AT Works When Universal Design is Applied

I just watched the ODEP Office of Disability and Employment Policy webinar AT Works. The meeting featured a panel of accessibility experts including the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy Kathleen Martinez, Public Affairs Program Director of National Industries for the Blind Brian Hurley, and Associated Professor and Director of the Technology Access Program, Co-PI, RERC on Telecommunications Access, Gallaudet University Christian Vogler.
Here at Knowbility, it is our practice to train and hire people with disabilities, many of them veterans with newly acquired disabilities,  so many of the topics discussed were not new to us.  I supervise a production crew of AccessWorkers with disabilities who demonstrate daily how valuable employees with disabilities can be and are. Still, it was good to hear different perspectives on the subject. Some really important ideas were explored by the panel, including the fact that employers may be afraid of expensive accommodations. But, as they pointed out, when we look at the issue of accommodation as more of a universal design issue and we examine current trends in mobile technology, we find that many AT solutions are being built in to technologies that many businesses already use.

Some other ideas that were recurring issues were the need to look at the person with a disability as a whole person, and that by talking to employers openly about a disability we can reduce fear and raise the expectations of the work environment.
At the end of the webinar the moderator  summed up what many of the panelists were saying by expressing the hope that cultural progress is being made in the general public. As progress continues,  employers may better understand people with disabilities and we can be confident that  product development will take care of itself as more AT is incorporated into popular technologies. A perfect example is the iPhone that uses the same technology  for blind users as for anyone else.
Standards are important, too.  Creating accessible websites that adhere to WCAG 2.0 will ensure that employers are taking advantage of some of these recent technological advances. At Knowbility we are opening up our AIR (Accessibility Internet Rally) to non-profits and development teams all over the world.  AIR trains both  developers and non-profits in accessible design techniques and challenges them to use their skills in a fun competition.

Adobe and NVDA Partnership Improves Accessibility

As Production Manager for the AccessWorks team here at Knowbility, my team and I have spent the past 3 years remediating PDFs and other documents to ensure accessibility.  One of the main issues we face is the inability to reliably test documents using open source screen-readers.  As open source screen-readers like NVDA become more main-stream we believe it is becoming more important than ever to test with them.

Over the past several years we have tried using a number of screen-readers to test documents including JAWS, NVDA, System Access To Go, and Apple’s VoiceOver. While JAWS is our primary testing option, the licensing cost makes it difficult for many small organizations and individuals creating accessible content to adopt JAWS as a primary testing tool for their PDFs.

The next best option for content creators with limited budgets is to use NVDA. While NVDA has many similar functions and hot keys as JAWS, there are still some areas for improvement such as navigating tables in PDF.  In JAWS you can use the “ctrl+alt+arrow” keys to navigate within a table and ensure the proper column and or row headers are read.  In NVDA this is currently not possible.  The only option is to navigate to a table using “T” and then use the arrow keys to navigate within the table without reading column or row headers. An abbreviated list of NVDA hot keys can be found on the WebAIM website.

Collaboration between Adobe and NV Access (the creators of NVDA) will help ensure document testing is complete and accurate when using this open source screen-reader.  It is my hope that this collaboration will not only make NVDA more compatible with accessibility features of Adobe PDF files, but will also help Adobe to further increase the accessibility of the Portable Document Format with the upcoming PDF/UA standard (ISO 14289).

Adobe’s Statement of Support for Open Source Assistive Technology cares about accessibility

Readability logo


Rich Ziade of announced today that his company will donate $50,000 to Knowbility. Rich said that the gift is because “We think you’re doing great, important work.” did not set out to benefit people with disabilities specifically. Begun as a way to unclutter web pages and allow readers direct access to page content, Readability has been widely adopted by people with disabilities, including cognitive impairments, low vision and those who use screen readers.   It is an excellent example of how, as John Slatin used to say, “Good design IS accessible design.”

Since Knowbility is in the midst of our first ever official fundraising effort, I wondered how Readability got wind of us and our work.  Talking with Rich when he called yesterday, he let us know that one of the company advisors is Jeffrey Zeldman, an established leader in web standards and an advocate for accessibility himself.  Jeffrey polled the disability/accessibility community and Knowbility’s was the work that was most often mentioned.  What an incredible honor!  So on behalf of millions of kids and adults with disabilities who lead more independent lives thanks to accessible technology we want to say thank you!

I sent Rich this background information, and they are making the announcement today:

About Knowbility

Since 1998, Knowbility has been raising awareness and training web professionals about why and how to make the online world fully accessible to all – including people with disabilities. Knowbility promotes equal technology access by producing community programs including the Accessible Internet Rally, an accessible web design competition; the ATSTAR program, helping teachers get assistive technology to the students who need it; and AccessWorks, putting veterans and others with disabilities to work in technology fields. Knowbility’s mission is barrier-free I.T. – great corporate citizens!

At a time when nonprofit organizations are challenged to find needed resources to do mission-driven work, companies like demonstrate that responsible corporate citizens can play a large and important role.  Kudos and deepest gratitude to Rich, Jeffrey and all who do this good work in our global community.