Category Archives: Accessibility

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!

Welcome to AccessU 2016!

AccessU is an annual conference that brings leading experts from around the globe to Austin, TX to teach and talk about accessible design skills. The conference provides practical resources, encouraging participants to explore various aspects of digital inclusion and master role-based skills involved in launching successful accessibility initiatives.

This year’s theme is “Accessibility Is A Team Sport,” a concept that focuses on encouraging the dispersion of responsibility for accessibility throughout an entire team.

“The idea of having distributed responsibility for accessibility is just common sense,” said Sharron Rush, Executive Director of Knowbility. “A lot of times, people who aren’t the developers, who aren’t the designers think, ‘What’s my role?’ Our idea this year was to be sure we gave everybody, regardless of their role in maintaining or creating or updating web content, some understanding of the basics of accessibility — why it matters, why it’s important, and what their role could actually be — so that person who does have an interest and feels a responsibility doesn’t feel like a lone ranger.”

Knowbility is lucky to have Jan McSorley as the conference’s keynote speaker. Currently serving as the Accessibility Lead of the Schools Division at Pearson, Jan has spent her adult life advocating for the rights of kids with disabilities in K-12 schools. Throughout her career,she’s come to appreciate the need for a working knowledge of basic accessibility principles from all sides if you want to design a product that’s usable for the broadest possible range of people.

“There’s basically three prongs to the stool,” Jan said. “You have to understand people with disabilities and the laws that protect them, and then you have to understand the technology tools that they use, and then you have to understand the technical side of accessibility. All of that goes into how you design content and if you don’t understand one of those three areas well, then you can make bad design decisions.”

Meanwhile, a team made up of people with different specialties who all understand accessibility as it relates to his or her specific role on a project ensures that the end product is elegant and functional on multiple levels.

“You have a very different understanding and approach if you’re a graphic designer than if you’re a content person who’s just writing content or, certainly, if you’re a designer and you’re designing user interactions,” Sharron said. “Our goal was to help people understand you don’t have to do it all by yourself. Empower as many people as possible in your organization and you’re just going to have better results.”

Still, for those new to accessibility, starting with a technically immersive conference such as AccessU can be a daunting prospect.

“It was really intimidating to get into the accessibility field because there are so many people with very deep technical skill sets,” Jan said. “You just have to sort of go, ‘there’s going to be a lot that I’m not gonna get, that I’m not going to understand, but I need to go and expose myself.’ It’s like immersing yourself to learn a new language. If you go and live in the country and you’re going to learn the language a lot more quickly than if you were afraid and don’t ever expose yourself to it.”

Getting the chance to learn from some of the world’s leading accessibility experts and professionals doesn’t hurt, either. Along with Sharron and Jan, this year will feature such tech luminaries as Becky Gibson (Senior Technical Staff Member at IBM), Whitney Quesenbery (Co-Founder at the Center for Civic Design and author of Storytelling for User Experience and Global UX: Design and research in a connected world), and Paul Adam (Senior Accessibility Specialist/Developer at Deque Systems, Inc.), and many more. You can find course descriptions and a full class schedule on the Knowbility website.

AccessU is always a very rich experience for me because the people that go and present there are some of the most experienced, skilled people in the accessibility field,” Jan said. “So it’s great just to be exposed to that and learn as much as you can.”

Opening up the field to those outside of development and design harkens back to the influence of John Slatin, after whom the conference is named. An English professor at UT, John became involved with the accessibility world after a retinal disease caused the deterioration of his vision. Despite having little previous experience with accessibility or design, he eventually helped create Knowbility and the AIR Program, and continued to work for the cause of accessibility for all until his passing in 2008.

“A lot of people thought that John was a computer science professor, and he wasn’t, he was an English professor,” Sharron said. “He understood, ‘Wow, I’m losing my vision and if this technology is properly designed, I don’t have to miss reading, or research, or any of the things that make my life rich and my job compelling.’”

Approaching design with the people you’re designing for in mind, rather than focusing on compliance issues, keeps innovation and technology moving towards its ultimate goal: helping people do the things they wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.

“It’s much more interesting from a human perspective and John was a great example of that,” Sharron said. “He understood the dynamic quality of how this technology is able to give voice and connection to people who had previously been marginalized and left out.”

You can read more about John and his lasting impact here.

AccessU has an (almost) accessible app

Each year after John Slatin AccessU, Knowbility’s annual web accessibility training conference, we sit down with stakeholders to debrief and suggest improvements. In 2015 the deep yearning was for an app. Attendees, instructors, and staff felt an AccessU app would help everyone stay in touch with general events, quickly communicate changes to the schedule, and provide overall support to the community-building that is a foundation of what makes AccessU the great event it is. And of course, the app had to be fully accessible.

We are so pleased and excited to be able to announce the new (almost) accessible AccessU app that we wanted to share with you a bit about our journey.

Building from scratch was quickly found to be outside the budget of a small non-profit org like Knowbility. And so the search began for an accessible, customizable conference app that we could subscribe to. We enlisted the brilliant Jon Gibbins to help with the search since we would work with him on the customization. Searching for “event apps” or “conference apps” yielded quite a few options. But you probably won’t be surprised to learn that response to our inquiries about accessibility ranged from “Oh yeh, it is accessible to both iOS and Android devices” to “Accessible? what do you mean by that?”

So instead, we began asking “Does your app meet the BBC Guidelines for mobile accessibility?” Lots of “Let me get back to you on that” followed by resounding silence. After a few months of this, we were beginning to lose hope. But then – hallelujah – we got this from Alicia at Guidebook:

“Thanks for reaching out to Guidebook. I just doubled check with our support team, and they said they believe we do meet BBC’s mobile guidelines…”

OK there are a few caution lights here such as “they believe we do…” but still, we were encouraged! A few quick calls to verify that we wanted to buy the subscription version, become paying customers, work with an assigned support rep, and we were off to a warm and friendly dialogue.

In the meantime, Jon discovered that Guidebook had actually published a VPAT – and they were the first conference app we found that did so.  Jon began validating the VPAT while Board member Hiram Kuykendall did a quick informal check of the free Guidebook app. Hiram came back with not-so-good news. The app was not really very accessible at all – unlabeled buttons and form fields, images with no alt text, interminable navigation – the usual suspects.  Hmmm, back to you, Jon – what about that VPAT?

Jon’s more formal testing of the VPAT revealed that Guidebook had unfortunately misstated several accessibility features.  Our experience is that often when VPATs are inaccurate, it is due to the fact that a company does not fully understand the requirements – and that seemed to be the case here.  We offered to deconstruct the VPAT for them – at no charge – and help get the product aligned to their public claims.  Guidebook said, “Sure thanks, we will work it into our development sprints” and voila, we were all singing in tune,  had a common mission and shared understanding of what was possible within that timing.  Wahooo, let’s go!

Knowbility’s John Sweet and Jon Gibbins worked with the Guidebook team over the next few weeks, pushed the accessibility improvements out to the app stores, and the result is the first ever AccessU app.  Please download, use it and continue to give feedback. We are so pleased with the way we have been able to work with Guidebook to improve the accessibility of this handy tool. But we know it is not yet fully accessible – the class rating system is still wonky, for example – and so we want to hear from you about your own experience. We are hopeful to get the rating system accessible in time for the conference but will craft functional alternatives if that proves to be impractical. So, while it is not all rainbows and unicorns, we extend kudos to Guidebook for working with us,  and are very excited to be able to offer this service.

We learned valuable lessons – if you hit an accessibility barrier, look for another way. If you are turned down in your accessibility requests, keep asking. Most people genuinely want to be inclusive and if you support them and make it clear where the path is, they are more likely to follow it. Since our AccessU theme in 2016 is teamwork, we found this to be a terrific experience to share and now we pass the ball your way.

Please reply here with any comments you have and/or send your experiences and suggestion to IT Director John Sweet who is simply john at knowbility dot org.

We sincerely thank our friends, the good people at Guidebook and can’t wait to hear from you all. See you next month at St. Edward’s University in Austin Texas!