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Techshare 2009: the conference starts

Damon Rose Damon Rose | 17:25 UK time, Thursday, 17 September 2009

Was at the big accessibility conference Techshare run by RNIB and partners at London Excel in Docklands today. It continues tomorrow too and we hope to give you a flavour of the action down there. Both Emma Tracey and myself will be blogging it back to you.

So here goes. Lets start with session number 1 which started at 10am today.

When you ask disabled people about computer access, you tend to get a series of small problems hurled in your direction. Makes you think that it's a mess, heavily fragmented with lots of individual projects needed to fix lots of software.

But Richard Schwerdtfeger (accessibility strategist at IBM) and Cynthia Waddell (International Centre for Disability Resources) helped give the audience a glimpse at the bigger picture.

As well as lots of technical speak about how we got to where we are today, we all got a sense of the local and global work going on to fix standards and laws to make ICT accessible to as many people as possible. It's an incredible enabler and has real negative impact if not implemented, or implemented incorrectly.

When the web first started, thank you Sir Tim Berner's Lee, it was just a clever way of linking bog standard documents together. Pages of written text with pictures. It wasn't too difficult giving access to basic documents but now websites are becoming richer, more dynamic with active pages that move and change on the fly.

Richard talked about ARIA - Accessible Rich Internet Applications. He thinks this is the biggest advancement in web access in the last 10 years. It helps address access to pages that aren't just static text like the internet of old.

Cynthia, a legal expert, concentrated on the laws and standards which will underpin future accessibility. "Technology changes but civil rights do not" was her favourite phrase.

International Standards Organisation (ISO), Web Access Initiative (WAI), , various local laws and interestingly this much talked about UN convention on disability - ratified by the UK and president Obama this year. Really interesting to hear that, on tech access, the convention goes further than even the ADA (American's with Disabilities Act, similar to our DDA in the UK) so once ratified by senate the world should have a better focus on technology rights for disabled people.

'Interoperrability' was a word they both liked, by the way. I hope I've given an accessible overview of the first hour.

Robin Spinks, Techshare organiser talked about the upcoming Techshare India and Techshare Africa conferences. All good stuff.

Robin then played a video from Microsoft's Norm Hodne, Windows 7 accessibility manager (Windows 7 is the new Vista in case you don't know). He talked a good talk about collaboration with 200 assistive technology vendors and the development of UIA - a new accessibility framework in the forthcoming operating system. He said it was more stable.

The other big thing I drew from this video was that the new magnifier in Windows 7 will work with video, not just text.

More later ...


  • Comment number 1.

    I gather Cynthia Waddell didn’t just read her impressive résumé, then?

    Were there any questions from the audience as to why one needs to buy “accessibility” from a “vendor” when acquiring a computer? If you buy a Mac or an iPhone, isn’t it built right in at no extra cost? Are blind people finally willing to admit the the pay-extra-for-accessibility model is outmoded, if not illegal?


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