@a11yLDN 2010 from conception to realisation

Delving into the world of web accessibility in 2008, I noticed that there wasn’t much work being done concerning web users with motor impairments, especially users with cerebral palsy. This included academic writing, public literature, events/gatherings and web media e.g. popular #a11y Twitter hash tag. These sources can be considered the life blood of the web accessibility world especially for new comers, as they provide theory, understanding, practice and most importantly a11y community engagement. As the first year of my PhD came and went I found that my research: examining the involvement of people with cerebral palsy in online social networks; was rather a niche area with limited a11y community interest, often leading to the question:

Why is it when I look for web accessibility projects I usually come across solutions directed at end users who are visually impaired? These solutions are often based on screen readers and usually call upon participants who are visually impaired

As some researchers would sit back and continue there work without giving such a lack of interest much thought. I felt that to make a difference these users experiences and challenges when using web technology needed to be brought to the attention of the a11y community. Conveniently (or maybe fate) on a mid-January sunday evening a tweet containing a #a11ybos hash tag appeared in my twitter timeline; being my usual self “nosey” I tweeted its creator @Jennison for a description of the hashtag. I was informed that it was an a11y unconference taking place in Boston, U.S. on the 15th May 2010 [1]. According to Wikipedia an “unconference is a facilitated, participant-driven conference centered on a theme or purpose. The term “unconference” has been applied, or self-applied, to a wide range of gatherings that try to avoid one or more aspects of a conventional conference, such as high fees and sponsored presentations” [2]. I was intrigued by such an event and thought this could be the platform to engage the a11y community. So I tweeted to see if anyone was considering doing such an event in London. Over a space of a week I received lots of responses, however they were not as expected. Most tweets took the view of: thats a brilliant idea, when and where is it going to be?, it appeared that I had put myself forward as coordinator.

Web Accessibility London Logo
Web Accessibility London logo designed by Lex Quiambao from Action Disability Youth Project is a graphic artist with a motor and cognitive impairment

My response to this was I’m unsure if I can do this, will I have the time etc. However, I have never been one to walk away from a challenge. So, after many tweets, DM’s and informal meetings with fellow a11y folk, #a11yLDN aka Web Accessibility London was born [3].

Within days Twitter lists were created: a11yLDN and a11yLDN-Organizers; along with a Google group to encourage discussions and post ideas [4]. The meetings began on 11th March at @cinteractionlab, after which the official @a11yLDN twitter account was created. In total there were six 1.5 hour meetings where all aspects of a11yLDN were discussed especially its motor impairment theme. It was agreed the unconference would focus on web accessibility from the perspective of users with motor impairments however it would also consider issues of cognitive impairment and the wider disability population.

With help from Jim O’Donnell, Alison Smith, Graham Armfield, Raj Arjan, Janet Stollery, Angela Kounkou, Doria Pilling and Helena Sustar [5], I was able to launch free ticket sales on 21st July [6] and shortly after the official website [3]. From that point, time appeared to speed up, tickets were sold out within 8 days and in under 2 weeks over half of the presentation slots were taken. My attention was then turned to sponsorship, thankfully City University London offered their Northampton Square College Building as a venue and Pesky People, Talk About Local and Coolfields sponsorship allowed for a “light lunch” (those who attended should get the joke) and other overhead costs – I cannot express how grateful I am.

a11yLDN attendees in main presentation room
Photo by Jim O’Donnell showing a11yLDN attendees in main presentation room. Additional photos can be found at http/www.a11yldn.org.uk/feedback

Well… the 21st september 2010 came and with less than 2 hours stress induced sleep the unconference was here. There were over 60 attendees from all over London, UK and even a few from the EU. Talks and workshops were vast and well attended, starting with an introduction to accessibility and motor impairments by Graham Armfield and I, followed by 5 slots offering short presentations and long discussions including: Karen Mardah’s “Technical Communication and Inclusion”; Jamie Knight’s “My iPad, Talking to me and for me”; Martin Kliehm’s “Of Unicorns and Alligators – HTML5 Accessibility”; Léonie Watson and Artur Ortega’s “Discovering the world of modern screen readers”; and a web panel by Ian Pouncey, Jim O’Donnell & Sandi Wassmer “Inclusive Design, Accessibility & Open Web Standards”, plus many more. In total 14 talks were given by well establish a11y folk, and a @cinterationlab tour was offered by Raj Arjan. A full list of the days events can be found at: http://a11yldn.org.uk/time-and-location.

I personally feel the unconference was a success, yes there were issues such as wifi failure, a late lunch and an over looked presentation, but through all the stress I feel that these problems were overcome quickly and responsibly – nothing is ever perfect and a11yLDN was no exception. However, I feel that the ‘A Team’ and I achieved an amazing feat and the unconference achieved what it was set out to be:

A 1-day event that will have a motor impairment theme, as it is believed they are a widely under-represented population within web accessibility. However, the unconference will also consider cognitive impairments and the wider-disability population. The event will be structured with short presentations and workshops that have ‘longer’ discussions, i.e. a place for people to learn from each other. It is directed at end-users, web designers and developers (web accessibility and UX), editors and authors, accessibility specialists, universities and companies, charities and more specifically the movers and shakers of web accessibility.

Finally, over the last couple of weeks a few people have asked me for advice in organizing unconferences in other cities and countries, well here’s my answer: 1) unconferences are stressful but reaching out to your field in this case the a11y community is invaluable, so please do not attempt it alone; 2) using a creative approach e.g. post sticks and boards in meetings can easily encourage discussions and engagement; 3) embrace social media e.g. Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook etc. as they can encourage participation from far a field, however please do not focus solely on these methods as face to face communication can often iron out issues quicker; 4) things usually go wrong so try to plan for every eventuality but remember nothing is ever perfect we are human after all and we have the ability to learn from our mistakes; and finally 5) choose a subject that you are passionate about as it will take up a lot of your time.

I end this blog with some good news 🙂 following feedback given via the a11yLDN feedback webpage, twitter, in-person and email, I am pleased to announce that this is not the end of a11yLDN. It is to become an annual unconference and the next is scheduled for September 2011 (further information to follow).

I look forward to watching the a11y unconference movement spread. See you at @a11yLDN 2011!

[1] http://www.a11ybos.org | [2] Wikipedia: The free encyclopedia. FL: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. Viewed August 24, 2010 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unconference | [3] http://www.a11yldn.org.uk | [4] http://groups.google.com/group/accessibilitycamp | [5] http://a11yldn.org.uk/volunteers-and-organisers | [6] http://a11yldn.eventbrite.com/

Share

Experiencing online social networks with #cerebralpalsy at #ASSETS10

After a highly enjoyable, yet lengthy, process of collecting interview data that investigated computer, internet and online communication use among adults, age 18 and above, with cerebral palsy (2009/10). I began the publication process (central to all PhDer’s) consisting of countless presentations, seminars, talks, round table discussions etc. however an “academic” conference paper was proving illusive. Until July, when I was presently surprised that my work on motor disabilities concerning accessible social media appeared to intrigue #ASSETS10 (The 12th International ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility). I was awarded an ACM SIGACCESS Scholarship to attend the conference and my poster paper “cerebral palsy and online social networks” was accepted. This coming Monday (25 October 2010) during poster session 1, I will be presenting a poster concerning my 2009/10 study, were I will discuss:

… the experiences and challenges faced when people with cerebral palsy use online social networks (OSNs). Fourteen interviews were carried out consisting of participants with different types of cerebral palsy. The study identified the reasons for use and non-use and also discovered key themes together with challenges that affected their experiences. For example abrupt and frequently changing online social networks were reported to slow down or prevent use… In spite of this, participants reported that OSNs were a vital way to communicate, and even though these themes and challenges are occurring, they indicated the technology would continue to play a vital role within their lives. To read more about my work please go to: http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1878803.1878852

ASSETS10 Cerebral Palsy and Online Social Networks Poster
#ASSETS10 Cerebral Palsy and Online Social Networks Poster

As #ASSETS10 appears to promote itself as a forum concerning “computing and information technologies to help persons with disabilities and older adults” I look forward to engaging with said community through discussions, innovative demonstrations and hopefully “engaging” presentations.

A follow-up blog to follow, watch this space.

iPad, can it benefit the cerebral palsy community? (@cityuni_hcid Demo Session)

Centre HCID using iPad
@cityuni_hcid researchers trying out Tap Tap Radiation

With a To-Do list that increases daily,  I often demote tasks that aren’t directly related to my PhD, unfortunately this has been one of those tasks. I was asked to write a blog about a demo session I ran at @cityuni_hcid on 8th June 2010, better later than never I guess.

— On May 28th 2010 I brought my iPad to @cityuni_hcid were it sparked considerable interest, I suspect it was because at the time it was one of the very few within @CityUniLondon. For the next week I found myself answering the same questions: what do you use it for? what sort of apps are available? is it worth spending £427+?. As a result, I decided to run a small demo session inviting @cityuni_hcid researchers to try the iPad and ask questions all in one go.

To ensure the session was interesting, esp. for researchers waiting to use the device,  the following was asked: iPad, can it benefit the cerebral palsy community?. It’s purpose was to enable the researchers to identify potential apps and or areas the iPad could be used to benefit users with cerebral palsy. To stimulate discussion I carried out an impromptu study that observed 2 iPad users with cerebral palsy. Photos and video clips were recorded via my iPhone 3GS and littered throughout the @cinterationlab. Unsurprisingly, the video clips appeared to encourage discussion more so than the photo’s, so I thought I would share it with you…

(Right) Photo's of the 2 iPad users with cerebral palsy using various apps and iPad accessories. (Left) A list of some of the discussed benefits.

Some of the benefits identified included: rehabilitation e.g. PocketPond app increased dexterity over the course of the observation; eLearning e.g. iBooks app and Memory Cards app provided independent learning; independent input especially when shopping (inbuilt Safari) and communicating was discussed by both participants as key to their iPad use; arts e.g. Granimator app  provided creativity and obviously entertainment e.g. Need for Speed Shift app.

There are many other benefits discussed and considerably a lot more that I can think of now, but it would be interesting to know what you think: iPad, can it benefit the cerebral palsy community?. Please feel free to leave a comment.

Share

Incorporating your research when charity fundraising

Today I received an email from Waitrose Clerkenwell informing me that @helenasustar and I had received 30% of a £1000 pot from their Community Matters scheme for Scope Charity, raising our fundraising total to over £550. My response was simply “WOW”. Since receiving the email I have been thinking back at our fundraising journey. So, for my 1st blog I thought I would share the experience.

It started with a tweet in January from @ScopeEvents asking for Asics British 10k runners. I tweeted back “I’m up for it” without hesitation, I suppose it was because Scope is a charity that’s always pulled on the strings of my heart i.e. being a care giver to a parent with cerebral palsy. I generally believe that running for a marathon, 10k or 1k is often enjoyed as a shared experience and so challenged @helenasustar to run with me. Our only challenge other than training for the run was to raise at least £100 each. We started on the obvious routes: asking friends and family for sponsorship and setting up Virgin Money Giving webpages. However, we were struggling to reach our goal, this was primarily contributed to our busy schedules and the demanding nature of our respective PhD’s. During mid-February our worrying began to set in with questions like “what are we going to do?” “is this actually possible?”. The answer was simple: link the fundraising to my PhD and have an event that would bring together City University London students, researchers and staff within a fundraising environment to raise awareness of the requirements of people with cerebral palsy when using web technology (hmm… maybe it wasn’t so simple). To add pressure to this, I decided to link the event to my MPhil to PhD transfer examination. In reflection I was just adding fuel to the already burning fire – 1st lesson learnt: Don’t over complicate things. This was promptly removed, thanks to the Ash Cloud leaving my examiners stranded in US . The fundraising event, now known as the “HCID Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day” planning went underway and the stress gradually built up and on 23rd April was happily washed away. I personally feel the day was a hit, so much so I forgotten the stress that came to produce it, or maybe I am choosing not to remember it.

Anyway, I feel the event was rather different, we asked the ‘end-users’ to tell the story and use my research to enhance it. It began with awareness posters being displayed alongside an art exhibition by Zoe Kumaramangalam (a then unknown graphic artist with cerebral palsy who used photoshop alongside assistive devices such as pointers and screen readers, to create inspiring works of art). Her message to visitors was simply: “I have cerebral palsy and I am independent”.

Collection of Art
Centre for HCI Design has never looked so colourful
Posters providing visitors with information about the motor disability

Visitors were also given the opportunity to view posters, outlining my research findings, that littered the walls and talk to web end users (from Action Disability Kensington and Chelsea) about their technology needs and the barriers they face. The day ended with us selling more than 200 raffle tickets totally £264.80. On hearing the success of the event Waitrose contacted me and offered to further support the fundraising by including us in the Community Matters scheme, now taking our total to £569.80.

User profiles posters
Extracts from my research incl User Profiles / User Personas.

Now reflecting, I must say incorporating one’s research alongside a related charity can generate research interest and sponsorship; and so I recommend others to follow suit especially when such charities help researchers to obtain participants. It’s a nice way to say thank you.

Share