TechShare Pro 2019: inspirational leadership, A11y networking and tangible takeaways

Guest blog: Verizon Media's Accessibility Lab Manager, Samantha Soloway

Being social comes naturally to the company behind AOL, Huffpost and Yahoo. So does accessibility. The company's accessibility Lab Manager, Samantha Soloway, shares her reflections on the UK's leading networking event for accessibility leaders, TechShare Pro. 

Verizon's Sam Holloway on Stage at TechShare Pro 2019The positive energy of the 2019 TechShare Pro Conference in London was evident from the moment I arrived.

I appreciated that the schedule balanced interesting panel sessions with thoughtful speakers, and also provided breaks during the day that allowed attendees to get to know one another and continue the conversations.

Inspirational leadership at TechShare Pro 2019

Some of my favourite sessions included Caroline Casey, from the Valuable 500, who discussed the importance of companies putting disability inclusion on their agendas.

Casey emphasized the importance of educating companies so they better understand how powerful people with disabilities are and how they should be seen as a value-add endeavour.

Haben Girma’s session also stood out to me. Girma shared how her life experiences led her down a path of disability advocacy which most recently has helped her to become the first Lenovo Accessibility and Inclusion Advisor. Girma said that “disability drives innovation.” To make meaningful changes and drive a11y forward, everyone’s thoughts and ideas are critical, but especially important is the feedback from those with disabilities.

Read highlights from Day One at Techhare Pro including talks from Caroline Casey and Haben Girma

Image shows people networking in the shared space at TechShare Pro 2019Networking with the a11y community at TechShare Pro 2019

Walking around the conference space, I found that I was meeting and communicating with people throughout academia, the industry and the disability space.

I was impressed by TechShare Pro’s ability to gather and capture the attention of so many different leaders throughout the accessibility community. Having all of these unique voices together helped shape and encourage discussions around the future of a11y and more specifically, that of design, project management, development and research.

At TechShare Pro, all attendees were exposed to a variety of topics to better understand how to drive accessibility across their organizations.

Instead of limiting information to one topic or one discipline, the sessions spanned across all sectors, information was shared to help attendees learn first hand what companies are focusing on.

For instance, as companies continue to create augmented, virtual and mixed reality, a community (XR Access) has formed which is committed to making information accessible to people with disabilities through standards, guidelines and best practices.

The conference also celebrated and provided information about recent technology developments. There were sessions on accessible gaming as well as on the debate around automatic speech recognition for video on demand. It was helpful that TechShare provided exposure to and perspectives about each of the many a11y developments.

Tangible takeaways: learnings from TechShare Pro 2019

Perhaps the best part about this Conference was the tangible takeaways.

Instead of speakers simply providing a high-level summary, they shared how attendees could develop and implement similar programs and changes in their organizations.

I left the Conference still thinking about the panel on building accessibility champions. I learned how champions can serve as proactive connectors simply by disseminating knowledge.

The Conference also provided a better understanding of UK accessibility legislation and insight into international accessibility work.

I am grateful that I was able to not only attend but also present at TechShare Pro. I left having made new relationships, and with many new ideas. Most of all, though, I returned even more inspired to continue working towards making inclusion a reality.

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