What are the hidden costs when you attend an event?

I think quite hard about how to make Museums Computer Groups events as inclusive as possible, from the diversity of the speakers on stage, to setting dates and times as early as possible to allow cheaper pre-booked travel, to keeping event costs down and more, but there’s always more to learn.

I’ve been thinking about the ‘shadow’ or hidden costs accrued when people attend events. For me, it’s the cost of getting to London (up to £50 if it’s at short notice) and the time it takes (up to 3 hours each way if I’m unlucky). For others, accessibility requirements add to the cost of events, whether that’s sign language translators, taxis to accessible train stations, or someone else’s time as an aide. For parents or people with other caring responsibilities, childcare costs may add to the expense of attending an event. This in turn affects our ability to put together a broad range of speakers for an event. So –

Hello parents in the UK! I’m thinking about hidden costs for speakers turning up to an event. How much does a day’s childcare cost you?
— Mia (@mia_out) June 15, 2014

I’m asking parents in the UK for a rough estimate of childcare costs for a day. You can share yours by tweeting @mia_out or share anonymously via this form if 140 characters won’t allow you to mention things like your location, number and age of kids: What are the hidden costs when you attend an event?* The second question on the form is more general, so if your costs have nothing to do with parenting, go for it! I’ll share the answers so that other event organisers have a sense of the costs too.

Here are some responses to get you started – with thanks to those who’ve already shared their costs:

@otfrom @mia_out @JeniT £12 / hr for 2. A full day is usually 100 plus. Quite difficult to justify often esp w/ travel.
— Yodit Stanton (@yoditstanton) June 15, 2014

about £40 a day in the West Midlands.
— Andrew Fray (@tenpn) June 15, 2014

@mia_out childcare is £3/hr for a 5 year old. Was 330/mth as a child for 5 hrs a day.
— Mick Brennan (@lightzenton) June 15, 2014

We’re a volunteer Committee rather than professional events organisers, and there’s a humbling amount to learn from people out there. What hidden costs have I missed? Are there factors apart from cost that we should consider? We’ve got a Call for Papers for November 7’s UKMW14: Museums Beyond the Web open at the moment (until June 30, 2014) – is there any language on that CfP or our Guidance for Speakers we should look at?

Update – more responses below.

@mia_out assuming you can actually find a reliable (qualified?) babysitter for a whole day or two, then min. wage c£6 per hour at very least
— Internet Archaeology (@IntarchEditor) June 15, 2014

@mia_out nursery (under 5s) costs might be between £30-50 per day but of course they won’t do weekends
— Internet Archaeology (@IntarchEditor) June 15, 2014

@mia_out day would cost us £90 or so, but not always poss; last conf my wife presented at I took leave and came along to look after babies.
— Jakob Whitfield (@thrustvector) June 15, 2014

@mia_out @otfrom Nurseries in East Dulwich vary, but since they’re all oversubscribed 1500/month isn’t outrageous.
— JulianBirch (@JulianBirch) June 15, 2014

@mia_out That’s 8-6 including meals. Costs typically go down after age 2.But plenty of people can’t find childcare at all and give up work.
— JulianBirch (@JulianBirch) June 15, 2014

@mia_out About £50 a day. We’re lucky in that our nursery will usually have space if we need an extra day.
— suzicatherine (@suzicatherine) June 15, 2014

The daily childcare costs (£40 pc,pd) are usually factored into a working day @mia_out The early drop off and/or late pick up can be tricky!
— Kathryn Eccles (@KathrynEccles) June 15, 2014

I’d been thinking of single-day events and the impact on speaker availability, but I was reminded of the impact of childcare and other responsibilities for people wanting to attend residential programmes or longer events (or day events that require an overnight stay to fit the travel in). For example:

@mia_out can’t bring pets to conf., and dog walkers are not cheap #hiddencost
— Scott (@moltude) June 16, 2014

The ability to attend residential events for career or research fellowships is obviously going to have an impact on the types of people we see in leadership positions in later years, so thinking about things like childcare (which might be as simple as providing space for someone who already helps look after the family) now would make a positive difference later. On the positive side, many fellowships provide honorariums, which could help cover the hidden costs many of you have shared with me.

* I’m experimenting with typeform but already I’m concerned that their forms don’t seem accessible – how are they for you?

AccessFun – accessible games for kids

This made my day. Games might not sound very worthy, but fun (on a stick!) and the ability to relate to your game-playing peers sounds pretty ace to me.

AbilityNet, a UK ‘national charity helping disabled adults and children use computers and the internet by adapting and adjusting their technology’ have put an affordable set of accessible games for kids on a USB stick:

Many disabled children are unable to take part in computer gaming, an experience that is a part of the experience of the majority of their peers. To overcome this AbilityNet has created AccessFun, a USB memory stick containing games, music, utilities and storybooks for disabled young people. The device offers over 50 applications to entertain and amuse kids of any ability.

Amongst the collection are arcade games for single switch users, games for the blind, animated stories and single switch activated songs. The collection draws upon the very best of what is available on the web and makes it easily accessible through a menu system. Whilst not all resources will work on all computers or with all switch interfaces there really is something for everyone here. AccessFun costs £16.99 inc. VAT.

Source: BCS article, Software support for disabled user.

Abilitynet released AccessAT, a ‘huge range of open source and freeware solutions to meet the needs of disabled people wanting to use a computer’ at the same time. Find out more about both products at AbilityNet release low cost collections of support for disabled people wanting to use technology.

WCAG 2.0 is coming!

That’d be the ‘Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0‘ – a ‘wide range of recommendations for making Web content more accessible’ with success criteria ‘written as testable statements that are not technology-specific’ (i.e. possibly including JavaScript or Flash as well as HTML and CSS, but the criteria are still sorted into A, AA and AAA).

Putting that in context, a blog post on webstandards.org, ‘WCAG 2 and mobileOK Basic Tests specs are proposed recommendations‘, says:

It’s possible that WCAG 2 could be the new accessibility standard by Christmas. What does that mean for you? The answer: it depends. If your approach to accessibility has been one of guidelines and ticking against checkpoints, you’ll need some reworking your test plans as the priorities, checkpoints and surrounding structures have changed from WCAG 1. But if your site was developed with an eye to real accessibility for real people rather than as a compliance issue, you should find that there is little difference.

How to Meet WCAG 2.0 (currently a draft) provides a ‘customizable quick reference to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 requirements (success criteria) and techniques’, and there are useful guidelines on Accessible Forms using WCAG 2.0, with practical advice on e.g., associating labels with form inputs. More resources are listed at WCAG 2.0 resources.

I’m impressed with the range and quality of documentation – they are working hard to make it easy to produce accessible sites.

Scripting enabled – accessibility mashup event and random Friday link

Scripting Enabled, “a two day conference and workshop aimed at making the web a more accessible place”, is an absolutely brilliant idea, and since it looks like it’ll be on September 19 and 20, the weekend after BathCamp, I’m going to do my best to make it down. (It’s the weekend before I start my Masters in HCI so it’s the perfect way to set the tone for the next two years).

From the site:

The aim of the conference is to break down the barriers between disabled users and the social web as much as giving ethical hackers real world issues to solve. We talked about improving the accessibility of the web for a long time – let’s not wait, let’s make it 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.

And on a random Friday night, this is a fascinating post on Facial Recognition in Digital Photo Collections: “Polar Rose, a Firefox toolbar that does facial recognition on photos loaded in your browser.”

The BBC, accessibility, the hCalendar microformat and RDFa

The BBC have announced (in ‘Removing Microformats from bbc.co.uk/programmes‘) that they’ll stop using the hCalendar microformat because of concerns about accessibility, specifically the use of the HTML abbreviation element (the abbr tag):

Our concerns were:

  • the effect on blind users using screen readers with abbreviation expansion turned on where abbreviations designed for machines would be read out
  • the effect on partially sighted users using screen readers where tool tips of abbreviations designed for machines would be read out
  • the effect of incomprehensible tooltips on users with cognitive disabilities
  • the potential fencing off of abbreviations to domains that need them

Until these issues are resolved the BBC semantic markup standards have been updated to prevent the use of non-human-readable text in abbreviations.

They’re looking at using RDFa, which they describe as ‘a slightly bigger S semantic web technology similar to microformats but without some of the more unexpected side-effects’.

Their support for RDFa is timely in light of Lee Iverson’s presentation at the UK Museums on the Web conference (my notes). It’s also an interesting study of what can happen when geek enthusiasm meets existing real world users.

More generally, does the fact that an organisation as big as the BBC hasn’t yet produced an API mean that creating an API is not a simple task, or that the organisational issues are bigger than the technical issues?

Notes from ‘Unheard Stories – Improving access for Deaf visitors’ at MCG’s Spring Conference

These are my notes from the presentation ‘Unheard Stories – Improving access for Deaf visitors’ by Linda Ellis at the MCG Spring Conference. There’s some background to my notes about the conference in a previous post.

Linda’s slides for Unheard Stories – Improving access for Deaf visitors are online.

This was a two year project, fit around their other jobs [and more impressive for that]. The project created British Sign Language video guides for Bantock House. The guides are available on mp3 players and were filmed on location.

Some background:
Not all ‘deaf’ people are the same – there’s a distinction between ‘deaf’ and ‘Deaf’. The notation ‘d/Deaf’ is often used. Deaf people use sign language as their first language and might not know English; deaf people probably become deaf later in life, and English is their first language. The syntax of British Sign Language (BSL) is different to English syntax. Deaf people will generally use BSL syntax, but deaf people might use signs with English grammar. Not all d/Deaf people can lip-read.

Deaf people are one of the most excluded groups in our society. d/Deaf people can be invisible in society as it’s not obvious if someone is d/Deaf. British sign language was only recognised as an official language in March 2003.

Their Deaf visitors said they wanted:
Concise written information; information in BSL; to explore exhibits independently; stories about local people and museum objects; events just for Deaf people (and dressing up, apparently).

Suggestions:
Put videos on website to tell people what to expect when they visit. But think about what you put on website – they’re Deaf, not stupid, and can read addresses and opening hours, etc. Put a mobile number on publicity so that Deaf people can text about events – it’s cheap and easy to do but can make a huge difference. If you’re doing audience outreach with social software, don’t just blog – think about putting signed videos on YouTube. Use local Deaf people, not interpreters. Provide d/Deaf awareness training for all staff and volunteers. Provide written alternatives to audio guides; add subtitles and an English voice over signed video if you can afford it.

“On creativity”

It’s written for designers, but I think it’s also extremely relevant to geeks.

Plus, it’s a useful article to help me explain to friends why I love what I do – it’s a chance to solve interesting problems and to try and do something better every day in a particular environment (they get the bit about working with fantastic content and people straight away).

It also presents a good argument for ‘constraints’ such as accessibility and standards.

A List Apart, On Creativity:

Creativity is technical and analytical, not expressive (as in self-expression). It is a filter through which perception and output pass, not a receptor or an infusion (as in the case of inspiration). Creativity may require or be enhanced by inspiration, but the two are distinct forces. (These facts are vital in discriminating between appropriate and inappropriate descriptions and applications of creativity.)

Creativity is an inborn capacity for thinking differently than most, seeing differently, and making connections and perceiving relationships others miss. But most importantly, it is the ability to then extrapolate contextually useful ways of employing that data: to create something that meets a specific challenge. By this definition, creativity is merely a tool; it does not convey skill. For a dedicated few, though, this inborn capacity is then further augmented by certain disciplines, including:

  • ongoing curiosity,
  • the desire and habit of looking more deeply into things than others care to,
  • the habit of comparing stimulus with result, and
  • a habit for qualitative discrimination.

If you are a designer worth your salt, you know that no design project begins with creativity. Instead, it begins with client- and/or context-specific discovery, and lots of research to help you understand the fundamental nature of the challenges at hand. All designers must guard against the urge to invest in specific creative ideas before becoming intimately familiar with the contextual landscape of a design project.

Recommendations for AJAX and accessibility

A new Webcredibles article, AJAX accessibility for websites, highlights some of the potential benefits and disadvantages of AJAX technologies.

The section on recommendations for AJAX and accessibility was particularly useful, and a lot of the advice probably applies to non-traditional browsers such as mobile phone users. Basically:

  • Inform users early in the page that dynamic updates will occur
  • Highlight the areas that have been updated
  • Don’t change the focus
  • Offer the option to disable automatic updates
  • Ensure the site works if JavaScript isn’t enabled

Open Source Jam (osjam) – designing stuff that gets used by people

On Thursday I went to Google’s offices to check out the Open Source Jam. I’d meant to check them out before and since I was finally free on the right night and the topic was ‘Designing stuff that gets used by people’ it was perfect timing. A lot of people spoke about API design issues, which was useful in light of the discussions Jeremy started about the European Digital Library API on the Museums Computer group email list (look for subject lines containing ‘APIs and EDL’ and ‘API use-cases’).

These notes are pretty much just as they were written on my phone, so they’re more pointers to good stuff than a proper summary, and I apologise if I’ve got names or attributions wrong.

I made a note to go read more of Duncan Cragg on URIs.

Paul Mison spoke about API design antipatterns, using Flickr’s API as an example. He raised interesting points about which end of the API provider-user relationship should have the expense and responsibility for intensive relational joins, and designing APIs around use cases.

Nat Pryce talked about APIs as UIs for programmers. His experience suggests you shouldn’t do what programmers ask for but find out what they want to do in the end and work with that. Other points: avoid scope creep for your API based on feature lists. Naming decisions are important, and there can be multilingual and cultural issues with understanding names and functionality. Have an open dialogue with your community of users but don’t be afraid to selectively respond to requests. [It sounds like you need to look for the most common requests as no one API can do everything. If the EDL API is extensible or plug-in-able, is the issue of the API as the only interface to that service or data more tenable?] Design so that code using your API can be readable. Your API should be extensible cos you won’t get it right first time. (In discussion someone pointed out that this can mean you should provide points to plug in as well as designing so it’s extensible.) Error messages are part of the API (yes!).

Christian Heilmann spoke on accessibility and make some really good points about accessibility as a hardcore test and incubator for your application/API/service. Build it in from the start, and the benefits go right through to general usability. Also, provide RSS feeds etc as an alternative method for data access so that someone else can build an application/widget to meet accessibility needs. [It’s the kind of common sense stuff you don’t think someone has to say until you realise accessibility is still a dirty word to some people]

Jonathan Chetwynd spoke on learning disabilities (making the point that it includes functional illiteracy) and GUI schemas that would allow users to edit the GUI to meet their accessibility needs. He also mentioned the possibility of wrapping microformats around navigation or other icons.

Dan North talked about how people learn and the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition, which was new to me but immediately seemed like something I need to follow up. [I wonder if anyone’s done work on how that relates to models of museum audiences and how it relates to other models of learning styles.]

Someone whose name I didn’t catch talked about Behaviour driven design which was also new to me and tied in with Dan’s talk.