Hot Apple Cider, Falling Leaves, and Three Great Conferences

Autumn is hands-down my favorite season. It's time to throw on a sweater and an extra comforter, sip hot apple cider, and make big pots of scrumptious and spicy vegetarian chili.

Autumn is also the season in which three of my four favorite conferences are held. I look forward each year to networking with others who work in the field of higher education technology, and putting our heads together to ensure the technology we're providing is accessible to everyone. The conferences I'm referring to are (in more-or-less chronological order) EDUCAUSE, HighEdWeb, and Accessing Higher Ground. (My fourth favorite is the CSUN International Technology & Persons with Disabilities Conference, in March.

EDUCAUSE

  • Where? Anaheim, California
  • When? October 12–15
  • Web: educause.edu/E2010
  • Twitter: #educause10

As an organization, EDUCAUSE describes itself as "a nonprofit association whose mission is to advance higher education by promoting the intelligent use of information technology." They approach this mission in ways that are too numerous to mention here (but a good starting point is their own About EDUCAUSE page. They have 17,000 active members representing 2,200 colleges, universities, and educational organizations, as well as 250 corporations.

Perhaps the most prominent among their activities is their annual conference, which attracts thousands of attendees, including (but not limited to) techies from the trenches, instructional technologists, web developers, and senior IT administrators. I've been active in EDUCAUSE since 2002, motivated by the belief that in order to influence accessibility of technology, we really need to be working with these folks, rather than hanging out exclusively in our comfy circles of like-minded accessibility advocates.

A small group of us from the accessibility community have presented at EDUCAUSE for years, and have gradually made progress on influencing EDUCAUSE to take up the cause of accessibility, and help us to educate its membership on this important issue. In recent years we've made significant progress in this area. In 2007, EDUCAUSE created the IT Accessibility Constituent Group, which established an official voice for accessibility within the organization. That same year, I was invited to present on accessibility to the annual CIO Meeting. I only had ten minutes to talk, but there were 100 CIO's and senior IT administrators present, and I continue to hear back from folks that those ten minutes had an impact.

At this year's conference, EDUCAUSE has provided tremendous support for our putting together an IT Accessibility Center in the exhibit hall. We were able to attract seven corporate sponsors, all of which have demonstrated an interest in accessibility. The sponsorships allowed us to think big. We will have a theater with an ongoing rotation of presentations (22 in all) related to IT accessibility in higher education. There will be sessions on relatively broad topics like how to assess whether websites and software are accessible; technical sessions on emerging technologies like HTML5 media, canvas, and ARIA; and an entire series of Accessible IT Leadership sessions featuring CIO's and senior IT administrators who have demonstrated commitment to accessibility. The center will also have an informal, interactive side where folks can network, play with assistive technology, or get free consultation from the dozen or so accessibility experts who will be on hand. A full schedule of activities is available on the Accessibility @ EDUCAUSE 2010 wiki page. This is also where we'll post handouts from speaker sessions once they're available.

If you're going to EDUCAUSE, drop by the IT Accessibility Center (Booth 921) and say hello. And if you're not going to EDUCAUSE, you should! Unless, of course, you're going to...

HighEdWeb

Who scheduled this conference to concur with EDUCAUSE?! I was seriously bummed when I discovered the overlap. Originally I thought I could go to both, but it just isn't feasible.

HighEdWeb describes itself as "the national conference for all higher education Web professionals—from programmers to marketers to designers to all team members in-between—who want to explore the unique Web issues facing colleges and universities."

That pretty much sums it up. There are dozens of excellent sessions, exploring a full range of topics related to the Web as it's used in higher education. I have personally always spent the majority of my time in the "Propeller Hat" Track, where I've learned about the nuts and bolts of things like AJAX, JQuery, advanced CSS techniques, and cross-site scripting.

In looking over the HighEdWeb schedule, there don't seem to be any sessions this year that specifically focus on accessibility, but I've found that HighEdWeb attendees are pretty accessibility-savvy. In most sessions I've attended in past years, I'm rarely the one asking the accessibility questions - someone else always beats me to it.

HighEdWeb is famous for its active use of the Twitter backchannel, owing largely to The Great Keynote Meltdown of 2009, in which attendees used the Twitter backchannel to attack an unprepared, unsuspecting keynote presenter. Despite that low point (which ultimately resulted in some very productive discussion about public speaking and social media), I know I can rely on HighEdWeb attendees to keep me informed via Twitter of what's happening at the conference. This is especially appreciated this year since I won't be able to attend in person.

Accessing Higher Ground

Accessing Higher Ground is the "Accessible Media, Web and Technology Conference", organized by the University of Colorado at Boulder. It's a wonderful Fall tradition to return each year to the Colorado front range, as snow (some years) is starting to blanket the mountain tops, and spend some quality time hanging out with old and new friends who work in the same field as I do. It's hands-down the best opportunity for folks in this field to share ideas, create solutions, expand our individual skill sets, and get refueled to go back to our campuses and tackle the challenges we're facing.

Now in its thirteenth year, I think I've been there for twelve. If I had to give up all other conferences, this is the one I'd keep. If you're reading this blog, you presumably have some interest in accessible technology in higher education, so this conference is for you! I hope to see you there.

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