HCI 2009: an on-the-train-home review

HCI 2009, the 23rd annual British Computer Society conference on Human Computer Interaction, took place this week at Cambridge University’s Churchill College . It started and finished with two provocative and inspiring keynote talks, and in between were some interesting presentations and discussions. I was there to give a paper on the user research work we’ve been doing as part of the Usable Image project, but I was also wearing my accessibility hat, and while there wasn’t a huge amount of coverage of accessibility or inclusive design there were plenty of other presentations that were definitely of relevance.

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Postcard of a painting

Yesterday I received notification of publication of a Web Accessibility Special Issue of the Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology journal, focusing on a selection of the best work presented at recent W4A conferences. I had the pleasure of editing this edition of the journal, and the result is what I think is a very neat cross-section of the web accessibility research and development going on right now.

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Finest worksong

I had the great pleasure recently of giving a talk at the Universitat de Barcelona‘s Department of Library and Information Science (in Catalan). It was organised by Mireia Ribera, and attended by staff and students on the Masters of Digital Content Management course, and I’m very grateful to Mireia for the invitation to talk, and to visit such a beautiful city!

I’d been asked to give a perspective from the UK on developments in web accessibility over the years, and in putting together my talk, I ended up with a 10 year biography of web accessibility. I thought this was a nice, round figure, given that it’s almost 10 years to the day since version 1 of WCAG was published by the W3C on 5th May 1999; and nearly 10 years since I started working in this area as a researcher/consultant in the newly formed Digital Media Access Group.

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Talk about the passion

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?

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Can’t get there from here

Earlier this week I presented a very influential paper to our reading group: Damaged Merchandise? A Review of Experiments that Compare Usability Evaluation Methods, by Wayne Gray and Marilyn Salzman. Reading it again reminded me why it had such an impact on me first time around, and I thought I’d share my views on why I think it’s such a worthwhile read, even 11 years after it was published.

The paper critiques 5 prominent (i.e. published in prominent academic publications and subsequently cited) studies that compared different Usability Evaluation Methodologies (UEMs). It found that for each study the experimental design casts doubt over the validity of the conclusions made.

Continue reading Can’t get there from here