Tag Archives: Accessibility Internet Rally

Knowbility, AIR and September 11, 2001

AIR-Austin Participation BadgeOur local NPR station, the daily paper and countless other media spigots are asking for remembrances of 9/11.   As my mind goes back to that day and I allow the political to fall away, what I remember is the Accessibility Internet Rally for Austin (AIR-Austin). At that time AIR was kicking off its fourth year of bringing the community together around the powerful idea of access to technology for all.

If you have never competed or volunteered in a web Accessibility Internet Rally (AIR) program – here’s how it works:  Knowbility recruits nonprofit groups who need web help – and in 2001 many were getting their very first web site.  The program also recruits teams of web developers – that year we had teams from IBM, from Dell, from St Edward’s University, Frog Design and many others.  Our chair was a VP from St. Ed’s, John Houghton.  With the help of the Judge Brothers – Jim Thatcher, John Slatin, Jim Allan and other advisors – we had recruited and trained nearly 20 teams and nonprofits.  On the evening of September 11, we were scheduled to meet at our historic local beer hall, Scholz Garden and announce which team was matched to what nonprofit organization and allow them to begin to plan their accessible web site. Rules were originally drawn up by Jayne Cravens who used to say that AIR was party that began at the oldest beer garden in Texas and ended up on the world wide web!

When the horrific events of the day unfolded, we eventually remembered our kick-off party, scheduled for 6pm that evening.  Our mighty staff of three made calls to each other and to the advisors.  We knew no one would come, and that we would have to postpone the kick-off and probably the Rally.  We might cancel the entire event for 2001, who could tell with the whole world upside down?

We decided that we would make our way to Scholz to provide some re-orientation information to anyone who might wander in.  We expected that a few people might come by.  Well, at about 5:30 a few did wander in.  They hugged each other gently and held on for longer than usual. They looked stunned and smiled gently, almost reluctantly at one another.  Soon there were more.  By 6:15 every single team and every nonprofit was represented.  The advisors were there, the judges were all there, the advisors and teams were there for the kick-off – it was clear they wanted the events to proceed!

John Houghton got on the little riser stage and prepared to go on with the match-up announcement.  We were clearly, each one of us in the crowd of people, surprised that we WERE a crowd.  John spoke for all of us, it seems, when he said,

“On this day when we have seen the worst that humans are capable of doing to one another, I wanted to be here.  I want to participate in the best that we are capable of.  I want to build a community that shares skills and knowledge and works to improve our capacity to help one another. That is what the AIR program means to me and it must mean that much to you too, because you are here.  Let’s get to work!”

We cried, we held each other, and we got to work.  In 2001, AIR-Austin volunteers built web sites for more than two dozen NPOs, including Austin IDEA Network (now the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Central Texas), Lone Star Girl Scout Council, GENAustin, SafePlace, Family Elder Care, Keep Austin Beautiful, Blackshear Elementary School, Girlstart and others.  Of course, the sites have changed with the times and for many of these groups, the momentum of that first AIR site carried them along.  Sponsors included IBM, Austin Usability, Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation, the University of Texas and Dell.

Since 1998, we have produced AIR programs all over the US, including Houston, Dallas, San Francisco, Denver and Atlanta raising awareness of why and how technology access must be made available to all.   In all that time, we have not missed a year in Austin – not even when the planes took the buildings down in New York City.

Random Notes

Random Notes by Ron Hicks, March, 25 2011

Fair is Fair: For those of you who haven’t kept up…After 20 years, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has made a prudent and cautious gesture toward realizing the “ADA´s promise to provide an equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities to participate in and benefit from all aspects of American civic and economic life.” In a July 23, 2010 paper, DOJ offered that, while the “internet has been governed by a variety of voluntary standards or structures [and those] standards have generally proved to be sufficient where obvious business incentives align… There has not, however, been equal success in the area of accessibility.”

The long and short of this is that DOJ is asserting what we all know to be fair, just and self-evident, i.e. that accommodations for equal access to web services should be no less than those for “bricks and mortar” shops.

By the way, for a government paper, probably torturously composed by committee, the July DOJ paper is quite good. If you are a disability advocate and need to pull quotes, you could do a lot worse. There’s a great synopsis of the history and legal foundations of web and accessibility, and a very succinct and sympathetic description of common barriers to persons using assistive tech. Good job Legal Dudes!

March Sanity: The LDs may have had a hand in this one, too, and it’s about time. Parents and teachers have been screaming their bloody heads off for years (figuratively speaking, of course, actually everyone’s been perfectly civil – maybe that’s why justice is so slow).  At any rate, on March 15, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and his cohorts must’ve heard the hubbub and stepped away from the Washington pack in a real way, advocating for kids with disabilities. He’s having his ED people put $200 million in the 2012 Budget for students with disabilities. The emphasis is on protecting “critical programs serving students with disabilities, including preschool grants, national activity funds, vocational rehabilitation programs, national dissemination and research grants, and supports for institutions serving students with disabilities.”

Protecting critical programs, like protecting our civil rights, should be lauded and Arne, babe, you’ve got my support. 60% of students with disabilities spend 80% of their time in the regular school environment and they deserve AT just like I deserve my trifocals.  Let’s make sure to make sure that our representatives in congress don’t digress on this one. Now, if we can just get past that knotty little problem of allowing students with disabilities to use AT in test taking; right now it’s considered an unfair advantage. No Ma’m, I’m not cheating, I took off my glasses.  Read Arne’s speech .

If You Feel the Shakes Coming On: My Great Uncle Augie (Augusto Feo de los Ojos Pensandos), who among other things is a future philologist, discovered a definition in the New Dictionary of Internet Slang: “Tweetch”: A spasmodic reflex associated with diminished capacity for coherent linguistic expression; a cognitive deficit in word/symbol recognition, characterized by compulsive use of a key pad; Tweetching is believed to be symptomatic of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (now a cultural norm) and the ill-founded conceit that one actually has something of significance to impart to a large audience. Inverse of apostrophe.

About Our Name: Augie says Knowbility is a good name for an organization that strives to embrace and include everyone. He points out (he’s forever pointing out) that the prefix “dis” is a Latin prefix meaning “apart,” “asunder,” “away,” “utterly,” or having a privative, negative, or reversing force ( see de-, un-2 ). Well, Augie-the-Curmudgeon gave us a rare compliment for substituting “know” for “dis”. Thanks Unc…Knowbility is about inclusion. Ain’t no “asunder” or “away” round here.

As I Write from the Corporate Jet: Just to make sure everyone knows, Knowbility is a nonprofit organization. The essential difference between for-profit and non-profit is (this from a Cum Laude CPA with 30 years experience): Non-profits are expense-driven. Very simple. In other words, we use our revenues to deliver services; we don’t get big salaries, big bonuses or perks; there are no stock holder dividends. We don’t gather revenues to fund community programs. We are the community programs. To generate revenue, Knowbility depends on your support, earning our keep through services and the support of grant-making entities.

Top 10 Accessibility Milestones in 2008

Knowbility posted this to the web site home page as 2008 turned in 2009.  We archive it here:

There were major setbacks in the struggle to ensure equitable access for all and there were some great triumphs. This is our list of ten influential events and we would love to hear your perspective.

  1. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) passed through Candidate recommendation and ended the year as an official W3C Recommendation.
  2. Our community lost Dr. John Slatin, a brilliant practitioner and inspirational and tireless champion of accessibility.
  3. The University of Texas abdicated its leadership role in accessibility when it shut down the Accessibility Institute, founded by John Slatin.
  4. The Target vs National Federation of the Blind (NFB) lawsuit over the accessibility of Target.com was settled in favor of the NFB.
  5. The California State University System took great strides forward with its Accessible Technology Initiative, providing training and support for accessibility to all 23 campuses.
  6. The European Union continues to dedicate resources and make significant progress for its e-Inclusion initiative, part of the i2010 general technology strategy. The initiative considers the effects of aging as well as disability and is providing models for others to follow.
  7. Accessibility emerged from the shadows and became a major topic of great interest at technology conferences including SXSW Interactive, Web Directions North, Webstock, the International World Wide Web Conference, UPA’s annual usability conference, Refresh Groups, BarCamps and other places where technologists gather to share experiences and skills.
  8. Several Universities, including CSU Northridge and the University of Monterrey Mexico, hosted international forums focused solely on accessibility.
  9. Four Accessibility Internet Rallies (AIR) were held in 2008, resulting in training of more than 200 web developers and the creation of dozens of accessible web sites for nonprofit arts, human services, and environmental organizations.
  10. Finally, in the advocacy work to be done category – barakobama.com and change.gov fail to meet minimum accessibility standards set by the federal government.

So to all of you who understand the urgency of the accessibility work that we do together and who work so hard to evangelize and implement accessibility, pat yourselves on the back and let’s make the world of the Web even more accessible in 2009!

Your year end gift to Knowbility is tax deductible and supports this effort. Thanks for all you do!