Scholz Garden has been serving beer in Austin, Texas since 1866 . And, since 1998, Knowbility's Accessible web design competition, the Accessibility Internet Rally for Austin (AIR-Austin) holds its kickoff at Scholz. It's a great Austin institution and we like to say that we start our party at the oldest beer garden in Texas and wrap it up on the World Wide Web.  Last Wednesday, seven teams of web professionals met the nonprofit organizations that will be their partners in competing for trophies awarded at SXSW Interactive. Honors will go to those teams that build the most accessible web sites.

Here's a video from one of the first AIR competitions that shows the spirit of these related events:

The kickoff event gets me every time.  The energy, dedication and enthusiasm for accessibility and for the work of the nonprofit groups is truly wonderful.  Chair Elliott Naishtat set the evening off to a great start with appreciation for the volunteer effort of these stellar teams of web pros.  The nonprofit groups came up one by one and said a few words about the work they do.  They are mostly small organizations, often staffed entirely by volunteers, doing work that transforms peoples live, bringing hope where there was none.  To hear from these groups of committed people who dedicate themselves to noble causes with so few resources can restore and strengthen a person's faith in humanity - it does for me every year.

Community Programs Director Carolyn Gibbs beamed from the podium and was clearly pleased with how the skills of the teams had matched up with the needs of the organizations.  She contributed profiles for each team and npo pair, listed below.  Once the match-ups were announced, the teams got to work, planning their strategies for winning the competition and taking home the trophy. The nonprofit leaders looked as though they had already won - they were about to build the most professional web site they had ever had and support the work that means so much to them and to our communities.  The race to accessibility is on!  Who are you rooting for? (Consider the npo links below as the "Before" version.  When the skills of the teams have been applied you will see the new fully accessible versions of these sites.)

ADAPT of Texas & Access Austin Crew

ADAPT of Texas is a grassroots, community-organizing disability rights group fighting to empower people with disabilities to live full, independent lives. Not a fan of those “inspirational, pull-on-your-heartstrings disabilities sites,” they’re participating in AIR to boost their webpage, spread their message, and make sure that all people can access the information and resources they share!

The Access Austin Crew brings together three AIR-Austin alumni and one of the youngest AIR team members ever! With ten years of combined experience participating with teams from IBM, the Access Austin Crew is excited to carry the charge forward to build another accessible website!

 All Blind Children of Texas & Team TradeMark

All Blind Children of Texas, a partner organization with the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, has a mission to ensure that all blind children enjoy a quality life, rich with opportunities that will maximize their potential. They participated in AIR in 2005, but now that site is “an antique” and they’ve returned to the program for an accessible update!

Team TradeMark has been participating in AIR for so long that they can’t remember how many sites they’ve created! With more than 50 years of combined development experience pulled from the staff of local firm TradeMark Media, they “could teach the class” on accessibility, and they plan to prove it in 2012.

 Austin Jazz Alliance & Unchain My Art

The Austin Jazz Alliance is a small organization with a big vision – to build a jazz community and festival in Austin to rival those in NYC and New Orleans. Fito, the organization’s representative, has participated in AIR before as a developer, and now he has turned over the reins to let others do the background work to create a dynamic and accessible database of jazz musicians, venues, and fans in Austin.

Unchain My Art is no stranger to AIR – they’ve even won the competition in years past! The team is comprised of some of the best and brightest local e-learning company MicroAssist has to offer, and led by a former AIR-Austin chair!

Austin Speech Labs & The Drupalistas

Austin Speech Labs works with stroke survivors of all ages to improve their quality of live and to re-engage them in their social and professional lives. Knowing the challenges that stroke survivors are faced with, they came to AIR to get a new website that is accessible, user-friendly, and helps to market their services.

The Drupalistas are returning to AIR in 2012 with a combined force of alumni and new participants, pulled from the Seminary of the Southwest, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Order Out of Chaos, the Texas Education Agency, and the Austin Independent School District. They’ve come to AIR-Austin with a vision of creating a site that is elegant, aesthetically-pleasing, accessible, and easy to maintain!

 Independent Living Resource Center & Team Enchantment

The Independent Living Resource Center strives to make independence a possibility for persons throughout New Mexico with disabilities. They learned about AIR at the Southwest Conference on Disability in Albuquerque in October, and joined the program with the goal of having a strong website that will serve every one of their clients, using technology to give them the tools to live better lives!

Team Enchantment brings together leaders and colleagues from the New Mexico Technology Council, this brand new AIR team has joined the program ready to learn about accessibility and to apply their new skills to help a great nonprofit from the Albuquerque community!

Phronesis Media & Team Fahrenheit

Phronesis Media is a new project of local organization Ventana del Soul, bringing together a wealth of information, articles, facts, resources, and relevant media to educate the public about mass incarceration and offer practical solutions to end the problem. With only the beginnings of a website currently in place, they’ve come to AIR to get help launching the project with a new, fully accessible site!

Team Fahrenheit is led by another AIR Alumni, whose commitment to accessibility has brought a brand new team from Fahrenheit Marketing to the competition. With as many as 15 years of individual experience, the team members are highly skilled, have taught classes in accessibility, and plan to show their skills through the champion website they create!

 Texas TERA & The Headspring Hurwitzes

Texas TERA is not just a name, but a mission: technology, empowerment, resources, and advocacy for persons with disabilities. They work to provide individuals with the ability to try out assistive technology, use it well, and live better lives.  Dave, the organization’s lead, has participated in AIR before with his cable TV program, the Gene and Dave Show, and has brought Texas TERA to AIR in search of a website that is as dynamic, current, and accessible as the organization itself.

The Headspring Hurwitzes are a new team for AIR – but the team’s members are no strangers to accessibility. Not only did the team leader participate in AIR-Houston in October, but Headspring has developed ASP.NET accessibility training for  Knowbility's AccessU program. Headspring has joined AIR to keep their skills fresh and help Texas TERA with a new accessible website!

Results at SXSW

It's quite a line up for 2012 and the judging is bound to be intense.  If you are at SXSW in March, be sure to come to the FREE party and check out the entries and the winner.  Dewey awards will be given out as well.  No badge is needed for the awards ceremony on March 11th at St David's Episcopal Church.  Emcee is Femme FM's wonderful Teresa Ferguson, music by Mother Falcon and in true Texas fashion, the church serves beer!  Until then, these spectacular teams of web devs will be coding their hearts out for nonprofit groups that make our communities better.  And all in the name of accessibility.  Viva AIR!