Ottawa's Accessibility Unconference Review on CBCOttawa

Mike Gifford's Interview on Ottawa Morning

CBC Ottawa, December 8, 2014.

Hallie Cotnam (HC): Ottawa Accessibility Unconference return to the capital on the weekend, three years after the first unconference took place here. industry, government and people with disabilities got together again to push forward the concept of accessible web pages. Mike Gifford (MG) is one of the organizer, and he is the head of OpenConcept Consulting, an Ottawa based web company and joins me in the studio. Good morning Mike!
MG: Good morning.

HC: So Unconference, what does that mean, remind folks?
MG: It’s basically to take away as much as possible the structured part of a conference and encourage more the interactive elements: all the hallway discussion, and encourage people to choose and propose topics and discussion. We encourage a more interactive session and allow for issues that people are passionate about.

HC: and the idea is being more interesting, more productive, more casual.
MG: It’s interesting and in a lot of ways it’s more productive because you have the ability to talk about issues that people care about and focus on stuff that happens on the fly.

HC: And maybe people are not checking their twitter feed at the back of the room.
MG. That’s right.

HC: So that’s the second conference like this in Ottawa. How did the last one did compared to the one we first talked three years ago?
MG: it was a little bit smaller because it was on a weekend, and I think the first one has a few more fewer public employee coming along to it. But it was also better organized, we had people coming in from Montreal, Florida, Toronto, so there was more diversity in the people that came out to it. It was also the first time we had a panel discussion of people from different levels of government to talk about issues that they have.

HC: I’m sure there was many different discussion and a lot of things coming out of the conference, but I’d like you to do is to pick one or two of the most interesting moments or discussion that came out of the conference.
MG: A lot of it came out of how are different government agencies implementing efforts in trying to improve accessibility. The provincial government has recently put out the AODA (Accessibility Ontario for Disability Act). That was released a few years ago and just starting to come into fact now.

HC: That’s a big step forward.
MG: It’s a huge step forward! The Government of Canada has the common look and feel or the Web Experience Toolkit that they are trying to bring out and try to look at standardizing web experience. The Quebec government also has standards that they are implementing. To try to have this discussion about how and why those were implemented and the policy applications and the effectiveness of various different approaches.

HC: So you heard some best practices from some of the biggest players, the provincial government and the feds.
MG: Yes

HC: You’re in business though, how accessible are websites in general?
MG: There are a lot of problems with them. A lot of people don’t have the experience to understand how to make their website accessible. A lot of the tools are designed to look flashy and not necessarily to be accessible so that a lot of time, in effort to make their website look new and to keep up to date, people are putting up website that block a lot of their potential customers from coming and buying their products, and for that matter the citizens who are not able to access their services because they’re using technology which has not been tested for against the website.

HC: Mike, I can understand why governments are obligated to do the right thing and make their websites accessible but if I’m a widget company and only a tiny portion of my widgets are sold to people with disabilities, what’s in it for me to make my website accessible?
MG: Partly it’s a realization that it’s a lot bigger portion of the population that people think, because it’s just people who are blind, there’s a lot of people with low vision, there’s a lot of people who have mobility issues, some disabilities are temporary. So, let’s say you need to get a new prescription for new glasses, you put the old pair on and suddenly things aren’t as clear, … We’ve got the baby-boomer population who are suddenly all having more accessibility challenges that they’ve never had before and still want to have all the access to the services that they’re used to, but are having trouble buying online because they’re not able to use their mouse or whichever. They are now not able to participate fully in the economy. And for small businesses, if you’re looking at 20% of the customer base that has some form of disability, whether it’s a learning disability of a physical disability or a visual or hearing disability, well 20% is a pretty large base to be thrown away and most businesses aren’t even aware that they are doing this.

HC: Mike, you were sitting in that chair three years ago. Have we made the progress that you might have expected over the past three years?
MG: I think that there certainly has been progress, people certainly understand more about the issue but also websites have got more complicated in the last three years. The focus on mobile technology makes things more difficult, and the technology is moving so quickly it’s hard for people to keep up. There’s has not been enough momentum around educating people about how to build accessible websites. If you get a Degree in Computer Sciences in any Canadian University, you’re not going to be trained in accessibility, that’s not part of the curriculum yet. If you’re a registered graphic designer, there’s no need to be certified in accessibility and how to produce accessible websites. So we haven’t come as far as we needed to but there certainly have been improvements and these accessibility unconferences are happening around the globe, so it is a great way for people to learn and exchange ideas.

HC: Mike Gifford, thank you very much for your time this morning.
MG: No problem.

HC: Now Mike Gifford is one of the organizers of the second Ottawa Accessibility Unconference that took place over the weekend. Mike brought in a couple of tee-shirts, if you’d like one, fire us an email or tweet us.