Day two of our WCET conference, and I’m struck by the increasing distance between what is going on at the institution level and what vendors and speakers are able to offer and talk about.
Yesterday’s final session makes a good case-in-point. Our speaker came from Blackboard and he was there to talk about accessibility. Full disclosure here: I’m an accessibility nerd. I don’t claim to be a true expert (yet), but accessibility is my thing. I was excited about this last session.
Our speaker was fine. He walked in prepared to talk about the “low hanging fruit” of accessibility: tag PDF’s, check external links, avoid fancy fonts. That information is necessary but not sufficient.
Maybe it was because it was the end of the day, and maybe it was because the room was filled with accessibility nerds, but as soon as it was clear all he had was a few slides about things we’ve already done plus an undercurrent of a set of promises about what is coming from Blackboard, the crowd turned rowdy.
No one was mean to the speaker. Instead the speaker faded away, and the attendees took over. We turned our attention to each other. We shared frustrations (does a focus on accessibility lead to classes that are “thinner” and easier to deliver to everyone?) and our fears (who is liable when we aren’t accessible? Who is “gunning for us”? Is anyone gunning for us?). We talked about the tension between design innovation and all the requirements of accessibility … not just the low-hanging fruit.
People were scared. People were angry. People were righteous. Meanwhile, the speaker stood there and watched it all unfold. He didn’t have anything to add; we had more information than he did. In fact, he kept trying to wrap things up by saying he didn’t want to stand between us and the welcome reception. But he wasn’t standing in our way. We were way out in front of him. And we didn’t want go to the reception. We wanted to talk about accessibility.
There was a knowledge gap in the room with the practitioners holding much more expertise than the presenters. This is a gap I’ve watched widen over the last three years. Here in the day-to-day academic world, the changes are underway with a big mish-mash of different initiatives. And at least in the conference environment, we are motivated to share with and learn from each other.