Scripting Enabled is live

Ok, here goes. I had the idea for scripting enabled, an event, nay a framework revolving around ethical hacking to increase the accessibility of existing systems for quite a while.

The main driver was giving my presentation “Fencing-in the habitat (See it on slideshare here or read the transscript here) at “Accessibility 2.0″ a conference organized by AbilityNet revolving around the problems disabled people face when trying to take part in the social web or using “web 2.0″ applications.

I’ve been an accessibility consultant for quite a while and I got bored with the stagnation in the field of accessibility. Far too many experts preach truths that applied in 1999 but are really not that big an issue these days and far too many developers put in quick fixes that appear like accessibility improvements but are more or less pacifier buttons.

Close buttonA pacifier button is a button that closes the door in lifts - or seems to. In most cases the button is not connected to any real circuit and it makes no difference if you press it or not. They are however a psychological crutch as they give the human who is about to be trapped in a small room at the mercy of technology he doesn’t know or understand a sense of “being in control”.

I’ve covered a lot of these seemingly great accessibility ideas in the talk and will not go into detail here. Suffice to say it is easy to make people believe in magic accessibility bullets and automatic testing mechanisms, but damn hard to make them try to grasp what problems humans have with using their systems.

When Antonia Hyde of United Response gave her talk “Rich Media and web apps for people with learning disabilities” (see Antonias talk on SlideShare or read the transscript of Antonias talk) I learnt a few new things and above all I heard a call for help. Antonia wanted to have a video player that is accessible to people with learning disabilities.

As it were, I played around with the YouTube Video API the day before, and was amazed that YouTube completely opened the player up to developers to create their own controls. I took Antonia’s wishlist and created Easy YouTube.

The response was amazing, and I was amazed to see schools contacting me and thanking me for creating a player that works for children and blind people thank me for making a player that works with a screen reader - both unintended results.

This gave me a boost as a ethical hacker and mashup creator. I got bored of putting photos on a map or showing that you can do a search inside a messenger or load search results via Ajax.

I felt that I didn’t make a difference with what I did, mashups ceased to be a revolution in software development and became a fancy play thing. I took a positive spin on the whole issue at my presentation at Barcamp4 in London (”How I got my mashup groove back” On SlideShare and transcript) and vented my annoyance on my blog and asked if it is time to take mashups further.

I continued “Accessihacking”, taking on Flickr, Twitter and some other smaller things and wondered if there is something bigger in this.

When I went to Mashed08 last weekend I didn’t plan to do any hack, but just wanted to give my presentation and interview some people for YDN. When the BBC came to me and showed me that they opened up their archive of the last 40 years with subtitle data and music and video in all kind of formats I felt the developer’s itch though and built a screen-reader compatible interface to the audio archive based on my YouTube player. As the archive ceased to be accessible after the weekend, I created the SlideShare transscript viewer for good measure. I went up on stage, showed the two and asked the audience if they were interested in a hack event covering these kinds of issues.

Well, I got a prize for my hacks - financial support by Channel4 to create an event like this, so here we are.

Scripting enabled should help wake up web accessibility from its beauty sleep. Developers who do not really understand the barriers disabled people have to overcome should get hands-on information about what needs to be removed and people who are great with people but oblivious to technology should get the technical counterparts they need to make things happen.

A lot of companies have data and APIs available for mashups - let’s use these to remove barriers rather than creating another nice visualization.

Who’s with me?

Chris Heilmann