March 30, 2007 CSUN 2007 Participation Report

Kiyochika Nakamura
Accessibility Engineer, Web Development Team

As I briefly mentioned in the Accessibility Blog Entry "CSUN 2007", I attended and made a presentation at the CONFERENCE 2007 Technology & Persons with Disabilities Conference (CSUN 2007) in Los Angeles, California in the United States, which ran from March 19 to 24. I will take this opportunity to report on a few aspects of the event.

A place for demonstrating technology and knowledge about persons with disabilities

As many people may not be familiar with this conference, I would like to briefly outline the event. First, the name CSUN is an acronym of the California State University, Northridge, which hosts the event. The conference is widely known by this name, both in the United States and abroad. Actually, I heard it called that all the way over there.
Second, let me tell you about the event details. As you can see from the name "Technology & Persons with Disabilities Conference," the conference is mainly designed to exhibit and demonstrate technologies for persons with disabilities. It is the world's largest exhibition and conference in the field of accessibility. Manufacturers involved with accessibility technology and presenters came together from the United States, where the event was held, and countries around the world including Japan.
A wide range of equipment manufacturers took part in exhibitions of technology used by visually impaired people: companies that provide latest technology of Web accessibility such as screen readers and braille displays, and companies that sell white canes essential for these persons' daily activities. Also, products for people with different disabilities were exhibited extensively.
For presentations in which we participated, more than 275 sessions were held over four days. They included technology related to diversified disabilities, the relationships between technology and education and employment, and the relationships with the Internet. In addition, a new session on aging started this year.

Support for Windows Vista

As noted, a number of presentations were held over the four-day session period. This meant about ten sessions held simultaneously. It was impossible to participate in all sessions in a specific field such as the Internet, let alone all sessions at the event. I cannot offer a complete impression then, but one notable thing is that screen reader manufacturers and related companies delivered a great many exhibitions and presentations on support for Windows Vista.
Our accessibility blog carries the Japanese translation article entitled "Are We Ready for Vista?" It describes the state of support for Vista in assistive technology overseas. Some sessions with this theme attracted great attention and their rooms were full. I was very impressed with this enthusiasm, the quick response of assistive technology manufacturers, and great interest in the latest technology in the community of persons with disabilities including visually impaired people.

Support for Mozilla Firefox and related applications

As the words Vista were clearly included in the titles of the sessions, I had anticipated before my visit to the United States that there would be great interest in support for Vista (and it was more than expected). What exceeded my expectations at the exhibition booths and presentations was support for Mozilla Firefox and related applications.
When it comes to the Web browsers that could be used with assistive technology previously, it was usually Microsoft Internet Explorer only. It was nearly impossible to use other browsers (except non-visual browsers like Lynx). However, major screen readers and screen enlargement sofware have recently become compatible with Firefox, and more options are gradually emerging for assistive technology users. This is one of the major changes.

Support for RIA with assistive technology

Support for Rich Internet Applications (RIA) is one of the greatest issues in assistive technology today. Web pages and Web applications including dynamic content using Ajax and other technologies are very convenient. However, it is difficult to understand changes in content with assistive technology. To address this situation, W3C/WAI released the draft of the "Roadmap for Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA Roadmap)" last December. Assistive technology quickly responding to this draft such as Fire Vox and NVDA was already available at this conference. I felt that it would be even more important in the future. There is no doubt that it is one of the most noteworthy of the cutting-edge technologies.

Advancement of open sources

With reference to the support for Firefox and RIA, one of the most notable trends is that open source audio browsers and screen readers are being developed. In addition to Fire Vox and NVDA, another important assistive technology is Orca, a screen reader running on Linux.
In the past, building an environment for assistive technology was considered too expensive. Actually, major assistive technology is highly functional and the price is high because of that. In this situation, the combined Linux and Orca will enable users to utilize various functions in software free of charge. It might take on great significance for Web production and development companies like us. This is because it will be easy to perform verification at the level of the production person, whereas previously only some people could do that because of the high costs. This will generally make the Web more accessible: I felt a premonition of the advance of open source at this conference.

This has been a brief explanation, but it covers the highlights of the conference.

Finally, I will talk a little about our presentation. As I described in the Accessibility Blog Entry mentioned at the start, the theme of our presentation was that sustainable accessibility would be achieved in the future by focusing on content and using Web standard technology appropriately. For this end, it is essential to develop user agents such as browsers and assistive technology in compliance with the standards, and to implement the necessary functions. I realized that the necessary functions for user agents have been implemented as seen in the response to WAI-ARIA and support for Firefox, and that we are on the right track. This is one of the great outcomes that we have obtained.

Moreover, I was able to exchange ideas with leading people in the field of accessibility from countries around the world. This is one of the great advantages of international events. I hope to take part again if I have the opportunity.

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