Sunday, 25 March 2012

Madrid Accessibility Meetup

Since January this year a group of people interested in the accessibility of the Web and other information and communication technologies has been meeting each month in Madrid.

As far as I know this is the first group of its kind in Spain. I started it after having positive experiences with group such as the London Java Community and the Madrid Java Users Group, and I was interested in the trend toward community self-organisation in the IT field and how professionals are taking more responsibility for their own development. There were already other IT groups in Madrid around JavaScript, Java, Ruby and mobile development. By organising the group using meetup.com the accessibility group was automatically promoted to users of that platform as “other meetups in your area,” and as so many of the groups are IT-oriented the promotion was generally relevant to them. I posted announcements of the group's first two meetings to the AccesoWeb Spanish-language accessibility mailing list, and since then others have announced meetings to other Web technology mailing lists.

Audience listening and tweeting during a talk at the accessibility meetup
There are over fifty members of the online group at meetup.com, but only around eighteen have attended meetings. One person travelled from Alicante for the first meeting. There are also non-attending members from other parts of the country who I assume are interested in keeping up with the news about what we are doing. Most of us are web accessibility specialists or web content designers. I had hoped to involved users with disabilities to promote dialogue between users and producers, but this does not seem to be happening. There are a number of people who are Web designers new to accessibility. There are also many veteran accessibility specialists like myself who are glad to have some face-to-face interaction with people we mainly know online.

The first three meetups have been held at the Centro de InnovaciĆ³n Ballesta (Ballesta Innovation Centre) a small but active venue in downtown Madrid. This venue is, or rather was, funded by grants from the Spanish Ministry of Industry and the Madrid City Council. It hosts a variety of events with (as its name suggests) the common theme of innovation, mainly in the field of technology. Use of the venue is free of charge, which is vitally important for small groups starting out. Office workers in Madrid generally leave the workplace at six, and so we start the meeting at seven. Dinner time in Madrid is around 21:30, so we continue until 20:30 and still allow time for those who have to return home for dinner. The programme for the meetings is to have a couple of technical talks, which would ideally be followed by a discussion but in practice time constraints have prevented much discussion. After the event at the meeting venue we go on to a local pub. This does allow time for discussion, and for informal networking, and for people to stay as long as they want.

Some of the topics for the talks have included:
  • The upcoming WCAG 2.0 update to the Spanish Web accessibility standard
  • Common mistakes with text descriptions for images
  • Case study of the National Stock Market Commission aiming for AA compliance
  • Agile methodologies and accessibility
  • Developing accessible iPad apps
  • A demonstration of assistive technologies and browsing strategies
  • The WAI Before and After Demo, and
  • The effects of the economic crisis on accessibility
My hope is that in the future we can encourage those who have not yet done a presentation to start off in a comfortable setting before moving on to larger audiences.

There are other accessibility meetup groups around the world although they do not seem to be very widespread. They seem to be mostly in the eastern USA, Australia, UK and New Zealand.

Although I'm writing this partly in the hope that it can serve as a resource for others thinking of organising such a group in other places, it seems to me that it would be useful to have an authoritative online resource

If you are intending to visit Madrid you're welcome to come along to one of our meetings even if you don't speak Spanish. You can check the meeting dates on our group page on meetup.com. If you have an interesting area of expertise and would like to give us a talk we could also organise a specific meetup on some other date.

More information in Spanish on the group's website, Madrid Accesibilidad TICs.