Tag Archives: John Slatin

AccessU at CSUN 2012: Policy and Testing — Sustaining Accessibility Throughout the Organization

As AccessU at CSUN starts in less than a week, we have been profiling the speakers who will share their experience and knowledge, and themselves learn in the process.  I thought I’d close the series by telling you a bit about what I’ll be doing at the conference. I’ll also leave with a few tips and reminders for attendees that I hope will make your learning experience with us as meaningful and valuable as possible.

Developing Accessibility Policy and Procedures

On Monday afternoon, February 27, at 1:30, I’ll talk with attendees about the nuts and bolts of establishing policies and procedures in support of Web and application accessibility. It’s one thing for you to understand and believe in the importance of accessible development practices, but establishing such practice throughout the enterprise and creating systems to track progress and success is another thing entirely.  How do you create measurable, sustainable, consistent standards?  And when you want to out-source Web development projects, how do you hold vendors accountable to your accessibility standards?   What language should you use in RFPs, how do you verify responses, and how do you find prospective vendors who share your commitment to accessibility?

I’ll cover these questions and more, and you’ll leave with concrete examples and templates to enable you to begin implementing policy and procedures that support accessibility integration.

We’re looking forward to distributing complementary copies of Jeff Kline’s new book Strategic IT Accessibility to our attendees.  Jeff draws on more than 20 years with IBM’s Accessibility Center, most of them as manager of accessibility integration and transformation across IBM worldwide.

Testing for Accessibility

On Tuesday, February 28 at 10:30, I’ll share my techniques for manually testing the accessibility of web sites and software applications.  This will be appropriate for those who have QA responsibility but who are not necessarily programmers.  We’ll look at free browser plug-ins and compare results. These are techniques that Knowbility uses every day in our work for business and government agencies seeking to understand their current position in terms of meeting accessibility standards.

A few last thoughts and reminders

If you are attending AccessU at CSUN, we encourage you to come prepared with your laptop, headphones, and mobile phone. As you may have noticed, some of our presenters are going to be talking about the mobile web, and we want you to have hands-on experience.

Producing the AccessU trainings is a key part of Knowbility’s mission. Whenever we hold the classes, whether that’s in California, Texas, or hopefully in some new locations in the future, I always leave feeling exhilarated by the enthusiasm of attendees. I think of John Slatin and how after a few years of producing community AIR programs, John encouraged us to formalize the trainings and share the practical knowledge we had acquired.  In spring of 2003, Glenda Sims, Kay Lewis, John and I sat in John’s lab at the University of Texas, creating tracks and moving classes around on sticky notes plastered on a white board to envision what would become AccessU.  I know he would be pleased that we ended up at the CSUN conference.

CSUN continues to accept registrations so, especially if you know of people in the area who would be interested, please do tell them about AccessU at CSUN.

If you’ve been reading our posts about speakers, wishing you could be there, I’ll close by letting you know that AccessU is coming again in May and that registration for John Slatin AccessU, is now open.  It is produced annually at St. Edward’s University in Austin, so head on over and sign up! We look forward to meeting and learning with you in San Diego, Austin, or wherever our travels take us.

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, 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.

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!

Dedication of AccessU to John Slatin

Here is the text of the opening dedication of the 2008 AccessU, renamed to honor our beloved colleague and mentor, Dr. John Slatin who died in March. Following these remarks, Jim Allan and Jim Thatcher unfurled a banner with the new conference title. That banner now resides on the John Slatin AccessU web site.

Good morning and welcome. I am Sharron Rush, Executive Director of Knowbility, the nonprofit organization that collaborates with St Edward’s University each year to bring AccessU to you. Thanks for being here so early. And indeed, thanks for being here…thanks and congratulations on caring about access to technology for everyone, including people with disabilities. We hope you gain skills and information you can use and we always learn from you what your challenges are in implementing accessibility in the world of government agencies and businesses.

AccessU is hosted here at St. Edward’s University for the fourth year. It’s not possible to think about producing this training institute without the steadfast support, encouragement and leadership of St Ed’s. Bill Cahill, the visionary Vice President of Information Technology here at St Ed’s entrusts the campus to us and then Brenda Adrian and Cousett Ruelas and their colleagues make it happen. Please help me thank them for their hard work (applause).

Knowbility’s staff, led by Teenya Franklin have also worked tirelessly to bring together all of the great information and hands on learning that you will have over the next couple of days. Please help me thank Teenya, Kim, Jeff, Anneka, Mike and Steve (applause). There are also dozens of volunteers, who help produce AccessU because they care about this work and are generous with their time – thank you all. (applause)

The instructors you will have here at AccessU are among the brightest lights in the field of accessibility research and innovation. You will get to know them well over the next couple of days and I will ask them to wave or stand so you know who to look for in the hallways. Please feel free to talk with them and take advantage of their experience and presence here. We are fortunate to have their enormous talents and skills and will talk at greater length with several of them at the forum tomorrow at lunch. Today’s lunch will feature a talk by a wonderful speaker named Beth Finke who I met at a conference last year and have been scheming to bring to AccessU. She is bright, funny and so engaging I know you will adore her.

It is exciting to be with so many people who understand the importance of this work and who themselves are working so brilliantly in so many ways to make sure that everyone has access to the opportunities afforded by advances in telecommunications technology. And it is at these times when we are all together that we miss our friend, our mentor and our dear comrade, John Slatin. We miss him terribly.

Jim Allan the webmaster for the Texas School for the Blind and John Slatin’s “Judge Brother” for many years, suggested that we name this conference in honor of John because these three days are all about teaching one another and learning from one another. Teaching and learning…among the things that John Slatin excelled at. As many of you may know, Professor John Slatin of the University of Texas helped start Knowbility, the AIR program and all of the work that we do around the issue of access to technology for all. John’s ability to see decreased throughout his life due to retinal disease. For the last three years he also gallantly battled leukemia. He died in March of 2008 and our community and each of us individually is bereft.

John’s eventual blindness was certainly one motivating factor in his interest in accessibility, but his appreciation and understanding of the power of technology came long before he lost his sight. Many people forget or never knew that John was an English professor.

In fact, I wasn’t sure I would tell this story, but I told it to Kathy Keller this morning and we decided that John would enjoy sharing it. John’s wife Anna Carroll told me at breakfast the other morning that many of their friends from Body Choir did not know that John was a UT professor until they attended his memorial service. Body Choir is a group that meets weekly or twice weekly – an improvisational, amateur dance company where friends gather and move as they are inspired to the music chosen by a facilitator. They dance solo, in pairs or in groups. Anna often facilitates and is very much at the center of the amazing energy that is Body Choir.  John loved to dance with the group and he and his guidedog Dillon were often on the dance floor with the group. 

Surprised by her friends’ ignorance of John’s profession, Anna asked them, “Well what did you think John did?” “Not sure,” they replied, “Thought maybe he was just a happy unemployed blind guy who like to dance.” (laughter) John was so good at meeting people where THEY were and joining them in the things that were of interest to them.

John was a poet. He loved language and the arts and saw in technology the potential to amplify an individual’s ability to tell his or her story, to share the narrative and even to share the structure and telling of the story…hyper-narrative he called it. The promise of interactive storytelling and multi-sensory experiences were all tremendously exciting to John and he explored these avenues adventurously. At his memorial service, John’s UT colleague Peg Syverson recalled her days with him,

“John used to joke that he used technology because he wanted to make English expensive. He meant he wanted to make English count, in ways that the University can recognize and appreciate….John was not merely an innovator; he was a visionary. And he was not a visionary who merely saw into the future, he brought the future he saw into being. And the future he brought into being was dazzling and entirely unexpected. The advent of technology into our field was poised to mechanize routine activities such as grading papers and giving exams. John saw it differently, that technology could become a vehicle for liberation and transformation in the humanities. It could liberate teachers and students from stale, predictable pedagogical practices, and it could transform the humanities from a musty archive into a world of dynamic and creative possibility.”

I took English at UT during that time, leaving my empty nest as my kids were grown to finish a degree started many years before. I took an English class from Tonya Browninga brilliant teacher whose graduate advisor was John Slatin. She mentioned John’s influence consistently as she seamlessly integrated technology into her teaching. The fusion of discovering the Harlem Renaissance writers or Walt Whitman or Wallace Stevens as we learned the narrative potential of new technologies was thrilling. Of course I had no idea that the “John Slatin” that Tonya referred to so often would become such a mentor in my own life and work.

So it is no wonder that when someone with the brilliance to understand so well the revolutionary potential of technology, when someone like John Slatin raised his voice to insist that he not be shut out…well, who could fail to listen?

John’s voice was undeniable and yet not strident and I rarely saw him angry. He became an accessibility expert as a way to ensure that he too could use technology to pursue all of his many interests. He volunteered and served with Knowbility, on University committees and on standards boards. He became a leader because leadership was needed. And that is one of the tragedies of his too too early departure from this life. It seems to me that John was still becoming. He was always learning and sharing and helping us all to learn from him.

So I could tell stories and stories about John…and I am sure I will. I will tell them to you and I encourage all of you to tell me and to tell each other your stories about John during this conference we are naming in his honor. And if you have not yet done so, read his blog the leukemia letters.

Remember him through your stories, our stories and through his work. John would like that. John’s wife Anna is gathering ideas for a long term memorial for John on the John Slatin Wiki, so please feel free to submit any ideas you may have.

And now I will ask John’s two Judge Brothers, Jim Allan and Jim Thatcher to come up and unfurl the banner that we will hang today and for the rest of the days and years that we teach accessibility here at John Slatin AccessU. Thank you.