Knowbility 2011 Year End

Sharron Rush

My guilty holiday secret?  I love the corny holiday music, from the silly Frosty ones to the lovely carols from all parts of the world.  One of my favorites is called Calypso Christmas.  I hope your year is drawing to a happy close and that you have set aside some time to enjoy the holiday.  We were very busy here at Knowbility and I invite you take to a moment to read some of the details of our work in the articles below.  As always, we greatly appreciate your support for our programs that promote equal access to technology.

The year saw some tremendously exciting advances in technology that benefit people with disabilities.  From mobile accessibility to captioning technology and new versions of screen reading software, assistive technology is becoming mainstream.  Users are understanding that accommodations, such as voice input, meant for people with disabilities actually make our devices more flexible and easier to use by all. Legislators realized the importance of technology in the lives of all citizens and made some important headway in legal requirements for accessible technology. Implementation of the Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act has made online audio/video content usable by millions who were previously excluded.

Serious challenges remain.  No amount or type of software can take the place of accessible design and so we continue to teach, consult and advocate for web and application accessibility.  A critical need is in the explosion of online learning and virtual school networks.  As our schools rely on online delivery of course content and learning experiences, access to the curriculum becomes fundamentally, critically important.  This is a challenge that we must address for the future of our students with disabilities, but also for our society at large.  Technology has the capacity to engage millions who were previously left out.  We cannot afford to lose their valuable experience and insight as we face the mounting challenges of the 21st Century.

In the fourteen years that Knowbility has been advocating for equal access to technology, much has changed.  What has remained constant is the support of our community.  People like you who understand the importance of equal technology access and who incorporate that understanding into your own work. Please consider making a year end gift to continue to strengthen Knowbility programs.  Together, we make a difference in the lives of millions of people throughout the world.   Thank you for all you do.

Happy holidays and all the best in the coming year,
Sharron

 

As we move toward year’s end, all of us at Knowbility would like to thank our volunteers, sponsors, contractors and contributors for their hard work, patience and generosity. Together we are working toward a world where barrier-free technology creates opportunities for everyone, including people with disabilities. Thank you all for your contributions and good wishes. Please consider supporting our work with a year-end donation.  These are the programs and activities that your generosity will support.

Our AccessWorks Document Remediation Team consists of people, including veterans and others with disabilities, trained by Knowbility to repair electronic documents to be accessible to all.  The effort is a self-sustaining employment program and in 2011, the Team completed 33 contracts.  Our Team repaired documents for 4 universities, 2 Texas state agencies, 3 energy companies, 3 healthcare companies, a major national healthcare nonprofit, and 4 corporations. Our customers included the Rutgers University John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, Duke University Law School, Drexel University, Austin Energy, The Texas Department of Insurance, Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission, and the TMF Health Quality Institute. The AccessWorks team continues to provide the best document accessibility services anywhere and improve PDF remediation processes. One of the year’s great pleasures at Knowbility was welcoming three new members to the AccessWorks team, Laura Dominguez, Darren Davila and Robin Petty; great additions, all.

Commercial Services

I am accessible

Knowbility’s commercial services, led by ED Sharron Rush, provided web accessibility reviews and technical solutions including training and strategic planning, to 21 corporations and agencies: 5 Texas state agencies, 3 major energy providers, 2 national healthcare nonprofits, 2 national arts and disabilities organizations, 4 universities, 5 corporations. We assessed e-learning courseware and provided accessibility training for the Texas Education Agency and its Texas Virtual School Network project. We helped the American Heart Association and The ARC of the US create accessible web sites. We worked with a partner to incorporate accessibility features into the government web site for the State of Qatar. Knowbility provided accessible computer lab training for the Texas State Library and Archives Commission and technical solutions for The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, ArtBeyondSight in New York and SmartMeter Oncor utility providers right here in Texas. 2011 was also our fourth year of working with valued partner Southern California Edison, who we continue to work with in creating accessible web sites and applications so their customers with disabilities can access utility services, open and close accounts, monitor their usage, read their records and much more.

Community

Carolyn Gibbs

Knowbility was pleased to welcome Carolyn Gibbs as our Community Programs Manager in 2011. Since August, Carolyn’s been herding the cats, generating goodwill, and getting ready for the upcoming AIR Austin and SXSW AIR Interactive and, at the same time, laying groundwork for the 2012 AccessU training conference. Last but not least, we give a shout out (and back) to Geri (pronounced Gary) Druckman, our new Digital Media Director, who keeps our web sites and other media platforms running.

 

 

 

AccessWorks

One of the year’s most exciting events was the launching, along with partner Loop11 of Melbourne, as in Down Under, of our AccessWorks Usability & Accessibility Testing Portal. The testing portal allows users with disabilities to get paid for testing web sites, while marketing and usability professionals use the test findings to improve accessibility and usability. Our expectation is that both users and marketers will reap great benefits from the testing portal.

ATSTAR

ATSTAR

ATSTAR, Knowbility’s online professional development initiative in Assistive Technology (AT), continues to serve classroom teachers and their students with disabilities in K-12 and college classrooms in five states. ATSTAR trains teachers how to assess and apply appropriate AT so that students with disabilities can succeed in school. In 2011 Knowbility applied for funding from the US Department of Education Institute of Educational Sciences (IES) in partnership with the University of South Florida and The University of Texas Center for Disability Studies to do a three-year study of ATSTAR that will prove its efficacy and upgrade its content with cutting edge research.

Sight Sound Soul

Sight Sound Soul

In October, Knowbility and VSA Texas presented Sight Sound Soul, a multi-sensory, completely accessible, music and art performance at the Southwest Conference on Disability in Albuquerque. The SW Conference is  one of the nation’s largest disability conferences and this third year of Sight Sound Soul featured legendary jazz vocalist and pianist, Henry Butler, along with fine arts painter and Denton, Texas resident, John Bramblitt.  John created a huge portrait of Henry while Henry sang and pounded out New Orleans jazz with musical roots winding all the way back and deep down into Storyville. What’s cool is that Henry and John are both blind. Sight Sound Soul transmitted their aural and visual stylings, translated live, in real time via ASL, live video, audio description and captioning to 1,000 conference attendees with disabilities. It turned out that Sight Sound Soul was a big hit and the highlight of the conference.

Southwest Conference on Disability

Southwest Conference on Disability

Also at the SW Conference on Disability, Knowbility Executive Director, Sharron Rush, presented an all-day pre-conference workshop, Web Accessibility 101 – Designing for All, for the attendees who are primarily social service professionals, i.e. not techies. And during the conference itself, Sharron conducted three workshops on various aspects of working toward web accessibility: Get Your AT Program Rolling Without Reinventing the Wheel, Accessibility – The Musical, and You Can’t Buy Love – But You CAN Buy Accessibility. The workshops were packed and all in all, Knowbility’s experience at the Conference was extremely productive. Conference officials commented that Sharron and the Knowbility crew made a significant contribution to the event. Add to that, the overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic response to Sight Sound Soul, and the result is that Knowbility will return and be a part of the 2012 conference in October.

WAI – Web Accessibility Initiative

Web Accessibility Initiative

2011 marked the fifth year of our Executive Director’s participation as an Invited Expert on the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative, Education and Outreach Working Group (WAI-EOWG) Among many other activities, WAI-EOWG produces a variety of outreach and support materials for consumers with disabilties and corporations to foster and encourage accessible design. For example, there’s a blog, http://bit.ly/inaccessible, where inaccessibility is discussed and dissected, and advocates and innovators swap ideas, proffer solutions and, of course, air their opinions. Every month WAI-EOWG highlights a particular resource, this month it’s a guide called Contacting Organizations about Inaccessible Websites http://www.w3.org/WAI/users/inaccessible.html. While the blog gives advocates an accessibility forum, the resource guide gives customers a constructive and useful way to communicate about accessibility, or rather inaccessibility, when they encounter it. A link to the guide can be posted on shopping pages for customers who encounter barriers and serve as a valuable means of letting companies know specific problem areas.

 holiday accessibility thoughts

Here are some holiday accessibility thoughts from our colleague, Jennifer Sutton of JSutton Media, about why Contacting Organizations about Inaccessible Websites can be so important:

“When I go online during the holidays, “ she writes, “I just want to find what I’m looking for and check out without needing any help. But sometimes, by the time I’m done, my holiday cheer is beginning to fade. Trying to use an inaccessible site to buy a gift or make a donation on behalf of a loved one can take time I simply don’t have during the busy holiday season.

“But if I spend a little extra time to report my experiences to the organizations that run the sites I visit, I believe my efforts will make the Web a better place next year.

“As I make my shopping list and gather links to the sites I plan to visit, I’m adding a couple of other links to my collection, so they’ll be handy. I’m also setting up an email template or two in advance to help me quickly report my shopping experiences — both the good ones and the ones that are harder than I might wish. Why not join me and start off your New Year positively by helping to make the Web a more accessible place?”

Knowbility looks forward to helping you and working with you in 2012 to make this goal a reality.

Retailers – help your customers with disabilities help you!

Shoppin cart keyboardIsn’t it great to be able to make holiday travel arrangements and to purchase gifts online during the holidays at your own convenience?  For people with disabilities who may not have easy access to transportation, the opportunity is invaluable.  If you sell goods and services online, you have an eager market in this group that is 54 million people strong in the United States, maintains an aggregate income that now exceeds $1 trillion, and boasts $220 billion in discretionary spending power according to Fortune Magazine.

As ideal as it sounds, many online retailers fail to reach this valuable market because their web sites are not accessible.  The potential customer is likely to lose interest when form inputs aren’t labeled, graphic elements are not described, or the next step in a purchase process shows up in a modal dialogue that can’t be found by assistive technology.  These and other design barriers can make online shopping miserable for potential buyers with disabilities.

If your customers are frustrated, you want to know about it.  The Web Accessibility Initiative at the W3C has a resource to help them communicate with you in a constructive and useful way.  Consider posting a link on your shopping pages for customers who encounter shopping barriers.

The guide is called Contacting Organizations about Inaccessible Websites and can help your potential customers describe specific areas of pain.  Open the channels of communication to potential customers with disabilities.  You may make their holidays much merrier and give yourself the gift of a new customer who is likely to return.  May your all your holidays be bright!