Since 1998 the Accessibility Internet Rally (AIR) program has been bringing communities together around the powerful idea of accessible digital technology for all.
The Accessibility Experts & The Accessibility Internet Rally with Sally Thoun, Digital Marketing Specialist. Sally answers questions asked by Mariella Paulino, who is off-camera.
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Sally: Hi, my name is Sally and I have salt and pepper hair and I'm wearing black glasses and I'm wearing a top, that I guess is a beige and white leopard print. And I am here today talking to you about accessibility. My experience in air rally 2020. And behind me is our Wapoo for WordPress Accessippoo, who is the daughter of Accessipoo, Wapoo’s name is Blepoo. And, she's one of my favorite. It was one of the wapoos created by Joe Simpson junior for our recent WordCamp Santa Clarita Valley in July 2020. And if you missed it, you can go to wordpress.tv and catch all the talks there.
Mariella: Let's just get started. Who are you? Who are you?
Sally: wow. I'm someone who discovered accessibility a year ago, even though I had heard about it two years prior and had talked to some of my developers. I have my own small digital marketing agency. And they had shrugged it off and said that accessibility wasn't important.
we didn't need it, just forget about it, but you know, when something really sticks inside of you, I just, I knew I needed to learn more and discover what accessibility was. ‘Cause I really didn't know what it was. And I mean, you know, I had an idea about the curb cuts and you know whatnot, but so last year after when COVID hit and pretty much the world shut down, I had lost the majority of my clients, which was just devastating.
But, gave me an opportunity to learn about accessibility. So I've been doing digital marketing for about four years now. Previously I was in a broadcast sales marketing position. I've done publicity and promotion for Warner Brothers and Disney before that. And, I was taking, enhancing some of my skills in digital marketing, but something was missing, you know, and then I attended, a WordPress meetup because I needed to get my website done, but I want to build it myself and not hire someone so I can learn how to do it, to guide my clients.
Yeah. And, I went to this meetup and when we were a lot of questions, my first question was, can you please tell me about accessibility? And the gentleman said, well, funny you ask, we have a special guest here tonight, Mr. Joe Simpson Jr. And Joe Simpson Jr. Started the meetups in Santa Clarita Valley, which is north of Los Angeles.
And I'm just further north of him having spent like 20 years in LA, just moved out to the mountains. And Joe told me that that Saturday three Northern Los Angeles meetups were doing an accessibility day camp. So that was the San Fernando valley was Sumner Davenport, Jennifer Wang, and, Ron, oh gosh, his name escapes.
You. Sorry, Ron. And then, Alicia St. Rose, who did the south central coast to San Luis Obispo, Ventura, Santa Barbara. And then Joe was Santa Clarita. So I marked it in my calendar. I got my coffee and everything ready, got my computer set up. And I was so excited and ready to learn that day. We had about five speakers.
One talked about captioning when talked about PBS. We had the infamous Ms. Lainey Feingold, who's on the, you know, huge accessibility attorney in Northern California. And, Alicia St. Rose talked about websites and there was one other person. And I was hooked. I knew that this is what I had been looking for.
And even though half of it went over my head that day, I got the gist of it. And I honestly feel like I found what was missing. I found my passion and my purpose. So I dived in and I'm grateful. I had the time to learn all I could about accessibility. I was attending accessibility meetups, webinars, taking classes.
And then, Sumner Davenport talked about AIR Rally. And I was like, oh, I want to do that because I'm one of those people that I learn by doing, and I've been studying for three months at this point and I want to apply what I learned and, Just prior to that was WordPress accessibility day, which was a 24 hour conference worldwide on all everything accessibility that was put on by Joel Dolson and Stephano, Mariano, I think his last name is so I want, I do a lot of content.
I want to practice what I learned on content. So Joe introduced Joe Simpson Jr introduced me to Joe Dolson and I said, how can I help? And he goes, well, we need blogs for the sponsors. I'm like, wait, I can, I really want to do that. So they allowed me to do that. Natalie McCleese has also been in the accessibility space, community for, excuse me, a long time helped give me some tips.
I mean, I kind of knew, but like just, I want, I need it to be perfect. So I did that. That was exciting and then jumped into AIR Rally and I wanted to be on Sumner Davenport's team. Her team was Accessipoo, which behind me is the wapoo from WordPress for accessibility. So that's, that's, Blepoo the daughter.
So, from our recent Santa Clarita valley Word Camp.
Mariella: why is accessibility work important?
Sally: Accessibility work is important because it opens the world wide web to everyone, people of various abilities and people living with disabilities. And at any point in our life, we can be faced with a disability, whether it's a shoulder surgery, a broken arm, you know, loss of vision, our country is getting much older now with the baby boomers.
So they're starting to see a lot of changes in their health, and having an accessible website just gives equal access to everybody. And just like, you know, the curb cuts on the sidewalks were initially created for people in wheelchairs. Well, now everyone uses them from stroller, to You know, people delivering product on their rollers.
And, it just opens up the web and makes it fair for everybody. So everyone can access everything. All the information on the web
Mariella: Describe AIR in one sentence
Sally: AIR, in one sentence, is one of the most incredible experiences that you will go through to make a difference in the world. air rallies, accessibility, internet rally, and it's where Knowbility comes together there.
Where they bring individuals and teams together to create an accessible website for a nonprofit. And I love this because a lot of nonprofits don't have a lot of money and they can't really afford to build a website depending where they're at in their journey or to fix a website to make it accessible.
So KNowbility allows that by bringing people. Similar passion and purpose. no matter what skill level you have. I had only been, started, been studying accessibility for three months. The team I wanted to be on, Sumner Davenport’s Accessipoo was full. So I was, I went to the website and saw that you can apply as an individual.
So I did. And I was teamed with two fabulous women out of Texas. And the three of us called ourselves the Digital Diversity Divas. And we had an amazing mentor Haren Hendry from Australia, and she really helped guide us ‘cause we were all fairly new [inaudible] had a bit more experience than all of us.
And, it was like learning on a dime. Like it was fast, fast, fast, fast, fast. If you didn't know it, you had to Google it to figure it out. Our mentor created a lot of Loom videos for us, but really allowed us to figure it out so we can learn. And for me, I learned by doing. So, I really wanted to dig in and work on an a website from the beginning.
And that's what AIR Rally allows you to do. So you think that you don't have the skill level? Think again. If I can do it after three months of learning accessibility, you can do it. It's all in the state of mind. And just think of the difference that you're making for a nonprofit who, whether, who wouldn't otherwise have this opportunity.
Mariella: What, what tools are available? What are some of the tools that you can suggest that people look at? If they are not able to register for AIR?
Sally: there's still so many resources out there, to help you learn about accessibility. And the first course I'm going to recommend you take is edX. And thankfully it's free and it's called Introduction to Web Accessibility.
And Knowbility had a part in this because I've seen some of your staff in it and it educates you on how people living with disabilities use technology. And it's really an eye-opening experience because when you see that and you see their struggles and their challenges, it really makes you want to make those improvements for the web.
So I would recommend to start with that. The American disabilities act also has a free basic ADA course that you can take to learn more about it. Knowbility offers a ton of courses throughout the year. I recently took their screen reader series, sessions. And it was so eye-opening for me because many of the people in Knowbility’s staff are people living with disabilities and they took us through how they use the screen meter and the sites and the mobiles, desktop and mobile that we went to.
It was eye-opening to see how these websites just didn't work for them. Like just to order a simple coffee, a cup of coffee, it was just so challenging. Like, you know, these, it, it made me think about these things that we take for granted. It isn't the same way for everyone, you know, that, that don't have access to an accessible website.
And that's why it's so important. They also have AccessU, which is like a three-day Conference. That's just amazing every May.
Mariella: So, in your opinion, why does the Accessibility Internet Rally exist?
Sally: The accessibility Internet AIR Rally exists because, if it makes you do. You can talk about, oh, I want to learn accessibility, I want to make an accessible website, and you don't do it. When you're put together with a team of like-minded people with a nonprofit that's making a difference in this world, guns to your head, you've got to do it. now, I know 40 teams entered last year and 28 entered final websites. So even if you start out and don't make it to the end, the thing is you've taken that first step and that's really important.
And, AIR Rally was also created just for all of us to learn. Like I said, I learn by doing. They provide webinars on how to make sites accessible. You have your mentor, your mentor, you have a communication platform. I think last year they used Basecamp, that everyone could use. And my non-profit, Uniformed Meditation, they would just put, like great uplifting notes.
You guys are doing great and we appreciate you. And when you need that, it just really elevates you and makes you, you know, know that you're doing something that's really worthwhile. And I think there's a lot of nonprofits that would not have an accessible website if it wasn't for AIR Rally, because for a lot of them that I've seen speak from nonprofits, they weren't really sure what accessibility was until they were approached by a team or Knowbility.
So it just really helped. It's just another platform to get the awareness out there about the importance of having accessible websites.
Mariella: What, the next question here is what's the worst case scenario if AIR didn't exist?
Sally: Well, I think there would be a lot of developers and people who would not have the opportunity to exercise their accessibility skills and to learn new knowledge, there would be a lot of less, nonprofit websites that are not accessible, which then defeats their whole purpose because a lot of these nonprofits reach out to people living with disabilities. So I just think that there would be less accessible websites and less knowledge base about accessibility in the marketplace.
Mariella: And what sets AIR apart from other events, or other accessibility, learning experiences that you have participated in?
Sally: I think what sets AIR Rally apart from other accessibility experiences that I've had, Accessibility air rally is on its own. I don't know of any other competition that allows teams or students, the University of Texas submits teams.
I was listening to the testimonial from the University of Texas, one of the people who teaches a digital accessibility course. And last year when everything's shut down, a lot of the students were having a hard time staying engaged, you know, because we didn't know what was happening in the world, but, teach, but the AIR Rally gave these kids a purpose, to learn about accessibility.
And it's also to do. Look, you can take all the classes in the world. You can do all of your checklists, but until you apply it and actually do it, it's just, it's not the same. And then AIR Rally goes one step further that teaches you how people living with disabilities utilize technology. Like the screen reader series.
I, I have the screen reader on my computer and I use it. And sometimes it annoys me and I can't just turn it off. But, for these people, this is how they use the internet. And when you see how a website is not accessible on the barriers that are put unto these people to have access to the same information or products, like, you know, the checkout carts do not let you know when you selected something to go into the cart, then it'll, you see why we do what we do.
In the accessible community. Adding the labels, adding alt text, explaining where a link is going to take them. Some of that, a lot of people aren't able to see a link. You need to tell them what it means. So AIR Rally gives you an opportunity to do. It's like now you're going to walk the walk and not talk the talk after going AIR Rally. And you're going to come out of it.
With so much more knowledge, but also the feeling that you have contributed to make a website more accessible. and the world's a better place. We can't even put a price on that feeling like when we finished, we were like astatic, because first of all, we'd never done anything like this. And then we did, you never know what you’re capable of until you try and AIR Rally gives you that opportunity.
To try. And I don't know of any other competition, out there, like AIR Rally, really, everything else I've taken was classes. And that's why I was excited about, you know, . It gave me a chance to apply everything that I've learned. so that was just, yeah. So you have to do AIR Rally. If you don't, you're the one really missing out.
And then of course, all the other people who would access that nonprofit’s website.
Mariella: Who should join an Accessibility Internet Rally?
Sally: I think the people that should join AIR Rally is someone who is curious about accessibility and wants to learn more. And then also for those who have experience in accessibility and want to help others learn and, elevate and enhance their skillsets.
So even if you don't know about accessibility, but you've heard of it and you're curious, I would still enter because it's, it's going to exceed your expectations.
Mariella: What, what should people expect as a result of participating in AIR?
Sally: The only thing I would say to expect is that it's going to be an amazing experience.
You're going to meet incredible, like-minded passionate people and, You do have a possibility to win no matter what your skill level, but it's not about winning. It's about making a difference. And, but you're going to get more than that. And it's different for each person. For me, it confirms that I'm on the right path of accessibility and, that I want to continue learning this more and more because accessibility can be overlooked.
There's so much to learn. And there was times I became overwhelmed and I had to step back and take a break just to let my brain decompress, you know? so I would go in just expecting to have one of the best experiences that you've ever had in your life. Because last night I re-watched the award video.
And it's amazing how many people are involved in the rally from judges and mentors to the board and sponsors that I met in the past year that I didn't know, pre AIR rally, and I may have seen them at AIR rally, but since then we connected again, it's that whole community. We all have the same goal. And, we just all want to make the world a better place.
And, you know, I do want to say, my auntie Lizzy always used to say to me, we're not here to see through each other, but to see each other through. And to me, that's what accessibility is all about. And when I started learning about accessibility, you know, her voice coming into my head was the first thing that I heard.
And I was like, thanks auntie Lizzie, who knew that you can still button to me my whole life, and now I finally see another application of it in the world.
Mariella: Well, why is it important to, work with small businesses for the Accessibility Internet Rally?
Sally: So I think it's important to work with small businesses for the AIR rally because 50% of our country’s made of small businesses. And I don't have the percentage of nonprofits, but I know just in that town that I live in, it's a small town in the mountains.
We have 105 nonprofits. So, you know, their work is very super, super important. And then in AIR rally, you get to work with a lot of these nonprofits that may not have the funding to make their website accessible, if they're even aware of it. So a lot of the larger companies in the world have the finances to build up, you know, make their website accessible, but the smaller businesses don't.
So it gives them an opportunity that they never otherwise would have had, or would have had to wait that much longer to build it. And when you have to go back and fix a website to make it accessible, it's going to be 70% more time, which equates to 70% more dollars to fix it. Whereas if you start at the beginning to build your website, as accessible or as we call it, bake it in, it's only 30% more time and dollars.
So, but unfortunately, so many businesses, you know, have their websites. Now web aim is a company that does an annual study every year, and they study a million of the homepages around the world to see what's accessible. 97.4% of homepages on websites around the world are not accessible. That's a sad, really sad.
if you look the other way, that means there's a huge opportunity to change our world and make websites accessible. And COVID is really bought, brought to the forefront, the necessity of having an accessible website, because everything is online now. And, last year it was 98.1% of homepages of that 1 million tests.
Where the pages were not accessible. So we've made a slight improvement, but it's not a lot. There's a lot of work to be done. And so that's what it means is we've done a lot of work to do. it's not just about advertising your business. Yeah. You can bring people to your business, but if it's not accessible, you're missing out on a huge demographic piece.
That have an income that will buy your products. And when they go to your website and they can't even figure out your cart or it, you know, you go to increase quantity, but they labeled it wrong. It decreases it. You know, they get flustered in there. And they're going to tell their friends and their friends aren't, didn't go to your business.
And then their friends are going to tell the friends they're not going to go. So also it hurts your brand, too. When you build an accessible website, it shows, it tells people that you care about them. No matter what spectrum the rat, no matter what ability that they're living with, that, they're all welcomed to your website and it leaves no one's shut out.
And today in this world, it's all about embracing everyone. We all have our abilities. We all have our differences and that's what makes this world so unique. But the web is one place that we can come together and access it
My accessibility journey started a year ago and KNowbility was a huge part of my limit. And I'm so grateful to everyone involved with KNowbility. For what they do and, take their courses through the year, they are eye-opening. They give you the view of someone living with disabilities to, so you can understand why this work is so important, but also they have AccessU. And, you know, when you follow your heart that things happen, like just do just volunteer. Take that extra time. There's so many nonprofits that need help, you know, get involved with the WordPress Wordcamp, and volunteer. get, get involved with WordPress accessibility Day if you can. I'm volunteering now to caption a ton of videos. To learn that skill.
And I been in accessibility for one year. I had never heard of WordCamp. I've done two. I didn't expect to do a talk about my journey. And I was asked to do that at the last Wordcamp. I didn't know what a wapoo was. Look at that wapoo on the back of me. I didn't really know what a meetup was and I've been to a ton of them.
I didn't know what accessibility was and now I'm just so much more knowledgeable that I can help make a difference and explain the value of accessibility to businesses. And I've met so oh, many incredible people. So all the people in the accessibility community that have come before me and all the new people coming into it.
Sally: Thanks. Thank you for paving the way. Thank you for opening the doors. Thank you for educating. And I'm so excited to work with every one of you along the way. So together we can make the world a better place. Start your accessibility journey today. It is the most thrilling thing that I have done in my career.
I found my purpose. And I found my passion. And look, I was asked to speak to you today, just like the little person, you know, in California. So. And everyone has been some encouraging to me along the way, and to do work that makes a difference, is so much more gratifying. I can't even put a price on it.
All I know is that I'm making a difference now and I am more fired up to continue this journey and be a part of the solution. So, thanks for joining us. Sign up for Knowbility classes, sign up for AIR rally. It will be one of their best experiences and, just continue to love what you do and walk the walk and talk the talk.
No overlays. No plug-ins just be authentic. And, you'll have a wonderful journey like that, dude. Thanks Knowbility. Thank you. You've been a huge part of where I am today. Thank you.