Not just a bunch of quokkas! Julie Grundy shares her experiences at the W3C conference, Web 4 All and Festival of the Web, all held in Perth, Australia last month.

Recently, I attended the Festival of the Web here in Perth, Western Australia, one of the most isolated state capital cities in the world (and my home!) Our isolation has led Perth to cultivate a thriving tech and arts scene, since we can’t rely on anyone to visit us (I’m looking at you, musicians who only tour the east coast!) There is also a huge demand here for reliable internet services to keep us connected to the rest of the world. If you’re excited about human space travel to Mars, why not experience the same exhilarating and risky adventure right here on Earth?

a small quokka - a marsupial native to AustraliaFestival of the Web was created by the Perth tech community to coincide with the annual W3C conference, with several co-located events including the Web 4 All conference. The W3C conference is in a different location each year, and our tourism board got heavily involved to make sure international guests had an opportunity for holiday activities, since people were coming such a long way to be here. Even though we’re in the same time zone as 60% of the global population, we don’t often get international events here. So, when I heard that the W3C was having its conference in Perth this year I was pretty excited. Finally – a chance for people to discover our beautiful beaches, wineries, and cute little quokkas (and enjoy some web talk, too).

Throughout the eight days of the events, over 900 people attended, taking in eleven tracks with academics presenting papers, plus a keynote every day. The list of varied and interesting topics included indoor navigation for people with visual impairments, predicting dyslexia with musical games, and job search and interview process accessibility assessment.There were vendor booths and side events, like dinners, debates, a comedy night and a BBQ. There was even stuff for high school kids on the weekend! It was a lot to take in. In particular, the Festival of the Web was quite different from other design & developer conferences I’ve been to; more informal, but with a lot of serious thinking going on.

As I work in the accessibility sector, and because I love finding out about new assistive technology, the W4A conference was my main focus. The theme of the conference was “The Future of Work,” so there were a lot of topics to do with workplace recruitment, integration and tools for people with disabilities.

In addition to the keynotes and papers, there was an Accessibility Hackathon and a technology demonstration. The hack day goal was to make TAU, an open-source assessment tool, more accessible. Teams were made up of people with different skills – some were accessibility experts, some were developers, some were designers, some were content authors, and at least one person with a disability was in one of these roles on each team. The winning team members each got to take home an X-Box! It was encouraging to watch people working together for a common goal, and having a lot of fun doing it.

In a field that is often fraught with the idea that “accessibility is hard,” it was exciting to see just how much fun it can be.

A truly accessible conference

Two large monitor screens display the live captioning of the speaker's words on either side of the stage. The MC is still on stage, having just introduced the speaker. The lady standing next to the speaker is an Auslan (Australian Sign Language) interpreter and she signs the speaker's talk. The speaker, Bill Grussenmeyer, is blind and used the ramps to the side of the stage to make it easier for him to step up onto the stage.What I most enjoyed about W4A was the effort the organizers made to create a truly accessible conference for all to participate in. There were ramps to the podium making it easier for people with vision or mobility impairments to get to their presentations. There was live captioning displayed on two large screens, and it was also available on the web for people who couldn’t be present in a session or preferred to use their own device instead of the screens. There were two Auslan (Australian sign language) interpreters as well, taking turns signing. The organising committee made sure everyone could join in on all activities.

A screengrab from the author's iPhone, showing the website with the live caption of one of the keynote speeches.I had the opportunity to chat with people from large accessibility consultancies as well as universities, and talk shop with people researching the future of assistive devices. It was wonderful to do this in person instead of just following them on Twitter (or downloading their papers then forgetting to actually read them!)

Everyone welcomed our local Perth accessibility developers and consultants into their conversations. I felt like I was really part of a community, not just an industry.

Building the future, one demo at a time

The demonstration afternoon was by far my favourite part of the event. Tables with researchers and their assistive technologies were set up, and people moved from table to table to ask questions and learn. We got an up close introduction to some amazing innovations. Congratulations to Gaze the Web and VizLens for winning the day!

After the W4A conference was over, there were still four days left of the main conference. I went to the keynotes each morning and sat in on sessions for computational health and the W3C committees on privacy and security, and spatial data. All of the papers can be read on the W3C Conference website, and I think they will release some videos of the keynotes later on. I also spent time in the Technical Expo room, eating the snacks and lunches provided every day. I wish I’d taken a photo of the salted-caramel and chocolate brownies, they were delicious!

Meet us in Lyon 2018

The author Julie on right and her friend Ruchi to the left in the keynote auditorium.Next year the W3C conference and the W4A event will be held in Lyon, France. If you are nearby, or can find an excuse to travel to France, I highly recommend you make time to attend. Many folks from the Simply Accessible team will be there! At this year’s W4A, I felt so inspired by the work people are doing, and I learned a lot about where the technology is heading.

Given that the next one is in France, I’m pretty sure the conference food will be even better than our brownies.