Open Letter to Mid-Atlantic Developer Conference

Written on April 20, 2018

Longtime readers of this blog know that I feel it is important to push accessibility in the mainstream. I feel like we’re making good headway on adding accessibility into mainstream conferences the last several years. People like Léonie Watson, Marcy Sutton, and plenty others are frequently seen sharing their knowledge on stage around the globe to spread the word about accessibility. Some conference organizers “get it” better than others.

Recently I got a rejection email from a conference submission. Rejection is never fun, but I submit talks very frequently and not getting picked comes with the territory. I’ve spoken at over 40 events across the globe, so it isn’t like I’m not getting enough love. That said, a recent rejection really got under my skin. Given the Mid-Atlantic Developer Conference’s proximity to Washington DC and the massive amount of ADA suits over the last few years, conferences that don’t include some accessibility talks are doing their attendees a disservice. I know that sounds harsh, but while the latest developer trends might make for interesting talks, nothing is likely to be a more present issue for attendees than accessibility.

I want to share my letter to Mid-Atlantic Developer conference – not to call them out, but rather to share my arguments for why this is so important for conference organizers to understand.

Here’s my letter to Mid-Atlantic Developer Conference

I’ve been doing talks at conferences for well over a decade now and never really get sour grapes when a proposal is rejected. As you noted, conferences often get piles of interesting submissions, and selecting the best can be hard.

This time is a little different. I just checked out the line-up and saw zero talks at all relating to accessibility. Again, that’s not unusual either. Mainstream conferences as a whole seem disinterested in the topic of accessibility, which is unfortunate but not unexpected.

What makes this different is that Mid-Atlantic Developer conference is being held in my hometown of Linthicum Heights. That fact, however is overshadowed by its proximity to Washington DC.

Just a few short miles from your venue are two facilities owned by Northrop Grumman. In that general area, say between Rt. 100 and 695, are also facilities owned by several more large government contractors such as Raytheon and Lockheed Martin.

As you mention on your website, the venue is extremely close to the BWI airport and an Amtrak/ MARC train station. That station is within literal walking distance of one of the Northrop Grumman locations I mentioned earlier.

Your venue is also incredibly close to the Baltimore Beltway, BW Parkway, and Interstate 95 and is hands-down the best location I know of for a “Mid-Atlantic Developer Conference”. Nestled there in that little location in Linthicum, your venue is easy to get to for people ranging from Richmond to NYC and everything between. It is one of the reasons I stay in this area. Given the additional proximity to BWI, I can go anywhere I need to for business very quickly and conveniently.

Given the above I must finally get to my point. Failing to include accessibility talks is doing your audience a severe disservice. Developers working on government contracts or developers at government agencies are doing work that requires compliance with Section 508. With the (relatively new) 508 Refresh, that means their work must adhere to WCAG 2.0 Level AA.

Private sector, state & local, and EDU developers are also facing these requirements. Law firms around the country are filing lawsuits on a daily basis. I have a list of lawsuits on my blog. I can hardly keep up with it anymore, as there’s literally anywhere from 2 to 2-dozen lawsuits filed every single day in friendly court districts like the Southern District of New York.

If you name a major retailer in your favorite mall, I guarantee they’ve been sued. If you name a major bank, I guarantee they’ve been sued. If you name a major airline, travel website, or hotel, they’ve been sued. This also goes for many colleges & universities and public school systems.

We can point to “ADA trolls” and criticize them as being out for a quick payday – which they are – but it does nothing to address the fundamental reason why these cases are so easy for them to win settlements from: inaccessible websites.

Developers don’t know accessibility. Why don’t they know? Because books, blogs, articles, and conferences don’t include it. As a mainstream conference organizer, you become part of the problem by not including accessibility talks in your conference. In your case this is made worse by the fact that your attendees, being in the Mid-Atlantic area, need such knowledge. They don’t know where to get it, and especially don’t know where to get up-to-date information on it.

I’d heartily encourage you to take inspiration from Marc Thiele from Beyond Tellerand. Marc’s events are amazing and feature well-known speakers from around the globe. Marc also makes it a point to include at least one accessibility-specific talk at each event he does.

Please consider including accessibility in future events.