Recently I had the pleasure and honour of sitting on the examining panel of a PhD thesis defence by Sergio Sayago, a researcher at the Interactive Technologies Group of Universitat Pompeu Fabra, in Barcelona. I met Sergio at W4A 2009, where he and his supervisor Josep Blat won the Best Paper award for their paper describing an ethnographic study of older people and their use of information and communication technology. Having enjoyed reading that paper and hearing his talks (he gave two at W4A), it was great to be able to announce that he’d successfully defended his PhD thesis.
So, I’m back home after a week in Spain. The main purpose of my trip was to serve as General Chair of the International Cross Disciplinary Conference on Web Accessibility (W4A 2009) held in Madrid on 20-21 April. I thought I’d reflect on how I felt the conference went, and the key messages emerging from presentations and discussions.
But first, some background. W4A was started up by a group of accessibility researchers at the University of Manchester, and was first held in 2004; founders Simon Harper and Yeliz Yesilada still do an enormous amount of work behind the scenes each year.
I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in the last three W4As in various roles. What makes W4A different from other accessibility, web standards and human computer interaction/usability conferences?
One of the most frustrating yet fascinating challenges to achieving an optimally accessible Web is trying to complete a perfect circle. Three parts of that circle are covered by the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative’s triumvirate of guidelines: conformant content (WCAG), created by conformant authoring tools (ATAG), and accessed using conformant user agents (UAAG). This approach has some practical flaws – not least in that there’s a missing part of the circle: conformant users.