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International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2017

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I am sitting at the gate in an airport, waiting for a flight to Vancouver, BC. I use a wheelchair and travel with a service dog. Today is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.  I can’t help but think about the changes that happened since this event officially started in 1992.

Black service dog laying down in front of airport gate deskMy service dog waiting for airport gate staff to arrive for boarding.

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Inaugural A11yTO Conference

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The first A11yTO conference happened on September 28 and 29, 2017, in Toronto, ON, Canada. It was the first conference devoted entirely to accessibility in Canada (apart from a few A11y Camps and meetups). I thought it was a success. From the comments I heard at the conference and saw on Twitter, I wasn’t alone. Attendees, speakers and organizers also thought the conference was a success.

A11yTO Conference logo

I had the good fortune of being one of the first speakers announced for the conference. I was in great company with other speakers such as Leonie Watson, Makoto Ueki, Karl Groves, Henny Swan, Adrian Roselli, and many others.

A11yTO was a single track conference. It worked very well. I’d never attended a single track conference. But if they all work as well as this one did, I look forward to the next single track event I’m to attend.

The schedule, organized as a “playlist” on the A11yTO site, offered talks of different lengths. It made for a dynamic couple of days.

The organizers and volunteers went out of their way to be helpful and welcoming. I’ve spoken at many events, large and small. Several of these events could learn from A11yTO’s organizers’ hospitality.

The audience

There were about 300 people attending the conference. The audience was a mix of people who eat, drink and sleep accessibility, and other people interested in learning about accessibility. There were designers, developers, project managers, and accessibility experts. This mix of attendee background also helped make the conference feel more dynamic.

Presentations that really stood out for me

Mobile Web and Native Apps: Simplifying Mobile Accessibility (Web and Native)

This was a great talk discussion mobile accessibility. They covered elements of accessibility I had not explored in depth before. I found the discussion on focus areas and how to make them more friendly to assistive technologies particularly interesting.

The VoiceOver and TalkBack #selfie challenge

This was a short presentation which triggered a lot of laughter. It was a good bit of fun, and great introduction to using VoiceOver on a phone and do something useful.  Aidan Tierney and Jason Thompson told us how to activate VoiceOver and explained how to take a selfie. The noise in the room was intense as several dozen people turned on VoiceOver on their phone at the same time! I may have to take inspiration from this for future trainings and workshops.

Out of focus photo of a black service dog
My entry for the VoiceOver selfie challenge – I cheated and took a photo of my dog. Not exactly in focus – he moved as I was taking the photo!

Designing Accessible Web Content for “Older” Users

Makoto Ueki brought us insights from japan and spoke about the parallels between findings from usability testing with older users (not that old, actually), and common issues with accessible web design. It was particularly interesting to see what is happening in Japan, a part of the world we don’t often hear about. Not to mention Makoto’s delivery which was quite funny and memorable.

Journey to Accessibility: Options for High Volume Accessible documents

Very interesting discussion about making documents accessible when an organization is dealing with lots of documents. One idea that is worth exploring is using a 2D barcode on printed documents to provide access to different digital versions of the document. This may be quite useful for some people. I could even see a use for the idea beyond accessibility: Offer translations in other languages that way.

Cake and Code

Ian Pouncey had an interesting way to present information. The major take-away was: Designers need to give more information to developers. Ian compared most of the designs to a photo of cake. Without the recipe, even the best baker would be hard-pressed to produce the results on the photo. It’s the same with web design.

My presentation

The title of my presentation was “Accessibility: No rights without responsibility”. We hear a lot about the rights to access for people with disabilities. We don’t discuss the responsibilities. In this talk, I go over who has rights and who has responsibilities. I conclude everyone has both rights and responsibilities – people with disabilities, designers, developers, site owners, etc. I wrote a post on this topic a few years ago on my personal site

OpenAir Challenge

I also gave a lightning talk about the OpenAir Challenge during the lunch break. The organizers were good and found a 5 minute slot at the last minute so I could talk about this great event. It was particularly interesting for people in Toronto since this year is the first year it is open to non-profits outside of the US.

OpenAIR registration is now open for non-profits and development teams all around the world. For more information, please visit Air-rallies.org.

I’d go again

I am looking forward to the next edition of A11yTO. I will do my best to attend again. The organizers did an absolutely brilliant job. The volunteers were there to help without being “in your face”. The speakers were excellent and the topics varied and informative.

Where to find me next

Tomorrow, I will be giving my “Accessibility: Don’t turn off that JavaScript just yet!” talk in webinar format for A11y Drupal #a11ytalks. If you develop websites or web-based applications that rely heavily on JavaScript, and you care about making your creations accessible to people with disabilities, be sure to attend this discussion. This presentation will cover some of the issues that can arise from using JavaScript, and how scripting can be used in a way that still ensures accessibility. The presentation will be followed by a lively discussion with participants, so bring your JavaScript-related questions!

CALLING STATE AGENCIES: Join Texas AIR to Improve the Web for All!

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Knowbility is excited to announce The Texas State Agency Accessibility Internet Rally (Texas AIR), a new way for state agencies in Texas to participate in OpenAIR, THE international web accessibility competition that increases awareness of tools and techniques that make the Internet accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities, by training professional web developers and designers in accessibility standards. Kicking off in February 2018, teams of web professionals all over the world compete over eight weeks to build the most effective, impressive, and fully accessible websites for Texas and beyond.

Registration for OpenAIR via the Texas AIR track is now open, and available at no cost for all state agencies who register, thanks to the support of the Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities and the Texas Department of Information Resources.

How Does It Work?

Teams of web professionals are given eight weeks to build or improve the websites of Texas state agencies and non-profits. During the eight-week period, each team will receive accessibility training to comply with WCAG 2.0 Level AA, ADA and Section 508 standards (worth over $4,000), and be matched with a Knowbility mentor, the leading subject matter experts and trainers on website accessibility. Afterwards, teams will submit the work to the OpenAIR judging panel and the winning sites will be announced at the Awards Ceremony in May 2018, taking place during Knowbility’s AccessU Conference in Austin, Texas.

How TexasAIR is Different

For the first time since OpenAIR’s inception in 1999, Texas state agency web teams will compete in a category of their own and will be given the chance to submit a request to work on a state agency project or non-profit organization of their choosing. In addition, Texas state agency web teams will not be held to a content management system (CMS) requirement.

“The Texas Governor’s Committee is honored and pleased to sponsor The Texas State Agency Accessibility Internet Rally and would like to thank the Texas Department of Information Resources for their support of this competition. We firmly believe that this approach to training is highly effective in helping state agencies learn how to make their websites accessible to all Texans.

Competition drives excellence, and we hope that Texas state agencies will embrace the spirit of OpenAIR and assemble developer teams of all levels of expertise. We look forward to seeing novices and well-seasoned developers creating and collaborating with one another, allowing all state agency teams to embrace the true purpose of this competition: to gain and grow web accessibility skills.”

Ron Lucey
Executive Director
Texas Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities

Registration

Registration is now open, and is available at no cost for all Texas state agencies, thanks to the support of the Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities and the Texas Department of Information Resources.
Texas AIR kicks off in February 2018 as a part of our OpenAIR competition, but we encourage state agency web teams to register by the end of the year.

REGISTER FOR TEXAS AIR TODAY
or contact us at openair@knowbility.org if you have questions about registration.

OpenAIR’S Texas AIR Track is made possible by

Texas Governor's Committee for People with Disabilities

Knowbility Texas Department of Information Resourcesas well as TechSoup, the premiere global network for non-profits, connecting organizations with exclusive technology partners, donations, and offers.

Our Featured Volunteer: Katie Haritos-Shea

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Katie Haritos-Shea is an information and communications technology architect with Deque Systems, an accessibility products and services company. Since 2015 she has been on the board of Knowbility. She is fascinated with science and emerging technologies and with their potential to improve the lives of all, particularly people with disabilities, the under-served, and the elderly.

Based in Oakton, Virginia, near Washington, DC, Katie contributes to Knowbility’s mission in a variety of ways. In addition to serving as a board member, she represents Knowbility on the Advisory Committee of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the standards-maker for the web. She also helps at various online and in-person events like the OpenAIR accessibility competition, our annual AccessU conference, and the newly-launched Knowbility Accessibility Leadership Symposium.

In 2015, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web, appointed Katie chair of the W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative Interest Group. Before working at Deque, she worked at JP Morgan Chase where she was responsible for planning, training, and executing a firm-wide strategy for quality assurance teams to verify web and mobile accessibility. As one of the first Section 508 Coordinators for the US Federal Government, she ran Section 508 programs for various agencies for more than 10 years before working in the private sector.

In her free time, Katie loves riding motorcycles and horses. She is ferocious about interoperability on the web and its ability to support human rights around the world.

Reflections from the Inaugural Knowbility Accessibility Leadership Symposium

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The inaugural Knowbility Accessibility Leadership Symposium (KALS) took place earlier this year on May 15-16 at the Driskhill hotel in Austin, Texas. Knowbility board chair Rich Schwerdtfeger invited leaders in business, academia, and the legal profession to discuss ways to improve digital accessibility and challenges to inclusion for people with disabilities.

Disability rights lawyer and author Lainey Feingold attended the conference. Knowbility’s commitment to accessibility impressed her.

“I do a lot of speaking and I really know that the Knowbility conferences are very practical and hands-on and down to the nitty-gritty of what really needs to be done for accessibility,” Feingold said.

Among the roughly 20 attendees were Mike Shebanek, Yahoo’s Senior Director of Accessibility; Wayne Dick, emeritus computer science professor at Cal State Long Beach; and Mike Paciello, founding partner at the Paciello Group.

Kurt Mattes, Director of Accessibility at the VFO Group, emphasized that business leaders need to be given appropriate guidance to better understand the benefits of making their products accessible. Events like the leadership symposium can provide a platform for this kind of training.

“For too many years, we have focused on designer and developer,” Mattes said. “The business side does not understand the issue from an opportunity perspective because we have not given them the tools to understand.”

James Green, Senior Director of User Experience and Accessibility at Visa, liked that attention was given to innovation and creativity.

“Personally I would do it again, and my boss is much better able now to articulate accessibility to those above him (he is two reports away from the CEO of Visa),” he said. “He loved the entire thing, and I expect he would urge others to come.”

Feingold encourages more of these kinds of gatherings.

“I think any opportunity we all have to be creative with each other about it and to remind each other of why we’re doing it and talk about disabled people and their need for accessibility and the civil rights angle, the more we have an opportunity to come together and talk in that way, the better,” she said.

Knowbility Hosts Deloitte Volunteers on Impact Day

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On June 9, a dozen volunteers from Deloitte’s Austin office spent the day at Knowbility as part of Impact Day, Deloitte’s annual day of service. They were tasked with improving Knowbility’s communications strategy for the upcoming OpenAIR competition.

Saira Guthrie, Senior Consultant at Deloitte, said that she and her fellow volunteers enjoyed their day with Knowbility.

“Spending Impact Day at Knowbility was a unique, rewarding opportunity for folks from all different groups of Deloitte to come together,” Guthrie said. “I feel proud of the tangible communications plans we drafted, and hope our work helps Knowbility to keep non-profit organizations more involved and engaged throughout the OpenAIR program from start to finish.”

The 2018 OpenAIR starts this fall. Undoubtedly, Deloitte’s help with our outreach plan will make this year’s competition more enjoyable.

Jayne Cravens to Lead Nonprofit Recruitment for OpenAIR 2018

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The 2018 OpenAIR accessible internet competition is fast approaching. This year, Jayne Cravens, a communications and community engagement specialist and long-time friend of Knowbility, will lead recruitment of nonprofit organizations for the online competition.

OpenAIR, the accessible internet rally, matches nonprofit organizations that want to improve the accessibility of their websites with teams of university students knowledgeable in web accessibility. The first AIR took place in Austin, Texas in 1998. Back then, it was an in-person affair, much like a traditional hackathon. Cravens, who volunteered at the first three AIR competitions, said that the history of AIR deserves recognition.

“It’s a shame that it didn’t get credit for being a pioneering event because it was a pioneering hackathon,” Cravens said of the inaugural AIR. “It was my favorite corporate nonprofit partnership event because for the corporations, for the volunteers, they didn’t just come in for a photo opportunity. They didn’t just come in to move a sack of food from a shelf to a bag. They were working. They were really volunteering and getting something accomplished.”

In the late 1990s, having an online presence was already a big priority for businesses and nonprofit organizations. But awareness about accessibility, both in the built environment and online, wasn’t as high as it is today. Cravens has seen improvements in the level of accessibility awareness as well as growing interest among business leaders.

“We don’t have to convince anyone now if they build a building to make it accessible for people with disabilities,” she said. “We don’t have to convince them to make the doors wide for wheelchair access. We don’t have to convince them to use close captioning on a television show. And I know that it’s mandated by law, but there’s also an understanding that people want to appeal to customers and they want to get as many customers as they can.”

During the past few months, Cravens has been writing webpages with informational content for Air-rallies.org, OpenAIR’s website. Cravens, who co-authored The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook, will also lead webinars to prepare nonprofit teams for the contest. She plans to keep teams informed and motivated with frequent emails and phone calls.

“What I want to do is bring a lot of the excitement that came from the face-to-face encounters and find ways to create that excitement online,” Cravens said.

Cravens has worked with the United Nations and is a trainer, researcher, and consultant to many government initiatives and nonprofit organizations around the world. She lives near Portland, Oregon.

PM-Led Accessibility at SXSW 2018

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Vote up this panel on accessibility from a PM’s perspective!

Panel voting for South by Southwest (SXSW) 2018 is underway, and we’d love to have your support for PM-Led Accessibility: Leading Teams to Inclusion. In this panel, Robert Jolly will share his experience and advice for how interactive project and product managers can be leaders of accessible design and development teams. With accessibility baked into the process, our projects can be more innovative and inclusive!

Vote for our SXSW 2018 panel, PM-Led Accessibility

SXSW uses an interactive web application called the PanelPicker to involve the community to vote for their preferred topics and programming for the conference. The PanelPicker also allows for people to ask questions and have discussions around topics to further clarify and extend the information provided on the site. Please jump in and ask questions about this panel idea or join the discussion, and Robert will be sure to reply.

How to vote

  1. Sign in or create an account (it’s free) at SXSW.com.
  2. Vote Up! for the PM-Led Accessibility panel.
  3. And, don’t forget to add your comments (or questions) to the discussion.

Thank you for supporting accessibility, especially in mainstream conferences like SXSW. We hope to see you there!

 

Accenture Labs’s Nishith Pathak joins Knowbility board

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AUSTIN, TEXAS (Aug. 9) — Nishit Pathak, Vice President and R&D Lead at Accenture Labs, will join the board of Austin-based nonprofit Knowbility. An author and two-time winner of Microsoft’s Most Valuable Professional award, Nishith’s more than 20 years of IT experience will contribute to Knowbility’s mission of ensuring equal access to digital technology for people with disabilities.

“We are very excited about Nishith’s addition to the board,” Knowbility’s Board Chairman Rich Schwerdtfeger said. “Nishith will help our efforts to expand Knowbility’s international reach, incorporate cognitive computing, and help us to grow corporate accessibility leadership.”

Based in New Delhi, Nishith has written technical books, reviews, and columns for multiple electronic and print publications. His technical expertise is in innovating, researching, and developing enterprise solutions for Fortune 100 companies. Nishith is an advisor for Microsoft’s Business Technology Platform. His research interests include artificial intelligence and machine learning as well as cognitive and cloud computing.

Nishith recently wrote an article titled “Learn AI – TheTime is Now” for Apress. He is also author of the forthcoming book Artificial Intelligence for .NET: Speech, Language, and Search: Building Smart Applications with Microsoft Cognitive Services APIs.

Nishit was born, raised, and educated in Kotdwara, India. Outside of work he enjoys spending time with his family and friends, entertaining them with his knowledge of palmistry and astrology. To learn more about Nishith, visit his LinkedIn profile at https://www.linkedin.com/in/nishith-pathak/.

About Knowbility

Austin’s  Knowbility, Inc. is a 20-year-old, international leader in accessible IT for people with disabilities — blind, visually impaired, deaf, mobility impaired, and other disabilities. Knowbility’s team of experts is internationally recognized for its role in creating the worldwide standard for web accessibility. Co-Founder and Executive Director Sharron Rush serves as Co-Chair of the World Wide Web Consortium’s WAI Education and Outreach Working Group. Since the first Air competition in 1998, Knowbility has provided accessible web training to hundreds of corporations, government agencies, and community-based organizations throughout the nation. Knowbility’s accessibility testing and consulting team has guided the creation of more than 1,000 accessible websites, making information accessible to the 55 million Americans with disabilities. ATSTAR, Knowbility’s professional educational initiative for assistive technology in the classroom, currently serves thousands of special education students, their teachers, and parents in four states. Our AccessWorks program employs people with disabilities as user experience testers.