Conference Recap: CSUN Assistive Technology Conference 2019

Last week I was extremely fortunate to attend the CSUN Assistive Technology Conference in Anaheim, California.  This was a fantastic conference that showcased a wide variety of technology and techniques to make learning more accessible to everyone. As an instructional designer, I know that if materials are not accessible, then not everyone is learning. Plus, as a proponent of open education, I figure that materials are not truly open unless they accessible.

It’s important to me to take the time to reflect after a conference. There are always so many sessions, and I always get so many good ideas, but those good ideas go nowhere if I don’t take the time to revisit my notes and organized my thoughts.

So, without further ado, here are my personal highlights from the CSUN Assistive Technology Conference.

There are 2 Sides to Every Story: VPATs

I’ve worked in higher education for about eight years, but I don’t think I learned what VPATs were until a year or two ago. Now that I’m teaching full-time in an instructional design program that’s always endeavoring to adopt new technology, I’ve gotten very familiar with VPATs.

I enjoyed this session because the presenter has been on all sides of a VPAT: as the requester, as the requestee, and as an employee of a third-party accessibility company that creates VPATs.

I learned that the state of California has strict requirements for VPATs and is going to start requiring respondents to CFPs to have a third-party accessibility company complete their VPATs for them. This is because it’s very difficult to fill out a VPAT completely. There’s actually an art to it – it’s not really very helpful if a VPAT declares that a product is satisfactory in any given challenge – it’s much more helpful to include detailed notes that explain how it’s satisfactory, or that it’s only partly satisfactory.

It really gave me a new appreciation for VPATs!

Using the Black Art of Marketing to Sell Accessibility


This was an interesting presentation because the presenter was an MBA that cofounded an accessibility company in Australia. I feel like I have a lot of experience trying to get people to do things, at least from when I was a librarian: trying to get people to care about open education, about accessibility, about the things that I think are very important!

The presenter gave some concrete strategies on “selling” accessibility to your audience. I was thrilled when the “you should not be the only voice” strategy was repeated in another session I attended, Achieving Inclusive Accessibility Thinking Without Sticks or Carrots.

Here are the four guidelines shared in the presentation:

  1. Aim for omni channel marketing (share a message through multiple sources, you should not be only voice)
  2. Rule of 7 (it takes seven positive reactions to get to a sale, give your time and share your knowledge freely)
  3. Make it easy (be approachable, don’t judge, be helpful)
  4. Psychology of persuasion (tailor approach to audience, everyone has different motivations)

I’ve definitely spent some quality time being the only person to champion a given topic, so this gives me a lot to think about! I also like that the presenter advised sharing your knowledge freely. I definitely enjoy doing just that!

The Unassuming Art of Closed Captioning

This was a really wonderful presentation! The presenter gave a great book recommendation: Reading Sounds: Closed-Captioned Media and Popular Culture. The book has a companion website as well with tons of examples that the presenter drew upon.

The long story short is that closed captioning truly is an art: deciding what to include or not include or wording captions to be clear without spoiling a story. There was so much more to this, I’m definitely picking up the book.

EPUB 101: An Essential Briefing for All Higher Education Professionals

Using Microsoft Word to Author Accessible EPUB 3 Publications

I attended these two sessions back to back: they shared a presenter. As an educator that is into sharing her work openly, I’m always interested in learning about best practices. I confess myself woefully ignorant of the epub format, which is a great way to share work openly and accessibly. Documents viewed in epub (which are also formatted correctly!) allow the user complete control over formatting and also facilitate navigation through the text that a screen reader user would expect.

Unfortunately there is no easy way for the average educator to create epubs right now – Microsoft Word doesn’t have an export for this, Google Docs does but it is glitchy.

I’m looking forward to future developments in epub-creation software and plugins!

More on this and tons of resources at

Overcoming Platform Accessibility Limitations in Articulate Storyline 360

I got up very early and caught the 6:30 am train to catch this session and it did not disappoint!

If you’ve seen much of my blog or my portfolio you know that I LOVE Storyline. Unfortunately, it’s hardly accessible at all. I was happy last year when they added the ability to incorporate closed captions into videos, but the user experience for those that use screen readers is really, truly terrible. Storyline allows users to navigate with the tab button, but that’s not how screen readers browse the rest of the web. Plus, Storyline doesn’t include the ability to create headings or other semantic navigation that allows users to navigate with keyboards. Finally, there are glitches in how Storyline elements are navigated by screen readers: some elements are tagged with a duplicated name (e.g. Resources Resources) and collapsed items in the course menu will still be read aloud.

There is no easy solution to this – besides, perhaps, just not using Storyline.

If Storyline is unavoidable, give instructions to users BEFORE they enter the course on what to expect as far as accessibility features. And be sure to avoid using inaccessible interactive activities, like drag-and-drops. Keep text short to avoid forcing users to scroll, which won’t work at all with screen readers.

A colleague of mine that also attended the session shared this guide she found on designing accessibly in Storyline, it’s handy, though perhaps a little dated.

An attendee at the session recommended Lectora over Storyline for creating accessible learning experiences.

Developing Web Accessibility Educational Resources with W3C WAI Accessibility Staff Training Resources for Employees

I only attended the WAI session, not the PEATworks session, but they both feature lots of free tutorials on accessibility. W3C’s WAI (pronounced “way”) has some wonderful tools to check accessibility as well as materials to teach accessible design.

PEAT Works offers training by role, which I thought was smart.

I especially enjoyed WAI’s “Before and After” demo that presents a website made accessible. WAI is working on curriculum materials on accessibility that can be plugged right into training. I’m looking forward to that!

Tech Tools for Academic Success: A Student-Focused AT Self-Assessment

LOVED this session! There are tons of students that fall into the cracks when it comes to obtaining services from a school’s Disability Services Center. A student may not be disabled “enough” according to their doctor, or they may be experiencing a temporary disability, or they may not want to identify as disabled at all because they feel it’s stigmatizing.

The presenter’s solution was to craft an amazing Google Site that allows students to self-match with assistive technology tools! Check it out: Skyline College EdTech Tools: Tech Tools for Academic Success

This fit right into my personal goals of improving student onboarding in our instructional design graduate program. I even submitted a grant proposal just a few days before this conference to fund creation of an orientation experience that includes both campus services and skills to be a successful student! I’m always suggesting services to students, and I love the idea of a self-help tool to facilitate students getting what they need.

A Web of Anxiety: Accessibility for People with Anxiety and Panic Disorders 

This session had a certain irony to it. In short, to avoid exacerbating user anxiety, avoid using most of the tools that marketers love. Messages like: “there are only 2 left!” when you are online shopping, or countdown timers that indicate when those concert tickets in your shopping cart will be released.

Those features that drive consumer purchases are successful because they do, in fact, increase user anxiety and then take advantage of it.

It was interesting to see all of those features called out, though. The presenter’s website has some great resources for good design. Here’ s a fantastic page on “inclusive design,” for instance, which includes many principles that I teach in elearning design.

There was also a great book recommendation: Evil By Design: Interaction Design to Lead Us into Temptation.


I’ve got some homework to do!

Book recommendations

Projects to work on

  • Build a Cal State Fullerton version of Skyline College EdTech Tools: Tech Tools for Academic Success
  • Convert my syllabi into Google Docs (I got this idea at the conference, though I can’t remember where! Basically I’m tired of uploading revised Word docs when I need to change something, and having to explain to students what I changed. It would be nice to just offer them a link to an accessible and responsive document that also tracks changes! Why didn’t I think of this before?)
  • I teach a web design class – I plan to incorporate some of the Paciello inclusive design resources, as well as create a module on editing HTML to make materials more accessible!
  • I also want to include more materials on accessibility in my teaching. I’ll reuse those from WAI and PEATworks.
  • Make this website more accessible! It has some accessibility features already, but I ran it through WAVE and I learned that things can be improved!