What Developers Should Know For A Universally Accessible Internet

This article was originally published in the September 2015 edition of “NTEN: Change“, the quarterly newsletter of NTEN (Nonprofit Technology Network) and was crafted by the Marketing Team of Knowbility: Jessica Looney, Community Programs Manager; Divya Mulanjur, Marketing & Communications Associate; and Anne Mueller, Community Programs Assistant.

web accessibility icon
web accessibility icon

Web accessibility is the practice of removing any barriers to interaction with technology for anyone, including people with disabilities. Simply put, this means that when you create an application or a website, everyone should be able to access it.

The regulations that govern accessibility in the United States include Section 508 and the American with Disabilities Act. In 1998, the federal government amended the 1973 Rehabilitation Act that determined that “agencies must give disabled employees and members of the public access to information that is comparable to access available to others” (Section508.gov). The American with Disabilities Act recently celebrated its 25thyear of existence. These regulations prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. The Supreme Court recently determined that the Internet is public domain; therefore, it must be accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities.

When implementing accessibility standards, web professionals must consider a myriad of factors. Disabilities can include visual, physical, auditory, speech, or cognitive impairments. Many websites, programs, and applications contain barriers that make it difficult for people with disabilities to use. A person with a visual impairment may use a third party program, like a screen reader, that will read aloud the text on the screen. Therefore, images should contain alternative text (“alt” text) that will describe the image the person cannot see. If a person is unable to utilize a mouse when using the Internet, the website should contain architecture that allows a keyboard-only user to easily maneuver through the site. Check out WCAG (Web Accessibility Content Guidelines) “Before/After Demonstration” to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t. As well, you can use WAVE (Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool) to test your website’s accessibility.

In order to continue developing a more accessible Internet, web designers and developers should consider the following factors:

  • Page Title: Be sure the page has a simple, explanatory title that informs the user of the name of the site
  • Headings: Each page should have at least one heading. Maintain a friendly hierarchy when coding
  • Text Size: Some people need to resize the size of the text on the screen. To test this, zoom in on your web page to see what it looks like
  • Contrast: Use a website like Check My Colors or Contrast Ratio. The former will check your page for proper contrast, and the latter will give you a WCAG-based score after you input the text and colors you plan on using
  • Landmarks: Add at least three landmarks to your site: “Main,” “Navigation,” and “Search”
  • Keyboard access: Every element of a website should be easily accessible if a person is only using a keyboard, not a mouse. Links should be easily tabbed through, and drop-down menus should also be able to be tabbed through
  • Links: Each link should contain a descriptive name
  • Forms: Be sure any forms you have on your website are accessible. Identify the required fields
  • Do not use the phrase “Click Here”—it’s too ambiguous

One of the best ways to test for accessibility is to try it out yourself! Unplug your mouse; if you’re using a laptop, turn off the track pad. Many computers now come with their own screen reader software; turn this on. Toggle the “high contrast” switch, and zoom in or magnify a web page. How does the site look? Are there overlaps? Are the colors appeasing to the eye? Do you get stuck on a link or page when trying to navigate only using a keyboard? This should be a good test for accessibility.

Knowbility is improving technology access for millions of youth and adults with disabilities all over the world with its many community programs. One such program is OpenAIR, Knowbility’s annual global web accessibility challenge. OpenAIR invites teams of web professionals to sign up for a global competition where each team has to develop an accessible website. These websites are made for nonprofits from around the world, who also sign up for OpenAIR.

OpenAIR began in 1998 in Austin Texas, as the Accessibility Internet Rally (AIR), a web design competition that would:

  1. Raise awareness among technology professionals about the need for accessible websites and software applications
  2. Provide a medium for nonprofit agencies to harness the power of the Internet and expand their reach
  3. Create meaningful connections between the disengaged technology sector and the rest of the community

Today, OpenAIR has evolved into a global teaching and learning competition that puts accessibility front and center, where it belongs. OpenAIR imparts advanced accessibility skills to web developers across the globe, creates a challenging atmosphere for participants to enhance these abilities, and keeps them engaged with games and networking events. By bringing in an experienced panel of judges and assigning leading accessibility experts as mentors to each team, the competition has been fine-tuned as an incubator of quality websites.

In its 18th year now, OpenAIR has nurtured the creation of hundreds of accessible community websites. The FCC recently honored Knowbility by bestowing upon them the Chairman’s Award for Innovation in Accessibility for this program. For many arts and nonprofit organizations, the AIR site was their first foray onto the Web. OpenAIR is growing and is on its way to becoming an established global event. OpenAIR 2015 is a technology challenge that fosters healthy competitive spirit to do good and make a difference in the world through knowledge of universal design.

#Vote for @Knowbility to #UpgradeYourWorldUSA

What is #UpgradeYourWorldUSA?

Microsoft is supporting nonprofits who are improving their world. Ten organizations will receive cash investments ($50,000) and technology. And they are asking YOU to vote for your favorite local nonprofit by posting and tweeting.

We need YOUR help to win! Here’s why and how to help Knowbility.

Why should I vote for Knowbility?

Knowbility’s community programs make the web more accessible and help to ensure that technology empowers people with disabilities.

If you believe as we do that technology access for all upgrades our world, you can make an enormous contribution just by voting! Your vote each day until Sept 23, 2015 will support our community programs:

  • AccessWorks document remediation program provides technology training and direct employment opportunity for people with disabilities – including veterans with newly acquired disability.
  • The AccessWorks Usability portal provides short term revenue opportunities for people with disabilities to earn from home using their own technology.
  • ATSTAR helps children with disabilities succeed in school by providing assistive technology training to teachers.
  • MAPgoals supports teens with disabilities to become self-advocates as they transition to college and career
  • OpenAIR raises awareness of access to technology for all, by mentoring and training today’s web professionals in accessible design skills and techniques. This is also a means to create low-cost, high quality, professionally designed websites for other nonprofits.

I’m in! When do I vote?

Now! …and every day until September 23rd. The Upgrade Your World National Initiative by Microsoft starts at 12:01 a.m. Pacific Time (PT) on September 1, 2015, and ends at 11:59 p.m. PT on September 23, 2015 (“Voting Period”).

How do I vote?

There are three (3) ways to Vote during the Voting Period:

  1. Log in to your Twitter account and Tweet or re-Tweet, a public message with the hashtag #UpgradeYourWorldUSA and the hashtag #vote and our Twitter handle @knowbility.
    Here is an example of a simple Tweet: I #vote for @knowbility to #UpgradeYourWorldUSA.
  2.  You could also Tweet a short-story or the reason why you choose to vote for us.
    For example: I #vote for @knowbility to empower people with disabilities by making the web a more accessible place for everyone #UpgradeYourWorldUSA
  3. Log in to your Facebook account, visit www.facebook.com/windows  and find the post seeking public vote. Post a comment in response to this post which includes #UpgradeYourWorldUSA hashtag and the hashtag #vote and tag us: @knowbility.
  4. Visit http://wndw.ms/IjpTao and follow voting instructions to fill in our name to share on Facebook or Twitter.

You may also include text, photographs, video, voice, or like media that describes how Knowbility helps the community and upgrades the world.

How many times can I vote?

Each eligible submission – post or Tweet tagged with @knowbility and hashtags #UpgradeYourWorldUSA and #vote, will count as one vote. Limit one per person per account per day. Excess, incomplete or illegible submissions will be disqualified by Microsoft.

Everyone must have equal access to technology and internet, and if you understand the challenges of everyday (technology controlled) life that people with disabilities face, then you know that Knowbility is truly upgrading the world, so – please vote for us!

For more information, visit the Microsoft link:  http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/upgradeyourworld/

To vote on the Microsoft website visit this link:  http://wndw.ms/IjpTao

Microsoft #UpgradeYourWorld contest official rules:  http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/upgradeyourworld/TermsandConditions

Chicago’s Millennium Park, an exemplary commitment to Universal Design

2015 commemorates the 25th anniversary of the passing of the American’s with Disabilities Act.  In the past 25 years we have seen a slow steady progression: from stop gap measures taken as an afterthought to include persons with disabilities, to the current movement which we have as a community in terms of universal design.  Universal design in software, hardware, and environment refers to an aesthetic design that is inclusive to persons regardless of disability or equipment used.

When we think of accessibility we often think of wheelchair ramps, accessible bathrooms, and accessibility of technology for employment.  While these concerns are crucial for real life they do not encapsulate the full experience of a person with a disability.  A child in a wheel chair has a natural want and need to socialize just as any other child of their age.  There is a sociological need for connection and normalcy.

Kudos to Millennium Park in Chicago for demonstrating a grasp of the wants and needs for persons with disabilities to be included in recreation.

Millennium Park exceeded the standards set out in the ADA by making inclusive ramps with a slope more gradual than dictated by ADA to ease use by persons with disabilities.  They consulted with a wide breadth of nonprofit organizations in order to make sure the park set the standards for universal inclusive design.  They made adaptation to ensure that white canes do not get stuck, kids in wheel chairs can participate in playing with water fountains, and that all trails are inclusive.   For more information on Chicago’s Millennium park read here:  Millennium Park sets accessibility standards, ADA 25 Chicago says

Disability is Not a Problem; it is Part of Who You Are.

Article by Patricia Walsh, Principal at Blind Ambition Speaking and USA Para National Olympic-Distance Triathlon Champion 


When I was growing up, the future for persons with disabilities did not seem bright to me.  I was coached in the process for applying for SSDI.  I believed to collect social security was my ceiling with regard to my potential for inclusion.  As I have lived to see the tremendous change brought on by accessible technology I’m thrilled to have experienced firsthand the shattering of a ceiling of human potential.  Working and contributing is more than a pathway to income, it is a yellow brick road to quality of life, self-worth, and a sense of achievement.  Organizations such as Knowbility and similar organizations like the Blind Institute of Technology are driving the cultural changes to create new opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

Mike Hess is the founder of the Blind Institute for Technology based out of Denver, CO.  This nonprofit organization is dedicated to increasing representation of persons with blindness in the workforce particularly in the fields of science, math, engineering, and technology.  Hess believes that his success in the corporate world was not in spite of his blindness but actually attributed to his blindness.  He believes his listening skills, problem solving, and resourcefulness made him an invaluable contributor in corporate America.

Hess started BIT in order to be part of the solution.  They offer training for persons with blindness in tech-skills.  They also interface with corporations to convey that persons with blindness can be an invaluable peace for any solution.  BIT is a similar program to Knowbility’s Access works program.  Access Works has a reach beyond blindness but similar in its approach.  The premise being that the disability is not a problem it is an asset.  In a world that values diversity and creative solution there is now access to a previously untapped pool of talented skills individuals.

Congratulations to BIT and Mike Hess for building on a change in perspective that may result in improved quality of life for individuals with blindness in the Colorado region.  For more information regarding Bit please read here:  http://www.denverpost.com/business/ci_28502401/blind-institute-technology-aims-solve-jobless-epidemic

The Future of Accessible Software: Sharron Rush Interview

Partners on Employment and Accessible Technology (PEAT) recently interviewed Knowbility’s Executive Director, Sharron Rush, on her thoughts regarding the future of accessible technology.  Sharron states that some huge impact has been made by corporations such as Apple putting their best designers on inclusive design.  By designing innovative tools like Siri, they added accessibility features which also appeal to users of any ability.  This opens up products to the mainstream consumer which drives down the cost.

The onset of ubiquities technology has made huge leaps to level the playing field.  It is also true that the fast pace of technology has created some barriers as historically, accessible technology has not caught up.  Sharron predicts that we are currently in an age of starting to understand the problems presented by technology and with improved awareness and dedication we can move to a model of inclusive design.  The population of persons with disabilities is only growing as the aging population increases.  Companies like Apple have led the way.  Inclusive design will be the future of accessible technology which will create a win-win-win for users of adaptive technology, corporate bottom line, and mainstream consumers.  For more information and the full interview please visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TA28nsswpd4&feature=youtu.be

"Good Design IS Accessible Design." — Dr. John Slatin