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.
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!