With OpenAIR kicking off in the next few months, Knowbility is hard at work putting the final touches on the competition before it officially begins in October. Luckily, OpenAIR is truly a team effort, one that wouldn’t happen without the tremendous help and support from the broader accessibility community, both here in Austin and nationwide. Two of those community members taking the helm of OpenAIR this year are Hiram Kuykendall of Microassist and CB Averitt of Deque Systems. Knowbility Board and Advisory member, Hiram, is in charge of developing and implementing training for the registered development teams, while CB, as mentor chair, has taken on the task of recruiting and directing this year’s group of talented mentors.

Before OpenAIR officially kicks off on October 11th, teams will have the option of going through a training course designed to specifically target and teach the accessibility concepts they will eventually be judged on. Hiram and the training team (which includes St. Edward’s Brenda Adrian, John Foliot and Glenda Sims of Deque, Jim Allan of the School for the Visually Impaired, Lewis Phillips and Jean Swart of AT&T, and Jessica Looney and Sharron Rush of Knowbility) are hard at work developing the gamified training course that will roll out August 12th. The premise of the game is to “navigate the perilous, inaccessible regions of space to provide the NPO space station with a new web-based communication interface.” It breaks training up into several “missions” that each team will need to complete in order to know how to successfully build a website for their assigned nonprofits. Each mission is taken directly from the criteria listed on the final judging form and include accessibility concepts such as ensuring the site has the correct HTML and ARIA markups, providing alt text and captioning for images and media, and creating working keyboard controls. By adding game elements to this year’s training course, Hiram and the team hope to not only communicate the core accessibility concepts more effectively to developers but to entice more teams to engage with the concepts on a practical level before attempting to build the website itself. Plus, it’s fun!

Once the competition begins, team members will have the option of reaching out to their assigned mentors to help guide them through each mission, as well as the construction of the actual site. Luckily, CB has done a tremendous job gathering some of the top talent currently working in accessibility to offer support and knowledge, including representation from Deque Systems, SSB Bart, Accessibility Oz, The Paciello Group, the Texas Department of State Health Services, and more. In keeping with the community spirit of OpenAIR, it was important to CB that the mentors come from a variety of companies and backgrounds.

“We’re all in this together so we definitely want representation from everybody because there’re awesome players everywhere,” he said.

Building on the practical skills provided in training, CB says there are three important themes he hopes the mentors will convey to their teams -- encourage creativity, provide them with important learning resources they can use going forward, and show, don’t tell, them the “why” behind any given accessibility concept.

“One of the things I made a point to do -- and I think we should do this all the time -- is not just tell them, ‘Hey, you’ve gotta have alternative text and it needs to be appropriate and convey meaning.’ Don’t just tell them that. Show them. Show them why that’s important. Anytime I pulled out my screen reader and showed them why we do it, pretty much every time made aha moments for the team.”

Showing how alt text works through a screen reader, for example, provides a human perspective for the teams, broadening their understanding on why accessibility is necessary.

“It isn’t all about this technical jargon,” CB said. “It’s more about people, which is what it should be. Everything we do should be about people, not about code, not about the technical. That’s the kind of route I tried to take with my mentorship.”

Another important message CB hopes mentors will pass on to their mentees is that accessibility, rather than being an impediment to creativity, should go hand in hand with it.  

“Since I’ve been in this profession, the one thing I don’t want to do is stifle creativeness,” CB said. “Technology advances -- it advances quickly. I see this with SMEs sometimes. They back off to make things accessible. I try to be a little bit different. Come up with something. Be creative and then let’s see how we can make it accessible.”

Finally, since the competition lasts just over a month, both CB and Hiram hope to provide participating teams with the tools they need to continue practicing and learning about universal design.  

“Quite frankly, I’ve been doing this for years and I look stuff up every day,” CB said. “I, by far, don’t know 100% of this information. Not even close to 100%. But! I do know where to go find it. I think that would be extremely helpful for the mentors to share with the mentees.”

Both the training and mentorship aspects of OpenAIR provide participants with enormous resources, skills, expertise, and networking opportunities, all of which couldn’t be done without the help of the incredible accessibility community. Ready to sign your team up? Registration is now open through September 1st on the OpenAIR website.