How do you describe CSUN to someone isn’t in the accessibility industry? Some call it the South by Southwest (SXSW) for the accessibility biz, while others call it the red carpet event of the year. That’s not too far off: Stevie Wonder showed up. What makes CSUN, or more formally, the 29th Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference in San Diego, so unique is its foundation of inclusivity and innovation. Or, as Dana so aptly puts it: fusing disability advocacy with technology.
CSUN showcases the latest and greatest in IT and AT (assistive technology) in the jam-packed exhibitor hall. For the curious, this is a large, interactive touch tank of accessibility. We were greeted by robots, listened to a chorus of new screen reader voices, tapped along with new apps, and saw what international vendors are doing to level the playing field for users with disabilities. Some highlights were the NPR Lab’s bed-shaking emergency alerts, toy building blocks to teach Braille, and tactile map printers.
But CSUN is also more about telling, and not just showing. Global representatives from around from organizations of all sizes and scopes led conference sessions. With meeting rooms overflowing, Accessibility Partners was front and center to learn from the leaders. Our brains surged as we learned more about ARIA developments, responsive web design, budding legislation, app development, disability lawsuits, and coding to supplement our existing knowledge base.
Of course, we were happy to contribute to the brain trust that is CSUN. Accessibility Partners presented two sessions: “Accessibility in Emerging Industries” and “Keeping our Heads in the Clouds: Assistive Technology’s Future”. We interacted with our surroundings in more ways than handing out swag. In fact, we shared a hotel with the Arizona Wildcats basketball team, present for March Madness. At the onset of our second presentation, as soon as Dana began speaking, a loud marching band kicked up with peppy music. It was the neatest, most memorable introduction to any accessibility presentation Dana has ever given.
During our talks we facilitated a powerful dialogue with individuals who are just as committed as we are to reaffirming accessibility’s role in the future. We’re still engaging in discussion with those who attended, and are happy to share our presentations, found here.
Despite being a technology conference, CSUN is all about the people. This was Ryan’s first CSUN, Sharon’s second, and Dana’s eleventh. From the rookie to the veteran, we took it all in.
For a CSUN first timer, Ryan had this to say, “I met Michael Curran, a mastermind behind NVDA. We talked in-depth about the necessity of providing free, open source screen reader to enable users with disabilities. It was incredible putting a face to the name”.
For Dana, it’s the whirling conversation. “As always, the conference on its own merit is amazing. I learn so much from industry colleagues during the hundreds of session. But outside the presentations, the hallway sidebar chitchat and meal-time meetings are what really powers CSUN. They push us all further in bettering the landscape accessibility of IT.”
Sharon enjoyed CSUN’s primo networking event: the Tweetup. In her words, “With all participants live tweeting and conversing; it might as well be the red carpet event. Despite the ridiculous images from CSUN’s Photo Booth below, this was a chance to speak candidly with professionals from WebAIM, the W3C, the GSA, Adobe, Fortune 500 companies, and developers all in one room”. And talk she did! She left the room after the event sponsors.
The people make the conference. CSUN would be nothing if it weren’t for the passion and enthusiasm of its participants. So, to the outsider, it might be the largest collection of seeing eye dogs they’ve witnessed in one place, but to us, it’s a warm reunion comprised of over 5,000 dear friends and respected colleagues. Whether it’s your first, second, eleventh, or almost 30th time, this conference has something for everyone. And with accessibility in the spotlight, everyone truly means everyone.