I have been giving presentations around the USA for a decade. This year was my first time presenting outside of the country. I was so excited when I was invited to speak at AngularConnect in London earlier this month. While I have been to some countries in Europe in the past and I’m originally from Europe myself, I have never been to London or U.K. Even if I had already visited London in past, it was still a very special place for me to give a presentation.
As someone who is profoundly deaf, neither my family nor I anticipated back then that I would graduate from a regular school as the only deaf person, master English as a foreign language, attend an American university, and so on. I remember browsing a British English textbook in 5th grade – it’s when I started to learn English as a foreign language formally – and being fascinated with stories and pictures of London and dreaming of visiting it someday. Little did I know that many years later I would not only get to visit the city of my dreams, but also to give a presentation in front of an English-speaking audience! While I signed my presentation in American Sign Language (ASL), I prepared it in English. I used sign language because my speech in English is not clear enough for the whole audience to understand me, so it works best when a sign language interpreter voices my presentation.
I was especially pleased that AngularConnect organizers cared deeply about accessibility – even when they didn’t have much experience with it. I did not have to explain to them why accessibility is important. It’s very rare that event organizers are asking me for advice and willing to follow my suggestions on the best ways of implementing accessibility. Many organizers often say no when I ask them for basic accessibility accommodations at their local events. So traveling across the Atlantic was worth it.
AngularConnect had the presentations live captioned and hired a local ASL interpreter in London based on my recommendations to voice my presentation and to interpret during social interaction segments. I read the captions during the presentations. It’s wonderful that all presentations on two main tracks were accessible via live captions projected on screens for the whole audience. Captions were originally hard to read on screens due to a small font and not everyone wanted to sit in front, so I appreciated that organizers followed my advice on doubling the font size which made it much easier to read captions from any point of a large room. The organizers were also happy to implement my suggestion to have live captions streamed for online audience along with streaming videos, but sadly for some reasons captioners didn’t make it happen and didn’t offer any explanation to me as to why. While my hearing family in the USA enjoyed listening to my talk online and said how good the interpreter was, my deaf friends sadly did not have a chance to see my talk and other presentations online in real time due to lack of streaming captions. Also, a captioner could not stream captions to a tablet for me to read during a panel where I was invited to participate. Since the panel happened before my presentation, that captioning issue added more stress for me.
As any speaker, I felt nervous when preparing for the presentation and it was the only thing on my mind until after it was over. I spent the morning practicing it with the interpreter to ensure that we are on the same page due to differences between signed and spoken languages. She did a great job at voicing my complicated presentation. As usual, I sighed with relief when my presentation was over. I was glad when attendees told me that they enjoyed my talk and found it useful, especially when listening about accessibility from the perspective of a professional with a disability. Some said that it was a nice break from many overly technical presentations about coding only which was good because I thought my presentation was not technical enough. I could share more technical details, but I wanted the audience to hear about my experience rather than technology so that they would better understand the importance of accessibility. So I’m glad that they found the exact information in my presentation that they were looking for.
The conference itself was lots of fun and packed with many people – over a thousand attended the event. I saw a lot of Russian speaking people as well. I do see them at other events, but not in such high numbers as at AngularConnect. I enjoyed chatting with people and watching presentations. Food was great and it was fun to try their locally brewed beer. There were yoga sessions and it was a pleasure attending one of them – a great way for me to unwind after my presentation!
I got an opportunity to do some sightseeing in London outside of the conference hours. Finally, I saw with my own eyes the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Kensington and Buckihgham palaces, and many historical landmarks. I enjoyed ASL interpreted tours at the Tower of London and Kensington Palace and learned a lot about the histories of royal families. Weather was gorgeous on some days. I took a boat on the Thames river between Westminster and Tower Bridge and a hop on/off a bus to get to see more sights of the city. I got nice views of London from Greenwich, Primrose Hill, and a rooftop of the Tate Modern museum. I got to try fish and chips and also enjoyed an afternoon tea – of course, it’s a must to try for me, a tea lover! I enjoyed watching fireworks the night of my arrival. The Tube in London was an interesting experience for me because it was surprisingly so small for me, being 180 cm (5’11”) tall – much smaller than NYC subway! It may not be a big deal for you, but it was so unusual for me to see a steering wheel on the right side after I landed at the airport. I even got confused at first before remembering that it’s an U.K. thing. The driver was laughing when I told him this. It was my first time ever visiting a country with left side driving. I had to look to the right first and sometimes even to look in both directions before crossing!
It was interesting to communicate with Brits that had an accent different from American English. Although I was taught to pronounce in a British accent, it was a long ago that I switched to an American accent. So the British accent threw me off sometimes and I had to ask them to repeat sometimes or write it down if I could not understand (not because of the accent, but because of my deafness). For example, they say “here” as hi-AH while we say hi-ER or th-AH-rty vs th-ER-ty for “thirty” or h-OH-t vs h-AH-t for “hot” and so on. Many of them had no problems repeating or writing it down for me which I really appreciated. I sometimes tried to use a British accent for some words so that they could understand me better and also to use certain British words like “lift” instead of “elevator” or “flat” instead of “apartment” so that they would not get confused. I also had the opportunity to communicate with local deaf people. I was nervous at first due not to knowing any BSL (except for fingerspelling), but they turned out to be very friendly. Some were American expats and some knew ASL from living in USA, so they were patient with me while letting me have the opportunity to learn and use some BSL.
Overall, my first visit to London and my first presentation abroad were very positive. Thanks to AngularConnect folks for making me feel welcome in a new city and a new country and ensuring that I could fully participate in their event.
The first slide of my presentation showed a picture of Tower Bridge that I took in London. I used this picture for my presentation not only because the bridge is one of beautiful historical landmarks in London, but also because I wanted to show it as a metaphor for accessibility as a bridge between disabled and non-disabled people. I wanted to mention this in the end of my talk, but was not sure if I had enough time for this.
You can check out my presentation video and slides.
I’m looking forward to more opportunities for giving presentations in 2018 and not just in USA, but also abroad. If your organization is looking for a speaker to talk about accessibility who is also deaf, you can learn about my public speaking experience. Accessibility topics are rarely if ever covered at many mainstream events – many events are often not accessible, and it’s even more rare to see deaf speakers from whom attendees can learn directly about what it’s like to be deaf and why it’s not deafness that is a barrier but the lack of accessibility.
In addition to speaking engagements, I provide consulting services, training sessions, and workshops to help organizations make their products, services, and events accessible. Web accessibility consulting and training are part of those services. I also help organizers with accessibility logistics to ensure high quality accessibility services and to make things go smoothly. Organizing accessibility services is not easy – it’s more than just arranging services because there are different needs of attendees with various disabilities and the specific services needed depend on a type of event. I also work on accessibility for post-production media – live captions are not same as video captions due to different guidelines and need to be converted into proper video captions and transcripts. I have over 20 years of experience working with many captioners and interpreters around the world as well as attending events and watching media. I can assure accessibility quality and know the common accessibility issues that could be improved or avoided.
2017 is soon coming to an end. Does your organization want to be on Santa’s Nice List in 2018? You will attract a wider audience if you make your products, services, and events accessible. Accessibility is universal design that benefits everyone and not just those with disabilities. To learn more on how to do that, contact me to for a speaking engagement, a workshop, or a consulting session. Looking forward to working with you in 2018!