@Media 2005 Day 1

All back from the conference and feeling even more evangelical ahead of my return to work on Monday. We all know the dangers of talking about work here so I’ll leave it at that ;-)

I’m going to start at the finish just to be different by thanking Patrick Griffiths and his company Vivabit right now for a superbly organised effort. Registration was a breeze, orange goodie bags appreciated and the coffee, lunches (salmon on Friday!) and the social opportunities were top-notch. I hope you take a day or 2 off now. We shouldn’t forget the staff of King’s College and the other group of facilitators who I can’t remember the name of.

So, how did it break down? Thursday opened at 9am with a keynote speech from Jeffrey Zeldman covering the brief history (in real terms at least) of web standards, CSS and WaSP.

Joe Clark, who is a Canadian not an American, was up next and spoke to us about web accessibility and gave some interesting facts and figures on disabled groups in the UK. He also reminded us (I hope we already knew) that web disability is not just about being blind or having other visual disorders. We must consider deaf or near-deaf, people with mobility issues that prevent the “normal” use of a keyboard and mouse and another section of the populace that doesn’t immediately spring to mind – people with learning difficulties such as dyslexia and low literacy. It was interesting to learn for example that a beige background is preferred for people with dyslexia. It’s such a tiny point but what a huge impact that could have if we include that colour in our alternate stylesheets at least. Joe also stressed that users relying on assistive technology should upgrade to the latest versions as they are released. Controversy might be too strong a word, but during the open questions session at the end of the conference this was challenged from the audience due to the expense of such systems and disability benefits being too small. As Joe pointed out though, that’s a problem with the manufacturers charging too much and the national government not subsidising enough. Both valid points I guess. I’ll leave it at that.

After a coffee break Robin Christopherson from AbilityNet was up. This for me was the best presentation of the whole conference. Why? Robin is blind and with his screen reader barely audible across his microphone he delivered an excellent presentation and demonstrated how he “sees” the web. Geezus I hope Amazon sort themselves out ;-) This speech had, and indeed is still having a profound effect on me even as I write now. If work will allow (and indeed Robin himself), I would really like to have him visit and educate people about assistive technologies.

Douglas Bowman was up just before lunch with an hors d’oeuvre of beautiful CSS and I am so going to use the idea of:

ERROR: This DVD is not compatible with this TV

in any presentation on this subject I do at work.

After a very nice buffet lunch it was time for Patrick Griffiths himself to talk. It was a good presentation but I felt sleepy and I could feel the audience was suffering from having their blood in their stomachs digesting lunch as well. He provided a good foundation on why XHTML together with CSS is “The Way Forward”. My little nugget of new info was the best way to set up font sizing – use percent in the body and then afterwards use ems. Now I know I use both so I will definitely be checking for consistency and knowing why.

Andy Budd was up next, we may have surprised ourselves here. A massive show of hands to “Who only does CSS layouts?” demonstrated just how overwhelmingly technical the audience was. There was just a few managers / project managers etc that needed converting to “Disciples of Z” so this and Patrick’s presentation was still needed. But it was important to start this series of conferences (I hope) with a good foundation so it’s all good. For me at least I just soaked everything in and over coffee he asked me if I’d learnt anything. Truthfully I answered yes, but you know, looking at my notes all I have written down is clagnut’s URL! I’ll be amassing all the speaker notes when they’re ready so I’ll have to trawl through it again…

Ian Lloyd from Accessify was the last speaker of the day and he delivered a good presentation, again basic stuff as it turned out for the audience, but again an equally important baseline to achieve and it was exactly as advertised. I’ve signed up to the forums now and will be lurking harder there in the future…

I’ll conclude this post with the @media Party where I got to meet a lot of real nice people. There’s the crowd in the sidebar to the right – thanks to dotJay and Matthew for introductions and general hanging-around, Peter, Rick, Cla(i)re, Debbie and a whole bunch of people I just can’t remember the names of for the conversations both geek and non-geek. Next year do you think our names could be printed bigger though? Dinner was most welcome at The Tall House – a Chinese restaurant that Matthew immediately got to grips with and asked for a good selection of food that we’d all split the bill against. Fantastic. Now go check out the photos at Flickr while I get a cup of coffee and do something else. Day 2 report tomorrow.

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