Celebrating the dignity of man – Zero Project Conference 2018

This year’s Zero Project Conference was the first one I ever attended, but since this inspiring event founded by the Essl Foundation will be on top of my list to join again. Hosted by the United Nations in the Vienna International Center, the topic of this happening gets it’s adequate frame. More than 600 participants from more than 70 countries presented their approaches for a more inclusive and accessible world by providing equality for all people.

Breaking barriers

Within the last years more and more posts appeared especially in my social media channels about the policies and practices that a mesmerising number of 4k experts contributed to the Zero Project. They relate to a broad variety of different projects supporting the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD). With a four years research cycle on four different topics the team of Martin Essl did also this year an excellent job.

When you first arrive at this location, passing the security procedures before you meet so many new people and of course also a lot of old friends too, you get the initial picture of what will come up to you within the next three days. The opening ceremony moderated by Caroline Casey was a marvellous moment. She had this power and empathie to cast a spell over you. Since that session my journey began for a more inclusive society. (Ok. I’m already working on web accessibility related issues for several years now, but this events starts your afterburner and you want to achieve more!)

One of the first smart people I met was Mikael Snaprud from Tingtun who built an accessibility checking tool for evaluating websites at a large scale. He inspired me initially to a scalable web accessibility improvement solution combined with the ideological liability of our project from the Austrian Web Accessibility Certificate Initiative. It can enhance not only the legal responsibility but also provides empowerment of workforce and education sector. I hopefully meet him soon to collaborate in this matter.

One of the most touching moments I had during that conference was a video from the Canadian Down Syndrome foundation. See for yourself.

Day #2: Our project

As a board member of the Austrian Web Accessibility Certificate initiative I got the chance to attend this happening seeing Klaus Höckner from the Austrian Association in support of the blind and visually impaired presenting our project based on international standards and built with open source software to evaluate the conformity of websites. It will not only provide a monitoring tool for governmental initiatives but also enables website owners a quality assurance relating to performance and SEO issues. Furthermore we plan to combine this infrastructure together with education strategies as also empowerment of the service providers from the digital business. A different approach for a common problem. Soon after Werner Rosenberger and me got into discussions with [Monica Duhem] from Hearcolors over sharing information about web accessibility optimizations processes to force the awareness process in Mexico as also with officials from Bangladesh.

As time passed by, the ceremonial part of the conference popped up in the late afternoon and all went to the Rotunda of the United Nations Complex awaited by a huge gospel choir performing first time ever live the official hymn of the Zero Project Conference. Btw. in this area two nobel peace prize medals were shown for the UN’s efforts to build a better world.

After this performance an artwork was handed over by Martin Essl to the United Nations Office here in Vienna to honor their support of the Movement, the “Project Zero Wesen”. Created by Emmerich Weissenberger this painting with an enclosed tactile board presenting three relief panels out of seven to describe the artwork also to blind people.

At the end of that second day 75 innovative projects were awarded by Martin Essl and the Zero Project Foundation. Congratulation to all winners!


You had always to select your sessions as there were so many ones you can’t join at once. One also very remarkable project was from Paraguay where an initiative raised public awareness on barriers in public space, like boardwalks by adding huge stickers. To take action and don’t wait on governmental actions, people started building ramps or simply crashed these steps of insurmountable boardwalks to make it more accessible to all of us. A first step towards.

Also a great honor to Yuval Wagner and his team from Access Israel for receiving the Zero Project Award for their initiative founded back in 1999 to train service providers relating to accessible issues. The also have proven that serious commitment results in change.

For me as a hotel and gastronomy branded child I was pleased to meet Ewoud Lagring from Visit Flanders, the official tourist office of the northern region of Belgium to share their vision of an accessible tourism destination cooperating with all stakeholders. I did a lookup afterwards on the accessibility level of various other tourism regions and was stunned by how much potential they provided for improvements to optimize not only the UX for disabled people. But anyway, we know it’s still a long way to go. Worth to mention the work of Trivago or Expedia (online booking platforms) on improving their UX by enhancing web accessibility. And as you might guess, it is not always a simple job as described by them in a blogpost from Ian Devlin Lead Developer at Trivago. Needless to say, that small steps are better than maintaining the status quo. So keep on going.

A global ally for inclusion

This conference is not only relevant for exchanging ideas and experiences but also to harmonize standards and reduce research time and manpower for redundant tasks to reaching various aims of inclusion. Eg. in Europe exist more than 300 different guidelines, toolboxes and laws on accessibility. This status quo isn’t suitable to provide a simple implementation for organizations or even legal security. This is also the reason why such conferences are that crucial for a change process by bringing different masterminds together from all over the world. During these three days I met so many new people, but of course also a lot of colleagues, partners and old friends. Mentioning all would be to much but some people I therefore want to highlight for having interesting talks and so much fun like Klaus Miesenberger from the JKU, Shadi from the W3C WAI, Christine Hemphill from OpenInclusion, Franz Pühretmair & Gerhard Nussbaum from KI-I, Gregor Demblin & Wolfgang Kowatsch from myAbility, Heidi Egger from Österreichischer Behindertenrat or Victoria Doppler from Caritas Wien.

Respect also to Martin Habacher, as the Social Media Advisor of the conference. He rushed through the area capturing the best moments for us or interviewing speakers and organisational members. Thank’s for doing such a good job!

See you next year!

Bing part of this year’s movement was a pleasure and I want to thank Martin Essl and his team from the Zero Project Foundation as also the many volunteers that made this event a blast. Hopefully I will see some people on difference events around the world as also keep in touch over various projects before seeing you all again at #ZeroCon19.