Monday, February 04, 2008

ATIA Conference

Saturday in the Sun

Last week I had the privilege to attend the 2007 ATIA Leadership Forum on Accessibility in Orlando Florida. I can't remember the last conference I attended when I felt under dressed. I was wearing a blue polo and jeans and all around me were people in business suits. I was glad I didn't show up in a Firefox t-shirt and wore a button long sleeve shirt the next day. I'm also used to being in conferences with tech-heads and hackers. While there were a few attending, the majority of the people were from Schools, Human Resource Departments, Banks, Manufacturing, Shipping, and Retail Stores (and many others, sorry if I've left you out).

Accessibility has always been an after thought in the industry and something that was done for those with disabilities like blindness, deafness, etc. I never considered that my understanding of accessibility was extremely limited until until I heard Frances W. West from IBM speak on expanding the discussion from "disabilities" to "human ability". She had some statistics (with references which I'm not going to add) in her presentation that stunned me. To quote some:
  • 16% of the the world population has some type of disability
    • vision, hearing, mobility, cognative
  • 20% of the average working age population has a disability
    • United States
      • 21% of working age population has a disability
      • 60% of people with disabilities of working age are non-working
    • Europe
      • 14% of working age population has a disability
      • 50% of people with disabilities of working age are non-working
    • Japan
      • 65% of people with disabilities of working age are non-working
    • India
      • 21.9 million people with disabilities
    • Australia
      • 18% of working age population has a disabilitiy
Rob Sinclair from Microsoft also presented information on how the workforce is changing. He had some statistics (again with refs) that showed the trend of people continuing to work later in their lives:
  • More than 23% of people ages 65-74 were in the labor force in 2006 (19.6% in 2000)
  • Number of "Boomers" will grow to 113 million by 2017 while the 18-to-49 demographic will increase less than 1% to 136 million.
He also pointed out that accessibility is not limited to people with disabilities but represents the ability for anyone to use technology. From his presentation:

Accessibility <-> Ageing <-> Better Usability

This theme seemed to ring true throughout the conference. I heard story after story of companies rolling out two interfaces for their employee websites; one that was "modern" and used all the latest trends, and one that was accessible. In the end, the accessible sites were used more often because people could find thing easier. And to think I had always thought of myself as someone with some human factor experience.

There were a lot of other topics covered but I was mostly impacted by the discussions that made me change my approach to accessibility. I've worked with a lot of older people using computers (which now includes my parents) and I wonder how much they could benefit from improvements in accessibility. I have to think, how long before I'm going to benefit from them?

On a lighter note, the weather in Orlando was fantastic. It was quite a shock to come home to more snow than I've seen in Utah for a long time!

Monday in the Cold

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