Category Archives: Knowbility web site

Web accessibility and coming of age

Knowbility is 13 years old.  Founded in February of 1999, we have become a teenager. It’s often an awkward age for people, and lately I’ve wondered if Knowbility might also be subject to the same common struggles.  Who are we?  Who do we want to be? How do we fit in with the rest of our world?  As our industry of web accessibility makes critical decisions about how best to advance the field, these type of questions inform our position.  Knowbility has grown from community advocacy to industry leadership and before we weigh in with opinions, we owe to our colleagues and constituents some background on how our perspective was formed.

Grassroots origin

It has been a challenging, fascinating, and rewarding journey.  Knowbility started out being all about the community, all the time. Our Accessibility Internet Rally (AIR) program was created to thumb the nose at the notion that accessibility had to be dull or dumbed down.  AIR is a true collaborative brainchild, forged with dedicated combined effort of the broad community, led by people with disabilities, and determined to prove untrue the perception of accessibility as a barrier to innovation.  Give us a chance to teach accessibility to web professionals, frame the development within a competition, and then watch out for the results!

We expect  sites created in the competition to be cool, innovative, and accessible all at once.  And these cool accessible sites are donated pro bono to nonprofit groups.

It worked!  Knowbility engaged thousands of individuals – nonprofit leaders and web professionals – to care about accessibility, at least long enough for developers to build an accessible web site for a local nonprofit group.  Teams from giants like Dell and IBM compete against frisky teams put together in Refresh groups and BarCamps.  And it’s not at all predictable who will win the trophies and  the bragging rights for creating the most accessible site of the year.  For a few years, the team to beat was an independent husband and wife team who ultimately hired on at Convio.

AIR participants went on to work for Apple and Google and Microsoft; they went on to found their own companies; they took accessibility positions at government agencies; and they took their AIR conditioned passion for accessibility with them.

Expertise for hire

AIR participants, trainers, and judges included  John Slatin, Jim Allan,  Jim Thatcher, James Craig, Glenda Sims, Kathy Keller, Phill Jenkins, Brenda Adrian, Jon Wiley, Kathy Wahlbin, Pat Ramsey and many many others.

As the years passed and the trainings became more finely honed and effective, and as the judging form became more standardized, we were able to offer services and to do what many nonprofits can’t do – charge for our knowledge and experience.  We love working with companies and agencies and helping craft their accessibility strategies and roadmaps.  We love organizing accessibility training conferences. Earning revenue is a great opportunity for a nonprofit organization like Knowbility.  Fee for service offerings allow us to train and hire people with disabilities, including veterans with newly acquired disabilities.  So I would be remiss if I did not remind readers that Knowbility can help you with your company accessibility assessment, planning, and implementation.

But the point I want to emphasize is the notion of the free exchange of ideas that comes from collaborative effort. Collaboration is multidimensional, and creates the inclusive environment that is the very foundation of both innovation and accessibility.

The expertise developed over 13 years at Knowbility came directly from the community AIR programs, and AIR is still at the heart and soul of what we do.  I wrote elsewhere about the exhilaration of AIR activities. And, if you are at SXSW in 2012, please plan to attend the awards party to catch some of the excitement.  That thrill and the sense of active participation in a meaningful community collaboration helps create the dedication to accessibility that so many developers come away with. Knowbility has trained more developers on the practical application of accessible web development techniques than anyone, anywhere.

And as a result has accessibility become mainstream for web development professionals?  Nope, accessible design practice is not mainstream at this point and is often misapplied and misunderstood. So, the question is always with us – how do we get there?

Our community is now giving serious consideration to the best way forward in order to professionalize, standardize, and certify accessible web development skills. The notion of a professional accessibility organization is suggested and is worth serious consideration.  All praise to the US Labor Department, the Assistive Technology Industry Association and others who are giving this important matter such deep analysis.

Is it time for a skills certification?

Our perspective has been formed across many years in the accessibility trenches.  In 2001 when Knowbility was still a toddler, board member Jon Carmain urged us to be “first to market” in a web accessibility certification.  We did extensive research and concluded that the field was not stable enough and not ready for a certification to be put into place and that Knowbility was not mature enough and had not enough credibility to be a certifying agent.  But it is a notion that sits always on the back burner as a consideration.

The notion of a certification for web sites, for web developer skills, and for usability professionals is one that has merit. The question is how?

On Feb 28th, the Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) will convene an Accessibility Forum at the 27th annual Conference on Assistive Technology and Persons with Disabilities organized by CSUN. The topic our community is asked to consider is “Taking Accessibility Mainstream: Making the case for an international society of accessibility professionals.”

This is a great topic for consideration and comment.  The forum agenda and the line-up of panelists is stellar.  This brief history of Knowbility above is offered so that readers will understand our background and put our comments in perspective. Next week we will post again with Knowbility’s position on the creation of a professional accessibility organization as a certifying body for such a set of certifications.  Stay tuned and weigh in with your own perspectives – we’d love to hear them!

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,
Sharron

 

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.

Community

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.

 

 

 

AccessWorks

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

ATSTAR

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, http://bit.ly/inaccessible, 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 http://www.w3.org/WAI/users/inaccessible.html. 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.

What do you think of the new knowbility.org?

Knowbility is pleased to announce our new website.  Since 1999 our site has been like a comfortable old home.  As we grew, we just kept adding room after room after room.  Finally, we had to admit it was pretty easy for new visitors to get lost in the maze of hallways in our big old house.  Kudos to the team at Elemental Blend, winners of several AIR competitions, who designed the new site.  They have streamlined the navaigation and made it easy to find your way around to our community programs, training events and web accessibility services.  We hope you feel at home here and hope to hear from you!