Why I love Becky Gibson

In her day-to-day identity, Becky Gibson is a Web accessibility architect in IBM’s Emerging Technologies Group, but to me she is an accessibility super hero.   At a time when I was becoming discouraged about the future of web accessibility, Becky’s work showed me a clear path forward.

If you are reading this, you are probably familiar with the basic issues of web accessibility – why it is so important in the modern world and how accessibility improves life for millions of people with various disabilities.  But confusion and misinformation continue to cause developers to hesitate to embrace accessibility.  Those of us who advocate for a truly open and inclusive web are often challenged to demonstrate how developers can integrate accessible design techniques while keeping pace with the rapid rate of technology change and innovation.  In 2004, Jeff Veen famously announced at a SXSW Interactive panel that had accessibility as its subject that he “did not think about accessibility” and did not have to because he used Web Standards. Well, the following year of course saw the introduction and dissemination of AJAX by Jeff’s company Adaptive Path – and there went that argument.

The challenges seemed to increase overnight. It became much more difficult to defend the statement that inclusive online environments could also be as dynamic and responsive as inaccessible platforms. Assistive technologies lagged behind and HTML did not provide the tools to successfully deliver dynamic, AJAX enabled experiences to all.

Enter IBM, the WAI-ARIA initiative and the subject of this post, one of my most valued inspirations – Becky Gibson.   In 2005, I attended the annual CSUN conference on assistive technology and found a session called “DHTML Accessibility – Fixing the JavaScript Accessibility Problem” presented by IBM and the W3C. The presenter was Rich Schwerdfeger supported by Becky Gibson.  Not only did she talk about the problems from the point of view of a working developer – with practical understanding of the struggles of reconciling the competing needs – but she presented solutions and ongoing challenges with excitement, true engagement,  and a sparkling sense of humor. I became a life long fan.

Becky has been engaged in identifying accessibility barriers of emerging technologies for most of her stellar career.  She is one of the originators of the ARIA framework. She approaches the challenges of dynamic interfaces with enthusiasm and imagination.  Being in her classes is just plain fun. In addition to the CSUN talks, Becky is a featured presenter at tech conferences all over the world and has led workshops and Core Conversations at the SXSW Interactive Conference.

Becky taught with us at AccessU from 2006 – 2009.  Woefully, her schedule did not permit her to return for a couple of years.  She was assigned by IBM to help Dojo integrate accessibility into their toolkit widgets, and Becky is now focused on mobile accessibility. And… she’s back! We are thrilled to welcome Becky as she rejoins John Slatin AccessU this year. She is teaching two classes – Accessible Javascript and Singing the Praises of WAI-ARIA, both on May 16th. And one of the sweetest things about AccessU is its limited size so there will be plenty of time for you to talk one on one with Becky and the other instructors.

So if you are challenged to create cutting edge applications that meet accessibility requirements and have been looking for resources, here is one of the best.  Come to her AccessU classes – no one knows more than Becky Gibson about the scripting needed to be successful; no one talks about it more clearly or more practically. Her class is fun and always enormously informative.

And if you have not yet enrolled in AccessU, what are you waiting for? Sign up today and make sure to get a seat in Becky’s class. You’ll see why I love her and just might fall in love yourself.


Sponsors of the 2012 John Slatin AccessU

We’d like to take a moment to thank the sponsors for the upcoming John Slatin AccessU here in sunny Austin, TX. It is an honor to have the support of these incredible companies and organizations as we work together toward a more inclusive technology world!


Deque Systems


St. Edward's University


Freedom Scientific


Adobe Systems


Eventida           Loop11

PLUS! Want to win a free pass to the conference? Deque Systems, our platinum sponsor, is giving one away! Register to win online:

Deque AccessU Giveaway

More than the 3 A’s: 30 Seconds with Kel Smith

The 2012 John Slatin AccessU training conference is just a few weeks away! As we look forward to the start of the program, we’d like to introduce you to Kel Smith, this year’s Keynote speaker. Kel is the author of the upcoming book, “Digital Outcasts: Moving Technology Forward without Leaving People Behind” and the owner of a digital accessibility company called Anikto.

I’d rather let Kel introduce himself, however, so I called him up on Monday and asked a few questions. If his responses to this 30-second interview are any indication, we’re in for a real treat during his keynote presentation:


Who are you?

I am Kel Smith, and I have dedicated the last 10-12 years to developing emerging technologies, specifically looking at how technology can include disenfranchised populations. This has involved a lot of disability research, obviously, but also considering persons with particular diseases, the economically disadvantaged and the like.

What will you be doing at AccessU?

Kel Smith Headshot
Kel Smith, Keynote presenter, AccessU 2012

I have been asked to do a Keynote to the fine folks who are attending AccessU; I was asked by the fine folks at Knowbility, who I admire and respect, and I will be talking about innovations in accessibility and what we can learn from the people I call “digital outcasts.”

Why do you care about accessibility?

A number of reasons. Number one, because I have a deep belief that if you make things easier for people with the highest degree of physical and cognitive challenges, you make things better for everybody.

Selfishly, I also believe that we are creating a prototype for our own future. At some point, we all will take advantage of ramps and curb cuts. We’re all going to get older, and all of us fall on the spectrum somewhere. We all have things we’re good at and not good at. If we’re going to talk about “user-centered design,” we have to look at all the users.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned recently?

About accessibility or in general? There is still a surprising polarity between people who believe in web accessibility. It’s better than it was five years ago when I was laughed out of board rooms for bringing it up. But there’s still a polarization in expectations for what makes a site accessible and what that means.

Last week I was in a meeting and an art director brought up section 508 compliance. At first, I thought “Great! This is a creative type, talking about accessibility.” It turns out, their concept of compliance just involved putting “those three A’s up there” to change the size of the text on the page. It’s getting better, but there’s still a long way to go.

What would you tell people who don’t think accessibility should be a priority?

If you’re designing for a group, you have to understand how they’re going to use it. You can’t do that sitting in your office. You have to talk to people who have experience with it, or better yet, talk to people living in that realm, people who use it every day.

If people tell me it’s not important, I ask why. Because you already designed it and you don’t want to redo it? Because you don’t believe there’s a need or a rationale for it?

One thing I never tell them is “You’re going to get sued.” It doesn’t actually happen very often. But I do tell them that they’re leaving money on the table. This is a group of people that is shopping from home; if your site isn’t accessible, they’re not buying from you.

Any last words?

I’m really looking forward to doing this, and I’m happy to do this. I hope I do a good job and represent Knowbility well!


I’m certain Kel will have no problem with that. You can catch his keynote presentation at 12:30pm on Tuesday, May 15th at the 10th annual John Slatin AccessU training conference in Austin.

Not registered yet? It’s not too late! Just visit www.knowbility.org/accessu to register today!