A home for digital accessibility

#a11yHAM is a local hub for digital inclusivity and inclusive design created by Accessible Media Production (AMP) program coordinator Jennifer Jahnke as well as alumni from the AMP program. 

 By Emmett Steele ‘22 (Journalism)

Education is a lifelong passion, one where there is never too much to learn. Graduates of the Accessible Media Production program at Mohawk College recognize the importance of continuing to learn even after graduation and have banded together to create an organization where they and other accessibility professionals can share their knowledge and do their best to learn something new every day - #a11yHAM.

“#a11yHAM is a meetup group of people who are interested in digital accessibility and inclusive design,” said Patti Hiscock ‘20, a Document Processor for Ontario College’s Application Services, and a volunteer coordinator for #a11yHAM. “Although we are based in the Hamilton area, I have seen new members and participants from across Canada and beyond. Each month we try to bring in interesting presenters or panelists to talk about a particular topic related to digital accessibility.” 

 “We are all about promoting and supporting digital accessibility and inclusion,” said Patti. “Our goals are to build a community of professionals who create accessible and inclusive content, and to increase community knowledge. We like to think that the meetups are a friendly, and welcoming place to learn, share, and meet like-minded people.”

#a11yHAM has strong ties to Mohawk College. “The program coordinator for the Accessible Media Production Program (AMP) at Mohawk, Jennifer Jahnke, created #a11yHAM in 2018 and then alumni of subsequent graduating years have joined as coordinators,” said Ellen Syracopoulos ‘19, an Accessible Procurement Business Analyst for the Government of Canada and volunteer coordinator for #a11yHAM.

6 presenters on accessibility on a virtual call

The current coordinators include pictured (l-r) Andreea Demirgian ’18, Evelyn Elliot ’20, Michelle Barr ’21, Patti Hiscock ’20, Ellen Syracopoulos ’19, Lisa Syms ’18, as well as Andrea Jelic ’18 and Janette Campbell ’20 (not pictured).

When approached to help launch the organization by Jennifer Jahnke, the volunteer coordinators were excited and enthusiastic to get on board. “Jennifer invited us to join the organizers team and we had no hesitation,” said Andreea Demirgian, Quality Assurance Specialist for AbleDocs and a volunteer coordinator for #a11yHAM. “It’s been four years; we’ve been through a pandemic and most of the original team is still involved in #a11yHAM. I think that speaks volumes of how committed we all are to this movement.”

While the organization may have started at Mohawk, the goal is to have as broad and diverse a conversation as possible with anyone who would like to learn. “Everyone is welcome, as long as they share our passion for accessibility and inclusivity,” said Andreea. “We are trying to spark conversations on matters that aren’t always on the public agenda, to learn what accessibility is and what it has to offer.”

In a few short years the organization has ballooned in popularity. “We have grown to 468 members from across Canada and the US,” said Ellen. “That our virtual Meetups are still consistently attended speaks to our audience’s level of engagement and provides us with the encouragement to continue to explore pertinent topics that the community are interested in - a highlight for me was the September 2021 event were the Websites for All - An Inclusive Web Project was showcased.”

For some coordinators, involvement in #a11yHAM is about more than just learning – it’s about community. “It keeps me connected to the accessibility community including the AMP program's instructors, current students and alumni,” said Lisa Syms, an Accessibility Consultant for CIBC and volunteer coordinator for #a11yHAM. “It's great for connecting with people who are also passionate about accessibility. There is always something to learn. We've had an incredible variety of speakers and topics.”

If you would like to learn more about #a11yHAM, or attend a meeting, visit the #a11yHam Meetup group page. Sessions are open to anyone who is interested in digital accessibility and inclusive design; whether you have some experience or are new to the idea.