Virtually home


I found myself reflecting on three accessibility community events I’ve been fortunate to attend over the past few months, so thought I’d write about them here.

a11yWeekTO (Accessibility Toronto Week)

I’ve known about a11yTO’s conference since the first one back in 2017—I’m lucky to work with Billy Gregory, one of the organisers. I’ve also been hearing great things about the conference ever since then, because people love this event (or rather these events, more on that in a mo). The talks were informative, varied, at times thought-provoking and even challenging (in the most constructive, awareness-raising, sense). The fab a11yTO crew are passionate and professional.

I love that I learned about such wide-ranging topics as: debugging accessibility barriers with DevTools; how to make user-centred research into the barriers posed by VR as inclusive of its participants with disabilities as possible; the accessibility implications of emoji; the many design considerations around the “cards” pattern; ethics in video game design; how accessibility may be seen from the perspective of a UX designer; accessibility features being developed for upcoming triple-A games and the importance of clear copywriting. (Even writing this list, I feel a bit bad, because I want to extol the awesome of all of the talks!) I highly recommend following the speakers on Twitter (links below) to keep up-to-date with what they’re up to.

There are in fact three events run in the same week by the a11yTO team: a multi-day digital accessibility conference, an evening of talks around accessibility of the built environment (a11yIRL) and a single-day conference on game accessibility.

Just one little thing that really made me feel welcome, and gives you a flavour of the event: a11yTOConf is usually run over two days on location in Toronto (a city I aspire to visiting some day), but this year it was online, and set over three days, so that the talks could be timetabled to reach as many people around the globe as possible; nice one :-).

I’m often concerned about being able to keep up with things like the chat in online events, especially whilst also trying to keep up with the talks, so experiencing a11yWeekTO through pre-recorded videos and accompanying live text chat gave me a little trepidation at first. However, whilst this remote set-up (with a super-simple custom-built UI) wasn’t what I was used to when attending a conference, the chat was so supportive and enthusiastic. It was refreshing and engaging to be able to learn so much from the people giving the talks, and over the course of the few days it was fun getting to know the other attendees a bit too. (We were also able to re-stream the talks for a time after the event, too.)

Of course I’d love to attend in person one day, but having such an event to both contribute to as a speaker and learn from and engage with as an attendee has been so rewarding. Despite the separation we are all enduring, there was a great community atmosphere.

Here are some things people have written about this and past a11yTO events…

I was so chuffed to have been invited to speak at a11yTOConf. You can find my talk on Landmarks’ story and slides on this site.

W3C TPAC Virtual Meetings

Thanks to The Paciello Group’s sponsorship I’ve been a member of W3C for nearly a couple of years now—there will be a bit more info on what I’ve been learning in a separate post soon.

Much of the web standards work that W3C does is carried out remotely via mailing lists, teleconferencing, IRC, GitHub and the like. However, once a year, a conference (“TPAC”) is held to allow as many of us as possible to get together and have in-person discussions. It’s an excellent opportunity for different working groups to get together, update each-other and seek input on how to get together and progress the work that’s going on—and, of course, to get to know each-other more.

These meetings help shape the directions of existing and future standards, so are really important, and I have been looking forward to attending ever since I joined W3C. I’m lucky to’ve met several people in the organisation through work or happening to attend the same conferences in the past, but attending a TPAC would be something else.

Of course the recent event was run virtually, and I was really impressed with two aspects of it: (1) how well the organising team translated an historically entirely in-person event into being a virtual one (with strong consideration for accessibility) and (2) how fully the opportunity to bring in people from outside W3C, to welcome their ideas, answer their questions and explain what web standards work is like, was grasped.

The vast majority of the unconference-style ‘breakout’ sessions were open to the public, and I think this was a great move. There was strong consideration of accessibility and inclusion, which involved captioning for many of the sessions, minute-taking and also training and support for presenters on how to make accessible presentations and foster inclusive discussion sessions. There were some members-only meetings, which is all well, but a lot of serious learning and work seems to’ve got done in these open sessions too—ace.

I still really hope to attend a TPAC in-person in future, but (whilst I’m in no way involved in the organising of it) I’m also expecting that there will be a significant virtual component to this and similar events in future, and that’s something that should be embraced. The minutes and outputs of the sessions are available online…

I’m a member of the Accessible Platform Architectures (APA) group, which works on a number of things, including reviewing upcoming standards for accessibility considerations—but, again, more info on the group and its work in an upcoming post. With the group’s encouragement, I ran a session on innovative adaptation, personalization and assistive technologies and we had a great discussion afterwards—thanks to everyone who attended for your questions and contributions.

Accessibility London event #35

The Accessibility London meet-ups have always been great events. If you have a local accessibility meet-up, I strongly recommend joining—even whilst we can’t actually meet up, there may be virtual events, and when we can meet up again, they are great for finding fellow accessibility friends, and learning from them. I’ve been to almost all of the London ones and they are brill.

Probably because I try to make each one, this was an event I keenly missed. Thankfully the team ran a virtual event in late November and it too brought back that community spirit, and it was great to learn about real-world experiences of app developers with a zeal for accessibility and see some familiar (and new!) names in the chat.

A few more thoughts

Having a vision impairment, I had concerns about how I’d be able to access some of these events. Fortunately given they’re accessibility events, the accessibility of the event was a foremost consideration of the organisers, and any concerns I may’ve had about being able to reach the events were quickly replaced by the familiar and much-missed great inspiration, motivation and camaraderie that attending conferences brings. In fact, this is somewhat reminiscent of when I first started attending conferences IRL, which I’m happy to say worked out well too :-).

Even when we are able to get back together in person, I hope and expect that there will be more hybrid and entirely-virtual events. This isn’t all completely new—webinars are, of course, a thing—but hopefully one positive consequence of the recent spotlight on the virtual will be raised awareness of the possibilities, including accessibility, and more options for us all to enjoy conferences in future.

Wishing you all a safe and happy 2021 and beyond.


web, accessibility, a11yTO, w3c and games