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.

BarCampDC2: Bigger, Geekier, And More Food

This past weekend the second DC area BarCamp took place. Like last year’s event, a horde of local techies came out to teach one another and collaborate on new ideas.

My favorite presentation was from Jeff Brown, a high school teacher who considers himself a webucator. His talk was about how he is teaching proper, standards-compliant web development techniques at Damascus High School in Montgomery County. Here’s a picture of the back of my head (I’m in the blue shirt) taken by kenyaoa during the session.

Jeff Brown is a Webucator

Another memorable event was an impromptu session about Expression Engine, a flexible CMS. I was so inspired from the small group that the next day I tried the free version out myself.

The Washington Post was there covering the event and there was a small write up in the business section this morning. They interviewed Charlie Park, a friend of mine I met at the first BarCamp, who started an online budgeting app. The reporter called the space where we were meeting a “Georgetown basement” but it was actually generously donated by the Center for Digital Imaging Arts, which is a part of Boston University.

When you get over a hundred developers together all day, they’re going to get hungry. Thankfully this Barcamp was loaded with food. A full breakfast was provided including an assortment of bagels, muffins, and coffee. Candy, nutrigrain bars, and granola bars were available for snacking on throughout the day. And for lunch, the organizers ordered 100 pizzas for everyone! I think that ended up to be half a pizza for every attendee. As you might guess there was some extra food leftover at the end of the day so the Barcamp organizers donated 40 pizzas, 60 bagels, and a heap of muffins to a local homeless shelter.

Donating Extra Pizza

The after party took place at McFadden’s and since there was extra money left over in the budget we got to blow it on free drinks and food. Our waitress did a great job of keeping the group’s glasses and bellies full.

Overall it was another great DC tech event. A big thanks to all the people who helped organize the event and deal with the logistics. Another big thanks goes to all the sponsors who made BarCamp possible. Their donations went a long way so everyone could have a great time.

Other posts from around the interwebs:

BarCamp DC 2 Is Coming


It seems like just yesterday I was telling you guys about SocialDevCamp East. But the other day I got word that the 2nd DC area BarCamp is happening on Saturday, October 18th. This time it will be at the Center for Digital Imaging Arts at Boston University in Georgetown. Why there is a Boston University in DC is beyond me. But lucky for me, the conference is right across the street from my work so I’ll be familiar with the area.

Last year’s BarCamp was the first technology conference I had ever been to and I had a great time meeting other like-minded web folks like myself. I gave a presentation about Firebug which was pretty much by the seat of my pants. This time I hope to present again except this time around I will come better prepared.

I hope to see you there on October 18th for BarCamp DC 2! More details can be found at the official website and wiki.

Location:

Center for Digital Imaging Arts at Boston University
1055 Thomas Jefferson Street NW
Washington, DC 20007

SocialDevCamp East Was All About The Future Of The Web


Picking session topics at SocialDevCamp East

The DC area is exploding with meetups and unconferences. First it was BarCamp DC in August, then PodCampDC at the end of April, and just this past weekend was SocialDevCamp East which took place in Baltimore. The latest unconference had an emphasis on the future of the web and many of the sessions were theory-heavy about topics that are the very bleeding edge of the next-generation Internet.


Mike Subelsky talked about Amazon’s EC2 web service.

The first session I went to was about Amazon’s web services specifically the EC2 service. The discussion, which was led by Mike Subelsky, revealed the possibilities for new products and services thanks to Amazon taking a lot of the cost and hassle of running server hardware out of the equation with their on-demand virtual server solution. System administration is foreign to me but I could see the benefit of Amazon’s web services.


Dr. Harry Chen discusses the Semantic web.

The Social Media and Semantic Web panel was a real thinker. This was the first time really diving into the nitty-gritty of the Semantic web, which will make the future Internet smarter and easier to manage with data being in a well structured, meaningful format. Dr. Harry Chen led the discussion (see his slides) with some valuable contributions from the crowd about where this web trend was heading. This gave me ideas about how U.S.News & World Report could add Semantic data to it’s upcoming data projects.


Bear, from Seesmic, adding to the Semantic web discussion.

Lunch was provided at SocialDevCamp East and consisted of a make-your-own sandwich buffet. It was probably one of the best spreads at any unconference I’ve been to. During lunch I chatted with Patti, the founder of a Baltimore area start-up called 600block.com. The site aims to help you and your friends find interesting local things, starting with Baltimore and eventually branching out to other areas. I also met Bear who is an infrastructure developer at Seesmic. He mentioned Seesmic is embracing the Semantic web by building FOAF and SPARQL into their API’s. They hope to make everything they can as open as possible which is really encouraging for the future of web video communication. He also gave me a Seesmic t-shirt. Nice!


Shashi knows the benefit of social media to companies.

After lunch I went to see what Shashi Bellamkonda from Network Solutions had to say about Selling the Value of Social Web to Management. Shashi is a very web social guy who I first met at PodCampDC. He cited how lots of companies are opening up direct communications with customers like Comcast with their ComcastCares twitter account. His main point was blogs/Facebook/Twitter are not another marketing avenue for companies to fill, but rather a way to expose the personality behind the company.

The final session was an intimate discussion about the popular JavaScript libraries that are out there. In attendance was Amy Hoy who is engaged to Thomas Fuchs the creator of script.aculo.us. Clearly she had a bias to Prototype but everyone else seemed to be into jQuery.

I had to duck out after the actual conference part was over so I missed the after party. I met a lot of interesting people who share the same passion for technology as me. Each time I go to one of these unconferences I come out with a bunch of ideas and new perspectives. I can’t wait until the next one which will probably be BarCampDC 2 sometime in the summer. And if you missed this one don’t fret as their are plans for another SocialDevCamp East in the fall.

Other SocialDevCamp East Recaps:

PodCampDC 2008

PodCamp DC Opening Keynote

This past weekend I had the great pleasure of attending the very first PodCamp DC. PodCamp is a new media unconference, meaning the participants decide the schedule of events and topics on the day of the conference rather than in advance. There was quite a diverse set of topics ranging from the nuts and bolts of podcasting in Podcasting 101 to an interactive discussion on the future of Social Media and New Journalism. The attendees were just as diverse as the topics from the young techies like myself all the way up to retired grandparents.

One thing that really surprised me was the number of senior citizens at the event. I saw a guy typing away on his Acer laptop running Ubuntu and another lady who looked to be a grandmother wearing a Red Hat Linux baseball cap. I thought the people that attended these things were mostly young computer nerds though I was pleasantly surprised to see people of all gender, color and creed.

Her Flip video camera (atleast that is what I think it is) matched her glasses.
Her Flip video camera (atleast that is what I think it is) matched her glasses.

Probably the most insightful talk of the conference was given by Gretchen Vogelzang of the MommyCast. She talked about how her and a friend turned a simple podcast about motherhood into a six-figure business attracting big name advertisers like Dixie, National Geographic, and Warner Independent films. Gretchen and Paige put a lot of research into their work and it shows with a loyal following that rivals that of a major media property.


Gretchen Vogelzang gave on of the best talks of the conference about how the MommyCast got where it is today.

Gretchen Vogelzang gave on of the best talks of the conference about how the MommyCast got where it is today.

Social Media and New Journalism was a great talk with old media veterans Jim Long (NBC News) and Andy Carvin (NPR) discussing how new media was shaking things up in the traditional news space. They covered the mass propagation of information via Twitter citing the recent Illinois earthquake which quickly spread around the Twitterverse before any traditional news team even had a clue about what was going on.

New tools like Qik let you stream live video over the Internet from your cell phone. While the quality is low there is the ability for people watching the stream to chat and send comments straight to the cell phone creating a new dynamic between producer and consumer. You can see their whole talk which as recorded using Qik below.

Another product mentioned called Utterz lets you call a phone number and leave a voicemail which will be converted and uploaded to the Internet and pushed out as a podcast. Interactive tools like Qik and Utterz make covering an event in near-realtime a possibility.

This dynamic duo talked about how New Media is disrupting journalism. They demoed Qik and Utterz and sparked lots of good ideas from the packed crowd.
This dynamic duo talked about how New Media is disrupting journalism. They demoed Qik and Utterz and sparked lots of good ideas from the packed crowd. See the footage from their talk below.

When lots of geeks get together, a gadget meet-and-greet is sure to happen. I saw a Nokia N810 Internet tablet and Asus Eee PC. Both were small, portable devices for surfing the web in a Wifi-heavy area.


Lots of gadget gawking going on at a geekfest like PodCampDC

Lots of gadget gawking going on at a geekfest like PodCampDC

The rest of the time was about meeting new people and trading ideas. I helped answer a few questions for a guy named Andrew who wanted to run a blog and video podcast all from his Blackberry. Using WordPress and Postie he can accomplish this as he travels around the country. Everyone seemed to be all abuzz about Twitter and I found a few more people to follow although it is getting harder and harder to keep up with all of my followers. I think I will be cutting back some.

Hard Time Hearing
There was so much discussion and exchange of ideas going on.

All in all, PodCamp DC was light on content but heavy on people. I heard a few complaints about the lack of technical podcasting instruction like the New Media Expo of late last year, but that’s what you get with a free, local conference. I know there will be a whole lot more presentations next year! I still had a great time hanging out with fellow web nerds.

You can see the rest of the photos from the day on my Flickr page. And if you want to see all of the pictures from the event just search for the tag ‘podcampdc

If you missed out on this unconference, there is the Social Dev Camp East coming up in 3 weeks. It is on May 10th, 2008, in Baltimore. I’ll be there and if you’ll be there do say hello.

Other PodCamp DC Recaps: