Category Archives: education

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!


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.

Accessible Software Is Essential To Learning

A personal Story by Sabra Ewing

For many students, accessible software is essential to learning. This is especially true for those of us who rely on assistive technology. Unfortunately, despite the wealth of publicly available information about accessibility, and a host of free resources, student and educator ignorance about accessibility requirements in education continues to create unnecessary barriers for students with disabilities. Here’s a personal account that I hope will illustrate the need for increased professional development in accessible learning.

I didn’t think I would enjoy my required computer science course when I arrived there on the first day of my freshmen year of high school. We were supposed to start using a program called JCreater, which the technology personnel in my school district were unable to make usable by a screen reader. Believing this to be a great stroke of luck, I didn’t mind when my vision teacher told me that the principal would waive the requirement for me and that I would take a gym class instead. Had I just done a bit of research, I might have learned about a free accessible alternative to JCreater that would have allowed me to easily work alongside my peers, but I didn’t know enough about computer science to know what to look for. In any case, according to Newsweek and World Report, I was either attending the number 1 or number 2 public high schools in the nation depending on the year. I assumed that, if the knowledge of the teachers there, coupled with that of my blindness-specific instructors couldn’t devise a way for me to fulfill the requirement, then nothing could. I lived in ignorance for the remainder of my freshman year, thinking that, without a doubt, I had gotten the better end of the Computer Science deal than my classmates.

During my sophomore year, I began to feel slightly apprehensive about the whole affair. I learned that, in addition to the first required class, I was being denied access to three subsequent optional courses. One was an advanced placement course, another was dual credit. In all, this equated to four classes that could have gotten me more ranking points. But I pushed these thoughts out of my mind. Ranking points didn’t matter to me, I told myself. Neither did the fact that our school had a computer science team and a robotics team. It was true that both teams had many of the same members, and that I had taken to eating lunch near them each day, but that was only because they weren’t too loud, not because I had any interest in what they were doing.

By junior year, I broke down and openly admitted that my interest in Computer Science was increasing. But there would be no point in pursuing it. The fact remained…I had not touched a computer during the two weeks I had been in the computer science class. I had never tried programming for myself. How could I really be sure whether or not I could do it as a blind person?

By the time I became a senior in high school, not knowing had become too much to bear. So near the beginning of the year, when we had a three day weekend, I began doing some research into the matter. By this time, I had picked up on the fact that there are lots of programming languages and that my peers had been studying a language called Java, so I decided to see if I could do the same. That night, I spend twelve hours installing software and learning to use command line as well as the basics of the Java programming language. Ever since I compiled my first application depicting a diagonal line, I knew that computer science was for me. I never considered asking to join the computer science or robotics team because I, along with the other students in my small school, was fully aware that I lacked the necessary skill to do so. However, I did ask the Computer Science teacher why I couldn’t have taken the series of courses by using different software to debug and compile my programs. The terse response was that other software packages didn’t effectively color code various information and that in order to be successful in the class, I would surely need one-on-one assistance the school couldn’t provide. After recovering from my shock that this intellectually developed person couldn’t understand that color coding has no bearing on the experience of a totally blind programmer, I began to feel angry and hurt. This difficult situation and others like it could have been avoided through education and increased social awareness for me and the others at my school.

This is an example of how despite the existence of accessible software, I still didn’t have access to all of the same educational opportunities as my peers. Accessible materials are great, and they definitely constitute a big step forward, but those materials are essentially useless in the hands of un-knowledgeable students and educators. In this case, my teacher’s lack of knowledge meant that I missed out on a series of courses and several extracurricular activities I could have really enjoyed. Had I not wanted to find out the truth for myself, I might not today be majoring in computer information systems and thinking of switching my major to computer science. Worse, my ignorance of the software available to me meant that I inadvertently sent the message to my peers that blind people can never be their full academic counterparts. Today, schools don’t find it acceptable to deny access based on race, gender, and religion. Let’s make sure schools also display knowledge and sensitivity toward students protected under The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Accessibility News Now

WIN 8 phones are talking, campus speechifying, Inclusive Design doesn’t have to be bland

By Molly Holzschlag

Speech Comes to Windows 8 Phones. An exciting feature of the Window 8 phone is that it has a speech platform. This brings a layer of accessibility to the phone that did not exist prior – voice commands, speech recognition, and speech synthesis. Read about  Windows 8 Speech Platform at MSDN:

Campus Leaders Speak Out On Value of Keeping Tech Accessible. You can check out a video and detailed explanation of top educators discussing the value of accessible technology in Higher Ed:

Is Inclusive Design Bland? Check out the pros-n-cons. Well-known user experience leader Jared Spool says yeh, inclusive design can be bland. But, it ain’t necessarily so, comes the thoughtful response from David Sloan, researcher in Inclusive Design for the University of Dundee, Scotland,

Knowbility Signs Deque Systems as Major Sponsor for Worldwide Accessible Internet Rally (AIR)

Austin-based nonprofit Knowbility, Inc. has signed on Deque Systems as a major sponsor for Open AIR, the worldwide web design competition benefitting people with disabilities and nonprofit organizations. Open AIR makes web sites accessible to people who are blind, hearing impaired, mobility impaired or who have other disabilities. The best web designs receive awards and international recognition. Participating nonprofits receive new, accessible web sites.

Deque Systems, Inc. is a leading provider of automated web accessibility software solutions. In addition to financial support, Deque will provide Open AIR site judges with access to the Worldspace Sync testing tool for evaluating accessibility. Knowbility is excited to welcome Deque CEO, Preety Kumar, to AIR’s panel of esteemed judges.

Knowbility, Inc. is a national leader in web accessibility whose mission is to support the independence of people with disabilities by promoting the use and improving the availability of accessible information technology.

Development teams, non-profits, individuals, and sponsors can register to participate in Open AIR at

About Open AIR

Open AIR provides basic and advanced training in accessible web design and free web sites to nonprofit organizations. Development teams are given one month to code, then come together on Rally Day (November 17th) to finish their sites in a high-energy environment. Sites are judged based on accessibility, usability, design and use of media. Teams will compete in regions, with the top-ranked sites of each region moving on to a second round of judging and awards presented at a SXSW event. The first place team will win tickets to SXSW Interactive 2014!

The last day for team registration is October 1, 2012, and nonprofit/development team matches will be announced at the Kick Off, held October 17th. Training for both teams and non-profit organizations, which are essential to participants getting the best experience possible, is available online, on-demand.

The registration fee for development teams is $100 (team of four). Individuals who may not have teams – web designers, project managers, graphic artists and content developers – can register and be placed on a rally team. Registration fee for non-profit organizations is also $100. Participating nonprofits receive a professionally-built accessible website.

To learn more about the AIR program, visit or contact Ella Jane Moore, Community Programs Manager, at

About Deque Systems

Deque Systems – – provides automated testing for web accessibility, along with consulting and training services, to make corporate and government web sites accessible to people with disabilties and compliant with federal and state accessibility guidelines.