Category Archives: Speakers

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.

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: