OZeWAI Accessibility Conference highlights

OZeWAI - Australian Web Adaptability Initiative

Since 1998, the OZeWAI conference has brought together people from all over Australia and the world to share experiences and advances in web standards, with an emphasis on inclusivity and accessibility. Over the last few years delegates have met in facilities among the beautiful trees on Latrobe University’s Bundoora campus in Melbourne’s north east. This year the conference ran from 8th to 10th December and was sponsored by Web Key IT, Digital Accessibility Centre and Media Access Australia.

Jacqui van Teulingen, Director of Web Advice and Policy at the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) delivered the keynote asking the question “Are we there yet?” referencing the National Transition Strategy deadline that had the goal of all Australian federal government websites being WCAG 2.0 Level AA conformant by the end of 2014. While progress has been made, the ambitious goal was not met but there has been a significant cultural shift, and the “Digital by Default” strategy is expected to continue the trend towards inclusivity.

This was followed by an update on W3C/WAI, ISO and GPII (Global Public Inclusive Infrastructure) activities from various contributors, then how universities are tackling inclusion and accessibility with representatives from LaTrobe University, Melbourne University and Monash University.

We saw presentations discussing social media and cloud computing accessibility, and a presentation from Andrew Arch on the beautifully meta subject of a standard for standards writers, describing what they should consider to incorporate accessibility in their standards. Yes, my brain exploded.

Mark Rogers of PowerMapper gave a demonstration of screen readers, and shared their fantastic screen reader comparison resource. See which screen reader supports which web technology (eg ARIA, CSS, HTML5 etc) in which browser, what caniuse.com is to HTML5, the PowerMapper Screen Reader compatibility matrix is to screen readers.

I was privileged to present the E-standards Accessible HTML5 Media Player, developed by Sean Norrey at Kangan Institute. I spoke about a little of its history and gradual enhancement which culminated in it winning the Deafness Forum of Australia’s 2014 Online Captioning & Digital Innovation Award. Of course, technology was waiting to bite me (despite my extensive sacrifices to the demo gods), and the projector’s screen resolution interfered with my demonstration.

This was followed by a session on accessible documents including Leona Zumbo introducing Vision Australia’s Document Accessibility Toolbar for MS Word, and Rosemary Spark and Rebecca Stringer Krein talking about training in MS Word accessibility.

Miran Choi, visiting from Korea, presented her work in accessibility requirements for language learning using text-to-speech technologies, and was followed Leona Zumbo introducing the study of the PDF format undertaken by Vision Australia for AGIMO. Mark Rogers also spoke about the WCAG Sufficient Techniques.

An interesting session on natural search user interfaces was presented by Ying-Hsang Liu from Charles Sturt University’s usability lab: “User-centred design and evaluation of information retrieval systems”, including trials of an alternative pointing device (literally – a glove). They used FaceLab’s EyeTracker to identify where people look for information: top left wins again.

Scott Hollier, Gian Wild and Dan Craddock discussed ongoing problems with PDF use. Dan shared stats on PDF use from the Consumer Affairs Victoria site which showed 0.18% of publication views were PDF downloads vs 99.82% page views. When the argument “but what about the aged?” was raised, retirement village stats did show a difference at 0.82% PDF downloads vs 99.18% page views. Andrew Downie gave his perspective on the Alternative Text conundrum – a picture tells a thousand words (but not to screen reader users, those with limited vision, a cognitive disability or a slow connection). Alt text is essential – afford it the same importance as the image.

The elephant in the room—cognitive disability—was the subject of the next session. There are two million Australians who identify as having a cognitive disability, which by the way does NOT equal an intellectual impairment. There is assistive technology for those with cognitive disabilities, but problems arise when trying to explain how it can be used.

The last session was by Gian Wild who described which accessibility-focused activities to perform at which stages of a website development, with a reminder to include periodic reviews after launch. Gian was followed by Justin Brown of Edith Cowan University, who spoke about the accessibility attributes of content management system authoring environments.

The conference finished up with the OZeWAI Annual General Meeting, discussing the possibility of holding next year’s meeting in Canberra and electing the office bearers for 2015. Presentations are expected to be shared on the OZeWAI website soon.