CSUN (re)visited

A few years ago I wrote about the difficulties of attending CSUN, the largest annual conference focusing on technology and disability. This year, I finally made it to the conference, so it seemed appropriate to write a follow-up post on my reflections, now that I’m back home.

My original post related to the difficulty in making a funding case to attend CSUN, as an academic researcher. Now I’m in consultancy with The Paciello Group, and I’m extremely grateful for an employer who encourages and supports attendance and participation. This year I, along with fellow members of the TPG UX team Sarah Horton and Henny Swan, gave a pre-conference workshop; and Sarah and I also co-presented two talks. It was also a great opportunity to catch up with work friends, hear them give some fantastic presentations—and meet some new colleagues too.

Beyond that, it was a chance to meet, talk to and learn from as many people as possible working in accessibility. Here are a few of my post-conference thoughts.

Scheduling the week

As a first-timer, I’m glad I followed advice (from Wendy Chisholm, John Foliot and Paul Adam amongst others) and didn’t try to plan my week around attending as many sessions as possible.

Instead, I went with the flow, making last-minute decisions on which sessions to attend, and occasionally catching up with a speaker to hear in person an overview of what they said. I wasn’t too ambitious with how many sessions to attend, either, especially as we still had plenty of last-minute prep work for our own sessions to finish off, despite best efforts to get everything done before travelling.

Serendipity was a great tactic; meeting people in hallways, in the queue at Starbucks, wherever. Of course it didn’t work completely—there were plenty of people that I wanted to meet but never had the chance to. Next time…

The value of feedback

One of the best reasons to attend a conference is the opportunity to directly receive and give feedback on the information, ideas and experiences we present.

We were fortunate to receive some very valuable feedback during and after each of our sessions, including one extraordinarily generous effort, that will help us improve and build on our efforts. It underlined to me the value face-to-face discussion offers that social media discussion never can, and the opportunity that the presence of so many smart people in one place brings.

Thank you to everyone who asked questions, gave comments, and engaged with what we had to say.

Inclusive or exclusive?

CSUN’s focus is on using technology to reduce social exclusion. At the same time, I’m aware that there are many factors that might put the conference and its discussions out of reach of some people, not least financial cost of attendance.

Leaving a cold northern March and flying halfway round the world to a conference in a nice hotel in sunny California to discuss accessibility for people with disabilities doesn’t sound like the most inclusive message, I get that. The “nothing about us without us” maxim is sorely tested, even considering the large number of people with disabilities attending the conference.

But even one global gathering of people with a common goal is better than none. So I’d rather those of us who are lucky enough to be able to attend do with responsibility, sensitivity and appreciation of our chance, and make the most of our time together.

That’s one reason why I was really pleased to be involved in two CSUN activities that focused on user research with people with disabilities:

  • I helped out with the CSUN UXathon, led by Ian Pouncey, which involved gathering data from AT users on usability of some user interface design patterns, and a hackday where people got together to design improvements.
  • I was a co-presenter of a session discussing a user research study that we did recently with colleagues at Wells Fargo on online financial management activity, which involved face-to-face discussions with 20 people with vision or motor disabilities.

Anything that we can do to gather and share more research data on how people with different disabilities use technology, so that we can take advantage of that data to make things better, we should do.

If I had the chance, would I do it all again?




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