Five takeaways from CSUNATC18

by Brigitta Norton,Studio Lead Backelite Canberra / Senior Manager at Capgemini — accessibility advocate.


The CSUN Assistive Technology Conference 2018 was held in San Diego from 20–23 March, with two days of preceding workshops. I attended one of the informative half-day workshops presented by Karl Groves (@karlgroves) on the topic of accessible forms and then had the difficult task of deciding which of the conference presentations I would attend from the multi-faceted stream of sessions (as up to 12 were run concurrently). Fortunately, the collated presentations have been shared for everyone to access.

Following are my five main takeaways from CSUN. I recommend also reading through this insightful article from Louise Clark, a recent recruit to accessibility advocacy whom I met at the aXe-hackathon, as she attended other sessions I was interested in and we noticed similar themes.

  1. Innovative assistive technologies and changing workplace culture makes a difference

There were some wonderful presentations that provided great examples of how technology can make a difference for people, allowing more ways for them to better interact and engage with each other and their environments. The need to consider inclusivity is becoming more prominent for many of the organisations that presented and some are looking at improving the hiring process by establishing education avenues to find and recruit talented individuals.

     2. ‘Shift to the left’ and issues that arise if you don’t

Presentations that highlight the need to include accessibility earlier in the product discovery process are not new but there were some particular instances presented at CSUN that provided costs and risks of why it’s important. Some sessions included practical examples of how to influence the ‘shift to the left’ in any project lifecycle and reiterated that the cost involved in not doing so can be detrimental to any digital project.

  • Derek Featherstone’s (@feather) session provided some visual representation of what can happen if not considering accessibility early, he also shared some practical advice on what can be checked, especially at the wireframe stage. Level Access has shared a link to all the presentation slides on their website:

     3. Design best practices and accessibility, they go hand in hand

Accessibility is not just about WCAG standards but also gaining knowledge and understanding that there are best practices all UX specialists should be considering (whether it be researchers, designers or developers, or someone who cross-skills across all of these area). UX heuristics and accessibility presentations provided at CSUN this year included some wonderful and enlightening examples of inclusive best practice principles that designers should be aware of.

  • The session by Henny (@iheni) from the Paciello Group illustrated the need for considering best practice in the UX design process and how even designing for real life scenarios won’t be the same for everyone. “It’s about designing for the needs of people with permanent, temporary, situational, or changing disabilities — all of us really”

     4. Accessible patterns and component libraries for reuse

New frameworks and reusing patterns and components are providing quick and more efficient ways to code for the web and apps but they can come with their own issues (especially if the underlying code is not accessible). Many sessions at CSUN focused on the use of patterns and component libraries and shared how they were developed to also ensure accessibility compliance.

  • Beth Crutchfield and Loren Mikola from Level Access joined Mark (@marklapole) from eBay to share their experience in assessing the site for accessibility compliance and the use of patterns to build an accessible eBay environment. Identifying an agreed definition of Done and use of the eBay MIND patterns were a couple of the many reasons the site was successful in the assessment.
  • Cordelia (@cordeliadillon) and Jesse (@jessehausler) from Salesforce discussed the use of accessible drag-and-drop patterns and shared their slides, and the code
  • Cory (@cklatik) from Microsoft reviewed many of the front end frameworks and then explained the process he uses to determine the best one to fit the project’s needs and ensure that they are also accessible
  • Jennifer (@jlgauvreau) and Karen (@kwherndon) from CGI shared examples on designing focus management for dynamic interaction patterns. Their slides are shared along with a follow up session that covered focus in data tables

     5. Section 508 standards and legal rights and responsibilities

The topics of data and privacy came up recently at the OZeWAI conference(@ozewai) and there were many sessions at CSUN covering legal rights for people with disabilities. Sessions also covered WCAG 2.1 and the move for the US Government to implement the changes to the Section 508 standard as it aligns with WCAG 2.0, especially in the area of procurement and ensuring the products sourced are tested for accessibility compliance.

  • Nicolas Steenhout’s (@vavroom) presentation (which you can find at highlighted the real need to support each other in addressing accessibility issues. It’s important that we not only stand up and advocate for people with disabilities but provide avenues and opportunities for people with disabilities to give and share feedback in a safe and constructive environment.

The conference started and ended with activities that allowed me to practically learn from and contribute to the skilled accessibility community. This included an invitation (thank you Andrew and Sarah from @Intopiadigital) to attend the W3C Education and Outreach Working Group meeting. This was the start of the many introductions and connections that continued throughout the week as this first day was spent investigating the inclusion of roles, skills and educational components to the W3C’s BETA WAI website. This inclusive, fun-loving and supportive community of people also encouraged me to do something I have avoided doing for many years: Karaoke!