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March 2, 2004

CFUN (The ColdFusion Users Network) is a conference held in the Washington DC Metro area and this year is no exception. The conference has grown from a 1 day, 1 track with 5 speakers to 2 days, 5 tracks, 30 speakers and 42 topics this year. More importantly, I was able to persuade the conference organizer (Teratech) that the conference really needed an Accessibility Track.

It's a CF Conference right? Why add in Accessibility, its not related to ColdFusion. Well, late last year, my CF Friend David Epler and I attended the IDEAs conference which was supposed to be entirely about 508. I had big hopes for the conference, since it was sponsored and put on by the folks who put on FOSE which is the big Government IT show. However, I was sadly disappointed, in the offerings that were made. There were very few talks on Web Design and they weren't very in depth. Most of them seemed to be thinly veiled sales talks put on by the people who were selling. These talks were standing room only simply because they were about creating accessible web sites. But they didn't really tell people anything useful. I came away from that conference convinced there was a need for more good information to come out about Accessibility in the DC Area.

Luckily for me, I have the ear of the decision makers at Teratech and I set about convincing them that an accessibility track would be a good thing for CFUN. Section 508 compliance is a way of life out here for web designers who create and maintain sites for Federal Department and Agencies and since CFUN takes place in this area, its a good match up geographically.

I've also noticed that for many of us ColdFusion developers that as much as we claim we program the backend, circumstances usually require that we also program the front-end display as well. Also most of us looked at HTML way back at versions 3.2 (maybe 4) and have never looked at it since. We've spent our time learning CFMX, Web Services, .NET, Java, Javascript, ActionScript, etc. We've learned the fun, programming stuff and forgotten (or never really learned!) that the markup in HTML means something other than a way of visually displaying something.

Those of us who do deal with Section 508 do it on the barest bones. (Does it pass "insert validation tool here")? We don't know what it means or how someone who is disabled uses our site. We've never attempted to do so. And we need to know, not knowing costs our companies time, money and quite possibly sets them up for lawsuits.

There are 4 talks scheduled at this time and one more is being added. These talks are not the "Why you should be Accessible", instead they focus on specific issues and really talk about how to solve problems.

How disabled people use the web - Larry Hull
Larry Hull of NASA will be showing a video of users with disabilities surfing the web and discussing the tools they use and problems they face when surfing. Larry also will be giving tips on accessible web design as well.
CSS for Better Sites - Sandra Clark
That's me! - One of the biggest stumbling blocks to Accessibility is having your content and presentation all jumbled up in your HTML. I'll be focusing on how to use CSS to style your content so that your content structure can maintain a structural meaning while your visual presentation (including positioning) is done totally via Cascading Style Sheets. I'll be covering: selectors, Cascading, Decorative Items in CSS, Tableless Layouts, CSS Hacks and more.
HTML Markup for Accessibility You Never Knew About - David Epler
David has done a thorough study of Structural Markup and will be pointing out structural markup in HTML 4.01 which directly affects Accessibility. If you don't want to bury yourself in the HTML 4.01 spec to figure it out, come to this talk and let David do the work for you.
Creating Accessible Web Forms - Sandra Clark
Me again - In this talk, I focus on one of the more inaccessible areas of web development, forms. How to make them accessible, how to style them. Things to look out for that matter in terms of accessibility, but aren't obvious.

Is CFUN okay to go to if you are not a ColdFusion developer, and are interested in Accessibility? I think so. There are quite a few topics that aren't directly CF related, but would be of interest to people other than die hard ColdFusion programmers. Some of these include:

  • Managing Project Conflict - Mark Gorkin
  • Introduction to SQL Server 2000 Security - Dave Watts
  • SQL Server Reporting Services - Geoff Snowden
  • How to be a Guru Coder - Michael Smith
  • Oh grow up! Kiddie Scripter to Software Architect - Simon Horwith
  • Want to Succeed? Here's the One Thing You Need. - Jeff Peters

And of course for those who aren't CF programmers yet, and want to be, there's always the BootCamp!

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