Scripting Enabled Seattle - interview and detail information

After Scripting Enabled London was over and I think can be considered an all-out success, I offered to take the idea on the road and allow everyone who wants to host a similar event if they abide by some simple rules.

One of the people who immediately took this opportunity on is Wendy Chisholm from the University of Washington. I asked Wendy some questions and what you can read now hopefully will get more people to sign up.

1) So, Wendy, what made you want to organize an own scripting enabled?

I wanted to attend the London event, but I wasn’t able to travel at that time. I had a great time at BarCampSeattle this summer and like the idea of people getting together face-to-face to collaborate on solutions.

I’ve been working to make the web accessible since 1995 and have the most fun working with like-minded people–problem-solving, brainstorming, designing solutions. My background is in computer science and industrial engineering, and I got away from development for a while, but I’m back into it and this event came at the perfect time. What drew me to the event was the “nothing about us without us” approach that you took–bringing together people with and without disabilities to move all of our experiences forward.

2) Who do you already know that is coming and who are you expecting? What kind of attendees are you looking for?

Some of the more recognizable names include T.V. Raman and Charles Chen from Google, Matt May from Adobe, Eitan Isaacson (Accerciser), and Jeffrey Bigham (University of Washington, webAnywhere).

Other folks range from professional trainers to college students to developers to project managers. We have a mix of people with and without disabilities and a good balance between geeks and non-geeks.

3) You work for a university, and there are a lot more stricter laws when it comes to publication. For example, as far as I know all university lectures that are filmed also need to be captioned. Wouldn’t that be a good topic to cover?

Captioned videos would be great topic; it is a huge issue in higher education. I’ve spent the last year evaluating 20 higher ed sites and most of them have video but few of them have captions.

Easy-to-use, inexpensive tools would address most of the reasons people are not providing captions. Although, part of it is educating people about the tools out there. There has been a thread the last few days on the uwebd mailing list about what formats to use for video and how to make them accessible. It seems like the consensus is leaning towards Flash and adding captions to Flash is supported in a variety of tools.

An issue I’ve been wrestling with personally is providing accessible versions of slide decks. The last time I checked easy slideshare, slides with images were missing (e.g., slide 3 from easy hack fodder).

(Edit: I work around this issue now by putting text behind the image in keynote)

I spend 30-60 minutes per presentation cleaning up the tagged pdf generated from open office and adding alt-text to every image. I would love for Open Office to generate better tagged PDF or for a tool to clean up the PDF generated from Open Office.

Then, I would love to see easy slideshare use all of the alt-text and other information that I’m providing…perhaps the issue is that slideshare strips the information on import, in which case I would love to see them fix that (as well as add text equivalents to the flash buttons on the slide viewer. I’ve contacted them 3 times about it to no avail). Or, maybe there’s another solution out there that people can tell me about!

4) The format of Scripting Enabled is pretty open, you can invite speakers to talk about any topic. However, one of the things I wanted to make sure is that the presenters have a disability or work directly with groups of disabled people to get information first-hand rather than some “experts” profiling themselves or their products. Do you have an agenda idea?

We have a growing ideas for sessions section on the event page. So far it includes:

5) As a web developer I am always very frustrated about not reaching into universities or local government as the IT standard in these institutions can be dire in comparison to the open market. One thing I’d love to see are some Firefox extensions or Greasemonkey scripts that enhance accessibility and thus advocate replacing some older browser that is in use since 1999. Would that be an idea? Maybe something university-focused?

The people I work with from universities around the United States are using the latest browsers, but oftentimes the person who is saddled with maintaining the web site is not a web developer — they come from publication, marketing, office support, and other roles. It depends on the department and the organization of the university, but many times the web manager is a part-time position. Folks like this need easy-to-use, non-technical tools to maintain their sites. It’s one reason why CMSs are such a hot topic on higher ed mailing lists like uwebd.

So, that’s a good idea. I’ll send a request to that list to see what we can develop for them. We also have an active group at the University of Washington called accessibleWeb@u. We have a meeting this week and I plan to plug the event.

6) SE London was a big success as we had several charities that do testing with users with disabilities. Is there something similar available in your area?

We have several non-profit organizations in the area who I hope to partner with, such as the Seattle Lighthouse. The group I work for, DO-IT, aims to “increase the participation of individuals with disabilities in challenging academic programs and careers.”

The grant that I work on focuses on increasing the number of people with disabilities in academic computing programs as well as computing-related careers. I hope we’ll have the participation of several students and that we can turn some of the weekend’s ideas into student projects or internships.

7) At which point would you consider “your” SE a success?

I will feel we are successful if we come up with at least one solid idea about how we can make the web more accessible with a plan to bring the idea to fruition and commitments from people to help see it through.

I would also really like to see some working code by the end of the day Sunday. :)

8 ) Where, when and how? Tell us!

Where: Adobe Building, 701 N 34th St, Seattle, WA 98103
When: 1 and 2 November 2008
How–register at: http://ses.eventwax.com/scripting-enabled-seattle

Thank you for coming up with the Scripting Enabled idea and sharing it with us!! I’m glad the London event was so successful and I hope the Seattle crowd does you proud.