Category Archives: ATSTAR

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.

Knowbility Needs Your Help – Support Knowbility Programs!

Knowbility is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that depends on your support. Help us continue our valuable programs. You can help by giving generously. All contributions are fully tax deductible and you can designate that your gift support a particular program, if you would like. Your donation will support accessible technology that gives millions of people with disabilities improved access to economic, educational and social opportunities! Your contributions are tax deductible and deeply appreciated.

Thank you!


Volunteer Opportunities

Join our team! Knowbility welcomes volunteers!! Use your skills to help people with disabilities and the community at large: help organize an event in your community, learn to be an accessibility trainer for your organization or business, mentor a student who is gaining IT skills, learn to create accessible web sites, field a design team in the next AIR event, attend AccessU or volunteer to help with administrative tasks online as a “virtual volunteer.”

Knowbility 2011 Year End

Sharron Rush

My guilty holiday secret?  I love the corny holiday music, from the silly Frosty ones to the lovely carols from all parts of the world.  One of my favorites is called Calypso Christmas.  I hope your year is drawing to a happy close and that you have set aside some time to enjoy the holiday.  We were very busy here at Knowbility and I invite you take to a moment to read some of the details of our work in the articles below.  As always, we greatly appreciate your support for our programs that promote equal access to technology.

The year saw some tremendously exciting advances in technology that benefit people with disabilities.  From mobile accessibility to captioning technology and new versions of screen reading software, assistive technology is becoming mainstream.  Users are understanding that accommodations, such as voice input, meant for people with disabilities actually make our devices more flexible and easier to use by all. Legislators realized the importance of technology in the lives of all citizens and made some important headway in legal requirements for accessible technology. Implementation of the Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act has made online audio/video content usable by millions who were previously excluded.

Serious challenges remain.  No amount or type of software can take the place of accessible design and so we continue to teach, consult and advocate for web and application accessibility.  A critical need is in the explosion of online learning and virtual school networks.  As our schools rely on online delivery of course content and learning experiences, access to the curriculum becomes fundamentally, critically important.  This is a challenge that we must address for the future of our students with disabilities, but also for our society at large.  Technology has the capacity to engage millions who were previously left out.  We cannot afford to lose their valuable experience and insight as we face the mounting challenges of the 21st Century.

In the fourteen years that Knowbility has been advocating for equal access to technology, much has changed.  What has remained constant is the support of our community.  People like you who understand the importance of equal technology access and who incorporate that understanding into your own work. Please consider making a year end gift to continue to strengthen Knowbility programs.  Together, we make a difference in the lives of millions of people throughout the world.   Thank you for all you do.

Happy holidays and all the best in the coming year,


As we move toward year’s end, all of us at Knowbility would like to thank our volunteers, sponsors, contractors and contributors for their hard work, patience and generosity. Together we are working toward a world where barrier-free technology creates opportunities for everyone, including people with disabilities. Thank you all for your contributions and good wishes. Please consider supporting our work with a year-end donation.  These are the programs and activities that your generosity will support.

Our AccessWorks Document Remediation Team consists of people, including veterans and others with disabilities, trained by Knowbility to repair electronic documents to be accessible to all.  The effort is a self-sustaining employment program and in 2011, the Team completed 33 contracts.  Our Team repaired documents for 4 universities, 2 Texas state agencies, 3 energy companies, 3 healthcare companies, a major national healthcare nonprofit, and 4 corporations. Our customers included the Rutgers University John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, Duke University Law School, Drexel University, Austin Energy, The Texas Department of Insurance, Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission, and the TMF Health Quality Institute. The AccessWorks team continues to provide the best document accessibility services anywhere and improve PDF remediation processes. One of the year’s great pleasures at Knowbility was welcoming three new members to the AccessWorks team, Laura Dominguez, Darren Davila and Robin Petty; great additions, all.

Commercial Services

I am accessible

Knowbility’s commercial services, led by ED Sharron Rush, provided web accessibility reviews and technical solutions including training and strategic planning, to 21 corporations and agencies: 5 Texas state agencies, 3 major energy providers, 2 national healthcare nonprofits, 2 national arts and disabilities organizations, 4 universities, 5 corporations. We assessed e-learning courseware and provided accessibility training for the Texas Education Agency and its Texas Virtual School Network project. We helped the American Heart Association and The ARC of the US create accessible web sites. We worked with a partner to incorporate accessibility features into the government web site for the State of Qatar. Knowbility provided accessible computer lab training for the Texas State Library and Archives Commission and technical solutions for The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, ArtBeyondSight in New York and SmartMeter Oncor utility providers right here in Texas. 2011 was also our fourth year of working with valued partner Southern California Edison, who we continue to work with in creating accessible web sites and applications so their customers with disabilities can access utility services, open and close accounts, monitor their usage, read their records and much more.


Carolyn Gibbs

Knowbility was pleased to welcome Carolyn Gibbs as our Community Programs Manager in 2011. Since August, Carolyn’s been herding the cats, generating goodwill, and getting ready for the upcoming AIR Austin and SXSW AIR Interactive and, at the same time, laying groundwork for the 2012 AccessU training conference. Last but not least, we give a shout out (and back) to Geri (pronounced Gary) Druckman, our new Digital Media Director, who keeps our web sites and other media platforms running.





One of the year’s most exciting events was the launching, along with partner Loop11 of Melbourne, as in Down Under, of our AccessWorks Usability & Accessibility Testing Portal. The testing portal allows users with disabilities to get paid for testing web sites, while marketing and usability professionals use the test findings to improve accessibility and usability. Our expectation is that both users and marketers will reap great benefits from the testing portal.



ATSTAR, Knowbility’s online professional development initiative in Assistive Technology (AT), continues to serve classroom teachers and their students with disabilities in K-12 and college classrooms in five states. ATSTAR trains teachers how to assess and apply appropriate AT so that students with disabilities can succeed in school. In 2011 Knowbility applied for funding from the US Department of Education Institute of Educational Sciences (IES) in partnership with the University of South Florida and The University of Texas Center for Disability Studies to do a three-year study of ATSTAR that will prove its efficacy and upgrade its content with cutting edge research.

Sight Sound Soul

Sight Sound Soul

In October, Knowbility and VSA Texas presented Sight Sound Soul, a multi-sensory, completely accessible, music and art performance at the Southwest Conference on Disability in Albuquerque. The SW Conference is  one of the nation’s largest disability conferences and this third year of Sight Sound Soul featured legendary jazz vocalist and pianist, Henry Butler, along with fine arts painter and Denton, Texas resident, John Bramblitt.  John created a huge portrait of Henry while Henry sang and pounded out New Orleans jazz with musical roots winding all the way back and deep down into Storyville. What’s cool is that Henry and John are both blind. Sight Sound Soul transmitted their aural and visual stylings, translated live, in real time via ASL, live video, audio description and captioning to 1,000 conference attendees with disabilities. It turned out that Sight Sound Soul was a big hit and the highlight of the conference.

Southwest Conference on Disability

Southwest Conference on Disability

Also at the SW Conference on Disability, Knowbility Executive Director, Sharron Rush, presented an all-day pre-conference workshop, Web Accessibility 101 – Designing for All, for the attendees who are primarily social service professionals, i.e. not techies. And during the conference itself, Sharron conducted three workshops on various aspects of working toward web accessibility: Get Your AT Program Rolling Without Reinventing the Wheel, Accessibility – The Musical, and You Can’t Buy Love – But You CAN Buy Accessibility. The workshops were packed and all in all, Knowbility’s experience at the Conference was extremely productive. Conference officials commented that Sharron and the Knowbility crew made a significant contribution to the event. Add to that, the overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic response to Sight Sound Soul, and the result is that Knowbility will return and be a part of the 2012 conference in October.

WAI – Web Accessibility Initiative

Web Accessibility Initiative

2011 marked the fifth year of our Executive Director’s participation as an Invited Expert on the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative, Education and Outreach Working Group (WAI-EOWG) Among many other activities, WAI-EOWG produces a variety of outreach and support materials for consumers with disabilties and corporations to foster and encourage accessible design. For example, there’s a blog,, where inaccessibility is discussed and dissected, and advocates and innovators swap ideas, proffer solutions and, of course, air their opinions. Every month WAI-EOWG highlights a particular resource, this month it’s a guide called Contacting Organizations about Inaccessible Websites While the blog gives advocates an accessibility forum, the resource guide gives customers a constructive and useful way to communicate about accessibility, or rather inaccessibility, when they encounter it. A link to the guide can be posted on shopping pages for customers who encounter barriers and serve as a valuable means of letting companies know specific problem areas.

 holiday accessibility thoughts

Here are some holiday accessibility thoughts from our colleague, Jennifer Sutton of JSutton Media, about why Contacting Organizations about Inaccessible Websites can be so important:

“When I go online during the holidays, “ she writes, “I just want to find what I’m looking for and check out without needing any help. But sometimes, by the time I’m done, my holiday cheer is beginning to fade. Trying to use an inaccessible site to buy a gift or make a donation on behalf of a loved one can take time I simply don’t have during the busy holiday season.

“But if I spend a little extra time to report my experiences to the organizations that run the sites I visit, I believe my efforts will make the Web a better place next year.

“As I make my shopping list and gather links to the sites I plan to visit, I’m adding a couple of other links to my collection, so they’ll be handy. I’m also setting up an email template or two in advance to help me quickly report my shopping experiences — both the good ones and the ones that are harder than I might wish. Why not join me and start off your New Year positively by helping to make the Web a more accessible place?”

Knowbility looks forward to helping you and working with you in 2012 to make this goal a reality.

The Power of Accessible Technology

As promised, I am here to give you an update as to what has been going on in my life and how vital accessible technology is to me at this time.  For several reasons, my husband and I decided to pull our daughter out of school and give home schooling a try.  Not that she wasn’t doing well enough, we just felt that things could be better for her.  We had thought about and researched other possibilities, but home schooling seemed like the best option for her and for our family.  I definitely did not see myself as someone who would be a good candidate for a home schooling Mother, but this year has been fantastic and I love learning right along with my daughter and having fun with it too.

I will say that the only reason we even considered trying it out was the abundance of resources available to me as a teacher on the internet.  In fact, there is so much information that you could literally spend hours and days just scratching the surface.  I think at last count I have 82 websites bookmarked in my favorites just for home schooling.  From on-line learning curriculum possibilities to free printable worksheets, I felt empowered and passionate about taking on home schooling.  I used technology to meet other local home schooling families, getting to know them and learning about group events through e-mail lists.  We connected with a weekly co-op that we really like and I would have never known about them if it weren’t for the internet.  I even enjoy the occasional read on a few home schooling blogs.  Now if only the computer could just drive a car already!!  Though as you probably know, that possibility is not so far off, given the recent story of Mark Riccobono, the first blind man to independently drive a car.

We decided to start our school year out with an on-line tool called Time4Learning.  This would not be my only resource for curriculum, but it was something to build on.  The student interface is not very accessible, with its use of improperly tagged flash content.  However, the teacher/parent areas were done very well.  The material that I needed was available in accessible PDF, even the reports of my student’s progress and test scores.  I could easily browse the chapters of each subject, and using the descriptions provided go out and find other support materials to print or discuss with her to add meaning to her learning.  I could find reading books or audio books for us both to enjoy.  There were so many possibilities that it was hard choosing just a few for each course subject.

As I mentioned earlier, we found our co-op on line and access to materials needed.  The website for Classical Conversations, which is the national title of our co-op’s curriculum, definitely has a lot of room for improvement in their accessibility.  However, at the beginning of the school year, they were kind enough to provide me with an electronic copy in PDF format of the parent/student manual I needed.  I don’t know that they have worked much with people with disabilities, so it has and will continue to be a learning experience for them as well.  They use a lot of music to teach and this has worked brilliantly for both of us.  The availability of materials to print is wonderful.

We also attend a TaeKwonDo class, which has a great website as well.  I can find her schedule, event details, etc just by going on line.  The instructor is always willing to provide accessible materials so that I can help her with some of the knowledge she needs to memorize, though I am not too helpful when it comes to her forms, sparring, or breaking boards.  Maybe they’ll put out some TaeKwonDo YouTube videos with very detailed audio descriptions.

My iPhone has also been fantastic in providing ways to teach and learn.  I can download educational apps, many of which are accessible, such as one that tells information about all of the U.S Presidents.  I can get books for her to read, math games, etc.  I can navigate around town to our events using GPS, weather we walk or take the bus.  I also use my Braille Sense note taker to download books from Bookshare and can read them to or with her with ease.

I probably make it sound like everything is perfect and accessible.  However, there are still many barriers I face.  There are several websites, files and technologies, even some of which I have mentioned that  I would like to see become more accessible.  My point for now, is to show just how enabling access to technology can be.  Ten years ago, I would have never considered most of what I have discussed possible.  Additionally, the overall willingness of people to help however they can has been wonderful.  At times I feel that I am not only educating my child, but also others who had not previously been aware of the need for accessible technology.  I also know that if not for accessibility and all those who work tirelessly to reach out and include all users in the technological experience, I would not be able to provide a full and rich education to my daughter, weather in or out of the school system.  And while there is still work to do to improve the accessibility and usability of technologies, I am very happy with our progress to this point.  What a fun and fascinating time we live in!

CSUN and the iPhone

The day before CSUN, I opted to use my AT&T upgrade to get an iPhone.  As I have previously posted, I had played with a friend’s iPhone before, only for a few minutes and found it impossible to use.  However, after talking to other blind users of the product who were successful and raved about it, I decided to take a risk.  After all, I have 30 days from the purchase date to return it, so why not?  I was actually nervous, not a normal reaction for me when I get a new peace of technology.  I had one night to become familiar enough with it to make and answer calls, knowing I would need my cell phone quite a bit in San Diego.  I got a few helpful beginning tips from some visually impaired friends who had been using their units for quite some time.  I also did some research on Apple’s site to learn all about iPhone’s accessibility features.  While experimenting, I called several people in my contacts list by accident, sent a few blank or confusing text messages and somehow uninstalled the Voice-over screen reader and had to reset it up through iTunes.  Still, I persevered, eager to learn and overcome the challenges I was presented with.  Slowly, as time passed, my trepidation faded and I actually became very excited about all of the possibilities of the iPhone!

The first and most useful bits of information were the 1 and 2 finger double taps.  These are imperative gestures when using the iPhone with voiceover turned on, because nothing will activate unless you double tap with 1 finger.  From what I understand, Voice-over creates a little box that visually moves to each icon, number, letter, or button that you touch on the screen.  Whatever element that little box is around will be activated with a 1 finger double tap, which can be performed anywhere on the screen.  The 2 finger double tap is used when answering and ending a call (VERY IMPORTANT,) as well as playing and pausing music in the iPod.  You can perform this action anywhere on the screen in these two scenarios.

Other handy features include but are not limited to:

  • The ability to practice gestures and learn what they do in training mode.
  • Call people in your contacts or dial numbers with the built in voice control.
  • Set up tripple click home toggle to turn Voice-over on and off.
  • 2 finger swipe up to read the entire screen.
  • Moving or flicking 1 finger left and right to navigate through icons and menus.

Once I knew these little tricks, I could do anything and go anywhere on the iPhone!  I could even go to iTunes and download applications, most of which worked very well with Voice-over.  A whole new world of possibilities was suddenly available to me!  Buyer’s remorse?  No way!

At CSUN, I attended some very helpful and informative classes referencing the iPhone and available apps to help people with disabilities.  One of the first sessions was that on an app called Proloquo2go, which is Latin for, “speak out loud.”  I had heard a bit about this some time ago from one of our blog readers, but this session detailed just what the app does and how it has helped so many people, who have previously been unable to simply communicate with their peers, teachers and family members.  The application uses a combination of pictures and text entry, allowing the user to customize it to fit their needs.  Tears literally filled my eyes when they showed Proloquo2go in action, as it enabled a young girl to interact with her friends and family.  Suddenly, she was able to easily express her thoughts and desires, her silence had been broken.  Prior to this app, there have been assistive technologies that do the same things, but this is the first of its kind that will run on a mainstream consumer device, which is stylish and everyone recognizes it as something “cool.”  What a difference it has already made in the lives of so many!  Check out the Assistive Technology Forum for information about the app itself, as well as any accompanying technologies you may need to get started.

Right after that session, I spent the next hour hearing iPhone and Voice-over in action.  I was writing notes like crazy and it took great effort on my part to resist the urge to pull out my own iPhone and try the things that were being demonstrated.  I was amazed at everything it was able to do, noting that there are very few barriers preventing me from using the available features of this little technology.  Most applications work pretty well, Voice-over can handle them if they are developed correctly, and there are accessibility guidelines the makers of the apps can use as part of their design.  I left that session with a wealth of information and things to try on my own.  Before leaving however, I talked to the representatives that were there from Apple, congratulating them on making such great strides in accessibility.  When large companies like them take the time and effort to include everyone in their product development considerations, it really brings home just how far we have come in accessibility education.  I’m not saying there isn’t still plenty more work to be done, but the awareness is spreading and really making a difference!

There were other sessions involving iPhones and iPods throughout the CSUN Conference, and there will no doubt be even more like them next year as the popularity of these devices continues to grow.  For myself, I am really happy with the product and my decision to give it a try.  I am not looking back, only forward as new and exciting possibilities arise with the iPhone!