Category Archives: Speakers

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.

30-Second Sponsor Feature: Deque Systems

In a different type of 30-Second Interview, we’d like to introduce you to the Platinum Sponsor of the 2012 John Slatin AccessU, Deque Systems. Deque not only boasts a long-time commitment to accessibility and a great love for Knowbility, but the company’s dynamic team includes some great accessibility experts and evangelists with deep ties to our organization: Paul Adam, Glenda Sims, and Karl Groves- just to name a few!

Deque Systems Logo

Tell us a little bit about Deque Systems, and how the company got its start.

Deque Systems is a web and software accessibility company that works with major government agencies, educational institutions, small and mid-size businesses, and Fortune 500 companies to eliminate the risk associated with their customer-facing digital properties being inaccessible to handicapped users.

We were founded in 1999, and our first accessibility tool was a product called RAMP for testing static sites back in the days of HTML3. The company has grown very rapidly in the 10 years since RAMP was introduced, and the product has since been replaced with FireEyes and Worldspace Sync which were developed to address the challenges of the jungle of modern, dynamic web content.

When did you first get connected with Knowbility?

Years ago!  Sometime in 2007.

Why do you love Knowbility?

We love Knowbility’s mission and commitment to its mission. Deque share’s Knowbility’s dedication to making technology accessible and helping the disabled to live with the level of independence enjoyed by able-bodied users. Knowbility also does an excellent job training people and educating them about accessibility.

You’re coming back to AccessU as our top sponsor for the second year in a row – why did you decide to support the John Slatin AccessU again this year?

We see no reason to stop now!  AccessU is exactly the kind of event we want to encourage and support. And I know our employees who will be in attendance are excited about a number of programs at this year’s event, including offerings on mobile accessibility, rich internet applications, and the fully accessible evening at Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar.


We are so grateful to Deque CEO Preety Kumar and the rest of the Deque leadership team for their ongoing support of Knowbility and our programs. Visit their website at, follow them on Twitter (@dequesystems), and check out all the presentations by the Deque team at AccessU next week:

Once You Know How: 30 Seconds with Whitney Quesenbery

For the fourth installment of our 30-Second Interview, Whitney Quesenbery, who will be doing “2 ½” things at AccessU, talks about discovering the importance of accessibility, getting older, and how learning even the simplest things can completely change a user’s experience.


Who are you?

My name is Whitney, and I believe in accessibility. I primarily work in user experience, but who along the way discovered accessibility because accessibility is simply experience for even more people. That’s how it’s defined in the ISO standards – it used to be a completely separate part of their taxonomy, and now it’s defined as usability for the broadest range of people.

Whitney Quesenbery
Whitney Quesenbery, Usability Expert and AccessU Presenter

What will you be doing at AccessU?

At AccessU, I am doing 2 ½ things. I am doing two presentations and a panel that are part of the Usability and Design track. One session is about how to do usability testing quickly and inexpensively, using a minimum of resources. It’s about how we can do the least work possible and still have it be really effective.

The other session is on conducting user-centered reviews. A couple of years ago, I ran a full day usability testing track, and people thought it was great – but they kept saying that it’s really hard to get access to people – it’s hard to get access to people with disabilities, hard to get out of their office, and hard to get permission. A user-centered review is a technique where we think about people who are real out in the field, and write a little story for them. For example, I could say, “I’m my friend Mary. I’m in a wheelchair, but I have full mobility in my upper body.” You define who you’re going to be based on your own knowledge, plus other research, and channel them, be those people for the review. It’s an easy technique that doesn’t find everything, but it does find those first 12 stupid things you want to fix before you do a full usability test. Plus, it’s a great way to get your whole team involved. They can each take on a role, and each bring a different perspective.

For the panel I’m leading brings together some of the teachers from the design and usability track. Often, people will go out and do usability testing, then come back with a list of issues. Then what? We’ll talk about how to wrap it back in to the process.

Why do you care about accessibility?

I should tell you the story about how I went from “Yeah, of course we should do accessibility. Big deal.” It was just one of those things you should do. I had an amazing opportunity after the 2000 election to join a federal advisory committee to write national voting guidelines. The law that had been passed said that not only did we need voting systems that didn’t produce chads, but we had to make it available to people with disabilities, including the blind. We are still working to resolve the apparent conflicts between accessibility and security, but I believe it can be done, especially if we think of accessibility as an intrinsic part of the design, not an add-on.

Then I got older. And I got bifocals. Plus, I spend a lot of time watching people as part of my user experience research work. You start seeing how people struggle, and the different ways in which they struggle, and I began to see that if we took designing seriously for people outside the bell curve, it would help the people in the middle of the bell curve as well. If we consider all the different things that make us partially disabled at any time, we’d end up with technology and websites that are better for everyone. There are a lot of features that were originally just for accessibility that everybody uses. My favorite example is curb cuts. But I’m sure you’ve used Google maps right?

Yes, of course.

Did you know that the text directions were not planned – they were forced in as an accessibility feature? The original plan was that it would all be visual. Then they realized that of course people would want to print the directions, and there wasn’t a way to get the resolution good enough. The text directions were suggested as an accessibility feature.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned recently?

I’ve just spent the last two days doing interviews with people in the federal government who do emergency response planning. I constantly have this experience where I learn about things have no knowledge of.

But, more practically, I learned a new gesture on my iPad that has changed the experience for me. If you take four fingers and push the screen up, you get a little bar with all the running applications. You don’t have to go home and jump back to move between applications.

I’ll tell you about the most amazing thing I’ve taught recently – I’ve taught my mother how to use the contacts list in her phone. It wasn’t just me; it took me and a couple of people at Verizon. I think it’s on the same line as my iPad discovery – it’s the same type of basic knowledge.

I once put together a report called “It’s Easy Once You Know How.” We were testing two small business systems with everyone from the small business owner doing her own bookkeeping to an accountant who managed a team of bookkeepers. At some time during the 90 minutes we spent with them, every one said that “It’s easy (do use this software) once you know how.” It’s true of so many things… including accessibility.

What would you tell people who don’t think accessibility should be a priority?

Planning on getting old, one day?

That is what I tell them. That they may not think it’s a priority because they’ve never seen its impact. I guess we can turn that around and say people with disabilities have been invisible because it’s hard for them to be out in public. The more you see the impact, the more you want to do it.

But really, I just say, “Planning on getting old?”


Find out how to age gracefully (at least in the digital realm) with Whitney. Find her on Twitter at @whitneyq, visit her website and check out all her presentations at AccessU:

Jazz, Screen Readers, and Dollar Coins: 30 Seconds with Jennison Asuncion

In the third installment of our 30-Second Interview series leading up to the 2012 John Slatin AccessU, instructor Jennison Asuncion talks about jazz music, a stockpile of one dollar coins, and why he’s passionate about making accessibility accessible to developers.

Who are you?

I am an accessibility professional, if you will. I work in the field of accessibility. I’ve been doing it for about 10 years now, mainly in the financial services industry, and I also happen to be a screen reader user. I’m a big fan of jazz music, live comedy, and cross-country skiing, and I’m really into social media – big on twitter, and things like that.

Jennison Asuncion
Jennison will lead a session on screen readers at AccessU.

What will you be doing at AccessU?

I’m coming to AccessU to teach an introductory course for designers and developers on how to use a screen reader, both NVDA and JAWS, and how to use that as part of an approach to testing for accessibility. I’m excited because it’s a great opportunity for people to have hands-on experience playing with the screen readers and to ask questions of an actual screen reader user. There are myths about accessibility and screen readers that some people are too polite to ask – I’m a casual person, very open. And because I work in the field of accessibility, I can answer questions from both that perspective and the perspective of an end user.

Why do you care about accessibility?

It matters to me because technology is being used so much now in so many different areas, at school, employment, the way we live and participate in society. As a person with a disability, I feel very fortunate with where I am, working, and having had the chance to go to school and all that – I want to make such opportunities  are accessible to other people.

I am passionate about making accessibility  accessible to developers and designers and other IT folks – it can be a complicated issue and can seem like a daunting effort. I want to make sure they are comfortable with it and can ask questions and get the information they need to make things accessible.

People think because I have a disability, I’m going to be a huge advocate for people with disabilities, and don’t get me wrong, I am. But I know that developers are interested in accessibility and want to do the right thing, but they’re stymied and don’t know where to start. We have to talk to them, get in front of them, be approachable, and make accessibility approachable for people. If I can use the fact that I’m blind to hammer home certain points, I’ll do it. It often helps to hear someone with a disability talking about the impact when technology is not accessible to them.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned recently?

I’m always learning stuff, but when you’re asked for one key nugget…give me a second here. I just learned recently on NPR that in the US there is a stock-pile of dollar coins that are not being used. There’s just a stockpile. We have a dollar coin in Canada, but we use it. In the US, the Federal Reserve has them, they’re just piled up somewhere.

Last question. What would you tell people who don’t think accessibility should be a priority?

I want them to think about what it would be like if they had someone they cared about who wasn’t able to take a course, or work, or vote, or shop online because the website wasn’t available to them in an accessible way. That’s it.

Anything else?

This is my second year coming to AccessU, and really it is a great opportunity to get into the classroom. In previous lives, I’d had that experience with training people. It’s great to meet up with people who are just getting into accessibility and to network with them. I’m big into networking.

That’s one thing I’d tell people: Make sure to bring your business cards – we can trade them, and expect an invite on LinkedIn!


Jennison’s presentation is on May 15 at 2:00pm, but you can start networking with him even before AccessU – find him on twitter @jennison or look him up on LinkedIn: