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 Sumner Davenport, Web Accessibility Educator. Sumner answers questions asked by Mariella Paulino, who is off-camera.
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Sumner Davenport: My name is Sumner Davenport and I look forward to seeing you at this year's Knowbility Accessibility Internet Rally. Come join us.
[Upbeat intro music with the Knowbility logo in the background]
Sumner Davenport: Hi, I'm summer Davenport. I'm a specialist in web accessibility. My pronouns are she and her. And I usually describe myself as a fair skin, female adult, even though some people are going to contradict that adult portion, I have blue eyes and red hair, and I do have the personality that goes with the red hair, which means I'm simply adorable.
My background is a Zoom background that I located, but I love it because the background is to me, it looks like a meditation space. It is a room that has large windows with opening out to the outside, but on the inside the room itself has a wonderful couch for lounging and the room is filled with a variety of green plants and succulents, and flowers and things that would make you feel connected to nature. It's a very relaxing type of a background. And that's why I love it.
Mariella Paulino: How did you get started with accessibility work?
Sumner Davenport: My work in accessibility started when I was humbled one day. I have people in my family and people that I care about that have disabilities and one particular person is blind. And for years I was building websites and I would just describe them to her in as much detail as I possibly could so that she could get an idea of what there was on the internet, this exciting adventure that I thought was no other way for her to be involved.
So all these times I would spend sharing with her, the description of the website, what it meant, what it involved, or if she wanted something from the website could find that information for her. And then one day, there was a person at the house that was going to show her how to use a screen reader.
And I watched. As her face lit up as she suddenly, her whole presence felt more, there was a happiness about her. She was more included. She was more independent. She could actually access this information now without having to depend upon me. So I, I was excited and since I'd been building websites, I asked this person there if he would use the screen reader to visit a website that I had built, and he did. And nothing happened.
So I thought, okay, that's a little odd. Let's try another one. And I gave him another URL and he went to the website and the screen reader started reading things that were all over, not in the order that I would have expected as a sighted person. And I said, you equipment is broken. He goes, no lady. Your website is broken.
That was the beginning of my humble walk into accessibility. And this was long before there were classes and guidelines on what needed to be done. And I just begged this person. I said, please tell me what I need to know, what do I have to do? So that those that I care about are included. This is huge. I have to know.
And I started on my journey. And here we are, over 12 years later, and now it's so exciting because there are classes, and there are events and there are more people that care that have started to make changes on the internet so that it can be more inclusive, not just for my family, but for everybody's family.
Mariella Paulino: Why is accessibility work important?
Sumner Davenport: So that we can include everyone. So that everyone has the opportunity to be more independent, to access the information and get the information they need and get involved and participate. What's available to everyone should be available to everyone. So accessibility is important that we remember that we're all different. We all have different abilities and there are different disabilities. And when we keep that in mind, and when we keep in mind how important it is to embrace inclusion and think about people. Who is our market? Who are the people that we want this information to reach? And it does include people with disabilities every time.
Mariella Paulino: Why do you think that despite us having these guidelines and us having these rules and us having these regulations, we still have applications that are not built with accessibility in mind?
Sumner Davenport: My personal feeling is that we're still having those types of tools introduced because the persons that create them and work on them have not yet felt the need to be inclusive. They feel the need on whatever their personal objective is to get this product or service out. And many times, it's a product just to be sold, that they don't yet feel the need to be inclusive. They either have themselves convinced that it's too hard or it can't be done. Or what difference does it make? And when they have themselves convinced of that, then of course, they're not going to include it until later when it impacts someone in their family or impacts them personally and then suddenly, oh my gosh, there is a reason to do this, a very personal reason to do this.
So there are a lot of people that have been in technology and web design for years and continue the same behaviors, over and over again, until they learn that there's a better way. And they learn that there's a value in doing it this better way.
Mariella Paulino: How would you describe AIR?
Sumner Davenport: AIR is an opportunity for individuals to participate in a program that makes a huge difference, on the internet for everyone. It's an opportunity for persons to learn, to educate themselves and to create something absolutely phenomenal, to create something that previous to AIR, they may not have known how to do.
So, AIR makes a difference. AIR gives people the opportunity to learn how easy it is to include accessibility from the start and how beautiful websites can become, as well as functional, when they're done correctly.
Mariella Paulino: If they miss AIR what are some tools that people can look at?
Sumner Davenport: I hesitate to suggest tools because too many times people rely upon those tools as all-inclusive, such as they will use an automated tool off of one is a well-known websites, which are excellent.
The problem is that then they think that that's all that needs to be done. So if they only do that, they get a certain amount of information, but it's usually not enough to cover what needs to be done. For me, the best tools are human beings, to connect with people who will let the designer know this works, this doesn't work, and this is why it doesn't work, and if you do it this other way correctly, this is the result.
This is the benefit. This is the value. And educate in that realm. Too many people want a quick fix, and they look for a quick fix, and quick fixes never work. So I hesitate to mention any tools because the best tool is a human being. And I hate to call us a tool by the way, but [laughter] that's really the truth. Using a human, it's better than using a robot, I guess, I might say, or the artificial intelligence. A real person is what really makes a difference.
Mariella Paulino: Why does AIR exist?
Sumner Davenport: AIR exists so that we can make the internet accessible to everyone. And the way that the AIR program is set up, it's an educational program, which is the best part, because if we can learn how to do it while we're doing it, remember what we did, we can repeat that the next time. Plus, AIR exists because, more than anything, it's fun! It is so much fun to work with a team on an AIR project. It's unlike working with any other client, it's unlike working in any other web design community or program, AIR is unique to itself.
Mariella Paulino: What is the worst case scenario if these educational programs like AIR didn't exist?
Sumner Davenport: Worst case scenario is very sad because the worst case scenario means that the internet will continue to be non-accessible to people. If we stopped creating websites that are accessible, because these tools didn't exist, these educational programs didn't exist, the people that I care about will be left out, and as our population continues to age, more and more people will be left out. Plus, we've learned that people that have suffered through COVID, it has altered them. Some of them have a problem now with cognitive ability, some of them, their vision changed, for some of them they don't function as well as they did prior to COVID.
They are now classified as disabled. So we never know when a disability may occur in our life through an illness, through an accident, through age. So if we don't work together to create an accessible internet through these educational programs, at one point, none of us will be able to access the internet, or it will be just a tiny elite few, and that's not okay. That's the worst case scenario.
Mariella Paulino: What sets AIR apart from other courses or other events or other workshops that you have attended?
Sumner Davenport: AIR, there's no comparison. Because the AIR program provides interaction with the community, it provides education. It provides a learn-as-you-work, it provides support. It provides mentors. It provides education. It provides follow-ups, the list is endless. There is no program like AIR. There are educational programs out there that a person can attend.
Some of them are self timed, self-motivated, some of them are specific classroom that you sign up for, but none of them bring to the table everything AIR has to offer. And on top of that, all of the fun. So there's no comparison. To me, AIR is the standard that people should follow.
Mariella Paulino: Who should join AIR?
Sumner Davenport: Who should join the Accessibility Internet Rally, lovingly known as AIR? Anyone who really cares. Now that's kind of broad because a lot of us care, but people that should join the internet rally are nonprofit companies, agencies, organizations that need to understand more about accessibility and need to have a website that is accessible.
And we also need web designers who need to learn more about how to create accessibility and recruit their friends and recruit other web designers. And we also need people who are already involved in web accessibility to come aboard and be the mentors. So that team of a nonprofit and a web designer team and a mentor, those are the people that should join.
Mariella Paulino: What did you build while you were in AIR?
Sumner Davenport: We were very fortunate that our client during the AIR rally was an artist. And one of the biggest complaints I hear from people who don't know, is that an accessible website is ugly, or they will say, well, if it's going to be an accessible website, you can't use a lot of colors, and a list goes on.
We were able to, by working with this artist who created gorgeous paintings, we were able to create a website that showcased all of her art and used a color design that really popped and worked with all of the color contrast ratios that we needed, as well as worked in a dark mode. And it worked in a light mode, and it worked in all of the ways that people said couldn't be done.
We felt so excited that we were able to showcase this person's artwork on a beautiful website and be able to say, Hey, see, look, accessibility is beautiful. It's gorgeous. It's functional. And what we also loved is this artist used a technique called pour where she pours paint over the canvas and moves the canvas around to create a design.
And of course, in accessibility, we're working with the acronym of pour, P O U R. And so that was part of what gave us a little thrill is to say, Hey, look at the comparison we have between, we're both using the same letters to create a gorgeous, functional result. And the client was extremely happy with it.
Mariella Paulino: What kind of work should a participants in AIR expect to do in AIR?
Sumner Davenport: It may be different for each team because it really depends on who the nonprofit organization is, what their needs happen to be. I understand that there were some organizations who just wanted to correct their website, their existing website.
We were put in a position that we were able to create a website from the very beginning, and that's really the best way to do accessibility, is when you build it from the very beginning or bake it in, as they say, it's so much simpler, it creates a better website and it's a lot easier. So persons on a team with AIR they're either going to be able to learn new skills, learn reasons why certain things are done on a website, learn the benefits of why things are a certain way.
They're going to be able to see how to break through limitations they may have in how they're currently working on building a website. They may have an opportunity to bring their skills to the table, to help other people learn how to do things. They will have an opportunity to educate the client. And all of this helps to make a more accessible internet because if we have one person out there building websites, that's one person doing one website at a time.
But when we have a team of five or six people and they learn how to do this and they perfect those skills on the project they're working for, for the AIR client, they then take those skills back to their business, their job. And now those five or six people are going to be working on five or six websites at a time.
So that just means that afterwards, the skills that they learn will make their job or their business more productive. When it comes to accessibility, it will also bring a value to the skills and the services that they offer their clients. And that also means that it will increase the value of the clients' websites to the audience that they're looking to reach.
Mariella Paulino: What would you tell someone that is on the fence about doing AIR?
Sumner Davenport: Well, if someone is on the fence about joining AIR, my first question is why. Why are you on the fence? What is it that you don't yet know that you need to know in order to participate?
First thing I can say is, it doesn't hurt and it's a lot of fun. So is there a reason that you don't want to have more fun? It's a great way to connect with and meet other people. Even people beyond your own team, because we get together for educational events and we got together to meet the judges and we got together to meet each other and the opening ceremony and the closing ceremony, connected people all over the globe.
So, hmm, why would you not want to do that? And so if you want to have fun and you want to meet with more people and learn more, and here's the cool part. To participate on the team. You will never get this education for this financial price, anywhere. You will never get these connections anywhere, because it's existing only in this format.
It's only in what Knowbility is offering. So if you want to learn more, you want to learn with other people. You want to hone your skills and have a great time while you're doing it. Why would you want to be on the fence? And that's pretty much the question that I would ask
Mariella Paulino: Why do organizations and nonprofits come to join AIR?
Sumner Davenport: From what I experienced, is these are organizations who either know a little bit about accessibility, but don't know how to actually implement it into their website, or they have just been introduced to accessibility and they know it's important and they want to make sure that their representation on the internet is accessible. And so the people that I saw on the group of organizations that participated in last year, were groups, were organizations who were a hundred percent onboard having it done correctly. They knew that what they were coming with wasn't accessible and they really wanted to be accessible.
And they really wanted to work with a team that believes not only in their mission and what they wanted to accomplish, but wanted to help them take their mission, make it accessible so that they could carry their mission, their products, their services, to a wider audience.
Mariella Paulino: Closing thoughts?
Sumner Davenport: I personally believe that what Knowbility is offering with the Accessible Internet Rally is one of the best things ever. I believe that a lot of people don't yet know that this exists and the first time they learn about it and get involved in, it will change their lives, because a lot of people are out there in web design, especially, and they're working by themselves and they get themselves in this little space of having to come up with every answer and having to do it all themselves. And when they connect with others, as they do on a team with the internet rally, what they find is, is that working on a team is not only going to help them learn how to do what can be done for accessibility. They get to do more than they thought they could.
They find more about themselves and more appreciation for what they know and more appreciation for other people's skills to help them. They learn how to interact with a team without losing their independence. That's always a fear of people. When they want to work with a team they're afraid they're going to lose themselves.
But on these types of teams, everybody's still is connected to who they are, what they bring to the table, but working with a team ups the game a whole bunch. And again, it makes it so much fun. Working with Knowbility, is, there's no comparison. It is an organization that is truly dedicated to making the internet accessible to everyone.
So anytime you have an opportunity to work with people at Knowbility, jump for it, go for it, just be there because it will change your life in a very, very good way. And when you participate, you cannot go back to your work or your desk and be the way you used to be, you will be changed. You will have more enthusiasm because enthusiasm comes with the knowledge and the experience that you gain from participating in this program, you will suddenly not be able to keep from telling other people what you've learned and how important accessibility is. Suddenly you will become a stronger advocate for doing it correctly. And you will notice in how many other people around that you can connect with. Your group of friends may expand, so if you don't want to have fun, and you don't want more friends and you don't want to work with a very reputable, strong organization, well then of course you wouldn't want to come participate, but all those things are what makes every day really more exciting.
So come join, participate, learn, share, have a good time.