Tag Archives: John Slatin

AccessU 2015: Put People First


Registration is open for this year’s AccessU themed, ‘Accessibility: Put People First’ at http://www.knowbility.org/v/accessu-registration/.

The conference will provide practical resources, encouraging participants to explore various aspects of digital inclusion and master the role-based skills involved in launching successful accessibility initiatives.

AccessU is a conference that brings leading experts from around the globe to Austin, Texas to teach t accessible design skills.  AccessU promotes universal access to the web, including for people who are blind, have low vision, are deaf or hearing impaired, have mobility impairments or have other kinds of disabilities. The conference was first launched in 2004, and has since then been an annual event conducted by Knowbility with sponsorship and support from St. Edwards University and Deque Systems, and other leading tech companies.

The conference will feature internationally known leaders in accessible design and development, including:

  • Accessibility pioneer and superstar Henny Swan (lead editor of BBC Mobile Accessibility  Standards and Guidelines and a regular speaker at conferences like SXSW, the World Wide Web Conference, Tec share, Accessibility 2.0, access, Mobile Monday and CSUN),
  • The development team from the Web Accessibility Initiative and Education and Outreach working group of the W3C – Shadi Abou-Zahra, Shawn Henry, Kevin White and Eric Eggert.
  • User Experience guru, Whitney Quesenbery (author of Storytelling for User Experience and Global UX: Design and research in a connected world)
  • Sarah Horton (User Experience Strategy Lead with The Paciello Group and award winning author of the book Web Teaching Guide) among others.

For the full list of speakers and instructors, visit http://www.knowbility.org/v/accessu-course-list/John-Slatin-AccessU/3k/.

Join us May 11th – 12th at St. Edward’s University, Austin, Texas and for a post conference workshop May 13th for three days of learning, sharing, exploring, and fun!

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!