My Experiences at AccessU 2009

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This week of course was full of fun at AccessU!  It consisted of two full days and a third day for post conference, as well as some great evening activities.  There was much to learn and fabulous people to talk to and network with.  I was privileged to be involved in the two first days of the conference and from everything I observed, it was a great success!  Thanks to the hard work of Knowbility, ST. Edwards, and our fabulous volunteers, I think those who attended had a wonderful experience.

The following will summarize my experience, but I would love to hear from you if you were there.  I couldn’t witness everything all at once, so I am interested in hearing from others who took various classes.  Maybe our discussion will entice some who couldn’t come this year to attend next time!

First I would like to comment on the location.  The staff and students at St. Edwards University were very gracious and helpful throughout the conference.  There was always someone willing to help when it was needed.  The wireless internet worked perfectly for me, I had no drops at all and I used my computer in almost every class I was a part of.  I think this location works very well for AccessU, so a big thanks to St. Edwards for hosting and for all of their work!!  The catering was excellent as well and kept us full and happy, ready to learn!

On Monday after registering and having some breakfast, we all got together for the plenary session.  Our speaker was Whitney Quesenbery, who is the Director of the Usability Professionals Association, or UPA.  She talked a lot about the voting process and how it has come so far over the past 9 years with regard to accessibility.  Interestingly, I had just voted in our local elections this past weekend, using the Ivotronic machine with speech, so it was fascinating to hear her talk about the process that made this possible for me.  Thanks to her advocating very actively for all users, the opportunity to vote is available for people like myself.  She reminded us that usability and accessibility go hand in hand, but that it’s not just about alt text and tags.  The most important thing is that something is user friendly for all.  This was a recurring theme throughout the conference and her speech started things off beautifully.

After the Plenary session, I attended the course entitled “Accessibility in Emerging Technologies,” taught by Matt May from Adobe Systems INC.  He was filling in for Derek Featherstone, who was unable to attend the conference.  Although Matt did a fantastic job, Derek was truly missed!  In this class, Matt talked about how far the web has come since the 1990s and how in the past few years, everything has turned mobile.  Having the web on the go is important to society, and these changes can cause even more accessibility barriers.  He discussed Waiaria and how it hooks right into existing Assistive Technology.  Most browsers now support Waiaria, as well as the current versions of many screen readers.  I’ll definitely be looking for and reading Matt May’s book found on ud4wa.com!

Next was lunch, and on the first day we decided to have table topics, where people could sit together and discuss one thing or another.  I facilitated the Twitter table, where we had a lot of fun discussing all social media and what we’ve been able to do with it.  I got a lot of new people and groups to start following on Twitter.  We may have even converted one of our table members who was curious about twitter, but hadn’t used it yet.

After lunch, Randall Horwitz and I taught our “Testing with Jaws” basics class.  We gave our attendees some hot keys to use in jaws, taught them how to set the rate of speech, listened to and discussed some basic tables and forms, demonstrated how images are spoken, and visited a few websites to see how Jaws handled them.  I think Randy and I make a great team, and the class seemed to get a lot out of our course.  We taught an Intermediate Jaws class on Tuesday morning, where we had some attendees who already had experience testing with Jaws.  There were some excellent questions and discussion, making the class interesting for instructors and attendees alike.  Randy and I decided that for now, we prefer Jaws 9 over Jaws 10, until 10 is a little more stable.  However, Jaws 10 will work just fine for testing purposes.

Tuesday’s lunch was entertaining and inspiring.  Our keynote speaker was Kelsey Ruger, who is the Vice President Technology Operations of Pop Labs.  He also taught some classes at the conference.  He talked to all of us about being effective in making change happen.  He gave us some fabulous tricks and tips that would help us convince others of the importance of our cause, which in our case is accessibility.  He made us laugh and pumped us up.  He is a very talented speaker and a pleasure to listen to and learn from.

Tuesday afternoon I sat on a panel, discussing how people with disabilities use technology.  I was honored to be there with my 3 fellow panelists; Jess Hardy, Kate May and Michael Goddard.  We each had our individual challenges, but our message was the same.  When you think about accessibility, you can’t just make your goal to have a screen reader work properly; you have to think of all the other aspects.  We all said that the internet has opened many doors for us, giving us a sort of anonymity, so that we are not judged based on our disabilities.  We are able to show our potential through e-mail and web communication.  I really liked the panel format and think it would be neat to have more of them next year at AccessU.

The last class I went to was Pat Ramsey’s discussion on social media.  I think I was the class groaner, because whenever Pat would talk about some accessibility barrier, I chimed in with my two cents.  If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you’ll know how I have experienced some of the social media out there.  If you have not, I encourage you to check out the blog archives.  Pat’s class was excellent and we all took away some new knowledge on social media, the benefits of it and the accessibility barriers that currently exist.

Along with the classes, I also went to the Monday evening movie event.  We got to see Iron Man, which was both captioned and audio described.  There was a lot of action and I definitely would not have gotten much out of it without the audio descriptions.  I was totally into the movie and on the edge of my seat almost the whole time.  It was nice to be able to experience the story right along with everyone else, laugh when they laughed, and know as things were unfolding rather than after it was all over.  I’m sure it was interesting for those who have never experienced audio description before.  I was talking to a friend afterward who was watching and listening, and it was interesting that he felt like what he was seeing wasn’t always quite the same as the description.  It just goes to show that not everyone sees things exactly the same way.

So as you can see, AccessU was a fun and busy time for me.  I was actively involved the entire time, except for Wednesday’s post conference sessions.  I learned a lot, hopefully taught some things to people, and had a great time.  Now, let’s hear your thoughts and experiences from the conference.  Tell me all about what I missed while I was in my part of the experience.  I am very much looking forward to next year’s AccessU!

2 thoughts on “My Experiences at AccessU 2009”

  1. First-time poster here; your friend’s comment (and your reaction) about the described showing of “Iron Man” is very insightful. I think more people who do not have vision loss should check out described films and programs; there’s a great deal there to be experienced that sort of floats beneath the surface. We’ve become such “visual couch potatoes” that we miss a great deal of the visual experience; I’m convinced that listening to description encourages “active watching” and may lead to other cognitive benefits as well. Well done on the post!

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