One Day in Maryland
Companies around the globe are looking to make their web content accessible for the visually impaired. But they want to do so in the most efficient, knowledge-based way they can, so that they don’t make mistakes and waste needless funds in the process. To do that, they need the right information.
With this in mind, the National Federation of the Blind’s Center of Excellence, along with the Maryland Technology Assistance Program, hosted a Web Accessibility Day in September. Held in Baltimore, Maryland, it was designed for both private and public organizations, with the goal of informing them on policy and technical innovations, and discussing the issues related to web accessibility today.
Actuate was invited to present at the training day, giving me the chance to experience the event from two perspectives: as an attendee, gleaning knowledge from the other presenters, and as a presenter myself, experiencing the reactions attendees had to Actuate’s own PDF accessibility technology. It ended up being a great day, and I wanted to share my experiences and insights from it here.
Panels and Policy Presenters
One of the first presentations of the day was “The Natural Outcome of Innovation and Inclusive Business,” by Eve Hill from the U.S. Department of Justice. Eve discussed what the Department of Justice has done and is continuing to do to influence accessible web environments. She wasn’t the only government representative at the event, either – in the afternoon’s policy-based sessions, representatives from the Department of Homeland Security and the Maryland State Board of Elections presented, as did Timothy Creagan from the U.S. Access Board, who offered an overview of the on Section 508 refresh.
Directly following Eve’s presentation, though, were two panels – one dedicated to “Enterprise Implementation of Accessibility” and another to “Education Implementation of Accessibility.” Both were informative, but the first was especially interesting, featuring among other panelists a representative from the retailer Target. Target faced its own NFB-led lawsuit back in 2006, but now they are a poster child of what companies can do to get web accessibility right. Today, they’re not only addressing accessibility in terms of their web content, and are blazing the trails on mobile technology – all while collaborating with the NFB all the way, Talk about making lemons into lemonade. Hopefully more companies can learn from their lead.
While the morning sessions were underway, a select group of vendors were invited to set up tables at the back of the room, so that attendees could come over during breaks to find out more about the technology and resources available around accessible web content. Actuate was there, as was Knowbility, a non-profit group dedicated to improving technology access for people with disabilities; Ai Squared was showcasing their ZoomText magnification and screen reading software; SSB Bart, an accessibility consulting group, was available for questions; NetCentric Technologies was highlighting what’s new with their CommonLook product and the Bureau of Internet Accessibility (BOIA), which focuses on website testing for accessibility, was demonstrating their tool as well. Between sessions, attendees approached the tables, getting any information they needed on the resources available to them.
We had great interest from attendees there, and even more when I presented later on during the afternoon’s technical sessions, which also featured representatives from Deque Systems and Google. I was excited by the amount of response my presentation – “PDF Accessibility in an Enterprise Setting” – garnered, with great detailed questions from the audience centered around best practices for alt text. I was surprised to see how many people attended this session from the publishing industry and higher education – both seeking accessibility solutions for high volumes of documents and content. It’s clear that government and private companies alike are aware of the importance of accessibility – and are looking for solutions to help them along the way. And for the visually impaired community, that’s a great start.