Accessibility Technology

Creating an Accessibility Community


  • Jennison Asuncion @Jennison
  • Bob Bosken @bbosken
  • John Croston @jfc3
  • Char James-Tanny @CharJTF
  • Kathy Wahlbin @wahlbin

CHAR:  talked a bit about the Boston Accessibility Group.  Creating a community is a lot of voluntary work, so balance and “me time” is important.  Need a team to help out with normal day-to-day operations like updating web site, ordering pizzas, getting guest speakers, etc.

KATHY:  having consistency in when and where meetings occur is important to developing a routine that member / volunteers can get into.  We do monthly meetings on a day that varies, with time constant from 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm.  Restaurants tend to be pretty hard, because they’re often very NOISY.  Microsoft “Nerd Center” offers free space, it’s centrally located and next to metro stop and other public transportation.  Our topics tend to vary; ask the group for topics and bring in speakers.  Provide hand-on sessions for key topics such as mobile.

Advertising is important!  Some of the things we’ve done:  Meetup, Nerd Center, Social Media, LinkedIn, collaboration with other groups, and referrals.

JENNISON:  power of meetup are keywords (usability, mobile web, etc) are powerful way to generate interest.

BOB:  we started a Meetup group in February, leveraged an existing network of his and his wife’s (an employee of Nationwide Insurance) in Ohio.  “Any warm body I can get in the room” is a goal.  Used EventBrite to send out notifications.  FB and Twitter generally didn’t generate a lot of local interest; it does lend legitimacy to the event though because it gives people a place to go.  Never underestimate the power of food and refreshments.  Everyone is welcome and has something of value to share…giving a platform to people to share ideas and talk about what they’re doing is a great thing.  We were able to do this on a two-week notice, but providing at least a month is much better to ensure attendance.

JENNISON:  We do this in Toronto area.  We use Twitter and encourage everyone to USE DEM HASHTAGS!  (in particular #a11y).  Hashtags often represent communities, so we’ll use hashtags like #webdevelopment, #webdesign, and so on.  This often results in people accidentally stumbling onto your group…this is a good thing.  LinkedIn is synonymous with “your professional presence online.”  LinkedIn groups provide a good way to have longer focused discussions.  We alternate locations each month, one at a design firm, the other is a networking event held in a restaurant.  We have over 200 members, many of whom are students in CS and usability majors.

Build community where you are.  Be visible in as much as the “mainstream stuff” as you can.

I’m involved in the WAI engage group, which is trying to get design / development community engaged with the WAI.

There’s a danger in using social media:  these people tend to be advanced users and geeks.  Don’t forget the other means of communications: list serves, forums and discussion groups, face-to-face meetings, etc.  We need to go to where the high-tech and mainstream communities live; cross-promote wherever possible.  DON’T SCARE OFF PEOPLE WHO WANT TO GET INVOLVED BY BEING OVERLY CRITICAL.

JOHN:  attends WordPress meetups.  Asks people who attend his meetups “what other groups are you involved with?”  He talked briefly about a group he’s been involved with called “DC Night Owls.”  He often provides practical advice about how to do things like make a web form accessible.  Jennison gave a talk at one about how he buys tickets on AirCanada; once had folks give demos of JAWS and Dragon (in the same room, << gasp >>); how to improve WordPress.

Organize annual events!  Have a team to share the work, have flexible dates until the location is confirmed, work on publicity, have a theme, what structure will the event take (full unconference, partial unconference, no unconference).  JENNISON mentioned that his primary audiences are locals and beginners.

CHAR and KATHY on unconferences:  it’s very important to have specific topics.  This helps generate commitment to attend among your people.  Some mechanisms to generate topics:

  • Create a Wiki
  • Use a poll
  • “Winging it” works sometimes
  • Have a misc theme, just in case your primary topics don’t resonate with some

Sometimes it helps to institute a small charge to ensure attendance, think about dietary considerations, but don’t overdo the food angle (can be over thought).  For food, leverage your team, it’s often the forte of someone already on the team.




By Paul Schantz

CSUN Director of Web & Technology Services, Student Affairs. husband, father, gamer, part time aviator, fitness enthusiast, Apple fan, and iguana wrangler.

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