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California Web Accessibility Conference at CSULB Jan. 12-14

Published: December 15, 2008

Getting online seems as simple as firing up the computer, logging in and, voila!, people are surfing their favorite sites, picking up the news, being a consumer, or just corresponding with friends. It’s a fun, colorful, graphic-driven experience – for most people.

It is a different story for Internet users among the 20 percent of Americans with disabilities who may not be able to use a mouse and rely heavily on special software to give them effective and quality access to the Web through keystrokes. However, assistive technologies and accessible design techniques are not always effectively utilized.

How to improve on that will be the focus of the fourth annual California Web Accessibility Conference (CalWAC4), set for Jan. 12-14, at CSULB. The conference will be produced by Knowbility (www.knowbility.org), the Texas-based non-profit that supports people with disabilities by promoting the use and improving the availability of accessible information technology.

The 55 million Americans with disabilities are among 750 million people worldwide with disabilities who, combined, represent $1 trillion in aggregate income.

The CalWAC sessions will be a comprehensive series of Web and IT accessibility classes led by world-renowned accessibility and policy experts and administrators. The conference will present classes for three professional tracks:

  • Technical track for Web developers, designers and programmers;
  • Content track for those charged with creating accessible documents including MS Office, PDF and Web updates using Dreamweaver;
  • Administrative track for procurement officers, policy developers and others who need support in choosing standards and ensuring conformance.

A large part of the conference will also reflect the most recent changes in federal and global standards for Web accessibility.

“To have all of this information and these experts in one place for two days is a great opportunity,” said Sharron Rush, co-founder and executive director of 10-year-old Knowbility and co-author of Maximum Accessibility, recognized as the definitive accessibility resource. “There’s a tendency for organizations to be Web accessible, but what’s missing is the information about how to do it, and they haven’t thought about the ways that people with disabilities use the Web or don’t know about all the assistive technology that makes it possible for people with disabilities to use the Web.

“And, if you’re a retailer and you have a market that’s 20 percent of the population, you want to make sure they can get your information, buy your merchandise and participate as consumers.”

For accessibility standards, there has never been a court ruling about whether the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to the Internet, but Web accessibility is an emerging concept that goes well beyond wheelchair ramps and automatic doors.

Internet users who are visually impaired rely heavily on special software called “screen reader,” which, through codes embedded in Web sites, reads text and describes graphics audibly and allows users to navigate between sites using keystrokes instead of a mouse.

The CalWAC classes will teach IT professionals from both the government and private sectors how to use the technology. However, 80 percent of the conference attendees will be university Web designers.

“The biggest thing a university does is train new people in industries,” said Wayne Dick, a CSULB computer engineering professor and a leading advocate for Web accessibility. “For us to be up to speed is really an important thing. At universities, students need access wherever they are, 24/7, and that makes for a higher urgency for having Web sites with pristine access because that’s the only way you can guarantee everyone can use the sites like they’re supposed to be used.

“CalWAC looks at Web access, but it also looks at education and how to address those issues. A lot of people want to do this well, but don’t know how. You might think you’re doing a lot, but you might be ineffective in doing it,” Dick added. “It’s not rocket science but, well, it is rocket science. We’re not talking about easy stuff here.”

The cost to attend CalWAC4 is $275 for one day and $450 for both days at early bird rates. There are also two optional post-conference sessions on Accessible AJAX by Derek Featherstone and CSS Intensive by Molly Holzschlag, from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. on Jan. 14, for $425. The total package for two days of CalWAC and the post-conference session is $750. A $200 discount is available for CSU students, faculty or staff. Other discounts are available for groups and returnees.

The conference hotel is the Marriott Long Beach Airport Hotel, and a block of rooms at a discounted cost has been made available for conference attendees.

For more information on the conference, contact Annie Hudson at Knowbility at 512/327-4437.