Tuesday, May 23, 2017

NVDACon 2017: reflections from the founding chair

A bit different from other posts in that I'd like to talk about and reflect upon a project that is now gaining recognition around the world: an online gathering that has sparked creativity and fruitful dialogue within a community: NVDACon.
It's been a year since I stepped down from leading this event, and more than three years since the debut of the modern NVDA Users and Developers Conference. What started out as a suggestion to hold an online chat between users turned into an international gathering of users, developers, enthusiasts, sponsors, advocates and many others coming together to talk about a screen reader that changed their lives. What started out as a suggestion to hold NVDA translations workshop in January 2014 turned into a weekend filled with fun and informative sessions, announcements, and a chance for people to talk to the gentlemen who brought NVDA to life in 2006. As much as I am happy with current results, there are things I believe we can do better in terms of promotion, diversifying topics, forging relationships and communication.
## NVDACon: history and ingredients
Painting the picture that'll eventually become NVDACon didn't start in 2014; rather, it began in 2007 when I organized a series of online chats between BrailleNote users and HumanWare staff. This meeting was in turn inspired by a meeting between users and HumanWare staff in 2004 that resulted in the introduction of BrailleNote PK, KeySoft 6.1, and BrailleNote mPower in 2005. From 2007 to early 2010's, I and other BrailleNote users gathered at least ten times to talk about the past, present, and future of BrailleNote family of products with no restriction on topics. This eventually laid the groundwork for open forums at NVDACon and served as the basis for one side of the NVDACon story: users.
Prior to NVDACon, NV Access held developer summits, focusing on what's new and changed, as well as discussing future directions. As I read about these events, the idea of having a meeting between developers sounded good, thus it was decided to include "developers" in the name of NVDACon. This also served as one of the inspirations for annual keynotes.
Then in June 2012, I joined the NVDA screen reader project as a Korean translator. During the course of translating NVDA into Korean, I and other Korean users held a series of meetings online, discussing translation status, gathering feedback on user guide, discussing ways to overcome ambiguities in terms used in translations and so forth. In some respects, these meetings became a model for interactive lab presentations at past NVDACon gatherings, as well as a model for regional NVDA conferences. To reflect the latter point, these meetings officially became NVDACon Korea in 2016.
In 2014, a member of the NVDA users mailing list suggested organizing an online chat between NVDA users. As I read that email, a picture formed in my mind: a conference like that of PyCon (a gathering of members of the Python programming language ecosystem)) except it was online. At that time, I was also thinking about organizing a workshop for current and new translators in hopes of forging relationships between translators and to discuss future of this project. In the end, I decided to combine these aspects along with ingredients described above - users, developers, open discussion, bridge between users and developers and so on, thus NVDA Users and Developers Conference (NVDACon) was born, with the first NvDACon held on March 1, 2014.
At first, NVDACon was a one-day event, featuring a keynote from Michael "Mick" Curran, an open forum, and other sessions. I experimented with two weekend events in 2015 and 2016, then it became a weekend gathering in 2017. During the course of NVDACon history, I was the founding chair from 2014 to 2016, with Derek Riemer (University of Colorado at Boulder) named chair for the 2017 event.
The 2016 gathering was notable in two ways. As NVDA turned ten that year, I wanted the conference to be a celebratory event, thus it had one of the largest collection of sessions. Also, it marked the debut of pre-keynote activities, including a countdown timer (with music) and inclusion of a promotion audio prior to the keynote itself (both were repeated in 2017), all inspired by keynotes in events such as Apple's World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC).
In the case of pre-keynote activities, I was aiming for two things: I wanted participants to feel as though they've stepped right into the midst of an Apple event, and to highlight the importance of NV Access keynote at these conferences. In some ways, I believe both aims were achieved, but I believe improvements could make it even better.
## Conference purposes
Although there are many purposes for organizing this conference series, two stands out the most: bridging and showcasing. I felt an online conference served as a great venue for a community to come together and exchange ideas, as well as to showcase how much NVDA has achieved and what can be done in the future to make it even better.
The first purpose is bridging. The conference should serve as a venue for NVDA community members from all walks of life to come together and exchange ideas, thoughts and experiencess. Although various bridging scenarios were targetted, the most important one was that of a relationship between users and developers, a relationship that went beyond paper and phone calls: a personal relationship through keynotes, presentations, general chats and so on (after all, NVDA developers are people).
The second purpose is showcasing. A conference about a product would not be complete without a way to showcase strengths and weaknesses of the product in question. For this reason, I have envisioned sessions where community members can present ideas and demonstrate NVDA and its uses in various scenarios, including audio production, dictation, education, web browsing and many others.
There is a third major purpose that has emerged since 2016: community building and unity. As the conferences were organized by community members, it should have elements of community building, involvement, and unity. This was showcased in 2017 when most of the sessions were organized by community members, as well as highlighting achievements of the global NVDA community. Community building and unity was solidified through the theme for this year's gathering: community engagement.
## What NVDACon has  achieved, should achievd, and should improve upon
NVDACon has come a long way, and have achieved numerous things. But there are things that the conference should achieve and can do better in future gatherings.
In terms of achievements, NVDACon has instilled unity among NVDA community. By bringing together community members from all walks of life with the purpose of talking about a screen reader, it allowed people to feel a sense of unity under the banner of NVDA and work towards a more collaborative solutions such as organizing regional meetings, partnerships in projects and so on. It has also fostered improved relationships among community members, especially between NV Access and users. Lastly, the conference brought together some of the leading thinkers in the community who offered valuable suggestions for the future direction of NVDA, such as add-ons management, web standards support and so on. The conference also changed lives - even if there is one person whose life was changed through the gathering, I call it a successful conference.
As much as NVDACon achieved many things, there are things that could see improvements. First, better communication between organizers, presenters, participants and outsiders, as well as improved conference promotion  could help make the gathering even better, such as improved website, mannerisms of some participants, preparedness and so on. Second, it would be helpful to diversify topics to include things not many people talk about, such as using NVDA in enterprises, dealing with artificial intelligence and screen reading, app testing and so forth. Lastly, relationships matter in conferences like this, thus it would be helpful to foster improved relationships between translators, more users, developers and so on.
## My wishlist for NVDACon 2018
Now that NVDACon 2017 is over, I'd like to present a wishlist of things that could be done and would like to see in next year's gathering:
* Collaboration with PyCon and the wider python community: NVDACon should not be an event just for NVDA community members. As NVDA is written in python, I believe working with PyCon folks and the wider python community, including a session presented by a member of the python community or having python developers attend the NV Access keynote could foster relationships between these two communities.
* Diverse topic and presenter representations: although NVDACon 2017 had a wide variety of topics, I beelive we can make it even better if we had more diverse topics and presenters represented in future gatherings.
* Broadcasting and translations: NVDACon 2017 was unique in that parts of it were streamed live. Also, this is the second conference where live translation of the keynote took place (the first was 2014), which allowed non-English speakers to participate in the keynote.
## A word of advice for organizers of NvDACon 2018 and future conferences
If there's one thing I'd like to pass onto organizers of NVDACon 2018 and beyond, it would be being visionaries. NVDACon would not be possible without Derek Riemer (NVDACon 2017 chair), I and others working hard to transform this from a vision into reality, as without vision, there's no goal, and without a goal, there's no end product. My advice to organizers of future NVDACon gathering is this: become visionaries, think big and creatively, and plan ahead, listening to feedback from the community as you plan the next gathering. This advice is also applicable to the global NvDA community: become visionaries when it comes to promoting, sponsoring, and using NVDA.
## Conclusion
What started out as a spark in the form of a suggestion more than three years ago has become a world-renown online gathering of users, developers, sponsors and advocates of an award-winning screen reader. As the founder of NVDA Users and Developers Conference (NVDACon), I'm proud of what this conference has achieved: unity, fostering relationships, and changing lives. All those events many years ago, such as BrailleNote users chat, leading NVDA Korean translations and others laid the groundwork for NVDACon, and NVDACon has inspired creative projects throughout the NVDA ecosystem. With some improvements in place such as improved communication and promotion, fostering improved relationships and diversifying topics and presenters, I envision next year's gathering to be more epic than what we've seen so far (the word "epic" does not describe fully the life-changing gathering that is NVDACon) and become even more successful than NVDACon 2017.
Let me end this by reiterating several things emphasized during recent NVDA conferences: NVDA is more than a screen reader; NVDA is a global movement with a difference: community engagement. NonVisual Desktop Access is a screen reader of the people, a tool developed for the people, and a movement led by the people.
Thank you.

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