Tag Archives: Accessibility Internet Rally

What Developers Should Know For A Universally Accessible Internet

This article was originally published in the September 2015 edition of “NTEN: Change“, the quarterly newsletter of NTEN (Nonprofit Technology Network) and was crafted by the Marketing Team of Knowbility: Jessica Looney, Community Programs Manager; Divya Mulanjur, Marketing & Communications Associate; and Anne Mueller, Community Programs Assistant.

web accessibility icon
web accessibility icon

Web accessibility is the practice of removing any barriers to interaction with technology for anyone, including people with disabilities. Simply put, this means that when you create an application or a website, everyone should be able to access it.

The regulations that govern accessibility in the United States include Section 508 and the American with Disabilities Act. In 1998, the federal government amended the 1973 Rehabilitation Act that determined that “agencies must give disabled employees and members of the public access to information that is comparable to access available to others” (Section508.gov). The American with Disabilities Act recently celebrated its 25thyear of existence. These regulations prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. The Supreme Court recently determined that the Internet is public domain; therefore, it must be accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities.

When implementing accessibility standards, web professionals must consider a myriad of factors. Disabilities can include visual, physical, auditory, speech, or cognitive impairments. Many websites, programs, and applications contain barriers that make it difficult for people with disabilities to use. A person with a visual impairment may use a third party program, like a screen reader, that will read aloud the text on the screen. Therefore, images should contain alternative text (“alt” text) that will describe the image the person cannot see. If a person is unable to utilize a mouse when using the Internet, the website should contain architecture that allows a keyboard-only user to easily maneuver through the site. Check out WCAG (Web Accessibility Content Guidelines) “Before/After Demonstration” to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t. As well, you can use WAVE (Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool) to test your website’s accessibility.

In order to continue developing a more accessible Internet, web designers and developers should consider the following factors:

  • Page Title: Be sure the page has a simple, explanatory title that informs the user of the name of the site
  • Headings: Each page should have at least one heading. Maintain a friendly hierarchy when coding
  • Text Size: Some people need to resize the size of the text on the screen. To test this, zoom in on your web page to see what it looks like
  • Contrast: Use a website like Check My Colors or Contrast Ratio. The former will check your page for proper contrast, and the latter will give you a WCAG-based score after you input the text and colors you plan on using
  • Landmarks: Add at least three landmarks to your site: “Main,” “Navigation,” and “Search”
  • Keyboard access: Every element of a website should be easily accessible if a person is only using a keyboard, not a mouse. Links should be easily tabbed through, and drop-down menus should also be able to be tabbed through
  • Links: Each link should contain a descriptive name
  • Forms: Be sure any forms you have on your website are accessible. Identify the required fields
  • Do not use the phrase “Click Here”—it’s too ambiguous

One of the best ways to test for accessibility is to try it out yourself! Unplug your mouse; if you’re using a laptop, turn off the track pad. Many computers now come with their own screen reader software; turn this on. Toggle the “high contrast” switch, and zoom in or magnify a web page. How does the site look? Are there overlaps? Are the colors appeasing to the eye? Do you get stuck on a link or page when trying to navigate only using a keyboard? This should be a good test for accessibility.

Knowbility is improving technology access for millions of youth and adults with disabilities all over the world with its many community programs. One such program is OpenAIR, Knowbility’s annual global web accessibility challenge. OpenAIR invites teams of web professionals to sign up for a global competition where each team has to develop an accessible website. These websites are made for nonprofits from around the world, who also sign up for OpenAIR.

OpenAIR began in 1998 in Austin Texas, as the Accessibility Internet Rally (AIR), a web design competition that would:

  1. Raise awareness among technology professionals about the need for accessible websites and software applications
  2. Provide a medium for nonprofit agencies to harness the power of the Internet and expand their reach
  3. Create meaningful connections between the disengaged technology sector and the rest of the community

Today, OpenAIR has evolved into a global teaching and learning competition that puts accessibility front and center, where it belongs. OpenAIR imparts advanced accessibility skills to web developers across the globe, creates a challenging atmosphere for participants to enhance these abilities, and keeps them engaged with games and networking events. By bringing in an experienced panel of judges and assigning leading accessibility experts as mentors to each team, the competition has been fine-tuned as an incubator of quality websites.

In its 18th year now, OpenAIR has nurtured the creation of hundreds of accessible community websites. The FCC recently honored Knowbility by bestowing upon them the Chairman’s Award for Innovation in Accessibility for this program. For many arts and nonprofit organizations, the AIR site was their first foray onto the Web. OpenAIR is growing and is on its way to becoming an established global event. OpenAIR 2015 is a technology challenge that fosters healthy competitive spirit to do good and make a difference in the world through knowledge of universal design.

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!




Knowbility Takes SXSW by Storm & Announces Winners of AIR!

It’s a Friday in Austin. By any regards, it’s just another day in just another city. In fact, if you walked through downtown today, you would have no idea that little more than a week ago, one of the world’s largest trio of festivals flooded the streets with geeks, movie buffs, and music lovers alike. Knowbility was right in the midst of the chaos – taking the South by Southwest (SXSW) world by storm with our message of accessibility and having a blast doing it!

The 2012 Dewey Ceremony & AIR-Interactive Awards

To start with, we hosted an official SXSW party on March 11th. If you know anything about SXSW, you know why that word “official” is emphasized. It’s a BIG DEAL. But let’s be real – the bigger deal is the reason we hosted the party in the first place: announcing the winners of the 2012 AIR-Interactive/AIR-Austin Competition and introducing the Dewey Winburne honorees for contributions to society through interactive media.

The AIR-Interactive/AIR-Austin Winners

Seven teams competed earlier this spring in an intense race to accessibility. You might have read about the program, and the incredible teams that participated in our post-rally blog post. So who won? Everybody did – you just can’t beat participating in AIR! But since we had official judges, we probably should have official winners, and they are:

Team Unchain My Art
Formula One winners Unchain My Art from MicroAssist

Formula One Division (Accessibility+Advanced Features)

1st Place: Unchain My Art, designing for The Austin Jazz Alliance
2nd Place: The Headspring Hurwitzes, designing for Texas TERA

 Stock Car Division (Basic Accessibility)

1st Place: Team TradeMark, designing for All Blind Children of Texas
2nd Place: Team Fahrenheit, designing for Phronesis Media

Team TradeMark
Team TradeMark takes First Place in Stock Car

Honorable Mentions

The Drupalistas, designing for Austin Speech Labs
The Access Austin Crew, designing for ADAPT of Texas
Team Enchantment, designing for The Independent Living Resource Center of New Mexico

Congratulations to everyone who competed – you are all champions, and your work for accessibility goes far beyond the Rally!

Accessible Internet Rally Will be Held in October

If you didn’t participate in this spring’s program, you’ll have another opportunity in October, when we bring the AIR-Austin rally back to its traditional timing – during Disability Awareness Month. As we announced following the awards, Rich Schwerdtfeger, Chief Technology Officer for Accessibility at IBM Software Group  will chair the fall program!

2012 Dewey Winburne Awards

Judy Brewer
Judy Brewer leads the Web Accessibility Initiative at the W3C and was awarded Dewey Winburne recognition

Local musicians Mother Falcon (silently accompanied by the ASL stylings of LotuSign) provided the background for a brief intermission at the party, and then the rest of the evening was dedicated to honoring the winners of the 2012 Dewey Winburne Awards. Dewey was a co-founder of SXSW Interactive, and a man dedicated to changing the digital landscape in Austin through his work with technology and youth.

Those awards,presented by SXSW itself, honor the work of 10 individuals from around Austin, the US, and even the world. The award recognizes contributions made by social activists using technology to change their communities. More about the honorees  can be seen in a great post about the Dewey Awards on the SXSW website.


Teresa Ferguson
Teresa Ferguson, former Dewey winner herself, emceed the awards party

Many thanks go out to Theresa Ferguson, who emceed the program, and did a fantastic job of introducing the awardees and moving the ceremony along. Theresa is not only a former participant in AIR, she helped to inspire the AIR-Interactive Awards, and she’s even a past Dewey Nominee!

Thank you also to everyone who came out to support the work of our fantastic Accessibility Internet Rally teams and the Dewey Award winners! Your enthusiasm and energy overflowed the room!

The SXSW Trade Show (aka, SWAG-a-palooza 2012)

sleep masks printed with "Wake Up to Accessibility" You’d think that after the party was over, we’d all get to relax and enjoy the festival, but there’s just no slowing down at Knowbility – instead, we were back downtown the next morning to welcome the first attendees at the annual SXSW Trade Show. We had a huge booth, like we always do, and had the opportunity to tell people from all around the world about accessibility.

Our “Wake Up to Accessibility” sleep masks were a huge hit – and were featured in a “best of SXSW SWAG” twitter post!

We also invited visitors to get off their feet, relax, and peruse the work of our teams, helping to select the People’s Choice Award Winner for AIR. We are pleased to announce that Team TradeMark has taken home the prize, a gift card for Parkside Restaurant in Downtown Austin, graciously donated by the restaurant itself!

Even more, the Knowbility booth featured demonstrations in using the JAWS screen reading software by Jeanine Lineback. Talks by Knowbility supporters and sponsors from Deque Systems, Adobe, Paciello Group, and the W3C highlighted issues and new developments in accessibility.

Speaking of sponsors, we want to thank them! Without their support, none of this would be possible!

Deque Systems LogoCity of Austin LogoAdobe LogoThe Paciello Group LogoAustin Mayor's Committee for People with Disabilities LogoNew Horizons LogoMicroAssist LogoSt. Edwards University Logo


And a special thanks goes out to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, who not only sponsored the 2012 Dewey Ceremony & AIR-Interactive Awards, but published a great article to highlight the Dewey Awardees.

Phew! It was a great week and now we are taking all the cool stuff we learned and will hope to share it with you at AccessU in May – see you then!

A modest list of accessibility events at SXSWi

Two themes continued to surface during this last glorious week spent with the accessibility tribe at the CSUN Conference on Assistive Technology.  One has to do with professionalization of the field and the other with communication to those other than the initiated. I can’t think of a better place than SXSWi to move the ball forward on both of these themes. So…inspired by The Great Big List of 2012 CSUN sessions, I compiled a list of accessibility related topics and activities that will be featured in the midst of the madness that is SXSW Interactive next week.

The modest list

There are more than 5000 events and sessions at the SXSW conference, so I know I have missed some.  Please use the comments below to add to this list anything that I have overlooked and if you need accommodation while attending SXSW, they have information posted.

Friday March 9

Popping Your Bubble: Stories of the Digital Divide

2 pm at the Sheraton Austin.  Tales of people with marginal access, primarily people of color and those in rural settings. Accessibility advocates might attend and draw parallels with disability.

The Future of Access to Digital Broadcast Video

5 pm in the Austin Convention Center (ACC), Room 9ABC. This should be a great discussion of why online video needs to be accessible too. Experts, including Andrew Kirkpatrick, Glenn Goldstein, Otto Berkes, and Shane Feldman will discuss challenges and share processes.

Saturday, March 10

AT&T Mobile Hackathon

This is an all-day event that requires pre-registration and will award up to $46K in prizes.  There is not a word about accessibility in any of their promo, so perhaps an accessibility coder can crash the party and capture the flag?

Accessible HTML 5 Canvas? Really? How?

At the Radisson Town Lake at 11:00 am to 12 noon.  A workshop format to teach technical details of how to create an accessible HTML DOM structure, tie it to the visible Canvas surface, and more.  With Charles Pritchard, Cynthia Shelly, David Bolter, Richard Schwerdtfeger, big brains all.

Accessibility MeetUp

Come to the Hilton Austin Downtown, Room 615AB at 12:30 pm for a meet and greet with SXSW attendees who are interested in accessibility from newbies to greybeards. Knowbility is organizing so there will be fun as well as tons of resources.

Sunday March 11

Will Accessibility Rain on Your Cloud Parade?

At 11:00 at the Hilton Garden Inn Elizabeth Woodward, a Senior Software Engineer with the IBM Research Human Ability and Accessibility Center will take a look at the additional thought and planning needed for accessibility success in the context of cloud computing.

Time to choose:  At 3:30 on Sunday we are presented with a trifecta and I don’t know how to advise you to choose your first, second, and third.  Maybe you can buddy up and draw straws with your friends.

Designing for Awareness in the Attention Economy

At 3:30 at the Stephen F Austin Hotel, usability specialists Brian Sullivan and Taylor Cowan consider how to get the attention of different types of users, including users with disability.

Demystifying the Future of the Web and Apps

Also at 3:30, at the Radisson Town Lake Paul Trani of Adobe leads an advanced workshop that includes CSS, HTML5 and how to balance media strengths and weaknesses for success in the world of mobile and progressive enhancement.

Preserving the Creative Culture of the Web

Also at 3:30 in the ACC, Room 9ABC, this presentation by Jason Scott, Kari Kraus, Nick Hasty considers accessibility of digital content over time as technology changes.

Dewy Winburne Community Service Honorees

Here in the Austin Convention Center, Room 8A is another event starting at 3:30.  But this one runs until 6:00 pm.  If you attend a previously mentioned  3:30 session, you can still get by to network with, learn from, and be inspired by the honorees for the 2012 Dewey Winburne Community Service Award. And you will especiallywant to attend to cheer for Judy Brewer who leads the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) at the W3C and is one of the Dewey honorees.

AIR-Interactive and Dewey Awards Party

At 6:00 pm, winners of the 2012 Accessibility Internet Rally AIR-Austin/AIR-Interactive awards will share the stage with the 2012 Dewey Award winners and music by Mother Falcon. Badges not needed at the St David’s Episcopal Church event center.

Monday March 12

On Monday, the trade show booths are opened, including Knowbility’s SXSW Accessibility Center.  Come by all day for demos of assistive technology, updates from the Web Accessibility Initiative of the W3C, and talks on trending accessibility topics by Knowbility partners from Deque Systems, the Paciello Group, MicroAssistAdobe and St Edward’s University .

Few of the break-out sessions on Monday have direct reference to accessibility, but my interest in the intersection of disability and the arts made me look at this one and I plan to drop in.

Performance and Technology: Keeping Arts Alive

At the ACC in Room 12AB a panel of artists and technologists including  Alyce Myatt, Asa Kalama, Beth Burns, Conor Roche, and Robert Matney explore the interaction of media, technology, and performance art.  Knowbility has collaborated for years with VSA Texas to produce fully accessible performance events (SightSoundSoul) and I am eager to see if and how disability is integrated into this discussion.

Tuesday March 13

How the iPad Can Save Accessibility

At 9:30 am Marty DeAngelo of Digitas Health presents his ideas on how to use new devices to make user experience even better than on the “old web.”

Transforming Social Media for the Senior Community

Also at 9:30 in the Omni Hotel ballroom, Brian Lang of Seniors In Touch talks about designing for all, inclusive design to reach the growing segment of the population over 65.  There is  significant overlap between the needs of  those with disability.

Beyond a Thousand Words: Accessible Complex Data

At 11:00 head back to the Convention Center, Room 10AB for what I expect to be an informative talk by IBM Research AbilityLab’s Susann Keohane and Brian Cragun.  They will describe their research considering how to render real time data analytics in accessible formats.  They will share some of the accessibility challenges of charts, large datasets, and node diagrams and some techniques to make them more accessible and usable by people with disabilities.

Breaking Down Walls, a Decentralised Social Web? 

At 12:30 Evan Prodromou leads a panel in Ballroom BC at the ACC to consider the closong of the web. Even though the web is founded on open, decentralized principles and accessible, non- proprietary technology, the trend for closed systems seems to be growing. No one owns e-mail, usenet or http, but proprietary social services seem to be moving away from openness. How to fix?

Flash: F Bomb or Da Bomb?

Another 12:30 option is this panel of developers giving their perspective on whether Flash technology is he Holy Grail of interactive web design or the virtual thorn in their web experience. In ACC Room AB with Aubrey Gross, David Greene, Kristine Schachinger, Phillip Gross.

The Semantic Web Has Gone Mainstream! Wanna Bet?

Core Conversations have become a favorite part of the conference, where you can get small groups of people with shared interest to give diverse perspectives.  This one will be held in the Hilton Austin Downtown in Room 616AB and led by Juan Sequeda of UT and Peter Mika of Yahoo.

Your mission – should you choose to accept it

Well, I said it was a modest list and out of some 5000 events, it is not huge.  Still it is a considerable commitment if you try to provide all that support by yourself.  So please spread the love, attend those of most interest, tell others about them and if you are not at SXSW this year, tell your friends who are here.  Ask accessibility questions at other sessions, too – let’s show support and keep accessibility as a topic and as an integral part of other tech talks.

I was greatly influenced to write this list by events at CSUN last week.  Some of that genesis is here:

 Accessibility as an IT profession

Knowbility took a skeptical position before the CSUN conference on the need for an autonomous, separate accessibility professional association.  But it was clear from the response at the CSUN conference that even skeptics felt that something was needed to change the perceptions that mainstream developers and technologists have about accessibility. SXSW is one of the largest technology conferences in the world and there is an openness to accessibility there that allows great conversations about how to integrate accessibility professionalism into overall best practices.  Knowbility will have a large booth that we have dubbed the SXSW Accessibility Center this year. We will be evangelizing the reality that “good design IS accessible design” and we invite participation from those who want to share resources and techniques at the booth.  Call Knowbility and talk to Carolyn Gibbs.

Web Accessibility Community Collaboration

On Wednesday at the CSUN conference I was part of a web accessibility community collaboration panel discussion that generated tons of great ideas from attendees around using existing resources and recognizing different levels of engagement and expertise to broaden the community of accessibility practice.  You can read much of the brainstorming by looking for the Twitter hashtag #wacol (pronounced in my mind, way cool!).  One idea that swirled around and around was that when accessibility topics show up at mainstream conferences, we need to promote them! attend them! create a buzz about them!

Hence, this list.  Please let me know if it is useful, if you attend any of these sessions, and about others you find next week.  Onward!









The Amazing Accessible Internet Rally

In eight hours, you could drive from Austin to New Orleans for soul food and zydeco, or you could head west to Roswell to find out if aliens really exist. You could take a trip to the Gulf, wriggle your toes in the sand, and come back home. You could get on a plane and fly to Alaska or Hawaii or Panama. You could even run a marathon – or two or three, if you’re strong enough.

You can do amazing things in eight hours.

You can even build a website!

Knowbility’s 14th AIR-Austin Rally

Participants of Air Austin applauding.

Trust me, spending eight hours in front of a computer coding a Web site can be just as exciting as hopping a flight to the great white north (and much warmer, this time of year). Just ask the developers who came out on Saturday for the 14th annual Accessibility Internet Rally for Austin.

Imagine it: 21 web developers, five non-profit organizations, and dozens of volunteers, supporters, and judges, fed, caffeinated, and locked up for the equivalent of one workday, fighting to design, build, and test the best accessible website possible.

Coding Under Pressure (and Having Fun Doing It!)

Teams arrived early, fueling up on coffee and breakfast tacos graciously donated by Starbucks Coffee, Texas Coffee Traders, and Amaya’s Taco Village.

Then, at 8:00am, everyone gathered in the lobby to fire the metaphorical starting gun. Volunteers cheered on the developers as they dashed to their seats to start their work. After that, little was heard throughout the halls and rooms of New Horizons Computer Learning Center other than the clacking of keys.

That is unless, of course, you were waiting in the Judging Pit. The AIR judges had their own space where they hung out 3 people talking during the AIR Austin rallyand were available to answer questions from participating developers. They filled the rest of their time by singing 60s war protest songs, looking at pictures of Ann Abbot’s trip to Amsterdam, and spying through the windows to admire Jim Thatcher’s shiny new BMW.

Meanwhile, the five development teams worked side-by-side with their assigned non-profit organizations to make their accessible website vision become a reality. Representative Elliott Naishtat, the 2012 Honorary Chairman for AIR-Austin, dropped by after lunch to thank the teams for their hard work to eliminate the digital divide present in our community. The teams looked up long enough to say “hello” and nod in appreciation. And the judges gathered together for a picture.

Programmers working during AIR AustinAs the day sped by, the intensity grew. With the 5:00 deadline looming. Spurred on by the clock and tweets of encouragement, each team found ways to maximize the time for ultimate coding potential. From eating lunch at their stations to skipping team photos (“Our fourth team member will be back for the picture at 5:00. We promise.” Uh, huh, sure…). One group even locked me out of the room as I came to sound the warning bell that time was up. Little did they know that I had a key handy for just such an emergency.

Sharron stepped in to sing a “good-bye” song as the minutes ticked past 5:00 with developers still glued to their keyboards, and teams ended the day in the same way that they’d started – amidst cheers and applause of gratitude from Knowbility staff and volunteers.

What’s Next?

Over the next few weeks, our judges will evaluate the sites these teams built. They’ll go over them with a fine-toothed comb to identify accessibility errors and point out successes. The winners will be announced at the 2012 Dewey Ceremony & AIR-Interactive Awards at South by Southwest Interactive Media Festival.

If you’re going to be in Austin on March 11, we want you to join us! Be sure to RSVP for the party.

In the meantime, take a look at what these development teams accomplished in eight hours!Knowbility swag buttons

Want to see more? Check out the sites built for AIR-Interactive, the all-virtual competition held concurrently with AIR-Austin:

Thank you to all participants and volunteers! We appreciate your contributions, look forward to assessing your efforts, and can’t wait to announce the winner on March 11.