience felt the pang of his absence due to his ongoing health issues.

Several folks told me that Becky Gibson’s accessible Dojo demonstration was the highlight of the panel presentations because of its strong, usable content. We have really turned a corner as we see accessibility increasingly folded into basic development technique, and the ARIA techniques and Dojo toolkit that Becky demonstrated are great support for that effort.

I missed a few of the other accessibility panels while preparing to welcome Marta del Rio and Javier Hernandez, representatives from the University of Monterrey and the government of Nuevo Leon. They had come to SXSW for the first time to talk about the creation of the Mexican Manifesto for Accessibility and Usability, scheduled for Tuesday – right up against the keynote. But there was a surprisingly large crowd of people interested in how the Mexican government was incorporating accessibility, usability and citizen language into communications between the people government agencies. Speaking in Spanish with real time translation, Marta and Javier spoke about the need for transparency and ease of navigation from one level of government to the next across a broad range of devices, bandwidth and literacy. Ending with a tequila toast for the success of the Manifesto, it was a fascinating presentation.

What was I thinking?

Kelsey Ruger convinced me that Knowbility needed to blog as a way to participate in and share all the great momentum around accessibility these days. But to start a blog during SXSW was one of the least thought-through things I have done in a while. Sooooo much is happening and time to write about it is a challenge…but here is a quick tour of the last few days…

Friday, my panelists arrived and I got to meet these great women in person…Susan Gerhart, Lisa Papas and Becky Gibson met at the Knowbility office and we spent a few hours going over the content for the “Accessible Rich Media” panel that we would deliver the next morning. Our approach was to set up the problems by having Susan demonstrate barriers (she is a software engineer who has become increasingly visually impaired). Then Lisa Pappas of SAS would take us through a look at testing tools and the approach industry has taken through the collaborative work of the Accessible Rich Media Initiative (ARIA), recently adopted by the W3C’s WAI . Finish up with Becky Gibson’s code-slinging demonstration of the Dojo toolkit and their support of WAI-ARIA and we will have packed the hour with as much of an overview as possible. Turned out great, except for the timing. Each of the panelists has so much great info to share, we had no time for questions and so followed up with others excited about accessible rich media at the Knowbility on the trade show floor. Podcasts will be available soon and we will post here.

Gez Lemon hosted a Core Conversation – Get Rich, Stay Accessible – on Sunday around the same concerns. It was well attended and sparked great exchanges that will be useful in the days/months/year to come. A central concern is that accessibility should not stifle innovation. Developers who care about accessibility may still want to use cool Javascripting, AJAX, and DHTML widgets and other applications. One of the issues that came up during the conversation was the fact that the WaSPs initially rejected much of the ARIA work as unacceptable hacks. But that seems to have changed, as this WAI-ARIA article by Martin Kliehm WaSP member and co-host of the SXSW conversation, indicates.