A cross-sector group of technology developers, academics and public sector workers, formed in the UK city of Bristol to exchange knowledge about digital accessibility, could be a model for similar initiatives across the country, one of the group’s founders has told E-Access Bulletin.
Léonie Watson, an accessibility consultant who advises the Government Digital Service, said the idea for Accessible Bristol was first sown about three years ago when she was working at digital agency Nomensa. Alongside colleagues from her work, Watson joined forces with developers from Bristol City Council and University of Bristol.
“We realised there was a thriving tech scene in Bristol, and quite a concentration of accessibility and usability companies and accessibility and usability departments within bigger companies such as Nokia and Orange”, Watson said. “So we thought – why don’t we create something to bring people together?”
After a year of activity, the group petered out in 2013 as some of its core people moved away or changed jobs, she said. Then a few months ago, a conversation on Twitter started by someone looking for accessibility experts in Bristol led to Watson pointing out the group was still there, but dormant. “We had an overwhelming response.” The group has now been restarted with monthly speaker sessions followed by open discussion and networking. January speaker was Steve Faulkner, technical director for web accessibility at the Paciello Group and co-editor of the HTML5 specification. Its February speaker is set to be Ian Pouncey, senior accessibility specialist at the BBC.
The idea behind the events is to give developers and designers in the city, the chance to hear some excellent speakers and to get to know each other in the hope they can share information and solutions, Watson said. “There are umpteen developers in different teams across the city all going through the same problems, so there is a good chance someone, somewhere has found a solution.” The group can also start bringing practitioners together with people with disabilities, allowing developers to talk to people using a range of different devices or assistive technologies, she said.
Watson said she is not aware of such a diverse accessibility practitioner group meeting elsewhere in the UK, though the model should translate well to other areas. “If it works, it would be brilliant if other places took it up.”