Speaking On Accessibility At WordCamp Columbus 2014

Last week, a Twitter conversation started with Deborah Edwards-Onoro about web accessibility after we both retweeted this eye-opening post on An Alphabet of Accessibility Issues from the Pastry Box. About an hour later, I had agreed to speak two days later at WordCamp Columbus 2014.

Deborah wrote a blog post about the experience of agreeing to do the talk as well as another blog post the morning of our talk that outlined all that we wanted to discuss. This was my first conference speaking engagement, and tomorrow I'll share more about what I learned and offer some tips for overcoming the anxiety of being a first-time speaker.

Our Accessibility Roundtable was in the first round of talks after the introduction in a small room that held about 20 people, and we had a few fewer than that. It was a very friendly group, and while many were fairly knowledgable about Accessibility in general, everybody seemed to learn something from our talk.

We used Deborah's post, much of which centers around issues addressed by the WP Accessibility Plugin, as our visual aid for the talk rather than quickly cobbling together a slide deck.

We also discussed the following suggestions at length:

  • Add captions or transcripts to videos and podcasts (also great for SEO!)
  • Add meaningful text to links rather than simply using "Read More" or "Click Here" for people arriving at those links without visual context
  • Spell out acronyms the first time they appear on a screen
  • Make focus visible for keyboard users

In addition to her outline, I mentioned JAWS (Job Access With Speech), a tool that translates screen content to audio or braille for the visually impaired that I was introduced to when I worked at Nationwide Insurance. Because JAWS is expensive, it's primarily used by corporations for testing and by libraries for patrons rather than for personal use. There were a few people interested in looking into JAWS for their workplace.

And for people with Macs, VoiceOver is built right into OSX with support for refreshable braille displays. There are many options to help people see sites from a different perspective. If nothing else, just unplug your mouse and try to navigate your site once a week or so. It's cheap, effective and eye opening.

Since it was an informal talk, we had a lot of discussion and took questions from the audience. Between the two of us, I felt like we were able to either answer the questions presented, or at least point them in the right direction for further research. That addressed another fear of mine when I agreed to speak on Accessibility. I'm far from an expert on the subject. I'm more of a champion of empathy in general, and feel that it's important to empathize with people who experience the web in a very different way than most. But it's not about being an expert so much as it's about sharing your perspective and hopefully broadening the perspective of those in the audience as well.

I'm grateful to Angie Meeker, the organizer of WordCamp Columbus, for the opportunity to speak, and to Deborah Edwards-Onoro for her work, encouragement and support. She is a wonderful citizen of our community and I highly recommend you follow her on Twitter as her feed and blog are a wealth of helpful information on a variety of subjects including WordPress, User Experience design and Accessibility.

  • redcrew

    Hi Jacki, It’s true, we don’t need to be experts to speak about accessibility. Spreading the word about accessibility and educating people is key to removing barriers on websites, so the web will truly be for everyone. Jacki, it was an honor to speak with you at WordCamp Columbus.

  • joza

    It’s was a great presentation you guys. So often speakers over think their presentations and they end up being terrible. The informal/roundtable approach is always a great way to get attendees of the session involved. You did great. I hope to see you at many more WordCamps. You’ve got one under your belt… it’s hard to stop.