Looking back at CSUN

Apr 26, 2017

A retrospective about 2017s CSUN Assistive Technology Conference

The CSUN Assistive Technology Conference entered its 32nd edition in March, but despite it being on my ‘to attend’ list for the last few years, I didn’t foresee this opportunity for a while yet.

I was in Melbourne, Australia, enjoying the fact that I had once again managed to escape the miserable Dutch winters when I received a message from my boss asking if I wanted to go with him to CSUN. It took all of 30 seconds to form a response, and perhaps I should have taken a little longer as it took another couple of messages to clarify that I would definitely be interested in attending!

Before CSUN

Before heading to CSUN itself I had the opportunity to visit a number of schools in Los Angeles, to meet teachers and pupils who were using Proloquo2Go. Meeting people to see how the product is being used is invaluable, and it was really wonderful to see a teacher modelling language in the classroom, her class quiet as she read a story while pointing out the word(s) of the week on a giant sized Core Word board.

A Core Word poster from AssistiveWare hung up in a classroom
Core Word poster

After a couple of days observing we drove down to San Diego for the start of the conference.

The Exhibition Hall

Although I was mainly at CSUN to network, and visit the talks, I did work an hour each day on the AssistiveWare booth. Aside from speaking to a number of curious people passing by, and a number of others who were familiar with AssistiveWare and the products. I also met one Deaf-Blind individual who patiently stayed for a while as I tried to demo Proloquo4Text to him, sadly with my limited braille keyboard knowledge it proved to be quite a challenge.

Deaf-blind man with two interpreters, myself looking on with an iPad showing Proloquo4Text
Demoing Proloquo4Text to a Deaf-Blind man

The Exhibition Hall itself showcased some fantastic products, and as luck would have it AssistiveWare’s booth was right next door to Dot, who make the gorgeous looking Dot Watch, a beautifully designed braille watch. Naturally, at the first opportunity I had one wrapped around my wrist.

The Dot Watch from Dot Incorp
Dot Watch

The watch lived up to expectations, although the strap was a little disappointing. I spoke with one of the guys from Dot about it, and it sounded like I wasn’t the only one who felt that. The product is yet to launch, so I’ll be keen to see how they address this on the finished product.

The most impressive device I tried out was the UbiDuo 2, a real time dual-screen communicator which allows deaf people to type their message, for it to be read and replied to immediately by the other party.

The Talks

Writing something a month after an event allows you to take more of an objective look at things, and as with most conferences, there was good and bad.

The talks I attended were as follows:

Day one:

  1. overTHERE: A Simple Wayfinding App with a Unique Interface
  2. Digital Accessibility Trends
  3. 2017 Design trends and their impact on Accessibility
  4. Accessibility & Design - where productivity and philosophy meet
  5. An Introduction to Accessibility UX Research

Day two:

  1. Cognitive Accessibility 103
  2. Using Personas and Other Usability Techniques to Improve Accessibility
  3. WHY A11Y? With The Viking and The Lumberjack
  4. Siobhan is Talking, Why Isn’t Everyone Else?
  5. Digital A11y Legal Update

Day three:

  1. The Art of Language
  2. A year in the life of a BBC Accessibility Champion
  3. Designing the Future with Science Fiction
  4. What’s Stopping Us All from Making Accessible Services?

The overTHERE talk only came about because of Lainey Feingold’s “Digital A11y Legal Update” was overbooked. Not the best of starts for a first time CSUN attendee! With that being said, it was nice to hear about the project. OverTHERE is another wayfinding app for blind users, this one informs the user what was in their vicinity when they pointed their iPhone directly at something.

Shutting up is 50% of the user experience.
— Joshua Miele, OverTHERE - describing the need to stop auditory feedback when the message has been received.

The Digital Accessibility Trends talk shared some great insights and statistics.

  1. Globally 7% of people are over the age of 65, by 2050 it is estimated that it will be 16%. In developed countries, that figure will jump from 15% to 26%.
  2. Many ageing people will not identify as being disabled but will use accessibility features if packaged in a cleverly integrated fashion.
  3. Gen Z expects to access content across devices through multiple modalities, type, gesture, voice…
  4. 25% of Gen Z are actively connected to the internet within 5 minutes of waking up, and 73% within an hour.
  5. In 2015 there were 10 billion IoT devices, by 2020 it is estimated that there will be 34 billion.

The third talk I attended was, “2017 Design trends and their impact on Accessibility” by Denis Boudreau of Deque.

Denis provided some interesting figures with regards to vestibular disorders, with 35% of adults liking to feel motion sickness at times on the web. This will likely occur when viewing sites that have parallax scrolling.

Although parallax has been around for a couple of years now, it’s still a relatively popular trend.

Other trends covered were form design (style over substance, which cause a number of issues going from poor contrast to discoverability), and chatbots / conversational interfaces.

One of the best talks came after lunch, “Accessibility & Design - where productivity and philosophy meet”. The presenters were from Target, one was a sighted UX designer (Joe Lonsky), and his colleague was a blind tester (Ryan Strunk).

Slide showing the title How much do bugs cost? 1 times in Design, 6.5 times in Development, 15 times in Testing, and 100 times in the wild
The earlier you catch bugs, the better

The highlight was a walkthrough done by Ryan, who supplied feedback on what was working and what was failing in a Target app. The info supplied was outstanding, and I think the majority of the crowd would have wished for their own Ryan to test their products and services!

The most disappointing talk for myself came right at the end of day one, and it was Google’s talk “An Introduction to Accessibility UX Research”. On paper it was likely that it was going to be the most interesting talk for myself, especially considering the challenges I face with performing remote usability tests with AAC users. Sadly this talk didn’t cover anything like that, and in all honesty, they could have lost the word ‘Accessibility’ from the title.

Day two started with the brilliant Jamie Knight from the BBC. He recently found his voice again but Jamie is somebody who has used Proloquo4Text in the past.

There were so many quotable things from his talk, but one comment that really jumped out was “As designers we disable people when we don’t get it right”. How very true.

Jamie Knight and Lion, stood in front of a slide saying As designers we disable people when we don't get it right
Jamie and Lion at CSUN

The next talk I attended was “Using Personas and Other Usability Techniques to Improve Accessibility”, it was an interesting talk which went into detail about how we can improve individual techniques to ensure that we include people with disabilities. The talk discussed focus groups, contextual inquiries, personas, task analysis, card sorting, walkthroughs, and usability testing. In short, it was a very relevant talk to my day to day.

Karl Groves and Billy Gregory, aka The Viking and The Lumberjack was a shot in the arm, and a very fun and lighthearted talk that surely woke up the post-lunch audience. Nothing was learned, it was just a poke at the fact that Accessibility professionals are sometimes far too serious!

The first AAC-specific talk I attended was to follow, and the mood shifted considerably. “Siobhan is Talking, Why isn’t everyone else?” was presented by the O’Connors. Siobhan is a PECS user and her mother shared her thoughts and concerns primarily surrounding understanding, implementing, and using AAC.

We have a research-based system, but sadly her peers don’t use it, and the centers have no idea how to use it.
— The O’Connors.

The final talk of day two was a repeat of the “Digital A11y Legal Update” from Lainey Feingold. I sat and absorbed this talk, and didn’t take too many notes. One thing that was great to hear was the state of play in the US with regards to digital accessibility. However, it is equally worrying to hear the potential effects that the current administration may have.

The final day started with “The Art of Language”, which was a brilliant talk about the usage of language on the web. I was particularly interested in the part about person first language, and learning about the exceptions:

  1. In Deaf culture, Deaf is first.
  2. A Deaf person is Deaf. You would not say ‘Hearing impaired’.
  3. In Autistic culture, Autistic is first. Autism is an inherent part of their person, such like gifted or athletic.

The speaker shared some other interesting facts about language:

  1. Attorneys take twice as long to translate legalese than they do plain language.
  2. Users read 25% slower on the web than with printed text.
  3. You have 5 seconds to grab a person as users scan the website.
  4. Aim for 20 words per sentence or shorter.
  5. Use ‘expect’ rather than ‘anticipate’ (for example), we are not writing dissertations on our website.
  6. Don’t argue over things such as “Web site” or “Website”, just pick one and be consistent.
  7. Don’t make lists too long, 7 is an ideal max.
  8. Avoid abbreviations.
  9. Unnecessary words are called ‘Doublets’, don’t use two words when one will do, for example, ‘Cease and desist’.
  10. Avoid Latin terms such as e.g. and i.e.

The next talk I attended was “A year in the life of a BBC Accessibility Champion”, which was a month by month account of what happened at the BBC, especially in the Children’s department.

I was amazed to hear that there are 130 UX Designers at the BBC, and 10 in the Children’s team.

One insight that jumped out was that children who need them do not start using screen readers until around the age of 11, probably due to the complexity of them.

The penultimate talk was “Designing the Future with Science Fiction”, which was a fun talk about how we view disability. Using characters from Science Fiction and Superhero movies the presenters gave clear examples of how different we look at disability when the framing changes.

We don’t view Luke Skywalker as an amputee… we view him as a Jedi.

The last talk was from Alastair Duggin, the Head of Accessibility at GDS (who put together the brilliant GOV.UK website). He highlighted a number of challenges the GDS faced while trying to increase the knowledge of Accessibility throughout the organisation.

It was a good finish to a really enjoyable conference.

The Social Side

It wouldn’t be fair to not say something about the social side of things. The Role=drinks social event was one of my highlights. It was a room full of Twitter handles in their human form! All of who were very welcoming to this first-time attendee.