Christian Heilmann

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Liberated Accessibility at A-Tag in Vienna

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

I’m just looking out of the window at the snow on my balcony (in London! ZOMG!) and try to wrap up my quick trip to Vienna to attend the A-Tag conference which was an accessibility event sponsored by both Austrian government organizations and commercial partners.

me presenting and having live sign language translation
Photo by Markus Ladstaetter

The motto of the conference was “The Future is now” and thus the main sponsor was the organization in the Austrian government dealing with youth matters. This is a great idea as it meant that first of all the accessibility argument is taken outside of the disability camp but into the area that we have to deal with much more – the youth of today and its education but it also meant that people are more likely to listen to a government body than just bloggers or IT company representatives. The conference had two tracks and here’s a quick roundup of the talks I attended.

  • The conference started with Eva Pabst, a blind presenter from accessible media welcoming everybody and setting the scene.
  • Following was Robert Lender talking about the idea of bringing accessibility and youth work together and doing an admirable job in presenting the plea for collaboration. My hat is off to Robert (and he did the opposite by putting on the blue beanie after stating it’ll look silly) and I am helping him right now to create a youth oriented search engine using Yahoo BOSS.
  • After this I saw my colleague Artur Ortega giving an overview on how JavaScript solutions can increase the accessibility of web products if used correctly showing Yahoo Video, Finance (using a very clever currency converter) and other “real life” examples. Artur is a geek and hard-core well of knowledge when it comes to screen readers, great stuff.
  • Shadi Abou-Zahra of the W3C was next explaining all about WCAG2. This was a bit on the dry side, but there is not much you can do when talking about a massive topic like this and Shadi is great to ask all kind of detailed questions when you cornered him in the breaks. Good to have people telling how to convert from a WCAG1 based testing methodology to the more human WCAG2.
  • I then skipped two presentations to chat with people outside and discussing the idea of an Austrian Scripting Enabled with some of the people.
  • I got back on the tracks after lunch to see Martin Kliehm talk about WAI-ARIA and how to use it now. Despite the rather creepy factor that most of his slides featured my name or photo in one way or another Martin did a great job explaining the technical details of WAI-ARIA and showed his code solutions for it. One thing that is a bit of a shame is that him showing how complex it can get to write your own keyboard access solutions might have spooked the audience, so I made sure to explain that all the large widget libraries I know are working on ARIA implementations already, so you don’t have to be a Martin to use it.
  • Eric Eggert filled in for Tomas Caspers who couldn’t come because of company demands and was sadly missed talked about the seven deadly sins of accessible webdesign mapping the bible sins to bad examples of accessible solutions. These ranged from terrible solutions like contrast widgets that only changed the contrast of the widget itself up to 1000 character table summaries that didn’t explain what the table was about. Eric also segwayed nicely to my presentation by telling people off for discussing things for hours instead of just doing them.

The conference presentations ended with my own plea for better communication between the accessibility world and the web development world out there. The slides are available on slideshare (this is the English version, but there is also a German one. If you don’t want to sign up for slideshare to download the slides, get them from S3: German, English.

Here are the slides translated into English:

[slideshare id=778833&doc=atagenglish-1227392313529781-9&w=425]

I will write more about this topic soon and hopefully give some talk on it in the anglophone world, too :)

The organization of the conference was flawless and went without a hitch. The catering was marvelous and Vienna itself is a beautiful, easy to navigate town full of coffee houses and bakeries. Please London, take these on!

I have to thank the organizers, Eric Eggert, Accessible media and the dynamic duo of Markus and Martin Ladstaetter of Bizeps for a great conference. I was also very impressed with the live transcription to sign language and the professionalism this was done with (I had a good talking to before my talk to speak much slower and hope I pulled it off).

On a personal note one of my highlights was being able to have a long chat (with aid of the sign language translators) with several hard-of-hearing attendees (including the terribly inspiring Manfred Schuetz) which helped me to understand their concerns and give them some ideas how to get the need for proper captioning and transcription to sign language out there.

It was a good time and if you speak German and you care about accessibility, give A-Tag a go next time, it is well worth it.

Summary about the Accessibility2.0 conference on YDN

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

I just put up a summary blog-post about AbilityNet’s Accessibility 2.0 conference on the Yahoo Developer Network blog.

It is pretty tricky writing a summary of a conference you spoke at yourself, I found. In any case, I wanted to say thanks to everybody involved in organizing the conference and the other speakers. I learnt quite a bit myself at the conference and I’ll be happy to come around next year to see where we’ve come.

Minified Metro, Sticky Event Handling and great new encounters – that was ParisWeb 2007

Sunday, November 18th, 2007

Minification is the process to remove all unnecessary whitepace (spaces, tabs, linebreaks) from a piece of code to make it weigh less when downloaded. During a strike in Paris this is exactly what happens to the public transport system:

overcrowded metro

I’ve spent the last three days at Paris Web – a three day conference about web standards and accessibility held in Paris, France. Just to sum it up: although travelling through the city to reach the two different locations was more of a nightmare that I’d ever imagined, the conference itself was an amazing experience and I am happy to have been a part of it.

Paris Web shows the hallmarks of a conference that is organized by people who are simply passionate about bringing the good ideas of standardization and accessibility to the people and not to line their pockets.

The two day conference pass held in an IBM building with a state-of-the-art auditorium (I am still geeking out about the remote control and having a monitor in the stage to see my slides) and a more than adequate supply of coffee and beverages was 100 Euro for two days. The workshops, sadly enough (because of the strike) held in a school on the other side of town set back attendees for only 10 Euros!

These prices meant that you were able to reach the folk you normally can’t as they are not able to afford the ticket for much pricier conferences. Pending me, the low price did not mean you didn’t get a line-up of impressive speakers and great presentations. The list of speakers read like a who-is-who of the francophone web scene and included people from WaSP, the W3C, IBM and members of the prototype team.

My presentation at the conference “Successful teams use web standards”

My own presentation was deliberately kept non-technical and explained the benefits of following a standard when you develop web sites:

My workshop on Unobtrusive JavaScript

I based the workshop on my seven principles of unobtrusive JavaScript and tried to apply them by enhancing a table of contents pointing to several content areas in a document. There will be a blow-by-blow description of the enhancement when I get time.

The room was not ideal for doing a workshop as it was a classroom crammed with computers and 19 inch CRT monitors which meant that you couldn’t see much of the people you are teaching something.

I’ve promised the group that by the end of the session the JavaScript savvy ones will have realized that a lot of time they code too much and that the JavaScript afraid participants will know how to work and communicate with JS developers (yes, that is possible).

Making the best of the room and following a whim I explained event handling and event delegation using real people:

Event Handling using Human Guinea Pigs

The first row were the links in the table of contents, behind the list items, then a UL to the left and Stephanie Booth on the left was the window object (I did not treat her as an object, do not start these rumours!). The lady sitting up front was the event listener and the sticky note in the hand of one of the links was the event object e. It is tricky to explain, I guess you had to be there.

I am currently still cleaning up the workshop files and will put them up on my server as soon as they are done. You will find them at later on today.

Will the show go on?

I’ve heard rumours that this would be the last Paris web, and I’d consider that a shame, as it is a conference that reached where it very much needs to and there are too many people to thank and mention. It was a great experience and it should go on.

There are lots of photos of the conference on flickr and the organizers told me that all the sessions will be available as creative commons videos on dailymotion later on.

Photos by
Raphael Goetter and Christophe Porteneuve