Putting 20 visual slides on a screen in front of a loud and rowdy crowd at an indie concert venue has its sensory limitations.
So it’s fitting that accessibility, including sensory loss, was highlighted at Ignite Philly 12, the local version of the global semi-regular, curated lightning talk event series for the creative class. Here, organizers host the party at Johnny Brenda‘s in Fishtown, amid beer glasses clinking and shouting and the occasional boo, in proper Philadelphia form. (Find four years of Ignite Philly coverage here.)
Thursday night kicked off with Austin Seraphin, the blind Indy Hall coder who has made a local tech scene splash in the last year by launching a Braille street art project with friend Sonia Petruse. After asking the audience members to close their eyes, he used recorded sound to describe his average day, the technologies he uses and the challenges he faces. Later on, Heather Schmerman, a deaf woman, gave a presentation with the help of an ASL interpreter that shared some of her experiences in a hearing world.
Along the way, there were presentations on how game design can access difficult conversations, how mobile phones can make civic dialogue more collaborative and how you can raise a kid in a big city with famously struggling public schools.
Of the more than 200 people in attendance, several dozen, by show of hands, were there for the first time, itself a question of accessibility to an event that is among the most familial of creative Philadelphia’s calendar — at one point coworking space Indy Hall cofounder Alex Hillman was beamed up on the big screen from his current perch in Scotland without an actual introduction to who he was.
As we’ve done so many times before, below find our awards for the 15 speakers, excluding this reporter, who, full disclosure, gave one of the night’s presentations (on Philly Life Hacks), but needs no adulation. Newsworks has audio of every presentation here.
- Austin Seraphin (Best Overall) — It was the recorded sound that got this reporter, as blind technologist Seraphin walked us through a day in his life.
- Emma Fried-Cassorla (Full Circle Award) — From neuroscientist to Philly Love Notes blogger to social media director for the Race Street Pier and then to Ignite Philly speaker, Fried-Cassorla has fully established herself in the city’s creative community.
- David Thornburgh (Institutional Breakthrough) — The Fels Institute director is a mainstay among more established Philadelphia circles, but he’s also taken an interest in connecting with the creative class. His presentation highlighting big projects he’s touched — from the Enterprise Center to Graduate Philly to Campus Philly — showed his roots but also represented a kind of diversity not often associated with white male executives. As Ignite Philly grows up, there’s always value in a speaker or two tying New Philadelphia with the Old.
- Chris Landau (Best Word Choice of the Night) — Any time someone justifies use of the word “undulating” deserves applause, particularly when it’s around parametric modeling. This OLIN designer is also behind the maker space Next Fab Studio bike garden.
- Dan Ueda (Greatest Responsibility Challenge) — He’s Geekadelphia‘s reigning Geek of the Year, and he described his work as Central High School’s physics teacher and robotics program director. He has some of the most talented kids at one of the city’s most celebrated magnet schools, with an actual budget. As the country takes on the issue of STEM learning, Ueda has more assets than the average high school teacher, so he may have some of the greatest pressure to succeed.
- Alex Peay (Alter Ego) — The young founder of black male engagement nonprofit Rising Sons gave a quirky performance dressed as his fictional grandfather, lauding himself and his goals.
- Jason Fagone (Stat of the Night) — It’s one you might have heard before, but we caught more than a few audience reactions when author and Philly Mag contributor Jasone Fagone, tying to his new book, criticized our lack of automobile efficiency innovation by reminding us that the original Ford Model T got 20 miles to the gallon, just five less than the average car on the road today.
- Ilene Baker (Best Advice of the Night) — As art-minded student affairs director at the Philadelphia Center, Baker gave a rather impressionist presentation, ending with wise words: “Laugh, even when it hurts.”
- Heather Schmerman (Best Story) — Through her ASL interpreter, Schmerman described her experience growing up deaf and interacting with a hearing world. When she described the time when her mother, still new to sign language and trying to offer strawberries to Schmerman’s young boyfriend, told him that she was in need of oral sex, there was no topping it.
- Phil Ives (Needs a Redo) — When billed as talking about raising a child in the city of Philadelphia, Ives became the presentation that this reporter most wanted to hear. But school choice — the central issue, as it’s commonly seen — was buried some, instead including slides on culture, something no one questions Philly has. This is too important a topic to not have another pass. We want to hear about how people are building community around schools to make public education more accessible, reliable, challenging and worthy of our children. He did leave us with this gem: “Home-schooling is not only for crazy people now.”
- Jethro Heiko & Rob Peagler (Most Important Family Game) Two of the four principals at design firm Action Mill read from index cards in delivering their walk through on how design can be used to make difficult tasks easier. Hearing more about the extension work they’ve done using gaming to make end of life care decisions easier for families should have been a real call to action: how is your family handling this?
- Beth Beverly (Best Fan Art) — She was Ignite’s first ever taxidermist presenter and with good reason. She mixes art with animal spirit in a way you might not often associate with taxidermy. Plus, she once sent a celebrity idol a piece of art featuring a preserved rabbit.
- Michelle Lee (Renaissance (Wo)man Award) — The Textizen CEO and former Code for America fellow talked about civic engagement but along the way remembered that as a kid she always wanted to be renaissance man. “But I’m not a man, and I was about 700 years too late to learn all of human knowledge,” she said. Ah, but this technologist, entrepreneur and civic leader, who is passionate about art, may be as close to one as we have.
- David Foster (The Shanghai Prize) — The Cooper’s Ferry Partnership president may be the first person to compare Shanghai to beleaguered Camden. No, he wasn’t suggesting they can have the same economic impact, but he did tie Shanghai’s downtown connection to its waterfront and how Philadelphia could benefit from a safer, cleaner pocket of urban density across the bridge.
- As part of the event’s regular give back program, The Wooden Boat Factory was given $1,000 from ticket sales, as a former speaker.
- A parody Twitter account @drunkgeoffd was created to poke fun at local organizer and web design firm P’unk Ave founder Geoff DiMasi‘s frequent pre-event celebrating and his other three current co-organizers, all men since Dana Vachon and Kara LaFleur no longer help organize the event.
- The organizers pledged to make sure women were better represented as hosts at the next Ignite in March.