CSUN 2010 recap

From March 22 to 27, the 5th Annual International Technology & Persons with Disabilities Conference took place at the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel in San Diego, California. It is most commonly referred to as CSUN 2010.

The Mozilla Foundation had a booth at CSUN for the fourth year in a row. David, Alexander Surkov and I were present to man the booth, talk to people, and also participate in a couple of general sessions at the conference to gather information and news, and also to network.

Adobe announces broad range support for IAccessible2

One of the biggest news bangs to come out of the conference is Adobe’s announcement to support the IAccessible2 and WAI-ARIA standards in thenext versions of their Flash and Flex products. Both these standards were heavily driven by, among others, Mozilla, IBM and several assistive technology vendors such as NV Access of the NVDA project. Support for the native GNOME and Mac OS X accessibility APIs is also in the works.

In addition, Adobe announced that they will also include IAccessible2 support in their Acrobat and Reader products.

This means that another big player in the software industry is coming forward and supports these widely recognized standards. It is good to see Adobe getting behind the over-all accessibility efforts and helping to drive adoption in this manner!

Three Firebug-related sessions

Hans Hillen of the Paciello Group had two very successful talks about the UI accessibility support in Firebug. The first was a demo of many of the features, using NVDA as the screen reader to demo them. the second was a use-case talk, where Hans explained in some more technical detail how he went about making the Firebug UI accessible to screen reader users.

Both talks were very well received. The first one had quite a broad audience, while the second audience was smaller, but very focused and involved.

In addition, Jon Gunderson of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign held a talk on the Accessibility Testing Extension for Firebug. But unfortunately, due to my travel schedule, I did not have a chance to visit this talk.

It was good to see two Mozilla grantees doing talks at this year’s CSUN, giving visibility to the many facets of Mozilla’s accessibility strategy.

Newer mobile accessibility technologies marching forward

Apple, RIM and Google, the three vendors of mobile devices with well-defined accessibility APIs, all had well-visited talks at CSUN. In addition, I am aware of at least two talks involving the accessible iPhone and iPod Touch 3rd generation that put these technologies to good use to provide a new generation of assistive software, built on mainstream devices.

Well-visited booth

The Mozilla Foundation booth was well visited on all three days that I helped staff it. Comments and questions ranged from the very flattering “I love Firefox and I love what you guys are doing for accessibility!” to “What’s a browser vendor doing at this conference?”. When we then explained why we attended, many of them were keen on trying out Firefox when they got home or back to thheir hotel rooms.

Also, this conference made quite a number of people aware of other Mozilla products than Firefox. While many had heard about Firefox, they had not heard at all about Thunderbird before. But with the better accessibility in Thunderbird, we can now change this and spread Thunderbird in the accessibility community even more!

I personally had a very moving moment on Friday when a deaf/hard of hearing gentelman and his interpreter stepped up to our booth. He was very interested in what we do for accessibility. Before I knew it, I was talking to him through his interpreter, but wasn’t actually noticing it until well into the conversation. At some point, I mentioned Thunderbird, at which point he started joking about the Ford Thunderbird. David, who was present at this conversation, can probably tell a bit more about this, since this was very visual and I only got a third of what he was actually meaning. :)

David and Alex also took a lot of pictures, which they’ll hopefully upload and share very soon so you all can get a better picture about what CSUN 2010 was like! Mozilla received a big big chunk of good attention, our funding of other accessibility-related open-source projects such as NVDA, Orca and others, definitely is being recognized in the industry as being exemplary. Also, we got a very nice compliment from a gentleman from the Office of homeland security, who told us that he thought our Voluntary Product Accessibility Template is among the best he has encountered so far.

One big failure is there, though

One big problem, which I think should not go unmentioned, is the lack of good internet connectivity in the exhibition hall. For a 2010 information technology conference, having no useable WIFI connection down in the exhibition hall at all is simply unacceptable. The internet connections that were offered were hideously priced, almost like in the mid 1990s when internet connectivity was still not as common as today. Up in the session rooms, the situation was a bit better, at least there were hotspots one could use most of the time.

For next year, one thing I’d like to see is a well thought-through strategy for free wireless internet connectivity throughout all conference locations. A technology conference lives and breathes with the buzz people can create around it by tweeting, uploading pictures etc. People with disabilities are no exception, and instead of roadblocking it, the responsible powers at CSUN should embrace this trend and encourage people to get the word out as easily and hazzle-free as possible!

In summary

I can only say that it was worthwhile going to CSUN yet again, and I am hoping we’ll have a chance to participate next year as well!