Weblogs: Web Accessibility

Skipping @media 2007

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

I'm not going to @media this year. I've instead donated the ticket price to Joe Clark's Micropatronage as he works towards setting up an accessibility research project.

@media 2005

The first @media was special for me. It was the first real web development conference in the UK. Meeting excellent people like Joe Clark, Molly Holzschlag, Derek Featherstone, Patrick Lauke, Jon Gibbins, Andy Clarke and Gez Lemon. I spent most of the time attempting to live-blog the conference - it was exhausting, but I learnt so much in those two days.

@media 2005 opened up an important door for me career wise. The Dom Scripting Task Force happened because of @media - with a couple of JavaScript geeks getting together to talk about JavaScript and how to move things forward. With the Dom Scripting Task Force, I got to know of Christian Heilmann, which in turn lead me to leaving Legal & General and working for Yahoo!.

@media 2006

The second @media came at a tumultuous time for me. I'd handed in my notice to Legal & General the week before, and I was definitely on my way to Yahoo!. With Legal & General we'd recently finished the web accessibility project, and the numbers were rolling in. It was a tough time for me, having a concrete figures about the value of an accessible website, but having to keep quiet about it.

The highlight for me of the 2006 edition of @media was hanging out with Gez, Jon and Rob. We had a long frank chat about the state of web accessibility, and it made me realise the number of frustrations I had that I was struggling to deal with. One of those frustrations was the general apathy toward people pushing the envelope of web accessibility. But I came out of that with a fresher perspective, and a better understanding of the problems I was seeing.

That took me on the path to exiting GAWDS, and walking away from Accessifyforum. I needed to do both so I could break free of the shackles that were holding me down. Some people can manage to be a part of these groups and manage to switch off before they got ground down - that's a strength I don't have, I needed a clear break and a different direction.

That led into the first London BarCamp, where accessible Flash ceased to be an oxymoron. And with it the dawning realisation that web accessibility was in trouble - we were stuck thinking that accessible content meant accessible HTML, and accessible Flash meant text equivalents. We forgot our roots - protecting the civil rights of disabled people to participate in an online society. We forgot that the web is more than just HTML, CSS and a DOM. It struck me that accessibility was being branded as something else. As universality - as something that was such a demonstrable failure to disabled people that the W3C had to create a new initiative (WAI) to tackle the problems universality failed to solve.

@media 2007

Since the last @media I've been to two BarCamps, two geek dinners (both for Molly), and a d.construct. I've spoken at Stuart Colville's popular WSG evening, alongside Ann McMeekin and Niqui Merret.

I know this year's @media will be another storming success for Patrick. I just feel that my heart isn't in it to go this year. Nothing really grabbed me from the list of speakers and sessions. I was tempted when earlier this week Patrick announced that Joe Clark would be speaking - and about a damn useful topic too: When Web Accessibility Is Not Your Problem.

I've paid for a ticket at both the previous @media's. L&G have a thing that they only send two people to conferences, and with three people very interested in going, someone has to lose out. So the first year I paid for Paula to go while the company paid for me. The second year I paid my own way. I'm sure if I asked, Yahoo! would pay for me to go this year, but I haven't asked mainly because I'm not really up for it this year.

@media is a beacon that brings together the best talent in web development. Its getting bigger every year, building on a successful track record. I hope it brings in more and more people who are starting to learn about standards based web development - that's the audience we really need to be conversing with, and one that will gain a great deal of value from the excellent lineup of speakers.

@Yahoo 2007

Working for Yahoo! has spoilt me - we have the best collection of web talent in the UK. There's experts in JavaScript, accessibility, microformats, semantic markup, CSS, cross-browser issues, performance optimisation, php, perl, information architecture, python - so much knowledge on tap and within eyesight of my desk. I'm spoilt by the wealth of talent, knowledge and experience - and I get to work with these people.

I'm not the one for loud bars and beer flowing on tap. I prefer a quieter place where we can have a conversation - and there's lots of scope for that within Yahoo!. So its much easier to walk up to an expert and talk through a problem or an idea. They are not complete strangers, and I'm not stumbling over my words in nervousness. The team atmosphere is brilliant. You'd think that with a collection of top talent, there'd be lots of friction and egos, but there's very little of that in our team.

Empowering people

So I had a bit of a think when it was announced Joe Clark would be talking at @media this year. Nothing else on the sessions roaster really stood out for me. I don't begrudge the price. The speakers all are recognised experts in their field. I'm perhaps not ready for another @media - I'm feeling the need to spend some time alone. Plus, it wouldn't be the same fun without Paula.

So I did something silly instead. I donated the @media 2007 ticket price (£465) to Joe Clark's MicroPatronage. And I did it for several reasons.

First, it was a way of giving something back to someone who's played a key part in me getting the best job ever. Joe Clark's book, Building Accessible Websites taught me the pragmatic and humane approach to web accessibility. I've previously mentioned Constructing Accessible Web Sits as my foundation to learning about accessibility, Joe Clark's book pushed me into a higher gear.

Its clear that Joe has a passion for captioning, and he has the passion to improve the current state of captioning. The Micropatronage is an effort to get grassroots support that can help Joe work his way towards acquiring the necessary funding to spent on researching standards for captioning, audio description, subtitling and dubbing. That standard, I feel, is a valuable investment. I want to see Joe succeed in this.

There's a lot of hard work going on in web accessibility to push the envelope of our understanding. We should be a lot more encouraging of people undertaking this work. Whether its a full time role or in their own time. We need to acknowledge their efforts and support their goals. What they uncover makes us better developers, allowing us to build better online services and serve our customers better.

If you feel that you also want to support the improvement of accessibility - of video captioning and audio description, please consider donating a little to Joe Clark's Micropatronage - I think he's worth it.

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