Let’s get this out of the way: CSUN 2020 was weird.

As news of the COVID-19 pandemic flew around the world, CSUN attendee cancellations rolled in. Sponsors, companies, individuals, the rollcall was long and illustrious.

As other large gatherings were postponed, cancelled, or put online, everyone waited for the inevitable cancellation notice. It didn’t happen; CSUN limped on. An attendant I spoke to said they were still expecting 1200 attendees, which seemed a vast overstimate. The session list continued to shrink until they finally pulled the pin at lunchtime on Friday.

Intopia was affected. We had planned to have six people deliver seven CSUN presentations but in the end, only Julie and I made it.

The vast empty spaces were very noticeable.

The piles of unclaimed boxed lunches were wasteful.

The half-empty exhibit hall was sad.

The on-the-spot “this talk has been cancelled” notifications were super-annoying.

The decision to hold a buffet dinner on the Thursday night was mind-boggling.

Everyone’s hands after lots of washing and sanitising were rough and scratchy.

Yet, I made the best of it and had a good time. I filled my dance card with interesting presentations; choosing from 6 sessions at a time is much easier than 20! I caught up with people I already knew and bumped elbows with new folks. I shared Intopia buttons and stickers (responsibly).

Here’s what I went to

2019 Accessibility Trends

Preety Kumar, Deque

A rundown of the big news in accessibility over the past 12 months. While I caught mentions of Dominoes and Hooters, I kept getting distracted by the fact that Preety wasn’t in the room with us. All of Deque’s and Vispero’s sessions were lived-streamed into their respective rooms according to the previously advertised schedule.

2019 Accessibility Trends session video on YouTube

Creating an Accessible Escape Room

Rachael Bradley Montgomery, W3C & Accessible Community

This was a fun session. Rachael took us through many ways that escape rooms can discriminate, and the inclusive alternatives that enable more people to play. The Accessible Escape Room was on site and available for CSUN attendees to experience too!

Creating an Accessible Escape Room session video on YouTube

Techniques for More Efficient WCAG Website Testing

Bill Tyler, Optum

Bill took us through the growing pains his accessibility team experienced as they rapidly tripled in size and attempted to assess and support over 200 products. At the heart of the process is a bespoke Excel testing checklist that streamlines testing compared to assessing each WCAG success criterion in turn.

Accessible Visualizations: Maps, Annotations, and Sparklines

Ted Gies, Elsevier
Øystein Moseng, Highcharts

While Bill Tyler was talking testing checklists with me, Julie was getting into maps and charts. She particularly appreciated that this wasn’t a product sell, they talked about their usability testing.  Her highlights (from Twitter):

  • As always when changing information from one format to another, you have to find the right balance between accuracy, detail and verbosity
  • I like the use of sonification (spelling?) for a sparkline chart. One sounded like Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
  • Testing showed that people who are blind still think of maps spatially and in 2 dimensions. Putting 2 dimensions into a 1 dimensional format is limiting. People want directional navigation, or ideally a tactile version.

CSS Display Properties Versus HTML Semantics

Adrian Roselli

As a tech person, this session was a standout for me. When you’re testing a site, do you ever come across an element where its semantics aren’t presenting as you expected? It might have something to do with how the CSS display property is applied.

CSS Display Properties Versus HTML Semantics session video on YouTube

Expand Your Outreach with an Accessibility Champions Program

Ted Drake, Intuit

Ted and his team at Intuit have built a world-class, scalable accessibility champions program. Using a 3-level structure, recognition, and rewards, champions are encouraged to continue learning, sharing, and climbing the accessibility champion ladder. Who wouldn’t covet Ted’s “Accessibility Champion” level 3 denim jacket?!

This session was a highlight for both me and Julie; we both see the potential in creating similar programs for some of Intopia’s clients.

Personalised Technical Accessibility Training: A Case Study

It me! Allison Ravenhall, Intopia

I discussed the limitations of full-day classroom-based technical accessibility training, and told attendees about an alternative training program I created for Coles: a series of 2-hour sessions delivered to one or two participants at a time over the course of a month, accompanied by extensive reference materials.

The Social Model of Disability and Accessibility Training

Michael Mathews, BBC

The social model of disability focusses on systemic barriers, social exclusion and negative attitudes that prevent disabled people from participating in society. This human-centric approach is used by the BBC, as demonstrated in their short film “BBC for Everyone“.

Guidelines and Done? Adding an Accessibility Authoring Guide

Michael Mathews, BBC

Michael went back-to-back, switching from the social model of disability to discussing how the BBC’s GEL Technical Authoring Guide joins the dots between what to build, how to build it, and why it’s built that way.

Respecting User Preferences on the Web

Eric Eggert, Knowbility

I spent most of this session writing up my own slide notes, so I only had one ear open (sorry Eric). He discussed techniques developers can use to check and respect users’ preferences rather than dictating “one way”. He also pointed out the importance of checking the compatibility of a variety of input modalities, particularly voice. “Accessibility is not only screen readers”. Amen to that.

Overcoming Obstacles to Manual Accessibility Testing

Larry Lewis, The Paciello Group

Larry reminded us of the importance of manual accessibility testing, along with one of its drawbacks – inconsistent reporting from users with different technology settings. Enter JAWS Inspect – a product designed to provide JAWS output breakdowns and transcripts for higher quality reporting.

Overcoming Obstacles to Manual Accessibility Testing session video on YouTube

The Power and Perils of Empathy / Accessibility Labs

Glenda Sims, Deque
Crystal Baker, AT&T
John Foliot, Deque
Joel Moffatt, Comcast
Claudio Luis Vera, Royal Caribbean

While I heard about JAWS Inspect, Julie was in this session about empathy labs. Important messages:

  • Don’t evoke pity or sympathy for other people’s lives
  • Aim for awareness (and fun!) so attendees know *why* you’re asking them to take action
  • Counterpoint: it’s not enough to share some fun things in an empathy lab, you need to facilitate understanding of how the experience relates to the real world
  • Compensate people for their time

Andrew was also watching the session from Australia.

The Power and Perils of Empathy / Accessibility Labs session video on YouTube

Responsible Responsive Tables: Where Are We Now?

Hans Hillen, The Paciello Group

Hans discussed the accessibility pros and cons of a series of techniques for displaying tabular data in a responsive way. Spoiler alert: There is no one perfect way. It’ll scroll in two dimensions, or it’ll have semantic issues, or it uses redundant code, or the data gets truncated… so many issues. The ultimate “it depends” talk!

Responsible Responsive Tables: Where Are We Now? session video on YouTube

Accessible Voice and Conversational Interactions

Emma Pratt Richens, BBC

Emma delivered an excellent “how do voice interfaces work?” talk for those who don’t know what’s going on under the hood. She discussed the benefits and drawbacks of voice interfaces, particularly difficulties with accents and irregular speech patterns.

Making Accessible Web Animations

Julie Grundy, Intopia

The most important point Julie made about accessible web animation? “You can animate. Sometimes you should animate. I’m not the fun police, just do it responsibly.” She then went on to describe several techniques to respect user preferences and use animation to enhance the user experience rather than treating it as a gimmick.

Be the Helvetica of Ergonomics

Ashley Bischoff, The Paciello Group

Ashley has A. Real. Thing. against the Arial typeface and after she pointed out its flaws, I had to agree. She then explained how good desk ergonomics was more like Helvetica – lots of parallels and perpendiculars, not bending our bodies into unnatural angles. (I still use a traditional keyboard and mouse, so I’m doomed).

Be the Helvetica of Ergonomics session video on YouTube

VPATs: For Business or Measure?

Ted Gies and Jay Nemchik, Elsevier

Big takeaways from this one:

  • ITIC has just published a new VPAT version (2.4, 7 March 2020).
  • It’s OK to adjust VPAT layout and add branding provided you retain the essential content
  • It’s fun to substitute Star Wars characters for product names because it would’ve been too much work to get permission from product owners
  • Extracting the conformance statistics from the VPATs and creating leaderboards can encourage friendly cross-product pressure to improve

Screen Readers and CSS: Going Out of Style and Into Content

John Northup, WebAIM

This was a hilarious way to round out CSUN. John invited his audience to ask questions and add comments in his discussion of how CSS affects accessibility, and the audience obliged. A lot. “You said this doesn’t work, so how do we do it properly?” was a big theme. Fortunately, his slide pack is in HTML so we can review and experience all of the elements we didn’t reach during the session.

In the end

At lunchtime on Friday, I walked out of the mostly deserted complex. CSUN ended with a whimper. No enthusiastic hugs or handshakes, no loud chatting over crowds of people. Just… not much.

CSUN are already advertising next year’s event. I sincerely hope that by then, the world has COVID-19 under control and everyone feels confident enough to gather together again.

While I thought my CSUN experience would be hit hard by the withdrawal of most major technology companies, I still managed to find sessions that entertained and educated me. It was good for me to go beyond the usual suspects and discover more excellent work happening all over the place.

My original plan after CSUN was to go to Hawaii for a break on the way home to Australia. I skipped Hawaii and came straight home, where I am serving 2 weeks mandatory self-isolation at home.

On the other hand

Lots of folks that withdrew from CSUN are investigating other ways to come together and share knowledge. Volunteers are hastily assembling A Future Date, a remote conference scheduled for late March or April. Others are pointing out the excellent archive of Inclusive Design 24 accessibility talks already available online.