A mutual admiration society

It has become something of a mantra among accessibility experts who want to stick out their neck; there is no need for accessibility conferences. Sure, the idea is correct: as soon as we have succeeded in creating awareness around and understanding of accessibility issues, the demand for special events will stop existing. No accessibility experts will be needed either for that matter. Funka’s vision is therefore to dissolve the company as soon as we’ve managed to spread the knowledge to "everyone".

But that is, mildly expressed, a pretty long-term vision. At this time we still need both specialists and conferences with focus on accessibility. That accessibility requirements would be as natural as demands on uptime or security still seems quite far off. Different things have different value. And disability issues remain, I think, unfortunately unsexy.

We've heard it before ...

As you might know we organise a big conference ourselves each year that is all about accessibility, and even more specifically about accessible information. I’m often invited to different events around the world, and I like to network and find out what's going on in our field. Yet sometimes I get a little tired of accessibility conferences. Not of the actual meetings, but of the content.

The industry organizes some events. So does the scientific community. EU pulls its bit and the disability organizations have their own events. But no matter the organiser there are a few things that recur over and over again:

  • We need to raise awareness ...
  • Accessibility is not about a small group, but about many ...

It's true, wise and correct. But the problem is that everyone who listens already knows this. The next time it’s someone from the audience giving the lecture, and he or she will talk about exactly the same thing. We speak for the ones already converted. And we say the same thing over and over again. 

Does this really make sense?

A circular reasoning

Something is not right. If all of us speakers are right about the target group being “everyone”, and that “everyone” should realize this, then it’s very strange that we actually know the relatively few in the room. Isn’t it? Shouldn’t the venue be jam-packed with "everyone else"?

After many years in the industry, I begin to get tired of these repetitions. When our accessibility experts review websites there is one checkpoint that states that there should be no redundant links (redundant information repeats already established information without introducing anything new). I don’t mind giving the same lecture several times, but only if the audience is new so that I can reach out to more people, who in their turn can spread the word.

Some speakers seem to rejoice in the acknowledgement itself, it makes them feel good that the audience consists of friends, and they enjoy repeating "truths" to already known faces. I mostly get tired. If I’ve heard someone talk a hundred times before, there need to be at least a new angle of the subject to keep me awake.

By experts for experts

Expert events definitely have a value. You learn a lot from socializing with like-minded and creative meetings often occur in these kinds of seminars. Or perhaps even more frequently during the coffee breaks. But if we are to achieve greater awareness in the world, we need to get our message OUT. Not patting ourselves on the back because we have all "seen the light" and are so incredibly wise in our own little cocoon.

So, I would like to ask all the talented people working with accessibility and disability issues to consciously strive to give lectures at just as many "all-round" conferences as you do at accessibility focused events. This way we could get a much bigger spread in terms of basic understanding and insights, and way beyond our own circle.

Are you up for the challenge?

Susanna Laurin