2nd Annual Accessibility Camp DC

Last October was the first ever Accessibility Camp DC. I learned a lot from the talks last year and had my eyes opened by how the blind navigate the web. This year, on October 9th, I took what I learned and gave a presentation of my own.

Titled “Building An Accessible Site from the Ground Up” my talk was about making a website accessible from a developers point of view. The audience’s reaction was positive and there were many good questions raised.

Local PHP developers Andrew Nacin (core contributor to WordPress.org) and Aaron Jorbin (Clearspring Technologies) sat in on my talk. The two were adding accessibility-related patches to WordPress while I was presenting. This is why I love the WordPress community! Afterwards I got to talk with them about WordPress geekiness even though I saw them a couple of weeks ago at WordPress Mid-Atlantic. They even introduced me to another DC-area hacker, Greg Linch, who is passionate about journalism and education.

Lunch was sponsored by Adobe and delicious. While people were munching on sandwiches, Jennison Asuncion demonstrated screen-reading software JAWS and how it works with websites. Like last year, there were many people who were just flabbergasted by what they saw. It’s one thing to read about accessibility issues online, it’s another to see it live, in-person.

After lunch I saw a demonstration of FireEyes, a Firebug plugin, to uncover accessibility issues from Karl Groves.  The neat thing about the free plugin is, it will detect problems on AJAX events that load new data onto the page without refreshing page.

I also sat in on a talk about adding ARIA live regions to help screenreaders announce dynamic changes on the page such as using AJAX. These techniques are simple to implement and seeing someone demonstrate their advantages really motivates me to incorporate them into my projects.

Mark Barlet from AbleGamers.com was there all day showing off videos games that are accessible. These games run on modern hardware like the Xbox 360 but have special modifications so people with disabilities could be competitive. One game was an audio only game where you’re a monster trying to eat victims that fall into your pit. There are no graphics, mainly because the game designer isn’t a graphic designers. Instead you listen to audible clues about where your next victim is and when you are close enough you press a button to eat them. The game works really well with stereo headphones to help you orient yourself. Other things on display were a racing game that you can control with your face and a sip and puff tube attached to a controller to control a character on-screen.  If you’re into accessible gaming controllers, check out episode 1 of the Ben Heck Show on Revision 3.

After the conference a bunch of us headed to Capital City Brewing Company for some food and continued geeky conversation. There were a lot of people from out-of-town and it was good to get to know them. I met Elle Waters from Louisville, Kentucky; Pratik Patel from New York; and Cliff Tyllick from Austin, Texas. It was a great end to a great day of accessibility.

Other Coverage of Accessibility Camp DC 2010

Accessibility Camp DC Recap

The schedule as determined by participants of Accessibility Camp DC.

Accessibility Camp really opened my eyes to how people with disabilities experience the web. The Martin Luther King Library in downtown DC was the perfect venue for this barcamp style event. The adaptive services department has all sorts of assistive technology that anyone can use and learn more about.

A braile printout using a special printer at the Martin Luther King Library in Washington, DC.

I met a lot of diverse people like Patrick Timony (Adaptive Technology Librarian at MLK library), Jennison Asuncion (IT Accessibility Consultant from Toronto), Jamal Mazrui (a visually impaired software developer) and about 100 others who were passionate about sharing what they know to make the web a better, and more accessible, place. Here are some of my take aways.

Carolyn Klinger reviews tips for making PDFs more accessible at Accessibility Camp DC

Carolyn Kelley Klinger talked about making PDFs more accessible (PDF) by structuring documents with headers (using Headline 1, Headline 2 etc. styles instead of making the text bold and bumping up the font), adding column/row headers for data tables, supplying alternative text to describe images, and making sure anyone links are within context (no “Click Here” or “Read More” links). I was surprised at how similar preparing an accessible PDF is to preparing an accessible website.

Jamal Mazrui is a blind software developer who wants to make sure accessibility isn't forgotten in emerging technology.

Jamal Mazrui wants to build web apps to benefit disabled netizens. He’s afraid that as broadband speeds increase over the next few years we will see an influx of visually oriented interfaces with no accessibility in mind. The same thing happened in the mid 90’s with the move from an entirely text based DOS operating system, to a graphical interface driven OS like Windows. Today, emerging technologies like Adobe Air, Adobe Flash, Microsoft Silverlight, Google Wave, Google Android, Second Life, and the Amazon Kindle have little to help handicapped users. Apple’s iPhone is fairly good when it comes to accessibility as evident by all the people who had one at Accessibility Camp. Hopefully the tech industry will learn from its prior mistake of ignoring the needs of handicapped users.

All of the Accessibility Camp DC participants got a hearty lunch free of charge.

For lunch everyone got as many Potbelly sandwiches as they could fit in their bellies. Thanks to the generous sponsors who made the event not only possible, but free for everyone we were able to enjoy a scrumptious meal.

Jennison Asuncion demonstrates surfing the web with JAWS.

After lunch I got to see a live demonstration of Jennison using the screen reading application, JAWS, to navigate the web. Holy Cow! I can’t believe how different the web is when you can’t see where you’re browsing. It takes a while for a visually impaired user to get acquainted with a new website since every site has a different set of pitfalls. The source-order of your website, that is the order of your content with no styles applied, makes a huge difference to the experience of a blind user. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to user test your project, make sure to get feedback from a visually impaired person using a screen reader too.

Other events that were going on throughout the day included Practical Ways to make Your Site More Accessible, Making Mapping More Accessible, eLearning Tools, and Online Gaming for Persons with Disabilities. It seems like everyone there had something to share.

Accessibility Camp DC was the brainchild of John F. Croston, a web developer for the US Army.

A big thank you goes out to John Croston and Patrick Timony for organizing, the staff at the MLK library for providing an awesome venue, all of the sponsors who made the event even possible, and everyone who attended with something to share. This event really opened my eyes to accessibility and the web.

Other Accessibility Camp DC links:

Next up is Bar Camp DC 3 on November 14th.