Category Archives: Accessibility

Integrating Accessibility at the Big Design Conference

September 10th found a few members of the Knowbility team — Community Programs Director, Jessica Looney and CTO, Bobby Brooks — just north of Dallas for the annual Big Design Conference. Their mission? To educate a room full of 80+ of Texas’s leading user experience, marketers, and web design experts on the importance of considering accessibility from the get-go.

“Our overall message in the presentation was that designers need to be integrating accessibility into their process when they’re making websites because part of the problem is that it’s often treated as an afterthought,” Jessica said. “Don’t let it be an afterthought. Let it be something that is done in the initial planning process.”

Their presentation included several videos from the W3C’s perspectives series, which you can check out on the W3C site if you haven’t yet (and you really should!). The series breaks down common accessibility issues such as contrast, image and video captioning, and keyboard controls in 1 – 2 minute, easy-to-understand segments. Bobby also introduced the crowd to tota11y, a user-friendly, highly informative bookmarklet from Khan Academy that enables users to visualize how their sites perform with assistive technologies.

Tota11y is an easy way to quickly see what is working and what might need improvement, especially for higher level executive presentations,” Bobby said.

Finally, the two rounded off the talk by discussing the merits of AccessWorks, Knowbility’s testing portal that pairs disabled users with sites to ensure the functionality of the site’s accessibility features. “Testing is equally important,” Bobby said. “Test your designs and be open or flexible enough to make changes along the way when access is limited.”

Jessica agrees. “AccessWorks is a great way to test a website because a huge part of testing is making sure that you have people with disabilities test for you,” she said. “Not only are you helping people with disabilities with employment but you’re also testing your own site to make sure it’s working effectively and that it’s accessible for the people who will use it.”

Following the presentation, Bobby and Jessica stuck around to answer individual questions from the audience, of which there were many. One of the most telling came from a woman who works in the branding and marketing department at AT&T. Recently, she’s come against some pushback from the accessibility department concerning her color choices for an icon she’s designing due to color contrast issues.

“She didn’t know what to do because nothing was passing,” Jessica said. “Naturally, she was frustrated. I think she was saying what most designers are feeling but aren’t saying out loud.”

Namely, the misconception that accessibility gets in the way of making a product, site, or icon aesthetically appealing. In reality, there are plenty of graphic options that are both aesthetically pleasing and accessible. This is why inclusive thinking from the beginning is so important — designers often don’t think there are many options because they will pick a color from the get-go without considering whether or not the color is accessible. Then, when they find out that it isn’t, they become frustrated.

“I think it’s just a retrain your brain kind of thing,” Jessica said. “Ignore this color wheel, look at this other one instead. It’s learning to approach it from a different perspective. There are just as many options, it just may not be the same options.”

Besides, whether or not designers take issue with it, the bottom line is, the accessibility department isn’t going anywhere. We’ve come so far, though, and resources such as tota11y, the W3C and AccessWorks are only making it easier for designers to learn the principles behind accessible design, as well as implement those principles in their own work.

“Designing for accessibility is really the recognition that the designer cannot control the device, nor how the audience will consume the design,” Bobby said. “That means designs need to be flexible enough to accommodate increased diversity in both to find a balance that includes everyone.”

Overall, the two declared the conference a success. But don’t take their word for it — check out this lovely (and informative!) graphic from one particularly inspired member of the audience. Way to go, guys!

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Education and Outreach Working Group (EOWG) invites conversation at TPAC

EOWG co-chairs Sharron Rush and Brent Bakken will be at the W3C Combined Technical Plenary / Advisory Committee Meetings (TPAC) and have offered to host an open forum MeetUp for WAI-IG participants and any others interested in web accessibility.

Announcement: WAI-IG Meetup hosted by EOWG at TPAC

What: Open Forum (come and go as your schedule permits)

When: From 3:30 pm until the end of day (in the Lisbon, Portugal time zone). Monday September 19th

Where: EOWG Meeting room at 1.02, Hall 4, on the First Floor.

WAI-IG participants attending TPAC please stop the EO meeting room any time after 3:30 pm on Monday, September 19th to hear about EOWG current and upcoming projects and share your ideas about how WAI-IG can more actively engage with those activities. As well, please bring any additional ideas for energizing and using the potential of this large group to further the cause of web accessibility going forward.

If you are not attending TPAC in person but would like to share ideas, we would love to hear them right here – please leave comments.

Sharron and Brent say “Thanks and hope to see you!”

ATSTAR Partners with AISD This Fall

ATSTAR: New opportunity for staff development hours!


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:

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

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!


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.


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 –

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!


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 :-).


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.


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!