Breaking down the barriers between disabled users and the social web – Scripting Enabled

“Nobody likes to think of themselves as disabled – lots of people ignore content aimed at disabled people because they want to use what everybody is using” – one of the quotes from the conference day at Scripting Enabled.

I recently attended Scripting Enabled, which was a two day event held in London on 19th and 20th September looking at ways to make social media software and the internet more accessible for all. The first day included a series of talks and presentations on the barriers to accessibility and what can be done to make a real difference, and the second day of the event was a hack-day with developers, designers, and advisors working together to find and build solutions. The event was the brainchild of Christian Heilmann who opened the event on the first day.Christian Heilmann

As well as meeting up with many new faces, it was also a great opportunity to finally meet up with others that I have either followed on on the interwebs such as Jon Gibbins, an accessible web developer who writes at the dotjay.co.uk blog (who on day 2 headed up keen web devs on making a more accessible version of Google Maps), the vibrant Ann Meekin who is PixelDiva on Twitter and many more.  I also met with Roger Wilson-Hinds who I wrote about last November.  Roger writes regularly on his blog, the Blind Blogger and involved with Thunder, which is an easy to use screenreader, software can be downloaded for free and installed and up and running in a matter of minutes from Screenreader.net.

I finally got to meet long time Twitter-buddy Dominic Campbell who works collaboratively with local governments effectively as FutureGov, and is also passionately involved with the Enabled by Design project which has been evolving steadily since winning the Social Innovation Camp back in April 2008 (By the way, there is another Social Innovation Camp organised for 5th – 7th December 2008; if you have an idea for a mashup for social change, get involved now!).  I also chatted lots with the bright and bubbly Denise Stephens lots over both the days of the events, the founder of Enabled by Design,which aims to grow an online community who help each other find assistive equipment and products; making independent living more accessible the use of clever modern design.

I’m not going to write in full detail about the event, as all of the full presentations and further information and inspiration is available over at the Scripting Enabled website.
But listed below is a very brief rundown of what we all listened to, experienced, shared and participated in with day one – (I’ve linked directly to the speakers’ presentations and post on the Scripting Enabled website below with the title of their presentation.  All of the presentations listed are also available on the site using Easy SlideShare ).

  • Denise StephensFirst to talk and share her personal experiences of her symptoms of MSand how inclusive design can help make it easier for many people to use the web was Denise Stephens from Enabled by Design.
  • Then the effervescant Kath Moonan, from Abilitynet presented ‘Why I hate the interweb!’ sharing outcomes of recent research done by Abilitynet showing examples from users of the difficulties that people can encounter when using the internet.
  • Next was Antonia Hyde, from United Response who delivered a fascinating presentation entitled ‘Opening doors: online content for people with learning disabilities.’ giving an insight into the barriers to inclusion that many people with learning disabilities face with using the modern web, and showed how with thought to the user in design, the substantial difference it can make with user experience showing a case study of someone using the Easy YouTube.
  • Artur Ortega and Leonie Watson spoke about ‘Screen readers and JavaScript’ and provided a fascinating overview of the range of technologies available to help assist those with visual impairments, the barriers that web design can cause and some of their wish list of features they’d like to see implemented in the future.
  • Jonathan Hassle, Head of Accessibility with the BBC presented about Dyslexia Barriers and gave many pointers in helping to understand and make the web more accessible from the learning from the research and work of the BBC in acheiving better accessiblity with their own sites.  Phil Teare from Textic.com, shared his own personal difficulties with his dyslexia and using the web and how it can affect the users experience when accessing websites.

The day finished with Christian Heilmann (also dubbed by Kath Moonan as the ‘Flame Headed Geek Warrior!’) chairing a lively discussion panel with the audience.
All in all an inpsiring an realy great day.  The only trouble many of us ‘Usability Experts’ had at the end of it all was navigating our way successfully to the pub!

Collection of photos of people participating from the Hack Day on Day 2 of Scripting Enabled

Day two consisted of a wide range of developers, users and other interested people joining in to look at what they could achieve working together and then setting about doing it.  Lots of innovation took place, and I’m sure that the work will continue. More of the outcomes of the day and further developments can be seen on the Scripting Enabled wiki.

As well as seeing the work of new mashups and accessibility in action, I was able to see some existing projects which aim to serve to help with inclusion and accessibility for all on the internet.  Gary Mc Farlane from Blue Badge Route demonstrated a highly affordable tool which they had built that provided accessible maps, but also work well with screenreaders and enabled users to also email details of the routes they wished to travel too, thus giving control and independence to a user.  The integrated map systems showed the accessibility of parking and routes within an area, and I see these as being a vital inclusion for many local government websites and also nonprofit organisations who work with and for people with additional needs.
Unfortunately I couldn’t attend the whole of the day, but hope that there will be many more events like this in the future for web developers and users to come together to enable positive change and benefit for all users of the web.

For follow ups on the outcomes of the innovations from the hack day, head over to the Scripting Enabled wiki, and to see photo’s from the event you can head across to the flickr page to see all pictures tagged with Scripting Enabled.