CSUN 2024 Highlights

Organized by California State University Northridge’s Center on Disabilities, the CSUN Assistive Technology Conference (or CSUN for short) has been running for 39 years, and is the biggest annual in-person conference on accessibility and assistive technology. Usually taking place in March in California, the conference has always been a highlight of the year for TPGi, and 2024’s edition was no different. Many of our team travelled to Anaheim from near and far (including the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand) to attend, present talks, network, socialize, share with and learn from the accessibility community. TPGi and our colleagues across Vispero presented a wide range of talks – details of each talk are listed on Vispero’s CSUN 2024 talks list.

We asked the TPGi team to share their personal highlights from the conference. This post provides a selection.

Dennis Deacon (Manager, Solutions Delivery)

Returning to CSUN for the first time in several years, it was a joy and a great reminder of why I chose this profession; to think about the impact it has on so many people is emotionally overwhelming. It was great to see fellow TPGi-ers whom I have never met, including my own teammates, as well as others I interact with on a daily basis, and others in the industry that I have known for many years. And, working the booth gave me the exposure to the diverse needs that organizations have to improve their level of accessibility.

Aaron Farber (Senior Accessibility Program Consultant)

It was great to hear stories about how people are having more fun due to innovations in assistive technology. Numerous people told me they are using JAWS Picture Smart AI to understand content (memes!) on social media.

Alicia Evans (Senior Accessibility Engineer)

My CSUN ATC experience this year reminded me that we are stronger together, and we are not alone. It was so exciting and encouraging to meet new people who wanted to collaborate on new ideas. And I was inspired by how many people referenced each other’s work in their own presentations. I am continually in awe that I get to be a part of this great community.

Laurie Pagano (Principal Accessibility Engineer)

This was my very first CSUN, and my highlight was simply being surrounded by so many people who are deeply passionate about accessibility. I spent the week meeting colleagues past and present (several for the first time!), friends of colleagues, people who I’ve been following for years via blogs and social media, and complete strangers, and I was just blown away by the knowledge and community I had the privilege of sharing space with.

Don Soucy (EVP Chief Growth Officer)

My CSUN highlights revolved around people. It was great connecting with key customers and getting to know them better. Fantastic meeting so many folks in the Accessibility space at our reception. And energizing to see our team get together and gel all week!

Jan Williams (Practice Manager, Audits)

My highlight is the pride I felt watching my colleagues present at the conference. I was so impressed, but also inspired to work on a talk of my own.

Mark Miller (Director of Sales)

Face-to-face conversations with Vispero and TPGi colleagues were very productive. The day I arrived Roxana Fisher (Product Manager) and I ran into each other at reception. We were both starving so we got a quick bite out by the pool. Just in that organic conversation, I learned about a feature in JAWS Inspect I had no idea existed and we agreed to set up a regular meeting to update each other.

Hearing Stevie Wonder share how accessibility impacts him and his hopes for everyone was wonderful. Watching Stevie Wonder use JAWS for Kiosk on the accessible kiosk demo was pretty cool – and so was Steve Faulkner singing The Killers at Accessible Karaoke!

Dave Swallow (Principal UX Consultant)

My personal highlight of CSUN 2024 has to be the Women in Tech session, hosted by Anne Scallan and Kashana Bridgeford of TPGi, and Lori Samuels of NBCU. Drawing upon the results of a recent survey as well as personal testimony, the speakers somehow managed to highlight the current challenges faced by women and other under-represented groups in tech, while also delivering a positive, supportive, and encouraging message.

Leilani Mason (Solutions Engineer)

As a presenter at CSUN, it was great to finally share the sessions I have been working on for months with attendees. However, the major highlights for me were the discussions that occurred after each session. Insightful questions were asked, experiences were shared by attendees, and connections were made. I believe this led to a learning experience for everyone, including myself, which allowed us all to explore new perspectives surrounding digital accessibility.

Stef Cuschnir (Sales Development Representative)

This week was my return to CSUN after a 5-year break. It was such an amazing experience. There were many new faces but also time to catch up with old contacts and friends in the community. The booth was a constant flow of interested prospects, the exhibit hall was buzzing AM to PM, and I loved the opportunity to meet my TPGi/Vispero colleagues face to face. My favorite TPGi presentation was Will Knoll’s gaming presentation. Not being a gamer, or understanding anything about gaming, it made me think about how accessibility crosses every single activity in life and what a giant impact our work has on so many people.

For me personally, I was able to get quite a few Continuing Education credits toward my Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies (CPACC) renewal as well. My accessibility nerve endings have been electrified and I can’t wait to follow up with everyone we met.

Edgar Lozano (Senior Accessibility Engineer)

I, as many others, really enjoyed many aspects of the CSUN AT Conference. One really outstanding innovation that I personally found to be very exciting and can’t wait to see brought to market is a new mobility aid under development by a company called Glidance. The tool is simply called Glide. It promises to be feature rich and allow blind people, such as myself, to travel with more confidence. And I personally feel optimistic (cautiously I should add) that this will be revolutionary for blind travelers. I attended their talk and even had a personal demonstration by the folks at the exhibit hall. This, of course, served to amplify my excitement.

Adam Saucier (Senior Accessibility Engineer)

The highlight for me was meeting with so many great people, including remote colleagues from TPGi and those from all around the world with all different abilities. The camaraderie and shared goals of those at the conference will be more memorable for me than any individual session.

Matt Ater (VP Business Development)

CSUN 2024 was the first year that I felt the energy since 2019. It was amazing to have so many employees, partners and customers in one place. I felt that all of this was shown in the Vispero reception on Thursday night.

Ricky Onsman (Technical Content Writer)

One thing my first CSUN brought home to me was the scale of the event. Over 600 presenters gave 470 talks in 26 time slots over four days – not counting side events and workshops. I’m told the conference is back to pre-Covid numbers and there were more than 5,000 attendees this year. Our talk (What AI can and do for (and to) web accessibility) was on at the same time as 14 others, yet we had a full house, standing room only – I lost count after 120 people. Amazing numbers, and a humbling experience.

Charu Pandhi (Senior Accessibility Engineer)

Meeting colleagues and clients in real life, spending some quality time hanging out. I cannot stress enough how important this is as it helps foster deeper and more meaningful relationships resulting in better collaboration and a stronger workplace culture. I’m also amazed to see there is so much effort being put by so many big corporations into supporting people with disabilities specifically the younger generation like for example the gamification around learning braille, coloring books with raised borders, and other educational toys.

Will Knoll (Solutions Engineer)

For CSUN, my presentation and overall interactions went a little outside the box, focusing mainly on gaming. My highlight was seeing so much enthusiasm in that space. I wasn’t sure how much interest there would be, and speaking with PlayStation folks prior to the conference, they expressed some difficulties attracting players with disabilities. But after seeing the people at their booth, a large contingent at my presentation, and speaking with people 1:1, I walked away feeling there is a bright future for gaming and a huge opportunity to expand awareness in the years to come.

Michael Marcus (Account Executive)

Personally, I was amazed at the quality of the presentations (I spent a lot of time in Platinum 5) and how engaged the audience was when it came time for questions and answers. We clearly have fostered a culture of thought leadership in the accessibility industry.

Peter Schiller (Practice Manager, Project Management)

It was a much more gratifying experience than I expected. It was great to see many of our TPGi people, most of whom I had not met in person before, as well as several clients I’m working with.

I got a greater appreciation of ableism. The keynote speaker, Haben Girma, was the first deafblind graduate of Harvard Law. While she had a great sense of humor and many interesting stories, one stood out to me. When she first went to college, there was no accessible menu. The menu indicated what each food station was serving that day. Since she had no access to the menu, she would randomly go to a food station and take whatever they were serving. This lead to several nasty taste surprises. She initially went to the cafeteria manager requesting an accessible menu. He told her that they were not in a position to accommodate special needs. She eventually threatened him with an ADA lawsuit. (This was before she was a law student and had no idea how she would go about doing that.) Shortly after that, the cafeteria manager then saw to it that the menu was emailed to her daily. She made it clear that eating is not a special need!

Doug Abrams (Senior Accessibility Engineer)

It seemed like the theme of this year was AI. Lots of talks on the subject, with a diverse range of perspectives on what it’s currently doing and what it may do in coming years in the realm of accessibility.

My personal highlight was David Swallow’s talk on memory (Unforgettable UX: Designing for a Poor Memory). It’s a topic that’s very relevant to me. It helped me gain some insights into things that impact me on a daily basis.

Shubhashree Ghosh (Accessibility Engineer)

This is my first time that I attended CSUN, and I would like to thank TPGi for giving me the opportunity to be part of CSUN this year. I was happily exhausted learning, networking, and following the passions of people there. It was amazing to see people from all walks of life doing so much in the field of accessibility, that it fired up my purpose and why I am part of it in the first place giving me reasons to do more. The conference was inspiring, educating and brought a lot of awareness about people, culture, initiatives, regulations, market trends, practices, and organizations. I feel I have returned as a changed professional simply by breathing the conference hotel air.

Ian Lloyd (Principal Engineer)

For me the highlight was getting to meet so many TPGi people at once. I attended CSUN last year and met a number of colleagues, but there were so many more this year and that was awesome. I still didn’t get to speak to everyone who attended! Other then having this chance to meet up, I really enjoyed the keynote from Haben Girma. It’s clear that being deaf/blind must present many, many challenges in life, but she has excelled in so many ways. I knew about her Harvard achievements, I knew that she’d been to the White House and met President Obama … yeah, all good stuff … but I was NOT expecting to find out that she also has some comedy chops! Her presentation was ace, and her comic timing and delivery was perfect.

Brian Elton (Practice Manager, Training)

I think my highlight was the sheer number of people that were attending that I know from many different facets of accessibility. From meeting current and former TPGi colleagues that I have worked with since starting at TPGi but have never met in person, to former colleagues from jobs before TPGi, to many wonderful clients that I’ve worked closely with over the years, to many W3C colleagues and peers. It was amazing (and overwhelming at times) to be with so many of these people in one place.

Logan Amstey (Account Executive)

As someone new to the organization and new to accessibility, CSUN was an incredible experience being able to connect with the people we help serve in person. It is one thing to talk about our technology and services on a call, but hearing feedback from those who are using ARC and JAWS Inspect and JAWS for Kiosk every day, for me, was the most impactful part of the conference. Constantly people were coming up to our booth thanking us for what we do. I can’t say I have ever had a conference experience like this where people were going out of their way to meet us just to say thank you. Very cool and cannot wait for my next opportunity to go back to CSUN.

Tj Squires (Accessibility Engineer)

Attending CSUN was an experience I will treasure for a long time to come. Alongside meeting my TPGi and Vispero colleagues, as well as re-acquainting myself with some co-workers and friends from the past, the conference was a wealth of information that it will take some time to sort through and digest!

As a person with comparatively few years in the accessibility industry, experiencing the wealth of knowledge and expertise that my colleagues have first-hand leaves me, from time to time, with a huge dose of imposter syndrome! The conference gave me a huge boost in confidence; I was able to keep up with in depth talks, deduce the outcomes some presenters were attempting to make, and hold my own in conversations with people on the topics that only months ago I would have felt on shaky ground thinking about. Not having the wealth of information right to hand as I would during a normal workday really helped to cement the fact that I have taken the work I have done over the past few years to heart and could rely upon the knowledge I do have to present myself as an accessibility professional and actually feel like one!

Carolina Crespo (Principal Accessibility Engineer)

I was surprised about the presence of AI at CSUN. During the keynote, Haben Girma mentioned how important and how it could help in the future for accessibility, but she shared one experience she had using an app to tell her when the light is green or red in traffic lights. The app was working fine until one day that it didn’t. She stopped using it, since she could have been involved in an accident. She said we must be extra careful when using AI for accessibility. A few days later, Hans Hillen and Ricky Onsman presented What AI Can Do For (and To) Web Accessibility?, where they think that AI could hugely improve independence for people with disabilities BUT a “human in the loop” is always needed.

Wes Estes (Associate Accessibility Engineer)

CSUN 2024 was a blast! I was able to meet several of my remote coworkers in person, while attending some excellent accessibility sessions that served to both educate and invigorate. What stood out to me the most was the attendees though, specifically the high percentage of blind or low vision people. I’ve never had the chance to see that many blind or low vision people interacting all at the same time in one place before. Looking forward to next year!

Anne Scallan (Practice Manager, Expert Services)

Highlight was always going to be meeting so many colleagues in person and getting the change to connect. Jonathan (Cohn)’s service dog, Dan, now has a very special place in the cast of co-workers in my heart! Other highlights were:

  • Seeing how much activity and interest there is currently around the concept of the Accessibility Maturity Model. To me this speaks to the maturing of accessibility itself, the fact that enough organizations are thinking in these sorts of terms. I am glad to be a small part of that conversation.
  • The session I attended on the Accessibility Advisory Council set up by WorkDay. It was really interesting to see how an organization of that size is engaging in a conversation about accessibility with clients and other stakeholders.
  • The response to the Women in Tech session Kashana Bridgeford and I ran with Lori Samuels of NBC Universal. I seriously did not expect the heartfelt response in the room on the day and it speaks to the need for such conversations to continue.
  • Stevie Wonder…need I say more?!

David Sloan (Chief Accessibility Officer and Practice Manager, UX)

The overarching highlight for me was the buzz that came from meeting first-time attendees and catching up with people who I hadn’t seen in many years or knew from virtual meetings but had never met in person. The sense that CSUN is at the same time a welcoming place for new ideas and new connections and also a place for reunion and reconnection gives me hope that the accessibility advocacy community is in great health — and aligned in its goal to make the digital world more accessible.

Appreciation

In-person accessibility conferences are wonderful gatherings, but we’re also very aware of the various barriers to travelling and attending that many people face, and which mean that not everyone in our community can attend in person. Attending CSUN is a privilege that we all recognize, so we want to finish with a note of appreciation to the CSUN organizers for putting on another successful event, and to Vispero and TPGi to supporting attendance by so many of our team.

Categories: Events/Webinars, World of Accessibility

About David Sloan

David Sloan is Chief Accessibility Officer and UX Practice Manager at TPGi/Vispero. He joined the company in 2013, after nearly 14 years as an accessibility researcher, consultant and instructor at the University of Dundee in Scotland.

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