Why Organize an Accessibility Unconference?



October 18, 2011

Last year I was approached by Jennison Asuncion who has been instigating a number of innovative grassroots efforts to get people talking about accessibility issues. I was impressed by the successes in DC, London, Montreal and Boston and it seemed like a nice challenge to take on in Canada's capital. These cities all organized a second conference this year and now Toronto joined in as well.

The plan was to initially have the unconference in the spring of 2011, but unfortunately there was a surprise election so we decided to postpone it till the fall. We're happy to announce that Ottawa's first Accessibility Unconference will take place in our City Hall on December 2nd.

I've had help from Adam Spencer (AccessibilIT) and Denis Boudreau (AccessibilitéWeb) in maintaining this initiative over the last year and have generously been offered use of several rooms by the City of Ottawa to hold the event. 

I thought that it was worth jotting down a few reasons why I've been excited about this event in the hopes that it will spark more conversations about accessibility.

  1. Federal & new Ontario government websites are going to need to be WCAG 2.0 AA compliant and we need to start talking beyond departmental silos to learn how to meet this goal;
  2. Because of the concentration of federal government employees in Ottawa, we've got a lot of accessibility professionals in this city, but they don't seem to get together and learn from each other all that often;
  3. There's so much that I don't know about this issue. I've been working in one small section of accessibility for the last 3 years, but every time I talk with others in this sector I find I learn more;
  4. I'm excited about the potential of collaborating together to make the web more accessible.  The work we've done to improve the accessibility of Drupal 7 is just a small example of what is possible when people work together.  The Government of Canada's Web Experience Toolkit (WET) is another great example of how by working together things will get better.
  5. I want to see where others are passionate about accessibility. Whether it's aging, housing, education, or employment, it is always powerful meet with people who work on social justice issues and are finding a way to improve their communities. 
  6. This was also a great opportunity to experiment with an early Drupal 7 implementation to test this site's accessibility, with users with a variety of disabilities.  There's really no better way to learn about barriers to participation other than being very open to hearing them.  

I do hope that if you can make it to Ottawa for our Accessibility Unconference that you do so.  Registration is open and from those who have signed up so far it promises to be a very engaging day.

About The Author

Mike Gifford is the founder of OpenConcept Consulting Inc, which he started in 1999. Since then, he has been particularly active in developing and extending open source content management systems to allow people to get closer to their content. Before starting OpenConcept, Mike had worked for a number of national NGOs including Oxfam Canada and Friends of the Earth.