Albert Gareev and I have been working on the material for this presentation for a long time, so I am excited to be facilitating this workshop session. Albert is making his debut as a speaker at CAST, and more important, this conference has been the first time we have met each other in person. We’ve collaborated online for five years, so to finally get to work together on this material as relates to accessibility means a lot to both of us. The fact that we have a group of people interested in participating with us is icing on the cake :).

Accessibility is not just for people with “special needs”. Accessibility comes into play for everyone at some point. In the presentation, we presented an example of a person with several “physical impairments” and asked the group to tell us what this person looked like. We had some interesting discussions, and then we revealed the trap, a picture of a young lady looking at her cell phone while walking across the street. After a few chuckles and an explanation, we introduced the idea of “secondary disability” or the fact that there are certain environments where a person has a special need, where in their regular environments they might not. Over time, if we are lucky to live long enough every one of us will deal with a special need that falls into the Accessibility realm. If we have impressed on the group that Accessibility is more than just for people with specific disabilities, I will consider that a huge success.

Albert and I both agree that putting a heuristic out there for people to use, while helpful, is much more potent when it is seen in action. A few months ago, I had the chance to give an accessibility talk at STP-CON in San Diego, and as part of my presentation, I asked the participants to fire up a screen reader on their systems and navigate to one of their favorite pages. As the screen reader started to do its job, the reactions were both amusing, and very telling. They “saw” how difficult it was for non-sighted users to “listen” to the information on the screen. They were drowned by the rapid fire speech that was trying to articulate what was on the page. this was one example and one condition. There are many other areas that accessibility covers as well (non-sighted, limited-sight, no-hearing, limited-hearing, limited movement, limited cognitive ability, etc.).

Accessibility is a difficult requirement to test for, in the sense that context has to be taken into consideration. Most of the time, we have to pick and choose which Accessible features we will use and who we will address. Is it enough to make a screen reader work with the product? Do we need to also had closed captioning for hearing-impaired? Do we have a way to make shortcuts for limited movement? Are we looking to address all of them at once, or are we willing to take them on one at a time.

We’re taking a break now, so this seems like a good time to push this out. I’l come back with part two of our workshop in a bit.