Chronicle

Funka in the U.S.

A lot is happening in the U.S. right now, even if we for a moment try to ignore politics. Funka’s Susanna Laurin reports from a hectic week in a country where accessibility is high on the agenda.

Susanna Laurin

Title: Chief Research and Innovation Officer

Once a year, experts and activists meet in San Diego to share knowledge and experience in the field of ICT and assistive technology during the conference called CSUN. It is always worthwhile to participate in the event, since "everyone" is there.

Unfortunately, it seems like the event gets fewer international participants each year, and that more and more of the sessions are held by sponsors. That doesn’t have to be a problem of course, and many of them are very interesting. But they often contain a bit too much product advertising for my taste. The most innovative and interesting content usually comes from researchers and end users.

Parallel to the presentations, there is a large and well-attended exhibition where all kinds of assistive technology is shown, and in between all of this, loads of meetings and side events are to be squeezed in. I usually have no problem falling asleep on the plane home.

Old problems and new technologies

This year several high quality sessions focused on the autism spectrum. Leena Haque and Jamie Knight from the BBC both speak from their own perspective and show society's inability to include people who go outside the norm. At a conference where a lot has to do with screen reader users' need and right to get images converted into text, it is especially important to get the opposite perspective. Leena thinks in pictures and need them to communicate. A perspective that is completely lacking in today's standards.

Gunnar Michelsen, a researcher at the Specialized University VID, in Oslo, showed interesting result of how hard it can be to get some individuals, in this case individuals with Asperger's, to try new technology. Once they started using the proved solutions, they proved to be very helpful. Accessibility has just as much to do with attitudes as with assistive technology. This becomes very evident at the individual level.

Saqib Shaika and Anirudh Koul from Microsoft showed examples of how sound can be visualized, which not only helps persons with hearing loss, but also can be useful in noisy environments.

Major focus was as usual accessibility in education, legal issues and testing tools for developers. In addition to that, a series of sessions had to do with the new global guidelines for web accessibility, WCAG, which we write about in another article.

Gaming and accessibility

The Game Developers Conference, GDC, is held at the same time as CSUN, but in San Francisco. In connection with the GDC, the Game Accessible Conference was held.

Many years ago, while Funka was a non-profit, we worked in projects on games and accessibility. We never gave the theme up completely, but nowadays, most of the work on gaming is conducted within our foundation. It seems, however, that games and accessibility has got a second coming, which is great fun.

GAconf was full of exciting and positive sessions that stretched across a wide spectrum of topics. Ian Hamilton opened with saying that so much progress has been made in the last year, that he did not have enough speaking time to cover it all. That feeling set the bar for the entire conference. Bryce Johnson from Xbox talked about how important it is to make games accessible and inclusive without loosing the challenges that make the games fun. Bob de Schutter, a researcher at Miami University, presented interesting findings about older users who prefer completely different games than those designed for the elderly.

How to best caption games not to interfere with the gaming experience, what we can expect in terms of virtual reality in the gaming world and how good sound design can affect the players was other exciting sessions. The audience was a delightful mix of developers, designers and gamers with and without disabilities who shared their experiences during the day. There are obviously many out there who are enthusiastic about making gaming more accessible.

Related chronicles by Susanna Laurin

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