What We Learned at WordCamp 2017

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The burning issues we’ve been mulling over since last weekend’s WordCamp …

 

WordCamp was fun! Because we spend every day staring at pages of code – glazed expressions, tongues sticking out in concentration, this year we naturally gravitated towards some of the less technical sessions.

These were great because they opened our eyes to some key issues and helped us learn more about where the industry was going as a whole. Here are a couple of the things we brought back with us …

 

Accessibility is the future (but more of us should be taking care of it now!)

As a team we expend a lot of energy thinking about how best to create web experiences that are easy to use. Thinking about user experience day in and day out, we thought we were quite safe UX-wise. We were therefore surprised to find that it took Mik Scarlet’s thought-provoking talk on “#A11Y and how to sell it to a client ” to remind us that there is no such thing as a ‘typical user’.

According to the Disabled Living Foundation, there are around 10 million people in the UK living with some form of disability; be it physical, visual, hearing or cognitive impairment.

We all know that web content should be accessible to everyone. The fact is, only a very small percentage of developers are actually making sure this is the case.

WordCamp itself did a great job with accessibility this year with a live transcription service displayed on projectors in each room, clearly marked wheelchair routes and even a creche for nerds with kids. Scarlet’s talk was one of several on what is clearly an important issue.

Using his own brand of humour and real worl experiences, Scarlet addressed another hard truth: most of us will get older at some point. Some of us will experience severe illness and/or injury. The question then becomes this: if things ever do get more difficult for us, will we suddenly no longer have any use for the internet? Of course not, chances are we’ll rely on it then more than ever!

Scarlet’s non-technical and frank talk forced us to look at the issue of accessibility with fresh eyes. We left the talk inspired to make this more of an issue in our everyday work. If we can lead the way in accessibility in the sectors where we have influence, hopefully we can move other developers to do the same.

 

The world will end in May 2018

The world of nicely protected data, that is. This is obviously an incredibly serious issue – not just for those of us in the industry, but for all of us as individuals.

Heather Burns addressed the uncertainty we face as developers in her illuminating talk, “Defensive Web Development: Protecting the Web From Political Uncertainty”.

The idea that the data our users entrust us with is protected is the foundation of the digital industry. Because of new legislation brought about by the Trump administration, in May next year the Data Protection Act as we know it will cease to exist.

While we have a lot of learning and updating of our practices to cover in that time, Burns’ talk made one thing clear: the time for action is now. As an industry we need to think proactively about self-defence and user protection, adopt protective workflows and business practices and build in safeguards.

As Burns says herself, radical times call for radical actions.

 

So these were the two main things we learned at WordCamp this year. Sure we also learned how many chicken wings we can eat – but we were always pretty confident there.

 

For the record, it’s 60.