Category Archives: Accessibility

Summer Fun Time with Accessible Testing By Harley Fetterman

This summer, I had the opportunity to intern with Knowbility. I’ve learned so much about web-accessibility, from what standards developers are supposed to implement, to when and how to choose which web-browser and screen-reader is most useful in a particular situation.

At the very beginning of this internship, I learned about blogging. I’d never really thought about how there was more than just text that makes a blog happen. But I quickly learned that by using HTML code, a blog is shaped into interactive text, links, buttons, and headings. That was pretty cool.

When they put me to work testing websites, I discovered how differently websites can show up on different web-browsers, devices, and screen-readers. For example, between the iPhone and a Windows computer, screen size made a big difference. In fact, in one test, a task couldn’t be completed on the iPhone because the screen was too small. Putting a resize piece of code into the website most likely would have fixed the problem. But, it was still interesting seeing how screen size affected performance.

It was also very interesting to discover the differences in accessibility between web-browsers. Some things that weren’t accessible in one browser could be easily accessed in another. At first, I did everything on Internet Explore because that’s what I was used to. But as I started comparing browsers, I found that Firefox handled ARIA a lot better, as did Safari on the iPhone. And drop-down boxes in IE are impossible to use. But Safari and Firefox dealt with them easily. On drag-and-drops, or moving an item into a category, the iPhone’s screen could not fit all the categories on it at once, making it impossible to finish. On IE, the Drag-and-Drop worked, but once in the category, it was difficult to tell what it was in. With Firefox though, the process worked and I was able to go back and check that my answers were in the correct spot. There were several different tasks that lead me to believe that Firefox was overall more user friendly than the other two web browsers at least for these tasks.

I spent a lot of time with different screen readers, too, checking out how NVDA versus JAWS, versus VoiceOver interact with web browsers and content. One of the things I discovered is that NVDA is able to operate combo boxes with Firefox, whereas JAWS on Firefox doesn’t recognize there being anything there at all. And on IE, JAWS sees the combo boxes but can’t operate them. VoiceOver generally operates websites pretty well, except for screen sizing issues on the iPhone as I mentioned before.

At the beginning of the summer, WCAG was just another four letter acronym. Now I can say I’ve learned what it means on a broad level and I have a way to evaluate and present information in an organized fashion about web accessibility. With this newfound knowledge, I can better explain why certain web sites are accessible and why others are not. In short, hopefully this knowledge will help to make a difference at school for me and other students as well.

I would like to thank Knowbility for their generosity in selecting me for this internship. There’s a lot about accessibility I could have sought out and tried to figure out, but with Jeanine’s and Sharron’s technical knowledge, I was able to learn and work, use my new knowledge. Plus, lunchtime is always enjoyable with a wide range of conversations had between the team. Now, who knows what I can learn on my own.

What we learned through crowdfunding

Thank you!

First. I want to say “Thank you.” Heartfelt thanks to the 83 funders who stepped up to support a great notion. You believe as we do that the world sorely needs a credible and fully accessible teaching and learning platform to share knowledge and experience about digital accessibility. Our  funders are listed at the end of the post (except of course, for those who prefer to remain anonymous) and I am grateful beyond words to each and every one of you.

Thanks to Bill Corrigan, the volunteer who started the effort and did so much to foster it and to Brian Sullivan who jumped right in to endorse and help shape the campaign. Thanks to Shawn Lauriat for being our very first donor and to Jim Thatcher whose remarkable $1K donation early in the campaign was so tremendously validating .  Thanks to Mike Gifford and the Drupal community. Thanks to the tireless accessibility advocates in the UX community. Thanks to board members Hazel Sanchez and Rich Schwerdtfeger who donated and then blogged in these pages about the importance of the project.  And a super shout-out to Jeffrey Zeldman whose contribution and post about the campaign gave us a great boost in the last week.

Thanks as well to those who did not donate but who provided tremendously useful feedback about the unanswered questions that led to their own  reluctance to invest.  The rest of this post will address those questions and look at what’s next.

What you told us

Lesson 1: affirmation of the goal

I won’t dwell here on the praise and encouragement we received other than to say it was significant and gave us a sense that we are on the right track.

Lesson 2: Don’t publish an accessibility initiative on an inaccessible platform

The lack of accessibility and usability of the IndieGoGo platform was remarked upon by many. When Mike Gifford posted a supporting blog entry, the lack of accessibility was noted in the comments.  I responded to the commenter, “We know and we’re sorry” and spoke of the lack of an existing accessible crowd funding platform.  The critic was gracious but clearly weary of hearing “We know, we’re sorry.” Some, like Thatcher said “This is proof of why this resource is so badly needed.”  Others said the bad design kept them from contributing at all.

Lesson 3: It’s the detail, stupid

We heard that the message was not sufficiently clear about the goals and the process for developing the teaching and learning modules. Some objected to Rich Schwertdfeger’s supporting blog post because he mentioned specific tools by name rather than maintaining strict tool neutrality.  People wanted to know more about who would build the platform, and how would it be made available to the accessibility community to share expertise. “Is there a connection to IAAP? are certifications to be offered? what will the cost structure look like?…and more.  Some things have yet to be determined but the next phase will be more detailed.

Lesson 4: Social media alone is not enough

After the project end date inevitably rolled around, we heard from too many, like Nicholas Steenhout “Hey, I didn’t even know this was happening.” Clearly we need a better communications strategy.


Despite questions,  criticism, weariness, and total ignorance,  I am so encouraged by the  overwhelming support we heard for the goal. Call me a foolish optimist (you won’t be the first) but when folks heard about the project and understood what we are trying do,  I heard clear affirmation of the fact that we need and must have more readily available, modularized, up-to-date accessibility training on an accessible open source platform. Training is needed for people who occupy all of the many roles that relate to the creation of digital communications. We must build resources that are focused, highly interactive, practical, relevant, current, and fully accessible. We must build an online venue that – like AccessU – provides a forum for people from different sectors, different consulting companies, and different countries to share knowledge and skills at a reasonable cost to students of all abilities.

How to do it – you tell us!

With that goal, we are regrouping.  First we will fulfill the perks that were promised to the donors and add a bonus for being such brave pioneers – Tshirts anyone?  Then we will ask you to tell us more.

I will huddle next week with my board of directors, with Phase 1 architects Bill and Brian,  and with  the advisors who have stepped up to help shape the next round. I am thrilled that Sina Bahram of Prime Access Consulting, Elle Waters of Simply Accessible, and Denis Boudreau of Deque Systems are going to help us craft a stronger message and cast a wider net as we launch Phase 2 of this campaign. Using Phase 1 funds to seed the next initiative, we will launch again very soon.

Please jump in to help us shape the next phase  – we are all brainstorming here – and be encouraged to be wildly creative in your expressions.  Is your idea of a great perk getting to attend AccessU in Austin in May?” …to have me and Jim Thatcher sing happy birthday at your kids party? …getting to preview the system before it is public?

  • What perks would encourage YOU to give?
  • What questions would you want to have answered to raise your motivation to invest?
  • How else would you be likely to participate in shaping the effort?
  • How can we spread the word beyond the accessibility community?

Bring it, folks, we are ready listen to your ideas – by comment below, by email, by tweet or by carrier pigeon.  We want this campaign to be as important to you as it is to us and has it is to these fine folks listed below.

Our founding funders

Brenda Adrian, Lucia Athens, Austin Mayor’s Committee on People with Disabilities,  Rogier Barendregt, Dean Birkett, Denis Boudreau, Cathy Carleton, Robbi Cooper, Bill Corrigan, KristinaCorrigan, Jayne Cravens, Melanie Davis, VirginiaDeBolt, Joshua  Denny, Anna Dresner, Pat  East, Deborah Edwards-Onoro, Samira Emelie, Angi       English, JeremyFields, Hugh Forrest, Eric Fruin, Jason Garber, Sandi Gauder, Becky Gibson, Mike Gifford, Susan Grossman, Vicki Haddix, David Hark, Paula Helene, Ron  Hicks, Christopher Kelly, Joyce Klemperer, S  Koester, Preety  Kumar, Shawn  Lauriat, Sherry   Lawry, Kim Leno, Jeanine Lineback, Candice  Moore, Sanjay Nasta, Joseph Karr O’Connor, Devon   Persing, Lewis Phillips, Melanie Pienknagura, Josh Piper, Carolyn Purcell, Brad Richardson, Adrian Roselli, Addie Rush, Sharron Rush, Hazel Sanchez, Jayne Schurick, Rich Schwertdfeger, SimplyAccessible, Kel  Smith, Claudia Snell, Simon St Laurent, Brian  Sullivan, Suzanne Taylor, Jim Thatcher, Natalie  Tucker, Mario Vasquez, Elle  Waters, Nick Weynand, WhistlingKettle Pete,  Jaap Willem, Jeffrey  Zeldman and 12 anonymous donors – thank you!

Thanks again to all who engaged – as volunteers, as spread-the-word supporters, as constructive critics, and especially as donors who committed with us to make this happen. Stay tuned, the best is yet to come!



Help us improve accessibility skills worldwide

The success of this crowdfunding campaign through Indie-Go-Go depends on you.

The donations obtained from this campaign will provide seed funding for an ambitious online training initiative. Knowbility proposes to build an online community of accessibility teaching and learning – so that ultimately, online information can be fully accessible to all. The initial goal is $50,000 and Knowbility will receive matching funds (times 3) when it reaches the $50,000 goal.

The campaign can be found at

The success of this campaign will improve accessibility skills and awareness worldwide. As developers understand how to make sites and apps accessible, that will improve the lives of 55 million Americans and 750 million people worldwide with disabilities who will then be more able  to do the things and make the connections online that others without disabilities take for granted.

Who is Knowbility?

Knowbility started as a local non-profit in Austin fifteen years ago, but now it reaches people worldwide.  Our mission is to improve digital accessibility for those with disabilities – equal access to technology for those who need it most. Accessible technology improves employment and educational opportunities for people with disabilities, and affects just about every aspect of their lives. Think about how often you turn to the internet to research an issue, find a doctor, obtain information about your medical coverage or claims, deal with your bank, pay bills, obtain information about your child’s grades or homework assignments, search for a job, and make connections with others. Interactions that most can easily accomplish. But for those with disabilities, if technology is not built to be accessible, they remain severely limited in what they can do.

Knowbility is dedicated to making technology barrier-free – supporting the independence of children and adults with disabilities. Your support in this campaign will help make it possible for people with disabilities to learn, to find work, and to live independently.

You can help millions of people with disabilities worldwide, by joining this campaign and by sharing this message with your social networks, encouraging them to give and make a difference.

Thank you for your help! We at Knowbility appreciate all that you do!

Hazel A. Sanchez
Board Member

Accessibility in the Classroom

Harley Fetterman at Knowbility office.

Progress on Learning Apps Still Needed – Observations from an 11th Grader

I am a blind student about to go into eleventh grade. For the past few years, a number of my teachers have started to use partially inaccessible websites.  While being inaccessible to my screen-reader, these websites make the life of the teacher much easier. As a result, I am the one who has to find a way to complete my work successfully and turn it in on time.

I have had to use a few websites including Edmodo, Duolingo, and Sapling Learning. For both Sapling Learning and Duolingo,  much of each website is accessible. On Duolingo there were inaccessible pictures (no text alternatives to tell me what was in them) in addition to certain features, such as the translate function, being only accessible by mouse (which I can’t use.)

On Sapling Learning, there were many symbols and diagrams that were just pictures, and therefore could not be accessed with a screen-reader. As a result, the best option for completing assignments on these two websites was to have a human reader read the questions aloud and then have me tell them which answer to put in. I really don’t like that because I would much rather interact directly and independently.

I was able to create my user account on Edmodo, but after the initial set-up, Edmodo becomes very hard to use on Windows systems. The website has links, buttons, etc. that when clicked on, bring up a list with inaccessible links or with no apparent effect. The website also has various edit boxes with no apparent functions. However, because Edmodo has an app for the iPhone, I was able to use Edmodo just as effectively as my peers on that platform. The much simplified app still does everything required of it, including turning in assignments, and sending and receiving notes with teachers.

In short, school continues to throw me some curve balls, and though there is always a way to accomplish a task, accessibility helps the process run better and allows me to focus on learning, instead of accessibility issues.

Open letter on future of web accessibility from Rich Schwerdtfeger

Dear colleagues in digital accessibility,

We are at a critical juncture in the in the accessibility field today. More pressure than at any previous time has been placed on businesses world-wide to deliver accessible Information and communications technology (ICT). The great recession has forced people with disabilities to take action to pressure  governments and legal systems world-wide to establish policy to protect their rights to access ICT and be gainfully employed. In the past six years we have seen the adoption of WCAG2 AA, the web accessibility compliance criteria referenced by Australia, Korea, New Zealand, the Canadian Look and Feel, and the ADA. It will also be harmonized with a whole set of new requirements in the U.S. 508 refresh and EU Mandate 376. We have seen the enforcement of the CVAA in the U.S. and we have seen the ratification of U.N. Convention in over 140 countries setting the stage for public policy. There are other examples as we know but this comes at a time when we are fast approaching the loss of a generation of accessibility professionals that grew up in the assistive technology business and will eventually be exiting the job market. These people know how assistive technologies work. They know how platform infrastructures work and how ATs use it. With that knowledge and credibility they know how to drive change. What will happen when they are gone?

It is abundantly clear, I believe to all of us, that with the industry pressures to produce accessible ICT that we are going to have a shortage of knowledgeable, skilled accessibility professionals. This is why many have joined the IAAP – to help create curriculum and standardized education. However, we all know that this is only as good as the teacher and in our industry a qualified teacher of our craft must be passionate and focus not just on compliance but the usability of the solution. That requires education from a qualified, passionate teaching organization to put that course material together and deliver it in a way that will energize a new generation of accessibility professionals – that organization is Knowbility.

I joined Knowbility’s board a little over a year ago. In my mind they represent the best teaching organization of the accessibility craft. The people who have come out of Knowbility – either directly, through participation in Open AIR and AccessU or indirectly by hearing Knowbility presentations at conferences – come out motivated, invigorated, and driven. Knowbility is also a non-profit organization whose primary purpose is teaching accessibility. Yes, they do accessibility consulting engagements but it is for the purpose of producing accessibility education and supporting community programs and advocacy. Unfortunately, AccessU and Open AIR do not scale to the global scope currently needed.

This is why we have set out to build an LMS system to capture the necessary education and dispense it to organizations to build the skills to produce accessible IT, learn how to use web accessibility testing tools and countless assistive technology software. Some of the tools I use include IBM’s Policy Tester of course but I have learned to use others like Deque WorldSpace, JAWS, VoiceOver, Assistive Touch, TalkBack and other Android AT and voice recognition in order to understand how code interacts with them. Many of you reading this probably use still other tools and we need a wide range of training to produce reliable test results.  We need to teach how platform infrastructure can enable products to work with these tools to deliver a rich user experience to those with varied abilities. More importantly, we need to use an online resource for our community to collectively build the next generation of accessibility leaders. I would also like to see Knowbility produce IAAP certified education as well since Knowbility has a vast experience in teaching  accessibility and inspiring excellence, not just competence.

When industry leaders created ARIA and drove its adoption and standardization, we did not ask people to pay for it. We filed no patents on it. We made all our code contributions open source. This was a multi-million dollar investment for which many of you have benefited and for which we raised the bar for what it meant to be accessible. To build this online education system we need to give back too. Knowbility’s resources are limited, but they have identified a great matching opportunity if they can demonstrate community support for the concept.

Please donate to this effort and lets help create the next generation of accessibility professionals. Join our IndieGoGo campaign and urge others to join as well. The future of accessibility relies on greater understanding and improved skills.  Thank you!


Rich Schwerdtfeger