Here’s a recap of the few sessions I was able to attend on Sunday. My own panel was on Sunday, so that cuts out some of what I could attend.
Accessibility wars: A report from trenches
The discussion was about the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). They showed captioned video of people saying what they wanted from WCAG. A few people they quoted were Jeffrey Zeldman, Molly Holzschlag, Jen Taylor, Eric Meyer, Jim Craig, John Slatin, and others.
Bob talked about some of the tension between theory and practice where WCAG is concerned. Several of the commenters from the videos mentioned that WCAG does not translate into practical terms. There’s no set of clearly stated rules that a person can be expected to follow. But he also pointed out that when programs are created for designers that make accessibility possible (in Flash, for example) then designers have to actually take the responsibility to do what is possible.
Bob talked about the fact that the industry is moving faster than the standards can keep up, but this is a good thing because if the standards were there before the kinks were worked out of new technologies, then there would be no innovation to improve.
Shawn said WCAG is a technical spec, not a place where you send beginners. WCAG pulls together knowledge, techniques and how people interact with the web around the world. It is trying to create a single standard to implement.
WCAG is not meant for the average web developer to use every day. It’s designed for web authoring and evaluation tool developers. And for accessibility experts to use as a standard when testing. So what is needed is better authoring tools that do more toward helping designers and developers move toward accessibility. There is a checklist associated with WCAG that is useful to make sure that you have included everything you need in a web site.
One place for people to get started with WCAG is a with a document that explains WCAG. Start with the overview document. There is a Quick Reference that can get you started linked to on overview page.
Jeffrey asked from the audience if you can evaluate accessibility. Bob answered yes and then immediately no. For example, you can tell in Dreamweaver whether you put alt text in. But who is to say if it’s good or bad alt text. So there’s got to be some human brain power added to the evaluation. Sharron said there is a simple question to answer to evaluate yourself. Can every person get the same content from your web page that a visual user can get? If the answer is yes, then your page is accessible.
Ten minutes left and a huge line at the microphone. Lots of interest in the topic. Q & A ensues . . .
Non-developers to Open Source Acolytes: Tell Me Why I Care
This a BlogHer sponsored panel to help people understand how or why open source is important to the non-programmer geek who is an everyday technology user.
Annalee explained what open source is. Just a list of commonly used open source software says a lot: Firefox, OpenOffice, GNU/Linux, BSD, WordPress, Apache, Rails, PHP. Open source material is distributed free and the source for the software is available.
Open source comes from a community of people who are cooperating on a project. But it isn’t a free-for-all. There’s often a hierarchy of leaders, members who change code, and people who use the software and report bugs. Not all of the contributors are actually writing code; some may submit logo designs or write documentation.
Does open source have customer support? Erica talked about how customer support is part of what her job is at the Anita Borg Institute. Many companies exist that provide support for open source as a way of making money around open source. You don’t pay to license the software, but may pay for support or documentation or other services can be purchased as needed around that free software. Dawn pointed out that free as in free software is freedom as opposed to the free in free beer which means no cost.
Philosophical reasons to support open source? Annalee said there were good technological reasons which should be foremost. But it’s also ethical to choose a solution that benefits the most people. When a product is created by a community of people donating their time, you get a higher quality. People care about it and own it. Dawn mentioned the voting process and how open source code would make the voting machine process transparent. The transparency of open source is a big advantage. Erica talked about how open source offers access to everyone, espcially women. There are systemic barriers to women in technology fields. Open source removes those barriers to all people, not only to women. It allows anyone to contribute to the scientific revolution that is affecting our economy.
Keynote: Phillip Torrone and Limor Fried
They showed some of the devices made by "makers" who are people whose innovative ideas are featured in Make Magazine. On Make Magazine, people share schematics, hardware, data sheets, parts lists and recipes for their innovations as open source information. Except this is an open source hardware movement. Some were highly creative.
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