Seren Davies: Accessibility is more than just supporting screenreaders


Photo: Callum Kerr

Accessibility is a topic that many of us struggle with. Even with the best of intentions, it’s a hard problem to solve. Still, like any hard problem, it’s worth tackling and doing right.

Seren Davies, a developer at Elsevier and a co-organiser of JSOxford, came to speak to us about what we can do to support accessibility beyond just looking at screenreaders. The talk looked at a number of different scenarios where users may be struggling – everything from dealing with dyslexia, to just being a bit tipsy on a night out.

Seren showed how users can be affected in many ways that may prevent them from using what we build, and that there are many more users dealing with these kinds of problems than we might think.

Keep in touch

If you’re not connected to the Software Development Community already, there are lots of ways that you can find out about future events. If you’re a member of staff at the University then you can join the mailing list or the Slack channel, and anyone can find us on Twitter and Facebook.

Irina Preda: CodeYourFuture, a coding community for refugees and asylum seekers

Photo: Tim Gray

As developers, how do we know that we are making a positive difference? Irina Preda, a former graduate of the University, came to speak to the Software Development Community about an organisation called Code Your Future which is doing just that.

Code Your Future is a non-profit group that works with refugees and asylum seekers in the UK to help them find work as developers. The organisation trains students in the necessary skills they will need to find jobs, including more abstract skills such as networking and preparing a CV.

Code Your Future is locally based in Glasgow, and they are actively looking for interested folk to act as volunteers and mentors. You can apply on their website. Technical skills are not required, as there are many ways to get involved.

If you’re not connected to the Software Development Community already, there are lots of ways that you can find out about future events. If you’re a member of staff at the University then you can join the mailing list or the Slack channel, and anyone can find us on Twitter and Facebook.

Tobias Ahlin: Making Better Design Predictions with Design Bets

Photo: Callum Kerr

One of the main challenges in designing and developing a product is figuring out how to improve it. How do you get from your ideas to your end goal? And how do you know if you’re on the right track to achieving what you want? Design Bets is a product management framework that aims to help you with this, pulling together research on the best ways to make informed, unbiased decisions.

Last year, I saw Tobias Ahlin, the Experience Design Director for Minecraft, give a talk on Design Bets at DiBi 2017. I was so inspired that I ended up using it on a project we are currently running. This year, we invited Tobias to come back to Edinburgh to speak to us at the University.

A recording of the talk is available publicly on the University’s Media Hopper service:

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Using Design Bets to plan change in MyEd

Last year, I was lucky enough to attend the Design It; Build It conference, where I saw Tobias Ahlin give a talk on an idea he called “Design Bets”. (He will also be coming back to the University of Edinburgh to give the same talk in a couple of weeks – check out the info at the end of the post to book.)

Put simply, Design Bets is a framework which allows you to plan changes, and then evaluate the impact of those changes using evidence, not personal belief or bias. It is designed for software products, but could easily be used for any type of change management – e.g. for a business or other organisation. It’s also a great tool which allows you to quickly plan and see possible changes across many areas at once.

I was immediately interested in this concept, because we are currently running a project to improve student experience in MyEd. There are a lot of ways that we could do this, and lots of ideas were being tossed around. It was difficult for the team to keep track of what ideas had been discussed, and to easily understand what those ideas were.

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Mark Simpson & Steven Wang: Bitcoin, Crypto Assets and Blockchain

While I understand the concepts behind Bitcoin and blockchain, I’ve never really understood how they actually worked. So, I was pleased when Mark Simpson and Steven Wang from RBS offered to come do a talk for us on the subject. This was our second industry talk of the 2017/8 academic year, the last one being Katie Fenn: Chrome DevTools, Inside Out.

Slides: PowerPoint file (University logins only)

I first met Mark when I saw him speak at Design It; Build It (read more in DiBi 2017 Reflections). I was very interested to learn about some of the innovative work that his team has been doing at RBS. Since then, we’ve been looking for an opportunity to work together, so I’m glad that it finally worked out!

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Katie Fenn: Chrome DevTools, Inside Out

At the end of November, we were lucky enough to have Katie Fenn ( come to the University of Edinburgh to give a talk on “Chrome DevTools, Inside Out”. This kicked off the community’s industry talks for the 2017/8 academic year. Although this talk was some time ago, I’ve only gotten a chance to write it up now…!

Katie has given this talk numerous times, so I’ve included some links to slides and recordings below:

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6 months of Front-End Development Community

As we are reaching the end of the University’s financial year, I thought this would be a good time to look back on the first year of the Front-End Development Community. The community began in the fall of 2016, when I was awarded a bit of money for this idea from the Innovation Fund. My idea was to create a community where people interested in front-end development could come together from across the University, to discuss ideas and share best practice.

A few months were spent on the initial brainstorming and organisation, so the community didn’t really get started until February 2017. Over the course of 6 months, we have put on 7 highly successful events:

  • 2 industry talks (from Harry Roberts and Chad Gowler)
  • 3 community lightning talk sessions
  • 2 talks on Designing for IT Accessibility (from Viki Galt)

I’ve been greatly helped by the hard work and dedication of my colleagues, without whom we wouldn’t have been able to accomplish this.

Overall, we have had an impressive total of 280 registrations for events, with 188 different attendees. This shows that we have a dedicated core group who are actively engaged in participating in the community.  Continue reading “6 months of Front-End Development Community”

Chad Gowler: Asking About Gender

The University’s Front-End Development Community and Playfair Steps recently hosted Chad Gowler ( to give a talk on “Asking About Gender”. This thought-provoking talk promotes awareness of some of the challenges faced by non-binary and gender-variant users, and discusses how we can support their needs in web development.

Slides and an alternate recording can be found here (note that this recording is for an older version and doesn’t cover all of the material in the slides):

This is the second time that I have been fortunate enough to see Chad give this talk. One of the things I really enjoy is that it demonstrates how we need to continually ask ourselves why we are asking these types of questions in the first place. This gets straight to the heart of user-centred design.

For our last talk from Harry Roberts, I wrote up some information about who was in the audience, so I thought it would be interesting to do a comparison. Again, the numbers are taken from our Event Booking system, so only shows who signed up for the event. This won’t be exact, as some people may have booked but not attended (or the other way around). Continue reading “Chad Gowler: Asking About Gender”

Our University’s front-end development community

Last fall, I sent around a survey to members of the University in advance of setting up our new Front-End Development Community. The survey asked for information about how people might want the community to work, and also about what they were doing in their jobs. In this post, I’ll share some of the results along with my thoughts.

The survey was sent out to various groups that either do or engage with front-end development. Not all of these groups were technical – for example, I also included some of the user groups for our University CMS platform, EdWeb. This could include everything from content authors to administrators. Overall, only 66 people responded to the survey, so we are only seeing a small slice of the University as a whole. However, it still gives an interesting picture of some of the work which people are doing. I was surprised to see the diversity among some of the responses.

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Harry Roberts: Refactoring CSS Without Losing Your Mind

Last Thursday we were lucky enough to be able to welcome Harry Roberts from CSS Wizardry ( to give a talk on “Refactoring CSS Without Losing Your Mind”. Many thanks to Harry for taking the time out to speak to us on this subject. The talk was organised and funded by the University’s Front-End Development Community, a new subset of the Software Development Community.  If you aren’t part of the community yet, check out our community channel on Slack.

Slides and a video of the talk (for those that missed it), can be found here:

Overall the event was a huge success, with almost 100 people attending! Since this is one of our first community events, I thought people might be interested to learn a little bit more about who attended. The numbers come from the Events Booking application so won’t be exact – some people may have attended without booking, and others may have booked but not attended.

Continue reading “Harry Roberts: Refactoring CSS Without Losing Your Mind”