Friday, December 07, 2007

Making Information Professionals Accessible

Greetings from the Web Adaptability for Inclusion Conference 2007 at La Trobe University, near Melbourne. I gave a keynote presentation on "Making Information Professionals Accessible" and there is now a group discussion taking place on "What should be taught, in what course, by whom?": Should there be certification for inclusive practice (like ISO 9001)? Who should be rated? What should be rated? Participant responses and discussion.

I am a little worried that my presentation was painting too negative a picture. My view is that a cross discipline approach is needed. There are not enough IT professionals interested in accessible web design to make it viable as a specialization on its own. We need to get the other professions involved to make it viable and work on a set of requirements and even a curriculum we are all happy with and then share the cost of developing training and certification for this.

Another way to look at this is that accessible web design for the disabled and ordinary web design should be subsumed by a discipline of information representation. This would look at how to communicate information well and tools to do this. A byproduct would be accessibility. An example of this is ICE which will encourage a particular layout for course materials, producing slides, web pages and PDF from the same source document. However, ICE is constrained by having to work from content prepared with a word processing template. A word processor is designed to produce printed text on paper, with limitations not present on a screen.

One aspect of a web accessibility conference is that the slide presentations are very easy to read. All the presenters used large text with good contrast backgrounds and very clear graphics. This is a very pleasant change from the average conference with tiny text on textured backgrounds.

Charles McCathieNevile from Opera gave a presentation remotely using Skype. The slides were advanced manually by the local MC pressing buttons. Opera was used in full screen mode for the slides.

Shure Microflex Boundary Microphoneps: The discussion session used wireless Sure Microflex conference system microphones. These are "boundary effect" microphones which sit flat on the desk. One problem with the wireless units is the limited power of the batteries, so that people had to remember to turn of the units when not in use, or the batteries would go flat. The wireless units cost more than US$500 each. It might make sense to use cheaper wired units and plug them into something like the ASUS Eee PC, to make them wireless, as I looked at for ACS Council meetings.

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