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

  • Accessibility is moving forward – believe it or not

    6 May 2019

    Sometimes progress is hard to spot if you are in the middle of the whole thing. It might be useful to take a step back and reflect on all the different things going on in our business. The evolution is quite impressive, says Funka's Research and Innovation Officer.

  • Focus on elderly users

    7 February 2019

    Funka's CEO Susanna Laurin reports from a debate in the European Parliament and international standardization that deals with the inclusion of elderly in IT development.

  • Thanks for another amazing year!

    29 November 2018

    Another year of accessibility work is coming to an end. Funkas’ Susanna Laurin writes about the importance of positive feedback and the need to give appreciation to those who do the right thing.

  • Between hope and despair

    14 August 2018

    Monitoring and possible fines can be a driving force for accessibility. But at the same time, threats can mean that services are taken down. How do we make sure that legislation increases accessibility?

  • Make sure accessibility is afloat

    29 May 2018

    Funka's Susanna Laurin sees similarities between working with accessibility and taking care of a wooden boat. Both activities require patience and the results can make many people happy.

  • Germany Inclusion Days in Berlin

    5 December 2017

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  • It's time to put our feet down!

    8 November 2017

    A judicial precedent now allows for a tighter interpretation of the Swedish law on support and services for certain disabled people. This may mean that many people lose their right to personal assistance. Do we really want people to be denied a worthy life on equal terms with others?

  • Accessible summer greetings

    12 June 2017

    As the sun glistens in the ocean, the birds wake me up in the early mornings and life gets a little easier once sunshine and warm weather turn our latitudes into paradise, a report on digitization makes me even more happy.

  • The eternal question of cost

    7 February 2017

    Funka’s Susanna Laurin reports from an EU conference on accessibility and legislation in Brussels. The focus is, as usual, on the economy.

  • To recycle consultants

    6 January 2017

    Two of our very competent consultants have tried their wings with our clients and then chosen to come back to Funka. Naturally, we're very excited and we've asked Oskar and Karin to tell us a little bit about their experiences.

  • 10 years with the UNCRPD

    8 December 2016

    Funka’s Susanna Laurin ponders what we celebrate on the international day of persons with disabilities. Accessibility seems - more than ever - a moving target.

  • An international perspective on accessibility

    4 July 2016

    Funka’s Susanna Laurin is reporting on an exciting meeting of experts from all over the world, at the US Access Board in Washington.

  • Report from the European eAccessibility Forum in Paris

    17 June 2016

    The French association for the visually impaired, BrailleNet, arrange an annual conference on digital accessibility. The theme for the 2016 edition was the internet of things. Funka’s own Susanna Laurin is reporting from the conference.

  • The dangers of legislation

    10 March 2016

    An unsettling trend is happening in the U.S.: by using legislation as a battering ram lawyers are making money, but inaccessibility persist.

  • There’s hope for the future

    30 November 2015

    Susanna Laurin's reflections on the situation for people with disabilities face in the world today.

  • Integrity and culture

    11 September 2015

    Funka’s CEO Susanna Laurin reflects on cultural differences between Spain and Sweden, personal integrity and how badly things can get, even when you try your hardest to do the right thing.

  • While we are enjoying it

    18 June 2015

    Funka’s Susanna Laurin considers trends in accessibility and the fact that we no longer have much time to reflect.

  • When technology can make a difference

    18 March 2015

    Different safety and technology aspects are being brought up as arguments against e-voting, but these problems must be possible to overcome. Funka's Susanna Laurin takes some time to reflect upon the democratic perspective of e-voting and today's broad lack of accessibility.

  • A mutual admiration society

    29 October 2014

    Funka’s Susanna Laurin questions why accessibility and user experience experts are so eager to talk to people with similar opinions. Would it not be better to let different views and opinions meet to bring about change?

  • Sunny days, but no time to be lazy

    19 June 2014

    We look back at a hectic period and look forward to even more work. But first of all, we will enjoy the summer holidays.

  • Good for all...?

    25 February 2014

    Funka’s Susanna Laurin rejoices in the fact that design for all really works in our everyday life.

  • Funka Christmas letter 2013

    20 December 2013

    Susanna Laurin, Funka, sums up a busy year. A year of continued growth, continued expansion in Norway and a new office in Madrid.

  • Why WCAG is not enough

    25 October 2013

    It is leaning towards legislation on web accessibility in the EU. Funka's Susanna Laurin takes a closer look at what the guidelines that almost everyone is pointing towards actually entail for the users.