ATSTAR Partners with AISD This Fall

ATSTAR: New opportunity for staff development hours!

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Knowbility is pleased to announce that Austin Independent School District is the first school system to implement ATSTAR district-wide. This gives educators the option to complete 8 hours of accessibility training for Teacher Professional Development. ATSTAR will be a tool used by the district to improve teacher effectiveness in helping students with disabilities succeed in the classroom.

Our liaison at AISD is Carye Edelman, lead for the Assistive Technology Team at AISD. Carye has 31 years of experience in Special Education, including 11 years of teaching and 20 years as an Assistive Technology Specialist. She is one of the original co-authors of the ATSTAR curriculum. She will work with Knowbility CTO Bobby Brooks to bring ATSTAR the AISD Learning Management System this fall.

“You are educating your teams on something that, by law, they have to be doing anyway,” Carye said.“

With the implementation of ATSTAR, the curriculum will be available to 25 public schools around Austin. A free webinar introducing the program will take place Wednesday, August 17 at 1p.m. Register for the webinar on google forms:  https://goo.gl/forms/0wM6Ltg5eCCu2kQi1.

We believe that great teachers help create great students. We are proud to have AISD as one of our many partners to come!

Mission Control: This is OpenAIR Speaking

With OpenAIR kicking off in the next few months, Knowbility is hard at work putting the final touches on the competition before it officially begins in October. Luckily, OpenAIR is truly a team effort, one that wouldn’t happen without the tremendous help and support from the broader accessibility community, both here in Austin and nationwide. Two of those community members taking the helm of OpenAIR this year are Hiram Kuykendall of Microassist and CB Averitt of Deque Systems. Knowbility Board and Advisory member, Hiram, is in charge of developing and implementing training for the registered development teams, while CB, as mentor chair, has taken on the task of recruiting and directing this year’s group of talented mentors.

Before OpenAIR officially kicks off on October 11th, teams will have the option of going through a training course designed to specifically target and teach the accessibility concepts they will eventually be judged on. Hiram and the training team (which includes St. Edward’s Brenda Adrian, John Foliot and Glenda Sims of Deque, Jim Allan of the School for the Visually Impaired, Lewis Phillips and Jean Swart of AT&T, and Jessica Looney and Sharron Rush of Knowbility) are hard at work developing the gamified training course that will roll out August 12th. The premise of the game is to “navigate the perilous, inaccessible regions of space to provide the NPO space station with a new web-based communication interface.” It breaks training up into several “missions” that each team will need to complete in order to know how to successfully build a website for their assigned nonprofits. Each mission is taken directly from the criteria listed on the final judging form and include accessibility concepts such as ensuring the site has the correct HTML and ARIA markups, providing alt text and captioning for images and media, and creating working keyboard controls. By adding game elements to this year’s training course, Hiram and the team hope to not only communicate the core accessibility concepts more effectively to developers but to entice more teams to engage with the concepts on a practical level before attempting to build the website itself. Plus, it’s fun!

Once the competition begins, team members will have the option of reaching out to their assigned mentors to help guide them through each mission, as well as the construction of the actual site. Luckily, CB has done a tremendous job gathering some of the top talent currently working in accessibility to offer support and knowledge, including representation from Deque Systems, SSB Bart, Accessibility Oz, The Paciello Group, the Texas Department of State Health Services, and more. In keeping with the community spirit of OpenAIR, it was important to CB that the mentors come from a variety of companies and backgrounds.

“We’re all in this together so we definitely want representation from everybody because there’re awesome players everywhere,” he said.

Building on the practical skills provided in training, CB says there are three important themes he hopes the mentors will convey to their teams — encourage creativity, provide them with important learning resources they can use going forward, and show, don’t tell, them the “why” behind any given accessibility concept.

“One of the things I made a point to do — and I think we should do this all the time — is not just tell them, ‘Hey, you’ve gotta have alternative text and it needs to be appropriate and convey meaning.’ Don’t just tell them that. Show them. Show them why that’s important. Anytime I pulled out my screen reader and showed them why we do it, pretty much every time made aha moments for the team.”

Showing how alt text works through a screen reader, for example, provides a human perspective for the teams, broadening their understanding on why accessibility is necessary.

“It isn’t all about this technical jargon,” CB said. “It’s more about people, which is what it should be. Everything we do should be about people, not about code, not about the technical. That’s the kind of route I tried to take with my mentorship.”

Another important message CB hopes mentors will pass on to their mentees is that accessibility, rather than being an impediment to creativity, should go hand in hand with it.  

“Since I’ve been in this profession, the one thing I don’t want to do is stifle creativeness,” CB said. “Technology advances — it advances quickly. I see this with SMEs sometimes. They back off to make things accessible. I try to be a little bit different. Come up with something. Be creative and then let’s see how we can make it accessible.”

Finally, since the competition lasts just over a month, both CB and Hiram hope to provide participating teams with the tools they need to continue practicing and learning about universal design.  

“Quite frankly, I’ve been doing this for years and I look stuff up every day,” CB said. “I, by far, don’t know 100% of this information. Not even close to 100%. But! I do know where to go find it. I think that would be extremely helpful for the mentors to share with the mentees.”

Both the training and mentorship aspects of OpenAIR provide participants with enormous resources, skills, expertise, and networking opportunities, all of which couldn’t be done without the help of the incredible accessibility community. Ready to sign your team up? Registration is now open through September 1st on the OpenAIR website.  

Say ‘Hello’ to A Few New Faces!

Summer’s been the season of growth for the Knowbility offices. With seven new staff members, our team has doubled in size over the last three months, bringing a pretty amazing level of new skills, perspectives, and experience to the table. We can’t wait to see what they’ll come up with going forward.  Now, without further ado, meet, well, everyone!

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Bobby Brooks, Web Accessibility Specialist

Bobby is an expert in technology solutions for digital marketing, social media strategy, management consulting, new business development, account management, customer relationships. He is highly proficient in HTML5, CSS and WordPress and has been trained in accessibility by Knowbility’s senior staff. Bobby has a Bachelor of Science degree in Corporate Finance from San Diego State University-California State University. His interest in accessible technology came from more than 15 years’ experience in marketing, business development and contracts management for major corporations like BAE Systems and SAIC.

How did you first come to work within the field of accessibility?

I have a very dear friend whose son became blind through an accident as a child. This was my first experience with a blind person and it illustrated for me the things I take for granted in my work and play.

What’s your favorite piece of accessible technology? Can be an app, product, site, etc.

My favorite tool is Tota11y. It’s a bookmarklet developed by the Kahn Academy that puts a JavaScript overlay on the screen in the browser so you can highlight elements of the design from an accessibility perspective, including page structure, alt text, contrast etc.

What’s a skill (tech-related or not) of yours that you’d like to do a little shameless bragging about?

Patterns and connections between various systems and processes come alive in my mind, I can quickly see multiple solutions to complex issues I’m able to relate them to others in an easy to digest format. This makes me keen for developing strategy and solving problems. I also CrossFit 6 days a week and can do 51 pull-ups without coming off the bar.

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Brooks Newton, Senior Web Accessibility Consultant

Brooks has worked for over 20 years as a Web design & development consultant, including 15 years experience assisting government, public school, small business and Fortune 100 organizations enhance their Web content for use by the disability community. He has a Master of Arts Degree in English from the University of Kansas and a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Finance from the University of Oklahoma.

What has been your proudest moment with accessibility so far?

I’m probably most proud of the work I performed at AT&T to get the digital accessibility ball rolling company-wide.  Before my arrival at AT&T, there were champions of accessibility scattered throughout the organization.  Working within their own silos, these early adopters of Universal Design took on heroic challenges with their individual efforts to better serve the disability community.  I believe that my greatest contribution to AT&T and their customers was to help make digital accessibility oversight an enterprise-wide priority. I had a hand in making accessibility a part of “business as usual” at AT&T, and that’s something for which I’ll always be proud.

What’s your favorite piece of accessible technology? Can be an app, product, site, etc.

As an accessibility geek, I have to say I spend a lot of time perusing the WCAG 2.0 Quick Reference site that is hosted and maintained by the W3C.  The W3C has done a great job in putting together the resources required for folks to make their sites, mobile applications, browsers and content authoring systems accessible to people with disabilities.  I’m really looking forward to a day when most types of digital content will have a standard, documented implementation approach to accessibility.  The W3C has done a great job of leading in that effort. here is the URL to the WCAG 2.0 Quick Reference site – https://www.w3.org/WAI/WCAG20/quickref/

What’s a skill (tech-related or not) of yours that you’d like to do a little shameless bragging about?

I can play guitar and sing until the sun rises up above the Cookson Hills here in Northeastern Oklahoma.  I’ve been a singer/songwriter/musician for 35 years.  I find that after looking at code all day long, there’s nothing better than breaking out the six string and celebrating the end of the day by singing a song and playing guitar.  Good stuff!

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Buddy Brannan, Development and AT Specialist

Buddy is a native screen reader user who’s been working in IT since 1994. Buddy is an alumnus of The University of Texas at Austin with extensive experience in customer service and support. In that role, he’s worked for large regional Internet service providers conducting software testing and providing troubleshooting and analysis support across multiple platforms. Most recently, from 2009 to 2014, he worked for a provider of software and online services for people who are blind. He sincerely believes that information technology (technology of all sorts) can not only provide educational and employment opportunities for everyone regardless of ability or disability but can make our world smaller and eliminate barriers to full inclusion in all aspects of society.

What challenge in the accessibility world are you most excited to take on?

There’s so much that needs doing. More accessible information and cheaper, more reliable ways of getting at it would be great, and we’re already seeing that. More of that, please.

What’s your favorite piece of accessible technology? Can be an app, product, site, etc.

The iPhone, period amen.

What’s a skill (tech-related or not) of yours that you’d like to do a little shameless bragging about?

Shameless bragging? I don’t know. However, one unusual skill that some might not consider very useful: I know (and actively use) morse code. Had to learn it when I first got my ham radio license in 1987. No one has to learn it anymore, and my 30 words per minute is pretty fast these days :-).

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Marine Menier, Marketing and Sales Associate

Since July 2016, Marine has been working for Knowbility in the marketing and community program department. She is currently working on centralizing all of Knowbility’s contacts and program information on Salesforce. Marine is French and has a Master of Business Development & Strategic Marketing from Paris Dauphine. She worked in asset management and also for Air France as a project manager. After graduating, she came to Texas and started working for Knowbility as a volunteer! She loves traveling. She studied one year in Cordoba, Argentina. She loves learning new things especially languages and new technologies. She speaks French, Spanish, English and she is starting to learn Chinese.

How did you first come to work within the field of accessibility?

After graduating, I came to Texas to improve my English. At the same time, I wanted to work for a company. I found Knowbility, talked to Jessica and started working as a volunteer! Having the opportunity to work for Knowbility is something very exciting for me because my objective is to make people’s lives easier and more accessible.

What has been your proudest moment with accessibility so far?

When I went to SXSW and presented Knowbility at the booth. I felt so happy to see that so many people were asking questions about accessibility. I realized that accessibility is still a big challenge for a lot of companies and schools/universities but people seem to be putting in the effort to improve the situation. At this moment I felt proud to work for Knowbility. 

What challenge in the accessibility world are you most excited to take on?

I am very excited to work on the educational part of it! For me, working on ATSTAR is something that is so rewarding because education impacts the future of our country. Everybody should have equal access to education  in our world.

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Anthony Vasquez, Assistive Technology Specialist

Anthony is a native screen reader user and Research Assistant at the University Of Southern California US-China Institute, Los Angeles, CA. Anthony has an MA in East Asian Studies from Stanford University. He graduated summa cum laude with a BA in Journalism from California State University Long Beach. At CSU Long Beach, Anthony used Braille and specialized computer software to learn Chinese. He now speaks Mandarin as well as Spanish and English.

 What has been your proudest moment with accessibility so far?
In general, I feel very fortunate being the first blind American—to my knowledge—to have studied Mandarin Chinese at the college level. I started in the fall of 2006 at Cal State Long Beach. Working with Disabled Student Services at Long Beach we pioneered a workflow that enabled me to learn Chinese braille, study abroad, and become proficient in the language.

Regarding my time with Knowbility, I am proud of playing a role in
improving the high-stakes English and math test experience on
Pearson’s TestNav platform. When images have accessible alt text and passages have a logical heading structure, students can stop worrying about the testing environment and put more effort to studying for these important exams.

What challenge in the accessibility world are you most excited to take on?

I am interested in improving mobile accessibility. Though Apple’s
screen reader VoiceOver is great on iOS devices, many third-party apps are still inaccessible.

What’s your favorite piece of accessible technology? 

I recently purchased a Braille Edge 40 by Hims Inc. It is a
refreshable braille display and note taker that pairs with
smartphones, tablets, and computers. With this, I can read incoming
text messages, lyrics from a streaming music service, or edit
documents. I retain information better if I read it in braille, and
giving presentations is much easier when reading from a braille copy
than echoing what I hear from my headphones.


 

Akash Singh, Web Accessibility Specialist

I am a Computer Science graduate student at California State University Long Beach. I am presently residing in Long Beach, California and working as a remote employee for Knowbility. I have completed my schooling and undergraduate studies in India. I got my bachelors in Electronics and Telecommunication from Symbiosis University, Pune. I have previously worked at Nvidia & Mitsubishi Electric. I also spent some time developing a game for the Android mobile OS that I successfully published on the Play Store.

How did you first come to work within the field of accessibility?

My first job as a research assistant on an ongoing project with Dr. Wayne Dick and Dr. Alvaro Monge at CSULB. The goal of this project was to build a web-based solution for people who suffer from Low Vision.

What’s your favorite piece of accessible technology? Can be an app, product, site, etc.

VoiceOver on iOS. My appreciation of this technology grows with my understanding and knowledge of accommodation requirements for people with disabilities.

What’s a skill (tech-related or not) of yours that you’d like to do a little shameless bragging about?

When I am not programming I am usually spending my time with my guitar. Even though I wouldn’t say I am very good at it, it sure is one of my favorite skills.


 

Eden Akins, Intern

I went to CSULB and graduated this year in spring. Before Knowbility I worked on a research project at my school (which I still work on) that is meant to show the disadvantages of horizontal scrolling on webpages (that is also how I got into accessibility).

What challenge in the accessibility world are you most excited to take on?

Creating usable and accessible websites.

What’s a skill (tech-related or not) of yours that you’d like to do a little shameless bragging about?

I’m a programmer who works on web pages & android applications in my free time.

Knowbility travels!

Last week, half of the Knowbility team dispersed over San Antonio, Houston, and Washington D.C. to spread the good word of ATSTAR and AccessU.

Jessica took to Washington D.C. for the M-Enabling Summit where she was invited to sit on two panels, Media on the Internet: Accessibility Challenges and Opportunities and App Developers, Competing for Accessibility Innovation. President and CEO of AMI, David Errington, led the panel, which included Chet Cooper of Ability Magazine, Mike Paciello of The Paciello Group, and Joel Snyder, president of Audio Description Associates. There are many challenges currently facing the creation of accessible media content, the biggest of which is a sense of urgency to do so, or lack thereof. Still, the tides are turning on that front, if slowly. Take Netflix, for example, which, in a notable move, added audio description to its popular Daredevil series. Setting universal standards is the next priority as, like Jessica says, “Get three audio describers in a room and you may get four descriptions of the visual content.”

On accessible apps, Knowbility shared its experience dabbling in the app development world with the creation of the AccessU 2016 App through Guidebook. For its first year out of the gate, the app performed overall successfully, with the notable exception of its inaccessibility. Obviously, making the app fully accessible is first on the list of changes to make before next year’s conference. Speaking of AccessU, while in D.C., Jessica got the chance sit down with a few of the conference’s biggest sponsors including Mike Paciello, Caitlin Cashin (Deque Systems), and Mary Smith (SSB Bart) to discuss the future of AccessU and other Knowbility initiatives.

Back down in Texas, Molly made the drive up to Houston for the Texas Assistive Technology Network Conference (TATN), where she spoke with a friendly array of educators, administrators, speech pathologists, and occupational therapists about the benefits of implementing ATSTAR at their respective schools. Though the significant majority of attendees at this particular conference already have the AT basics down pat, interest levels were high for a course that would help the rest of their colleagues get on the same page.

The conversation of implementing ATSTAR on a district-wide level continued in San Antonio, where Sharron rounded out the travel-heavy week with a breakfast meeting that gathered representatives from all six of the city’s school districts. Attendees of the breakfast watched a demo of the course, heard about effectiveness studies that we conducted on schools and educators that have used it, and how their districts can get involved. This coincides with the cementing of ATSTAR’s collaboration with AISD, which, beginning in July, will make the curriculum available to all educators in the district. All in all, exciting things are happening in these dog days of summer but we’re happy to be all back in that dry, familiar heat of Austin!

Our GAAD 2016 picks

Wow! So much going on this year.  High fives to Jennison Asuncion and Joe Devon for starting the Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) bandwagon five years ago…it has become a global parade, a celebration of the work of the community and a hand up for those just getting started – we love it!

Big favorites around here are the just released Web Accessibility Perspectives, a series of  videos from W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative.  With humor and brevity, the videos demonstrate the barriers caused by inaccessible web pages both for persons with disabilities and for other users. Videos lead you right to a list of tips and resources for addressing and fixing barriers once you learn to identify them.  On GAAD or anytime, check out the WAI Web Perspectives videos and resources to experience accessibility from the perspective of persons with disabilities and learn more about creating accessible websites.

Our own contribution to the festivities comes from our AccessWorks program. AccessWorks is a database of users with disabilities who can test your website for accessibility from remote locations. The platform was developed by Knowbility and Loop11 to help include users with disabilities in remote usability testing. We are pleased to provide this service for free for up to four users –  only on GAAD  – May 19.   Use the Loop11 signup form and select the Knowbility database and up to four users with disabilities will report on the accessibility of your website

Here in our hometown of Austin, Razorfish hosts an Accessibility Meetup every month. Tomorrow is a special one and we will be there to help celebrate two years of the group along with five years of GAAD. Viva!

It wouldn’t be GAAD without the stellar lineup of experts who feed our minds and our souls round the clock supporting accessibility practice one hour at a time.  It’s Inclusive Design 24 (#ID24) and is 24 hours of free online accessibility talks, hosted by The Paciello Group in celebration of the day.

And those are just a tiny fraction of the celebrations and gathering and demonstrations all over the world that highlight the glory of web accessibility,  helping the web reach its full potential by making sure everyone is included.

What are your favorite events?

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