Introducing #a11yHAM!

As some of you already know, I've gone back to school to take the Accessible Media Production program at Mohawk College. Three weeks in, and I'm in love!

During these first few weeks, we've focused on disability legislation like the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), the Accessible Canada Act (Bill C-81) and more. As part of the class discussions, we've talked about the idea of universal design (UD) and how, if done properly, it can change the world for the better.

So, I was very excited to hear we would get to attend the #a11yHAM events held at the college. These are organized by my program co-ordinator Jennifer Curry Jahnke and are held on the fourth Thursday of the month.

This first-ever event in Hamilton, Ont., focused on the idea of UD and how we can implement it in various facets of today's world.

Say hello to #a11yHAM

Six tables of eight people having discussions

Through roundtable discussions, I was able to talk to industry heavyweights like Thea Kurdi, Lianne Fisher and Karen McCall about universal design, universal design for learning and accessible content creation, respectively. The thought-provoking conversations helped shift my preconceived notions on what universal design looks like in the different areas of my professional life.

Thea Kurdi and Matisse pose for a selfie.

But, as was said throughout the night, we can't talk the talk if we don't walk the walk. The event had live captioning, ASL interpreters and alternative formats available for guests.

Jennifer speaks at a podium, next to a ASL interpreter. Behind her is a screen with live captioning.

But going one step further and ensuring it was a truly inclusive event, guests were asked to wear name tags plus a little something extra. With the lanyard name tags, attendees got to select a button that best represented how we felt about socializing:

  • Red meant you were there to listen, but weren't really the talkative type;
  • Yellow meant you were shy, but are open to conversation; and
  • Green meant you were ready, willing and able to chat up the room.

Stickers with #a11yHAM written on them, along with three buttons: green with an open smiley face, a yellow one with a smiley face, and a red one with a stern face.

Additionally, there were pronoun stickers you could add to your name tag so guests knew how to properly address you.

BRILLIANT!!! The button concept, I think, is something needed at all conferences and events. It's such a great way of making everyone feel comfortable.

How did the event change me?

This great event and learning opportunity is going to play into everything I do as I move forward.

As someone who creates a variety of documents, plans events and teaches future PR professionals, the event left a mark on me. I can't wait to apply these concepts into my day-to-day life. I'm already passionate about ensuring people create accessible documents, whether it's at work or in my teaching. But this helped push the passion and inner advocate one step further. It's not enough to know how to create accessible documents. I need to teach my friends, family and colleagues to do the same.

The event also instilled in me the need to add a more universal approach to my teaching methods. This will not only help me as a professor, but also improve the student experience. Why can't a solution for one student positively impact the rest of the class?

I can't wait until the next #a11yHAM event next month. If you're interested in being part of the fun, join the #a11yHAM Meetup Group!

Hopefully I'll see you at the February meetup.

Until next time...

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