This year’s Access U Conference was fantastic! Once again, we featured instruction from world renowned experts in the field of accessibility and usability! We were privileged to have St. Edwards University as our gracious hosts again this year. The energy and excitement of everyone involved was inspiring and made me personally want to go out and promote our cause!
For the second year running, we offered a Usability Track, where experts in the field shared their techniques for performing studies and user experience tests on websites and/or software applications. I was an active participant as well and really enjoyed it. The first afternoon, the class saw several examples of people with disabilities using assistive technologies and heard us discuss how we access the web. For some attendees, this was the first time they really saw AT in action, being used by someone who depends solely on it to gain access. At the last session of the track, the class divided into small groups and got to simulate a user experience test session with users with disabilities. I was very impressed, both with the instruction and the attendees. They left with a wealth of information and experience that many of them said they could not have gotten anywhere else. Two of the instructors have written some fabulous books you may want to check out. Shawn Henry’s _Just Ask_ is available as an on-line text, and _Storytelling for User Experience Crafting Stories for Better Design_ by Whitney Quesenbery can be found in paperback or PDF format.
I was also privileged for the 3rd year to partner up with Randy Horowitz to teach a class in basic JAWS use for testing. We led the class through several hands on activities, showing how JAWS handles various elements such as links, headings, images, forms and tables. The class seemed to be very engaged and hopefully left with knowledge and information they can use in their own individual tests with JAWS.
As part of the conference, we partnered with VSA Arts of Texas to host Sight Sound Soul, featuring award-winning New Orleans musician Henry Butler at the piano, while an Artist painted her interpretation of the music and American Sign Language linguistics experts enthusiastically translated the sound into movement. The music was exciting, no one in the audience could sit still, each one of us at the very least tapping feet and nodding heads to the beat. I personally am not much of a dancer, but many were inspired to get up and groove to the music. It was a lot of fun for all of us there, a great way to celebrate accessibility through art and culture!
I could go on forever recounting the fantastic experiences I had at this year’s conference. The new people I met and the old friends revisited. The renewal of energy as we all part to pursue our goals in furthering the worthy cause of access for all. If you are reading this and could not join us this year, definitely consider participating next. There is something for everyone at Access U and you will almost surely have a great time! For those who were there as instructors, volunteers, sponsors, class attendees, etc, we thank you sincerely for helping us make this happen again this year! This mission is vital for so many, and it takes all of us working together. Through Access U and events like it, we can reach out to people in our communities and get them involved in our cause!