What a Day!

My first day at my very first SXSW Interactive was a success! Being the accessibility go-to girl at Dell, I have an agenda here. I missed CalWAC, so this is my opportunity to gain all the accessibility knowledge I can find.

My first panel discussion, Catching up with Accessibility: The Basics Quickly was presented by Shawn Henry. She works at W3C, the organization that creates the web standards, I'm sure there couldn't have been a better person to give us the quick rundown on accessibility.

She began the discussion by saying not to look at the W3C guidelines and standards, but to first get to a point where you understand how people with disabilities use the web.  They don't use a mouse, many don't view the images, many use screen readers… I guess, like in all good web design, you really should know your audience.

Shawn explained that there are several easy things we can do to our websites to make them more accessible, including such things as the use of alternative text for images and labeling header levels.

After going through the basics, she did ask us to get back to the standards… but not to get too bogged down. We should make sure to do the good, easy things. Don't do any of the bad things. And don't get too hung up in the gray areas. Her parting advice was to give the mouse to the cat, turn off the images and actively encourage real accessibility.

My second panel, Accessible Rich Media  was moderated by my good friend Sharron Rush so I knew it would be good! Sharron invited 3 other women to this panel, and each added a unique perspective. First up was Susan Gerhart, and she is legally blind. A little of that "understand how people with disabilities use your website" going on right here! Susan demonstrated with an open source screen reader, NVDA how she had heard about a podcast and wanted to listen to it. She had such a hard time getting to the podcast that she eventually gave up. She even changed her opinion of the person producing the podcast because it was such a non-accessible way to present his information.  Just one example of how accessibility can change the customer satisfaction rating!

Lisa Pappas shared some interesting numbers with us — 20 percent of the working population has a disability. As our life expectancy goes up our work force is getting older, and that 20 percent will get even higher in the years to come. Another stat from Lisa was that one in three families has a person with a disability. If you disregard the needs of that one person, you will likely lose the entire family as a consumer at your web site.

Becky Gibson finished with a discussion on Accessible Rich Internet Application (ARIA) and Dojo, and open source JavaScript tool kit.

I have a couple of things to check on when I get back to work…

About the Author: Dodie Stillman