Category Archives: General

Accessibility in the National Day of Civic Hacking

Participating in the National Day of Civic Hacking

The first national Hackathon for Change was held on June 1st and 2nd and was every bit as exciting as I anticipated.  The event had much of the same energy, idealism, and enthusiasm that we see each year in our annual Accessibility Internet Rally (AIR) competitions. If you’re familiar with AIR, you know that since 1998 Knowbility has fostered teams of tech volunteers to donate time and talent by building accessible web sites for nonprofit groups.

Similarly, this last weekend of civic hacking brought more than 10,000 volunteers out within their own communities to participate in more than 95 separate hackathon events.  Data sets from dozens of government entities were made available to the hackers with the challenge to use  publicly-released data, code and technology to solve problems relevant to our neighborhoods, our cities, our states, and our country. If the energy at Austin’s ATX Hackathon for Change was any indication, people of all ages and skills actively and joyfully embraced the opportunity to use technology to make a difference in the lives of citizens – truly awesome!

St Edward’s University hosted the local event and Open Austin was the primary organizer.  What distinguished the Austin Hackathon from the others is this:  alone of all the programs I surveyed, Austin had web accessibility prompts in the orientation materials for all volunteers and included on their Expert Panel an accessibility advocate – me! It is always exciting to watch coders, designers, and planners respond to the accessibility challenge.  The experience led me to examine once again the nature of the field of digital accessibility and what is currently needed to truly advance and bring into the mainstream the practice of accessible design.

Mainstreaming digital accessibility

Some have been calling for the creation of an International Society of Accessibility Professionals.  But here is what I wonder:  What exactly will the establishment of a separate organization for these professionals do to integrate accessibility into the practice of smart, eager, engaged developers and designers such as those who participated in the National Day of Civic Hacking?  Does a professional organization really capture the imagination and fire of those for whom development is a calling and who respond to challenges like gaming and mash-ups?  I truly do not know the answer.

But I do know from participation in AIR and again this weekend that when accessibility is integrated as part of a broader community engagement, it is easy to “get” it.   I see lights go on and accessibility embraced on a community level by bright entrepreneurs, designers, gamers, and developers. I know that when accessibility is integrated into a lively practice, it is more likely to be accepted and improved upon than when it is siloed off into a separate category.

Accessibility practitioners are no different than any other specialized discipline.  If kept in isolation, the echo chamber effect creeps in, bad practices can be institutionalized, and adaptive change becomes more difficult.  Including accessibility along with other design considerations, integrating accessibility into iterative processes, ensuring that accessibility is part of the tumble of the development process – I believe THAT  is the way to keep accessibility ideas and practice fresh, innovative, and truly relevant.

What would John Slatin do?

Participating in the National Day of Civic Hacking was big, fat, super happy fun.  Let’s find more ways to integrate accessibility.  I challenge advocates out there. Instead of (or in addition to) submitting your papers to disability conferences and speaking to the singing choir, why not submit to wild and wooly design and tech conferences – like Big(D)esign and SXSW Interactive – that have nothing in particular to do with accessibility?

Dr. John Slatin was an English professor, a poet, and a lover of technology who happened to be blind.  He inspired students and colleagues as he fostered art, language, and technology-related research projects that were not easily described or pigeon-holed. John was an effective accessibility advocate precisely because his imagination was fired by the potential of technology to bridge gaps of language, culture, geography, and yes – disability.  Let’s get out there and truly demonstrate the truth of John Slatin’s words…Good design IS accessible design.  Onward!




First Round Winners of Open AIR Announced!

The first round of judging for Open AIR has come to an end, and the winners were announced on Friday at a  party at Cover 3 in North Austin. Six winners were announced in two categories, Basic and Advanced, based on the nonprofit’s requirements for the site and the number of advanced features (like video, audio, or ARIA widgets) that were attempted.

We had so many fantastic sites submitted that it was incredibly difficult to narrow the results down to just six. These six sites will be allowed to make updates to their sites and resubmit for another round of judging, and the final winners will be announced at the Dewey Winburne Awards and Open AIR Awards Ceremony on March 11, 2013, at SXSW.

AIR sites are judged by a panel of accessibility experts, including Jim Thatcher, Preety Kumar (CEO at Deque), and Knowbility’s own Geri Druckman. Thanks to the judges for all their hard work and to Deque for sharing use of their excellent WorldSpace tool with us!

Without any further ado, here are the Round One winners and their non-profit organizations!

Basic Category

  1. Headspring Hurwitzes: Texas ROSE
  2. Team Canada: Black Creek Community Health Centre
  3. Team Web-able: Council on At-Risk Youth

Advanced Category

  1. Basic Semantics: The Virginia Home
  2. The Green Team: ASPIRE
  3. EZXS_ibility: HaShem’s House

Stay tuned for more news on the Open AIR winners!

Win a ticket to CSUN and support Knowbility!

CSUN’s International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference is an amazing conference in its twenty-eighth year. Knowbility is extremely proud to be associated with the conference – Sharron will deliver four sessions this year!

Best of all, we’re giving you the opportunity to support Knowbility and win a chance for one of two tickets to this year’s conference. Simply donate $40 or more via PayPal, and we’ll send you a raffle ticket. We’ll conduct the drawing on January 31st, and winners will be notified February 1st.

Why attend CSUN?

Fresh viewpoints. Representatives from all over the world who work in and/or with assistive technology share information and perspectives.

Unique opportunities. Attendees and presenters at CSUN have the chance to give their input on and influence legislation and policy-making around disability issues.

Networking. Get to know new contacts and network both on an individual and B2B level. There is ample time and places for gathering in smaller groups, meeting for drinks and dinner, and general social network building and gathering.

Educational rewards. Attendees learn about emerging assistive technology in educational sessions for subject matter students and experts.

Why support Knowbility?

Knowbility is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that depends on your support. You can help by giving generously. All contributions are fully tax deductible and you can designate that your gift support any of our fantastic programs. Just indicate on your check or your PayPal donation form that you would like your gift to support any of the following:

  • Accessibility Internet Rally (AIR) community training for nonprofits and web development professionals
  • ATSTAR, helping teachers understand and implement assistive technology for K-12 students
  • AccessWorks, employing and training veterans and others with disabilities in accessible information technology
  • Staff participation in W3C Web Accessibility Initiative Working Groups
  • Be used wherever the need is greatest

Year End Wrap Up

By Sharron Rush, Executive Director

As 2012 comes to a close, we at Knowbility hope you have had a good year.  We look back at a year of tremendous progress in the field of accessibility, watching changes that we have anticipated for many years coming to pass. Since 1998, Knowbility looked for ways to build collaborative efforts to scale the Accessibility Internet Rally (AIR) beyond our home town of Austin, Texas. We knew that web professionals who learned accessible design skills in the context of this fun, friendly competition tended to become accessibility advocates for life.  And this year, under the leadership of Chair Rich Schwerdtfeger and Education Task Force lead Hiram Kuykendall, AIR recruited more than a dozen teams from all over the world and provided them with distance training in the nuts of bolts of accessible web design. Stay tuned for outcomes and awards in early 2013.

Other changes were driven by legislation.  The 2010 passage of the 21st Century Communication and Video Accessibility Act raised awareness of the need for captions and audio description. Now that technologists are aware of the challenges, tools have improved and accessible multimedia is becoming the standard. Did you know that our AccessWorks program – in addition to providing user experience testing and document remediation – now also employs people with disabilities to caption your videos? Call us for more information about video captioning services that employs people with disabilities.

Educational professionals seem to be learning that as they provide curriculum products that are accessible to students with disabilities, they are solving problems of learning differences for all of their students.  We are working with Virtual School Networks and developers of computer based tests. Our ATSTAR program is helping teachers and teachers-in-training learn to include all students.

Please read on to learn more about how our programs are helping to ensure technology access for all.  And if you know an individual, a company, or an agency that has done good work in accessibility and would like to shine a light on that work, please use the online form to nominate accessibility champions for our Achievements in Accessibility award.  We are hoping that this will be the first of an annual series of spotlights on the good work being done in our global community.

Every day, we find ourselves grateful to be part of such a dedicated group of innovators and collaborators.  It is a privilege to do this work in such good company. Many thanks for your support and fellowship as we strive for equal access to technology opportunities for all.


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,