Category Archives: John Slatin AccessU

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!


Jan McSorley will keynote AccessU 2016

Knowbility is pleased and very excited to announce that Jan McSorley will be the keynote speaker for AccessU 2016! Jan has vast and varied experience building and inspiring teams to integrate digital accessibility into all they do.  From early days spent persuading her peers at the Texas School for the Blind of the importance and value of the Internet to her current position as Head of Accessibility for Pearson School Division, Jan’s career has been one of passionate advocacy for fully inclusive technology.

In her talk, Jan will give her perspective on how to identify key players who can further accessibility within a company (even when those players themselves may not even realize it themselves.) She will share true stories of how to invest in and inspire them so that they wake up one day to find themselves not only playing for the accessibility team, but recruiting others to join.

In her talk, Jan will give her perspective on how to identify key players who can further accessibility within the company (even when they themselves may not realize it.)

“Fairness and inclusion are unifying concepts that almost everyone agrees are important,” Jan says. “Very few people would openly argue against the idea that people with disabilities should be afforded the same access to educational and vocational opportunities as people without disabilities.  After all, in the United States we have civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, so surely businesses and organizations are all abiding by those laws … right?”

“While it would be nice if all we had to do was pass legislation and then have everything fall into place, the reality is that civil rights laws related to equally effective access for people with disabilities are often ignored – sometimes out of ignorance and sometimes deliberately”, she adds. “The underlying reason for ignoring accessibility is that it’s a very complex problem to solve.  Even if there were scores of highly-trained accessibility professionals standing at the ready with capes in hand to save the day, most businesses and organizations don’t even understand their need for accessibility expertise, so they are most definitely not in the position to hire an elite team of accessibility personnel.”

Effective accessibility teams can be built in organizations, even without the open support of management or a robust budget.

“The fact that accessibility is more often misunderstood than understood, makes the jobs of those few enlightened individuals who find themselves as the lone accessibility voices in a wilderness of ignorance, a bit more difficult, but certainly not impossible.  Effective accessibility teams can be built in organizations, even without the open support of management or a robust budget.  The ultimate goal is that every person in an organization is a member of the accessibility team who is doing their part for accessibility within the context of their job responsibilities.”


AccessU is a 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. You can register for AccessU 2016 by clicking on this link: AccessU Registration to catch Jan McSorley and other internationally known leaders in accessible design and development.

AccessU 2015: Put People First


Registration is open for this year’s AccessU themed, ‘Accessibility: Put People First’ at

The conference will provide practical resources, encouraging participants to explore various aspects of digital inclusion and master the role-based skills involved in launching successful accessibility initiatives.

AccessU is a conference that brings leading experts from around the globe to Austin, Texas to teach t accessible design skills.  AccessU promotes universal access to the web, including for people who are blind, have low vision, are deaf or hearing impaired, have mobility impairments or have other kinds of disabilities. The conference was first launched in 2004, and has since then been an annual event conducted by Knowbility with sponsorship and support from St. Edwards University and Deque Systems, and other leading tech companies.

The conference will feature internationally known leaders in accessible design and development, including:

  • Accessibility pioneer and superstar Henny Swan (lead editor of BBC Mobile Accessibility  Standards and Guidelines and a regular speaker at conferences like SXSW, the World Wide Web Conference, Tec share, Accessibility 2.0, access, Mobile Monday and CSUN),
  • The development team from the Web Accessibility Initiative and Education and Outreach working group of the W3C – Shadi Abou-Zahra, Shawn Henry, Kevin White and Eric Eggert.
  • User Experience guru, Whitney Quesenbery (author of Storytelling for User Experience and Global UX: Design and research in a connected world)
  • Sarah Horton (User Experience Strategy Lead with The Paciello Group and award winning author of the book Web Teaching Guide) among others.

For the full list of speakers and instructors, visit

Join us May 11th – 12th at St. Edward’s University, Austin, Texas and for a post conference workshop May 13th for three days of learning, sharing, exploring, and fun!

Tommy Edison at AccessU 2015


Knowbility is excited to welcome Tommy Edison as keynote speaker at AccessU 2015 this May.

“Being blind since birth, one of the greatest challenges I faced was accepting that I’m visually impaired.” Tommy told us.  “As I became an adult, I was forced to face my own reality and needed to make a choice – either embrace my blindness and live a happier life or do something I might regret. Eventually I chose the former which led me to a long career in radio, living my dream of reviewing movies, and sharing my experiences as a blind person to a worldwide audience. In my talk, I explain how I faced my greatest obstacle – myself.”

Popularly known as The Blind Film Critic, Tommy’s YouTube channel, TommyEdisonXP ( has 195,000 subscribers and garners a million views per video. By addressing the barriers he faced, Tommy will illuminate the AccessU theme of “Put People First.”

In my talk, I explain how I faced my greatest obstacle – myself.

“I watch movies and pay attention to them in a different way than sighted people do”, says Tommy, who offers a unique take on movies, audio and daily life through his signature sense of humor.

In addition to being the Blind Film Critic and a YouTube celebrity, Tommy has been a radio professional for nearly 25 years, having spent the last 19 at STAR 99.9 FM in Connecticut as a traffic reporter.

Tommy Edison was endorsed by film critic and journalist Roger Ebert and his reviews were posted on the Chicago Sun-Times blog and on Tosh.0, Comedy Central’s blog. Tommy has also been featured on various TV and news channels including CNN and Headline News. Visit his website for more information.

“I’m not distracted by all the beautiful shots and attractive people. I watch a movie for the writing and acting.”

Tommy will also host a special event “Film & Audio Description with the Blind Film Critic” at Alamo Draft house as part of the conference.

AccessU participants are invited to events organized as part of the conference including a Film & Audio Description with Tommy Edison at Alamo Draft house, a bicycle pub crawl in Austin and networking luncheons.