April 25, 2008 CSUN2008 attendance report

Katsutoshi Tsuji
Accessibility Engineer

Following last year, I attended the Technology & Persons with Disabilities Conference, also called CSUN, which is the abbreviation for California State University at Northridge—the host of this conference. It is indeed the world's largest international conference on accessibility and is held annually at Los Angeles, California in March. In this report, I would like to focus on the topics that caught my attention at this year's conference and review the seminar for the attendance report on CSUN2008, which was held on April 18, 2008

What is CSUN?

As mentioned before, CSUN is the world's largest international conference on accessibility and is held at Los Angeles, California every March. This year marks the 23rd anniversary of CSUN.

This year, CSUN was held at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott and Renaissance Montura hotels from March 10 to 15, 2008, during which as many as 300 presentations were made. Conference participants were required to complete the registration preliminaries on the web site LetsGoExpo and make a reservation on line by reference to the presentation schedule list. With this arrangement, participants could secure seats just at the presentations that they preferred to attend, thereby making their own participation programs. It is not easy for participants to choose topics from a considerable number of schedules, considering that more than one presentation was ongoing at any one time. However, this arrangement for personalizing participation programs in advance had a very important consequence on attendee comfort at CSUN: it became impossible for persons without prior registration to see the presentations standing from this year, for safety reasons.

Each presentation lasted from 30 minutes to one hour and the interval between succeeding presentations was 20 minutes—sufficient for the participants to have moved to the next conference room in their personal programs. However, since most of them were unaccustomed to the conference rooms, there was great difficulty in moving to the room where the next presentation was to be made, especially when that particular room was in another hotel. Although I could have gone on foot, I took the shuttle van between hotels to avoid getting lost. The shuttle vans were a service arranged for moving the participants between hotels. And anyone who needed assistance in moving between hotels could take one of the vans.

When the participants visited exhibition booths of the many exhibitors at CSUN2008, along with the presentations on the latest technologies and research, they might have also been able to make new discoveries. There, participants could personally experience new technologies, research results, and services, which went beyond the experience of merely attending the presentations.

Although the introductory remarks stretched for too long, I now present the two topics that caught my attention during the sessions I attended.

Built-in VoiceOver on Mac

Among others, I paid particular attention to a presentation on the screen reader VoiceOver, which is built into the operating system Leopard for the Apple Macintosh computer (Mac OS X Leopard). In Japan, I never had the opportunity to use a Macintosh. However, I had this opportunity at the presentation and could check how stable the screen reader worked. This experience was a good opportunity for me to understand the advantage of having a screen reader built into the operating system.

This is a little off the track, but it has been accepted as a matter of course so far that a visually impaired person who bought a computer for the first time should also purchase a screen reader to operate it. However, as mentioned in last year's attendance report (CSUN2007), the open-source product development paradigm is gradually starting to move toward even the screen readers. Being a user myself, I welcome the advent of open-source screen readers.

Above all, I felt admiration for the Macintosh computer having been equipped with a built-in screen reader. Probably, visually impaired persons in the English-speaking could now use a computer immediately upon purchase.

I attended the two sessions on the operation of the basic functions of VoiceOver and on the operation of iTunes using VoiceOver, which aroused a strong desire in me to buy a Macintosh myself. However, at present, I have abandoned my attempts to buy since I know that VoiceOver cannot be used in the Japanese environment.

AJAX Version of Yahoo! Mail and Screen Reader

AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript + XML (Extensible Markup Language)) content is said to be difficult to access with a screen reader and voice browser. As a screen-reader user, I also cared little for such content so far because I presumed that “it was a very difficult technology that I could not access.”

However, in some presentations at the last CSUN conference, I ensured that there were some moves afoot toward enabling dynamic content to be accessed using screen readers. This time at CSUN2008, I attended a Yahoo! presentation made by a totally blind engineer and realized how clearly dynamic content could be read aloud when being accessed using a screen reader.

The Yahoo! presentation demonstrated that even screen reader users can operate the Yahoo! Mail interface to read messages and send replies in the same manner as regular mail clients. According to the presenter, this function had not been implemented in Yahoo! Mail at that time. However, I could check the actual operations in the demonstration conducted by the totally blind engineer, leading me to expect that AJAX will become a technology that is more familiar to us.

After the attendance at CSUN2008

On April 18, the seminar for reporting CSUN2008 attendance was held in our company's seminar room.

As presenters, Makoto Ueki (Infoaxia Inc.), who is also familiar with our Mitsue-Links product Accessibility Podcast, Kazuhito Kidachi, and I (Mitsue-Links Co. Ltd.) told the participants of the several impressive presentations that each of us had attended at CSUN2008. In addition, in the last half of this seminar, we received and answered questions on Web accessibility from the participants as a special occasion of Accessibility Podcast and told the participants of incidents at CSUN2008. Despite the bad weather, there was a huge turnout at this seminar, which had a seating capacity for 50. We would be glad to host a seminar on the live version of Accessibility Podcast, which has acquired a favorable reputation among others, at some point in the future.

In closing, at CSUN2008, we made presentations on the accessibility that our company has been targeting. This year's theme for our presentations was “Improvement of Web Accessibility: What a Japanese Web Production Company Can Do?”. We made a presentation on a Japanese screen reader, voice browser, and the actual status of users, and presented information on how our company is addressing the challenges to improve Web accessibility. In addition, we visited Google Inc. on March 17, after the close of CSUN2008, and made a short version of the presentation there. In the coming year, we expect to attend again the largest world-wide conference, CSUN2009, and make a presentation on improved Japanese Web accessibility.

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