Why the European Accessibility Forum rocked

Normally any event with the word “forum” in it makes me shudder a little and wonder if the day will be spent debating how to define accessibility and all agreeing to disagree. Not so with the European Accessibility Forum (EAFRA) put together by Martin kliehm and Namics.

Right from the start the event was promising to be a good one with a veritable who’s who of accessibility in attendance as well as speaking. It also had the best conference website I’ve seen in a while with some fantastic graphics. Not only that it was a great example of a slinky, stylish site that is also really accessible. So much so in fact that Martin won the Accessibility Challenge that I ran at South by South West this year.

So what was it that made EAFRA such a good conference?

The panels

It was great having a day of all panels rather than presentations. It tends to keep things fresh and means that you are not committed to listening to the same person for an hour if you know the topic or just don’t find them engaging. It also means you get diverse perspectives which is never a bad thing.

There were some interesting mixes on the panel and topics. It was great having Niqui Merret, who does accessible Flash, share the stage with Steve Faulkner (from TPG) and Marco Zehe (from Firefox) on Accessible Richer Internet Applications. Given the traction WAI-ARIA it getting at the moment Flash, and dare I say it, Silverlight seem to get a little sidelined in the conversation on Rich Internet Applications.

I also really enjoyed my panel on Mobile Access – Device-independent or Accessible?. Since joining Opera I’ve loved working more on how we can guild accessible solutions for mobile and honestly think that this is the way forward. Sharing the stage with Thomas Caspers and Dominique Hazaël-Massieux (Activity Lead, W3C Mobile Web Initiative) was a pleasure.

We were mostly in agreement however Thomas did flag that the concept of “one web” may be flawed as disabled users may want something different when browsing on a mobile. Using the example of Google maps he suggested that a blind user may want to know if a restaurant has grass outside for their dog.

I personally don’t think this is any different from any user who may have a dog and want to know what is around. The point is that all information should be available then solutions such as personalisation and customisation should be looked at as well as geolocation in order to filter information as per the users wishes as well as make it more context relevant. Making information context relevant is important for everyone, not just disabled users, a further example of where accessibility can be considered broader than just disabled access.

For more of a break down of other panels check out post from Chris Mills, Jeremy Keith and Chris Heilmann. You can also check out my slides in an earlier post.

The buzz

There was a good buzz around the conference before we’d even got there. There’d been a considerable build up over Twitter and in a couple of blog posts so that even if you weren’t going it was hard to not know it was happening. The fact that most of the speakers are on Twitter everyday helped fuel the conversation that we being stoked by the EAFRA Twitter stream.

It’s not always easy to get Twitter right at a conference. I’d seen panels and presentations where the audience has been asked to Twitter in questions and hasn’t as well as ones where it’s been impossible to keep up. Moderators of panels weaved in questions well and had a great balance of chat from the room as well as folks who preferred to talk over Twitter.

I could change one thing I would I think it would be to encourage people who were following over Twitter but not there to sublist their questions. Other than that I think EAFRA did a great job of including people virtually following the conference.

The people

There were roughly 180 people there many of whom were pretty well versed in accessibility. This meant for interesting questions and discussions both during and in between the panels. One thing I also really enjoyed was being back in Europe again. I’ve spent a lot of time in the States recently where the discussion around accessibility is more focused on convincing people to do it. Here it is (almost) a given and dialogue focuses on how to do it.

Many of us also stayed most of Saturday which meant that conversations spilled over into sightseeing. I owe Chris a pint or two for smuggling me into the BA lounge at Frankfurt before we headed home, yay for Chris.

The aftermarth

This was a conference that was all about spending quality time with people. Us speakers got a chance to catch up the night before over a quiet dinner in Chinese restaurant. We then had an after party after the day itself followed by a day of sight seeing and breakfast in a French / Japanese restaurant (I know, go figure).

What has been really good is seeing some of the conversations from the day already spark ideas and change. Peter Kranz has been busy, together with the help of Steve, contributing WAI-ARIA landmark roles to open source CMS themes , namely WordPress. The more sites we get to implement the better as this will only encourage better access technology and browser support so if you have a little be of ARIA up your sleeves don’t hold back.

See for yourself

All video’s of the day are available from the EAFRA channel on Vimeo. I have to also say really well done to Namics for the live sign language and translation into German and English. Just goes to show that you can pull it off!

3 thoughts on “Why the European Accessibility Forum rocked

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