A view back at the 9th A11Y Meetup Berlin ...and ahead to the A11Y Club Summit 2019

Sebastian Greger

Not much time for writing extensive meetup recaps recently, but I much enjoyed one of the Berlin Accessibility Meetup talks this week that I would like to share. Besides, this is the perfect time to remind about our A11Y Club Summit on 16/17 November - sign-ups are still open.

We had a great event space this time, hosted by the agency ThoughtWorks, and - even though attendance appeared lower than usual - the atmosphere was open, friendly and welcoming as always. I got to meet one of the invited speakers of the upcoming A11Y Club Summit, heard from one of the meetup's co-organizers about the challenges of doing accessibility in the WordPress project, and had a chat about how even Wikipedia (“make knowledge accessible to all”) faces major challenges when it comes to technical accessibility.

But the main focus obviously was on the two speakers. Let’s start from the latter one:

Accessibility, Inputs & Vue

The second talk connected the admittedly depressing results of the recent WebAIM survey (out of a sample of 1 million sites, the average website has ~60 accessibility issues, not even counting those that cannot be tested automatically; full report) with some current practices of web development.

Oscar Braunert on stage, with a slide
Oscar tied his argumentation to some general societal questions.

Focusing on input field labels, Oscar Braunert illustrated what it takes to design form inputs with an accessibility mindset, regardless of the Javascript framework that might be used. The slides are online, and include the part on Vue.js-specifics, which the speaker omitted due to time constraints and the assumed general-interest audience, but I find particularly interesting.

How to build empathy for strangers with special needs

The first talk was a truly refreshing perspective on accessibility. The abstract says it all:

If you don’t have disabled people around, it might be hard to see people behind the formal requirements of WCAG. Of course the best strategy is to meet them personally, but it’s not always easy. I want to share how I grew from an ignorant person to a strong advocate for accessibility and inclusivity just by lying on a couch and watching Youtube. I will talk about why it’s important to build this kind of empathy and share videos that changed me.

I really enjoyed this talk! Kai Katonina presented an entire community of YouTubers I had not really been aware of before: people talking about their life with all kind of health conditions. In addition to providing a rich list of links to interesting video bloggers - sorted by visual, hearing, mobility, motor, cognitive and other impairments (see the slides for long lists of interesting links) - they showcased some particularly likeable samples on the screen:

Be it a blind user trying to order a pair of sneakers, a blind and a deaf person together presenting that they can easily communicate with each other, a legally blind person thanking the iPhone for letting them enjoy life again, a deaf Briton explaining that a deaf person may indeed have a British accent just like anybody else, a quadruple amputee giving make-up tips, or a BBC video about things people with down syndrome are tired of hearing: these all highlight how accessibility and consideration of varying health conditions are first and foremost about people, with all kinds and forms of - sometimes non-mainstream - abilities.

Slide with text
Kai’s slide on “Parasocial relationships” provides an interesting approach to empathy in inclusive design.

Using large parts of stage time to showcase video clips could be considered a risky move, but here it worked really well in my opinion. The speaker tied them together tightly and, by still giving the audience enough time to truly understand what they mean by a "parasocial relationship" with the vloggers, they very much made their point on why this is such a great resource. I'm not a big consumer of YouTube video blogs, but can't wait to dig in to some of the links provided.

I may want to make use of this kind of material in future accessibility trainings as well. Not videos about, but by, people affected from non-inclusive thinking, these could truly help build empathy and provide insights into experiences of the world different from one's own. Even for the most aware of us, there's still plenty to learn about mistakes we inadvertedly may make in our own actions.

One idea that Kai's talk brought to my mind: it would be fantastic to have an online resource where episodes of such video blogs are easily accessible by topic - the next time some teammate or client makes an assumption about "disabled users", one could find related material for buidling empathy at a few mouse clicks away (like: "Did you just say blind people don't use touchscreen smartphones? Let's have a look, should we...?").

A11Y Club Summit Nov 16/17

All in all, yet another enjoyable evening with the kind a11y community - a few new contacts, and above all some new ideas. This makes me look forward even more to the A11Y Club Summit in November, when accessibility meetups from around Europe and their communities gather in Berlin for a long day of talks and barcamp sessions, followed by a day of workshops to choose from.

Accessibility Club Summit 2019, November 16th-17th 2019.
The A11Y Club Summit takes place in Berlin on 16/17 November 2019.

The program of the conference day will be created by the attendees on site, but we selected five talks following a CfP earlier this fall. These pre-scheduled talks alone (there will always be parallel barcamp sessions, if some topics appear less relevant) make me look forward to this event:

  • "How to Ally: Accessibility in Community Meetups" by Franziska Hauck
  • "Drag & Drop components for blind users? Are you kidding me?" by Sergei Kriger
  • "Pulling the lever: Real-world prioritization of accessibility issues" by Sarah Brodwall
  • "A11y — from «waaaat?» to a core part of dev team's workflow" by Anna Karoń
  • "How to succeed with the web accessibility directive in large organisations" by Andreas Cederbom

Book your ticket today and join us on 16/17 November in Berlin! (Free scholarship tickets available for those who can't afford.)

I'm Sebastian, Sociologist and Interaction Designer. This journal is mostly about bringing toge­ther social science and design for inclusive, privacy-focused, and sustainable "human-first" digital strategies. I also tend to a "digital garden" with carefully curated resources.

My occasionally sent email newsletter has all of the above, and there is of course also an RSS feed or my Mastodon/Fediverse profile.