Podcast Episode 15 - Accessibility Camp Season

It's that time of year again! This week on the IAP, we talk about accessibility camps and the benefits of unconferences.

Show Notes & Links


Announcer: This is the IAP - Interactive Accessibility Podcast with Mike Guill and Mark Miller. Introducing Mike Guill and Mark Miller.

Mark Miller: Hey, welcome to the IAP. Thanks for helping us keep it accessible. Do us a favor, if you're enjoying the IAP, share it. Tell someone about it. Hey! Even link to it from your accessible website. Hey, Mike, how are you doing?

Mike Guill: Pretty good, Mark. How have you been?

Mark: Excellent! I just got back from LA last week out at the USBLN Conference, which is sort of a coincidence because the subject that you wanted to talk about today was all these accessibility camps that we have going on.

Mike: Yeah, 'tis the season.

Mark: Yeah! And man, are they going on? Personally, I had the Boston Accessibility Unconference and then, hit this USBLN thing out in LA, which I'll talk about, but you have been to a lot of these.

Mike: Yeah, I've been to a number of them. Not all at the same time, of course, but over the years.

Mark: Have you hit any this year or is this kind of a down year for you?

Mike: This is kind of a down year for me due to family stuff. I'm not traveling very much. But in the past, I've gone to the DC Accessibility Camp, which – that one is on the radar for this weekend.

Mark: Yeah, this weekend.

Mike: Yeah. We're going to put all these in the show notes, but if you're in the DC area, this is a good one to hit up. They're having it at the Martin Luther King Library, which has a whole floor devoted to assistive tech. It's a very good group of folks. They have monthly meetings there if you're in the DC area and can visit them. I'll put the website link on the show notes.

Mark: Nice! So, yeah. I'll talk a little bit about Accessibility Boston, which was an unconference two Saturdays ago. I don't have the date off the top of my head.

Mike: It was September 28th.

Mark: Yeah, I knew you would. Detail guy over there. I'm sort of new to these conferences. I feel like maybe you've passed the baton over to me a little bit because when you can't go, I'm starting to go to these things a lot. And this was at the NERD, the Microsoft NERD Center. And I'll tell you, before I talk about the conference, I got to rant a little bit about driving in Boston. I wanted to get there early in the morning because Interactive Accessibility was one of the major sponsors for Boston Accessibility (and Interactive Accessibility obviously is the company that you and I work for). I wanted to get there and represent properly and help set up and all these kind of stuff. So I leave my house early. This is on a Saturday, so a little sacrificing family time and all that to head out.

Mike: And you're driving in from where? Like Nova Scotia?

Mark: Get out of here! I'm 45-minutes north of Boston. I'm driving in from Exeter in Hampshire, which is famous for Phillips Exeter Academy. So anyway, I get all the way down to Boston with no problem. I don't know the roads in Boston, so sorry for not giving you details, but this bridge I need to go over was blocked off. I must've circled five times before I figured the detour rerouting properly because there were so many roads and they go in so many different directions. There's one-ways and nothing makes sense. It's crazy!

Mike: Were you watching out for the light signals in the Old North Church?

Mark: I was watching out for everything. I mean... it's just nuts! So, I finally end up where I want to be. In the GPS, it's like it's right here. I'm passing it and there's no place to park. It's like a road with no parking on the side of it. I keep circling around the building and I get lost and at one point, I ended up all the way back to where I was and it's nutty! Well, I finally get on the phone with one of the other people that work for Interactive Accessibility and they're like, "Oh, yeah. Just park where the big P is. There's a big P." Well, it turns out that the direction I was coming from puts me like 20 feet ahead of the parking facility that you go right by if you come in from the other direction. I'm like, "You've got to be kidding me." So anyway, the parking facility wasn't very accessible to people coming from the north.

Mike: Yeah, I don't think you're supposed to drive in Boston, Mark. I think you're supposed to just check your car at the gate and just walk around or cycle or whatever.

Mark: Well, that's what we're doing with our kids. We would park outside of Boston. I took 'The T' in. But no dig on the city of Boston. I love the city of Boston and the history and everything, but these old roads turned into modern roads and then, they're constantly doing construction. I mean, it's just tough. It's tough on simple New Hampshire people like me. But anyway, I got into the Boston Accessibility Conference. It's in unconference format or a partial unconference format. And what unconference means is that the attendees of the conference actually contribute or develop the content. So, as an attendee, you come in and you say, "Hey! I'd like to have a talk on this." And if everybody else agrees that they'd like to hear you talk about that, you get put on the schedule for the day.

Mike: And that was what was so appealing to me when I first started going to unconferences. It was that a lot of people in the room had come to these, of course, they may not necessarily want to be speaking in front of a crowd, but they may have a good idea for a room discussion and a room discussion turning into something that was a big collaborative...

Mark: I can tell you one of those that I did. The room discussion, it was from a guy who got a contract to make – I'm going to simplify it a little bit, but essentially, it was to come up with a methodology to make graphs, complicated scientific graphs accessible to the blind, people who couldn't see them. He got this contract and he had his ideas, but he realized that he sort of had some major gaps in his ideas for doing this. He had a methodology sketched out, but there were holes in it where he really needed help. So, I sat in this room. We had a couple of blind folks in the room. One was, I wish I could remember her name, a fascinating woman that either had or was going through PhD that was smarter than everybody else in the room put together. She had an interesting perspective both from being blind and also just from the smarts that she had from all of this education.

Mike: Where is she going to school? I bet I know who she is.

Mark: That didn't stick in my brain. If you said it, I might. Say the school, name the school.

Mike: Well, I was thinking you might be talking about a girl named Lindsay.

Mark: Yeah, I think it was Lindsay.

Mike: Yazzolino.

Mark: Yeah, it might have been her. But anyway, fascinating person! And then, some other guy, but I'm not quite sure who he was. Anyway, we all sat around and had this discussion. We kind of came up with some interesting solutions to this problem mainly around defining the parameters by which you would describe a graph, but also, we talked about some advanced technology, 3D printing and some other things like, implications in the future for doing this. And that was out of nowhere, absolutely out of nowhere. So, I agree with you. I like that. And the other one that I hit that was very interesting, Mike, which goes back to a discussion that you and I had a couple of podcasts ago when we talked about the accessibility award in gaming in Australia was I actually talked to a guy who developed an accessible game.

Mike: Awesome!

Mark: He was very interesting and I talked to him a lot about our podcast and stuff like that. It was just interesting to see how he approached games and his take on how you would handle a first person shooter Call of Duty and all those kind of stuff. So, very, very cool! And then, the keynote speaker was Fran West from IBM Accessibility and that was a fascinating, absolutely fascinating discussion on putting people before technology and making it the responsibility of technology to be accessible to people versus people having to figure out technology.

Mike: Yeah, that's awesome.

Mark: Anyway, that's my in-a-nutshell on the Boston Accessibility Conference.

Mike: Well, I'm glad you had a good time and I'm sorry that I missed it. I've been to that particular conference before and it's a great one. It's a great venue. I know a lot of folks who have been showing up there. It's always a good group. The one coming up this weekend, like I said, it's DC. A few weeks from now, a few weekends from now, November 16th is Accessibility Camp Toronto. I'll also put that one in the show notes. And the Toronto one, I've been to before. It's a very good group. It's at the OCAD, which is the Ontario College of Art and Design. I know a lot of those folks too.

Mark: Nice! After Accessibility Boston, I had a day at home with the family, Sunday. And then, I flew out to LA, to the LAX Marriott right there at the airport in LA for the USBLN. So, US is United States and BLN is Business Leadership Network Conference. This is more of an HR-focused conference. The USBLN is concerned with bringing people with disabilities into the workplace, which personally, I think is a great mission. I think you get much further helping people become productive than you do just doling out money. This is really about how we can help people become productive. I don't want to go too deep into it right now, but there's a lot of good reasons why people with disability should be in the workplace. And there's a lot of ways that we can help that occur. This is the focus of USBLN. "Lights, Camera, Action: Spotlight on Disability Inclusive Diversity" was the theme of it. Unbelievable group of people! I met a lot of amazing people there. And this was not as accessibility focused. Digital accessibility focus, although obviously, that's a piece in all of this. The same thing! Great breakout sessions, great discussions. And the one thing I want to highlight out of this (and then, I'd love for our listeners to explore) is this dude called Toby Forrest, Tobias Forrest. This guy, he is incredible. He's funny. He's got his own radio show. I think it's Talk Radio LA or something like that. If you Google him, you'll find it. He's got his own band. And he had a movie that was written for him, but he turned over the role to an actor that had a little more creds than him so that the movie would kind of have 'more legs' was basically what he said. He was a keynote speaker on the last night. Unbelievable personality! Funny as can be. I don't know if I even remember his story right, but he ended up with a spinal cord injury at a young age that put him in a wheelchair. And he's one of those self-deprecating funny people that has taken his disability and really turned it into an absolute positive in his life and then, shared that sort of gift with a lot of other people. So, check him out! I think that's the advantage of some of these things; it's just the people that you get exposed to like that that are incredible.

Mike: Well, that's definitely the case. I've met more people through some of the accessibility unconferences than I have through the traditional conferences. It's a really great way to have some more casual conversations with folks. It's a smaller group. It feels more intimate. Usually, the venue is more intimate.

Mark: Yeah, USBLN was huge. I mean, it was huge. But the Boston Accessibility Conference was very intimate. They both have their place. They both have a really, really nice place. Just great meeting people from all over the US, all over the world. Fran West who was also at the USBLN, the keynote speaker for the Boston Accessibility. It was great to see some of the same faces to show up in both places too and get a chance to talk to them on a couple of different levels.

Mike: Yeah, that's really cool.

Mark: Alright! Well, anything to add, Mike? We're a little over time here. We've got to wrap it up.

Mike: Yeah, I'm going to add some more to the show notes. Essentially, just stuff because I want to make sure that cover some folks on the different parts. There is Accessibility Camp Seattle coming up and Accessibility Camp Quebec. We'll add links to those and dates in the show notes.

Mark: Great, great! Alright! Well, this is Mark Miller.

Mike: And this is Mike Guill...

Mark: ...reminding you to keep it accessible.

Announcer: The IAP - Interactive Accessibility Podcast brought to you by Interactive Accessibility, the accessibility experts. You can find their Access Matters Blog at Interactiveaccessibility.com/blog


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