Category Archives: Speakers

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 www.deque.com, 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 www.wqusability.com and check out all her presentations at AccessU: http://www.knowbility.org/v/staff-detail/Whitney-Quesenbery/78/.

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: www.jennison.ca

Not Your Ordinary Conference: 30 Seconds with Elle Waters

 

Elle Waters
Elle Waters, who will mix things up at the 2012 John Slatin AccessU.

Elle Waters has put something new on the menu for AccessU: One part accessibility and one part video games, mixed together and served with a side of costumes for refreshing treat, available for a limited time only. Get a taste with the following 30-Second Interview, the second in our series featuring the presenters of the 2012 John Slatin AccessU!


Who are you?

My name is Elle Waters, and I work at a Fortune 500 health insurance company called Humana. I’m a web accessibility specialist. That’s my day job, but I’m also a huge advocate for grassroots accessibility awareness and education and part of the accessibility unconference movement – I think you can call us a movement. It’s gotten pretty big and is in several cities now.

What will you be doing at AccessU?

We have a 3.5 hour workshop targeted toward accessibility professionals in big business or government – places not specifically about the biz of accessibility. Wendy Chisholm (@wendyabc/www.sp1ral.org)  from Microsoft will be helping present somehow, possibly through Skype – she was the catalyst for this workshop. Our goal is to help people craft their accessibility message so that they can move it within the company for a better understanding of accessibility and then better adoption and better funding. We are going to start with a talk about video games…and we may show up in costume. This isn’t going to be a dry presentation.

Costume? That’s awesome. So tell me, why do you care about accessibility anyway?

I care because I believe very much in equality on the web. It’s what I’ve been doing ever since I got involved on the web. I first got interested in virtual worlds; I loved how it provided a way for people in far-flung parts of the world to connect and break down barriers. I want to reduce barriers and make things accessible in the truest sense. I believe in freedom of the web, and I believe this is a civil rights issue.

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

What I’m really interested in lately is the research side of things. I’ve started getting more involved in understanding people with cognitive disabilities and how we can cater toward their needs. By lately, I mean just this week. I’ve also been reading about people with vestibular disorders, which I’d never thought about before, and I’m really excited to learn about it. I’m plumbing the depths of the not-so-apparent disability groups and figuring out what their needs are.

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

There’s a two-punch way of being able to talk to people. They either deal with it now or deal with it later. They either take a proactive approach and get to be a leader in the field, to be a herald of standards, and to take pride and ownership over the quality of their site. Or they can do it later. But then I tell them that the movement is already here, and a demand for equal access has already been established. Corporations can either be ahead of that wave, or swept away by it, which usually involves litigation or compliance issues. If you’re not thinking ahead, you’re going to be left behind your competitors.

 I spend a lot of time talking to leaders in the corporate world, so this my “stump speech.” For other people, I talk more about the civil rights of accessibility and inclusion, but the corporate world isn’t as interested in that.

Any last words?

Yes! I encourage people to go to AccessU because there are more interesting speakers, and I don’t mean myself, this year than any of the other years that I’ve seen, and I expect it to challenge people and excite them and really turn over what they think about learning conferences….like having costumes.


For a full serving of Elle’s presentation, join us at AccessU on May 15 at 2:00pm. And learn more about Elle on her website www.ellewaters.com, or follow her on Twitter (@nethermind).

Why I love Becky Gibson

In her day-to-day identity, Becky Gibson is a Web accessibility architect in IBM’s Emerging Technologies Group, but to me she is an accessibility super hero.   At a time when I was becoming discouraged about the future of web accessibility, Becky’s work showed me a clear path forward.

If you are reading this, you are probably familiar with the basic issues of web accessibility – why it is so important in the modern world and how accessibility improves life for millions of people with various disabilities.  But confusion and misinformation continue to cause developers to hesitate to embrace accessibility.  Those of us who advocate for a truly open and inclusive web are often challenged to demonstrate how developers can integrate accessible design techniques while keeping pace with the rapid rate of technology change and innovation.  In 2004, Jeff Veen famously announced at a SXSW Interactive panel that had accessibility as its subject that he “did not think about accessibility” and did not have to because he used Web Standards. Well, the following year of course saw the introduction and dissemination of AJAX by Jeff’s company Adaptive Path – and there went that argument.

The challenges seemed to increase overnight. It became much more difficult to defend the statement that inclusive online environments could also be as dynamic and responsive as inaccessible platforms. Assistive technologies lagged behind and HTML did not provide the tools to successfully deliver dynamic, AJAX enabled experiences to all.

Enter IBM, the WAI-ARIA initiative and the subject of this post, one of my most valued inspirations – Becky Gibson.   In 2005, I attended the annual CSUN conference on assistive technology and found a session called “DHTML Accessibility – Fixing the JavaScript Accessibility Problem” presented by IBM and the W3C. The presenter was Rich Schwerdfeger supported by Becky Gibson.  Not only did she talk about the problems from the point of view of a working developer – with practical understanding of the struggles of reconciling the competing needs – but she presented solutions and ongoing challenges with excitement, true engagement,  and a sparkling sense of humor. I became a life long fan.

Becky has been engaged in identifying accessibility barriers of emerging technologies for most of her stellar career.  She is one of the originators of the ARIA framework. She approaches the challenges of dynamic interfaces with enthusiasm and imagination.  Being in her classes is just plain fun. In addition to the CSUN talks, Becky is a featured presenter at tech conferences all over the world and has led workshops and Core Conversations at the SXSW Interactive Conference.

Becky taught with us at AccessU from 2006 – 2009.  Woefully, her schedule did not permit her to return for a couple of years.  She was assigned by IBM to help Dojo integrate accessibility into their toolkit widgets, and Becky is now focused on mobile accessibility. And… she’s back! We are thrilled to welcome Becky as she rejoins John Slatin AccessU this year. She is teaching two classes – Accessible Javascript and Singing the Praises of WAI-ARIA, both on May 16th. And one of the sweetest things about AccessU is its limited size so there will be plenty of time for you to talk one on one with Becky and the other instructors.

So if you are challenged to create cutting edge applications that meet accessibility requirements and have been looking for resources, here is one of the best.  Come to her AccessU classes – no one knows more than Becky Gibson about the scripting needed to be successful; no one talks about it more clearly or more practically. Her class is fun and always enormously informative.

And if you have not yet enrolled in AccessU, what are you waiting for? Sign up today and make sure to get a seat in Becky’s class. You’ll see why I love her and just might fall in love yourself.