TPG at Accessing Higher Ground 2017

Posted on Wednesday, 6 December 2017 by David Sloan

I was one of a small group of people from TPG and colleagues from VFO who attended the 2017 edition of the Accessing Higher Ground (AHG) conference in Westminster, Colorado. It was my first time there since 2013, and I’d remembered AHG as an excellent gathering of people working in digital accessibility in the higher education sector, in a large hotel with beautiful views of the Rockies. It turned out this time my hotel room was facing the Colorado plains, not the mountains, but at least the conference topics were as relevant and intriguing as I’d hoped they would be!

The conference organiser Howard Kramer does an amazing job of putting together an impressive schedule of talks ranging from institutional accessibility policy to teaching inclusive design. As with most large conference, the main challenge is usually deciding which session to attend and figuring out where the room is, so you can get a place to sit before it fills up!

I attended a really informative panel session discussing moves in higher education to co-ordinate and harmonize procurement demands for accessibility of digital products. I also tried to attend a session focused on managing exceptions to accessibility policy, but it was clearly a popular session and by the time I arrived, there was no room to stand let alone sit. You could say that the popularity of the session indicates that the lack of universally accessible digital products means managing exceptions to institutional accessibility policy is still a real and pressing challenge.

I was involved in presenting three sessions (session title links lead to descriptions and slides where available):

  1. Inclusive UX design techniques for ethically sensitive online experiences. In this talk, I connected inclusive design with ethical design, building on my talk at UX in the City in Manchester earlier this year. There’s been a growing unease at the harm technology can do to users, whether through inadvertently uninformed design decisions, or deliberate actions such as the implementation of dark patterns. Books like Design For Real Life and Tragic Design illustrate how a failure to consider people with diverse capabilities can cause serious problems.  I wanted to show how a sensitivity to designing for disability can give people a head-start in applying user research techniques that identify other less obvious or common scenarios, but ones that are important to accommodate in order to avoid negative consequences.
  2. Strategies and Resources for Teaching About Inclusive Design and Accessibility in Technology and Design Courses. In this this panel session, we talked about practical ways to address the growing demand for accessibility skills in digital industry. We identified what we thought were key teaching approaches for instructors who are keen to bring accessibility into their curricula, and nominated some of the most valuable and free resources out there. Unsurprisingly there was plenty of mention of the Teach Access initiative, and I also gave a mention to an oldie but a goodie: Just Ask, Integrating Accessibility Throughout Design, by Shawn Henry.
  3. The W3C Accessible Online Learning Community Group—what have we done and what should we do next? Finally, Mary Ziegler and I gave an overview of the activities and plans of the W3C Accessible Online Learning Community Group (AccessLearn for short) that we co-chair. Our main focus at present is supporting the development of the Web Accessibility Initiative web site by identifying and producing additional content of particular relevance to people working with online learning. We always welcome more help, and you can find out more and how to contribute on the AccessLearn Community Group web site.

Check out the Accessing Higher Ground conference web site for the full schedule and links to session slides and videos.

About David Sloan

David Sloan is User Experience Research Lead with The Paciello Group. He joined TPG in May 2013, after nearly 14 years researching, teaching and providing consultancy on accessibility and inclusive design at the University of Dundee in Scotland. He is an active participant in a number of W3C accessibility-focused groups, and is a Steering Committee member of the annual W4A Cross-Disciplinary Conference on Web Accessibility.

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