Planning for Accessibility: Drupal MidCamp 2016

This year was my first year on the planning committee for MidCamp which is an annual event held in Chicago that brings together people who use, develop, design, and support Drupal. When we began working on MidCamp 2016 we had a goal: make this the most accessible Drupal camp yet. MidCamp has always tried to be one of the most accessible Drupal camp and technology conferences available. Duo has an interest in planning for accessibility in our sites which is why I was especially appreciative that MidCamp also strives for accessibility. 

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Making MidCamp Accessible

In an effort to make the camp accessible, MidCamp publishes information about the venue and the layout of the conference in advance along with detailed images and specifications. After posting this information early before the 2015 MidCamp, Cathy Theys (YesCT), a member of the MidCamp organization team, commented:

“I was witness to a few attendees who thanked the volunteers for this information, and explained that it was a major reason in why they attended. I was truly in awe.”

Alina Mackenzie (alimac) mentioned, in her 2015 post “Making MidCamp Accessible,” that she, Cathy, and other planning member, Kevin Thull (kthull) did a preliminary walk through of the venue to learn about traffic flow, congestion areas, and points of entry to each floor. They also contacted the UIC Office of Facility and Space Planning to get access to floor plans! This is just one aspect of planning for accessibility but it can make a huge difference for attendees in simply planning whether or not they should attend as well as making them more comfortable upon arrival. It’s not enough to just have an accessible venue, you need to make it clear in advance as well.

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Live Captioned Sessions at MidCamp 2016

This year, we were thrilled to hear that our Director of Development, Scott Weston, has a session at MidCamp that will be one of nine sessions to be live captioned. Cathy introduced the idea of live captioning as much of this year’s MidCamp as possible. Live captioning is projecting the words of the speaker onto a screen with excellent contrast so that everyone can read along. Live captioned sessions helps make MidCamp more inclusive as well. While, live captioned sessions help make MidCamp more inclusive, live captioning is not simply for those who cannot hear the speaker.

“In 2016, I want people from all over North America to participate in MidCamp because they will know they can count on the sessions being accessible to them [because of live captioning].” -Cathy Theys

Plus, for people (like me) who may get distracted and miss a word (maybe while tweeting a quote from the speaker) it’s easy to catch up. Furthermore, with live captioning, speakers get transcripts of their sessions, the content is optimized for search engines and easy to quote in the future. Finally, for people new to the tech world, or even just to the Drupal world, the “jargon” can sometimes be confusing. With live captioning it’s helpful for attendees to see words they haven’t heard before.

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What is Live Captioning and How Does It Work?

They keynote speaker as well as nine sessions will be live captioned at MidCamp 2016. In live captioning, real-time captions or “Computer Assisted Real-time Translation” (CART) are created as an event takes place. A captioner uses a steno type machine with a phonetic keyboard and special software. A computer translates the phonetic symbols into captions almost instantaneously and will be displayed on a second projector screen. (source:washington.edu) ACS (alternative communication services) will be on-site, providing the captioning service for MidCamp thanks to sponsor BlackMesh.

Other Accessibility Aspects

1. Color Coded Media Lanyardslanyards__1024.jpg

One thing we've done to make MidCamp a better experience for everyone is to use color coded lanyards. These lanyards tell photographers and media whether or not someone is okay with having their photo taken or not. One color signifies "yes, you can take my photo!" while the other color tells photographers "don't include me in photos." 

2. Directional Signs

We also have plenty of signs around MidCamp that let people know how to get to where they're going. These signs, as well as volunteers with shirts that identify them as there to help, aid everyone in having an enjoyable day and getting to everything on time (or if you're me - finding the restrooms without having to wander around).

3. Keeping the Walkways Clear 

Sometimes (especially right when lunch is served!) it can be difficult to navigate between masses of people to get to where you need to go. This is even more difficult for someone in a wheelchair or with difficulty walking. To help with this, MidCamp creates "travel lanes" inspired by Liz Henry's article Unlocking the Invisible Elevator: Accessibility at Tech Conferences. We do this by placing tape on the floors to indicate walkways that should be used only for walking and be kept clear of chairs and tables. This way, there is a clear path for those trying to get through to their next session. This also helps stop people from piling up in the doorways or leaving their bags and backpacks on the ground where people could trip over them. These were incredibly helpful last year and I look forward to having them again this year! 

Is Drupal Accessible?

Since MidCamp is a Drupal Camp, you may be wondering “is Drupal accessible?” The answer is yes! Drupal as a platform has been developed with accessibility in mind adhering to WCAG 2.0 and ATAG 2.0 guidelines. However, it is up to the developers to build themes and modules using best practices. In fact, there are new tools in Drupal 8 help meet web accessibility standards. For now, will we see you at MidCamp? If you haven’t already registered, you can do so today at MidCamp.org!

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