Accessiblity was on the radar in a big way at SXSW 2004. Not only was there a track devoted to learning more about accessibility, but people in, well, non-accessible sessions were talking about the subject. The topic of accessibility appeared during sessions on web standards, CSS, and usability. And, much to my surprise, it was part of a discussion on a mailing list completely unrelated to web development. People are thinking about accessibility.
I attended all the sessions in the track, and have to say the presenters did an excellent job of introducing the subject to those who were new to the concept — and they kept the sessions challenging for those of us who know about accessibility. The accessibility workshops, whether by design or sheer luck, reinforced a common theme, one that we at AltTags preach: accessible websites are universally usable.
The trade show floor was dominated by the Knowbility booth. Knowbility, an Austin-based organization focusing on accessibility issues, provided visitors with lots of information. They also let us play with assistive technology. Suffice to say, I was lame with the screen reader (or is that I was reading the screen being read to me?), but when I teamed up with an experienced user, I really learned a lot about navigating the web without seeing it. My guide was kind enough to slow down her reader because my ears and brain weren’t up to her normal speed, and she talked to me about what we were hearing. The good news is the site we tested wasn’t too bad…the bad news is it still needs some improvement (but we knew that).
We left the conference thinking about many things — most of which were ideas we’d been playing with and talking about in the weeks prior to SXSW: the synthesis of accessibility and usability, the importance of standards-based web design, and the importance of community even in this age of email and virtual friendships. As AltTags continues to evolve, all of those subjects will be built into our posts — we hope you’ll offer your thoughts on them as well.