First, I just want to thank Knowbility for giving me the opportunity to participate in The Big D(esign) Conference. I had an absolute blast!
I have given a lot of thought about what to put in this post, for now I have settled on just writing about what was the most exciting part for me. From the very beginning of the conference, in the first keynote address, it was obvious that most of the people at the conference, although they are web designers, had very little knowledge or understanding about accessibility, in particular where screen readers and braille displays are concerned. You might wonder why I found this exciting. Well, because repeatedly I was able to help them come to an understanding of how making their web sites accessible was important to them as designers and beneficial to everybody.
As people would come by the Knowbility table, I would offer to let them listen to their web site with either JAWS or Window-Eyes. Several times the individual would tell me that they were not concerned with accessibility or that accessibility did not have anything to do with what their company was doing. I then engaged them in a conversation. I asked them about their web site, blog or other internet application. If there is one thing a designer cannot resist talking about it is his her own creation.
In every instance, I was able to capture their interest by educating them. I told them stories about blind people who were writing blogs and using web sites just like theirs. It did not take long before they would ask to take a listen to their web page. I gave them a set of headphones and off we listened. Most of them were amazed at how well a lot of their content was read by the screen reader. Others were already involved in assisting their companies to create universally designed web sites, with accessibility in mind. They took notes to take back to their team for improvements and changes that needed to be made.
The designers at this conference were very interested in universal design. This was the buzz phrase of the weekend. I used it to my advantage, when demonstrating and discussing accessibility. Every person I spoke with at the conference: after they understood the benefits, ease, and need for folding accessibility into their creations from the beginning, as a part of universal design was open and interested in learning more. I had the opportunity to tell them about Access U, AIR, and direct them to resources that are linked on the Knowbility Accessibility Programs and Services main page as well as the World Wide Web Consortium site World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The designers at this conference were very interested in becoming more educated about how blind people and persons with low vision access the computer. They were receptive to what blind people experience when we surf the World Wide Web.
I believe blind people, especially those of us who are techies, need to reach out more to web designers. If, we do this it might raise their awareness of including accessibility in their existing idea of universal design. This could lead to a fundamental change in web design, where accessibility would be included in the design of web sites from the beginning, rather than being an afterthought or as a result of legal action. This excites me because I had an opportunity to do just that at this conference!