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WACA goes international

Access Israel participants in front of the Western Wall in Jerusalem

In recent years, Israel has become a hotspot for innovative start-ups and high-tech companies. Similar to Silicon Valley in the US state of California, a high concentration of tech companies has emerged under the synonym Silicon Wadi (dried up river bed) in an area near Tel Aviv. Israel’s highly successful start-up scene is now among the second largest in the world. One example is Mobile Eye, world market leader in the production of driver assistance systems. Moreover, Israel has also become a model country in the field of accessibility and assistive technologies, as well as aids and apps for people with disabilities. A good example is the Orcam mini camera for blind people. The annual conference “Access Israel” connects these innovations with international representatives and experts from associations, organisations and companies in the disability field.

The Austrian Association in Support of the Blind and Visually Impaired and the Austrian Foreign Trade Chamber organised this trip (Austrian Showcase “Accessibility Technology & Innovation”) in order to offer Austrian companies a networking platform and to enable them to join this innovative spirit. The Austrian delegation was the largest with 22 delegates. The second largest delegation was the American with disability officers from major American cities and museums, the CEO of the Christopher Reeve Foundation and a large delegation from Google. Other speakers came from all over the world – from Australia to Chile, including TED speakers Caroline Casey, James Thurston and Christopher Lee from G3ict (Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs) as well as international journalists.

The Austrian delegation was received by the Austrian Ambassador to Israel Martin Weiss and ORF correspondent Roland Adrowitzer as well as the founders of Access Israel Yuval Wagner, Michal Rimon and Rani Benjamini. In addition to networking opportunities among the Israeli and international participants, a special Tech Speed Dating with innovative start-ups took place at the headquarters of Google Israel.

The trip also included an accessible guided tour of Jerusalem’s historic city centre. Approximately 80 guests, some of them deaf, blind, in a wheelchair or with other impairments, were guided through the narrow streets of the 4000-year-old Old City. At the end of the 4-hour tour, everyone arrived safely at the Wailing Wall! Organising this accessible tour for such a diverse group of people must have been quite a challenge, but it surly was a success.

Many thanks to the organisers of this extraordinary event, to Access Israel and the Austrian Foreign Trade Chamber for the perfect planning and execution, the great supporting programme and the warm welcome! These past days were extremely enriching and inspiring. Tel Aviv was truly worth the trip.

For WACA, this trip was also very fruitful, not only because of the new contacts and interesting discussions, but above all because of the international recognition we received for our project. To date, there are only very few countries that offer professional high-quality certifications for accessible websites according to international standards. On the European market, only Spain has introduced a certification similar to the WACA label which comes as dynamic JavaScript snippet to be controlled by the certification body and guarantees strict conformity with the international WCAG guidelines. WACA’s grading system with its 3 different levels (Gold – Silver – Bronze) is also unique to recognise web accessibility efforts.

Let’s take WACA to an international level so that multinational companies can find the same conditions and requirements for certification in every country. Let’s ensure that the Internet becomes accessible to everyone and that nobody is excluded from information and services on the web!

Here are pictures of some of the participants: