Take a quick tour of what's coming up at John Slatin AccessU 2022 with Executive Director Sharron Rush, Director of Community Programs Jessica "Jay" McKay, and Director of Development Elizabeth Boyte.

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Anthony Vasquez: So I am Anthony Vasquez. welcome, everyone for being here today. I am a Communication Specialist with Knowbility, and today we want to talk to you about John Slatin AccessU 2022, our first hybrid iteration of AccessU.

And it is a training conference that We've been doing Now, since 2,004 out of Austin Texas, And now it'll be out of Austin, Texas and everywhere in the world online.

Today We're gonna be hearing from Sharron Rush, our Executive Director; Jessica “Jay” McKay, our Director of Community Programs; Elizabeth Boyte, our Director of Development; and Mariela Paulino, our Director of Marketing. And at the end of our short presentation we'll have room for any questions, and we'll give you some answers.

So, Why don't we start with Sharron to tell us a bit about Knowbility, about AccessU specifically, happening again in less than a month, May 10th to the 12th with a preconference on the 9th. Yeah, Sharron why don't you take it away?

Sharron Rush: I'm happy to. Thank you Anthony, for that great introduction, and, and thank you, Larry, for being here. I appreciate your interest and in your interest in disability issues generally, and especially in your interest in Knowbility and the work that we do.

I'm Sharron Rush. I'm the Executive Director and co-founder of Knowbility. Where a fairly small nonprofit organization. We like to say we're small, but mighty.

we're based in Austin, Texas, but we serve a global constituency. People with disabilities are all over the world in all walks of life. We started Knowbility in 1999 after 2 years of operating as a loose community collaboration around the issue of technology access for people with disabilities.

As you probably know, in the late ‘90s, early 2000s, Austin was trying to remake itself as a technology hub, and my job at that time was working for a disability rehabilitation organization looking for employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

And of course, for me, I just thought, Well, technology is a perfect opportunity. It's flexible. It meets the needs of people with disabilities very nicely.

And so, as I started to actually explore those options, I kept encountering these barriers. Barriers inherent in the design of the technology, not in the skills of the people who I was trying to find jobs for.

So, we, I started talking to other people in, in Austin about why do these barriers exist and I was speaking to people in academia and industry in civic engagement.

We had some initiatives around what they called the digital divide. But unfortunately, the digital divide didn't seem to extend at that time to people with disabilities. They were mostly thinking of low-income, cultural differences, but they weren't really considering disability.

As I spoke to these people in these different trajectories of involvement with technology and disability, I learned more and more about these inherent barriers, and thought, Well, how do we engage the tech sector itself in in fixing these and bringing down these barriers?

And we kind of settled on the idea that let's find something competitive, and that was our accessibility Internet rally, which is basically a hackathon, although I don't think anybody used the word hackathon at that time engaging the tech sector to learn about accessibility. use their design skills to design an accessible website for a nonprofit organization and then compete for prizes.

And what we found was that that kind of engagement was really, it was a very positive kind of engagement, rather than threatening with lawsuits or anything, by by encouraging people to compete and show off their accessible design skills, they were engaged in our issue in a very creative and positive way.

And so, after doing that as a community collaboration for a couple of years, we decided this was an issue that really had enough substance, that it we needed an organization to shelter that contest and to grow the programs.

So we were founded in ‘99 in about 2,004 people were asking for the training that they got through air as a separate, can we just get the training outside of the competition? And so we decided we'd start this training institute once a year.

and as it rolled out over the years, we actually do a lot of training at different times throughout the year. Webinars and private companies will hire us to come and do trainings, but AccessU, this Training Institute that we started at that time is really the time where we bring the community together, train people on all kinds of skills related to accessibility in different tracks.

You know, people who are project managers, designers, developers. We have a game and artificial intelligence, IA, XR track this year, I think we've had it maybe up for a couple of years now, but trying to really incorporate emerging technology into it, too.

And what we found about AccessU is that it's really a time for the community to come together in that spirit of creative inclusion and design, interest in design and good design. And John Slatin, for whom the conference is named. It was a blind professor of English at the University of Texas, and he used to sign his emails good design is accessible design, and I think we found that to be true through the years that you know just like in the physical world, when you make accessibility accommodations for people with disabilities, it's not only people with disabilities who use those accommodations right?

It makes it easier for the whole, for everybody in the world. So before I turn things back over to Anthony., I did want to mention that as we grew through the years we developed a number of other programs and projects.

One of them is a K-12 support for teachers and parents of kids with disabilities in K-12 schools, helping them to understand how to most effectively use technology in the classroom to include kids with disabilities.

We've built an online learning center, which we're gonna get a real, we're gonna get a real workout for our online learning center this year at AccessU because we've designed it in a way, that I think Jay's gonna talk about more where we're offering a lot of asynchronous classes as well as the in-person live, sessions.

And of course, you know we do a lot of just general consulting with companies Helping them figure out is my website accessible? What do I need to do to make it accessible?

We've got just-in-time HelpDesk offerings, usability testing, things that, where people can hire us. And so in that sense, as a mission-driven organization, we having fee for service offerings that do our mission and meet our mission goals in the marketplace has also been a really good thing for our financial and fiscal health.

So that’s about, I think probably more than Anthony wanted me to say, Yeah, I get to talking about this and I don't stop. So I will, I guess, Anthony questions are gonna be at the end, right?

Anthony: Sure. We can take them either like spoken or in chat, but yeah, let's just hear a little bit about.

Sharron: So, it’s back to you?

Anthony: Back to me. Thank you. And so yeah, in the spring of 2020, like most organizations, we were faced with what to do in the mid of this pandemic and how do we make AccessU still happen? And I remember I was on staff in March, and we began to pivot to make this experience still happen.

And in 8 weeks we went. from what are we going to do to we have AccessU 2020. And we did that for 2 years. Now, we are bringing back the in-person component that we all miss, but we're keeping it also virtual.

The first hybrid AccessU, and for that I want to, maybe, Jay, just share a few of the highlights of what we have planned, and why this is such an important issue right now, the hybrid model, and asynchronous, and keeping people engaged, no matter where they are in the world, and no matter whether they're disabled or not. So, Jay, why don’t you just share for a bit?

Jessica “Jay” McKay: sure. So. we did intentionally want to make sure that AccessU this year was a hybrid event. So that way we could accommodate our on-site attendees, because we know, you know some people that's just the best way for them to learn is to be on site, to have that face-to-face to have that more physical, you know, kind of interaction and opportunity.

But then, at the same time, we also wanted to recognize our community that would not be able to travel, either because of cost, because of health reasons or for some of us, you know, when we had to go to virtual, some of us found that that was a really good way for us to engage with, you know, different conferences and training.

So we really wanted to show how important both of those avenues are. As we wanted to respect that and help make sure that AccessU meets those needs. so it will be a hybrid event, and we do recognize that some of our attendees coming to Austin have not maybe been in person for a few years.

And you know, we've Had lots of people ask questions about you know, how safe is it going to be? What kind of procedures are going to be in place? And so our Covid policies are a little bit of, you know, Cdc. recommendations, in addition to the requirements from, St. Edwards University, which is where AccessU will be at this year.

So our policies will include, of course, you know, proof of vaccination or a negative test. We we’ll be asking attendees to wear their masks throughout the conference spaces as well as fill out a daily symptom checker. So you know, that's just a few of the things that we'll have in place for them.

We’ll also have some other things. You know, we'll have extra masks available, you know, sanitizing stations, of course, providing as much space for seating and outdoor eating areas and things like that, too.

So we just want to make sure everybody feels comfortable, feels safe, as they come back, for those that are able to come back face to face. As Sharron mentioned before, One of the other things that we're doing this year is introducing a new format to AccessU, which is some asynchronous sessions.

So one of the things when we were talking about having virtual participation was, you know, a lot of times for those that don't prefer virtual, or that do, but it can just be exhausting to be in front of your computer, you know, for several hours in a day. And then you know, times that by 3 days, you know, it's just kind of after, while you're just getting burnt out, zoom fatigue.

So we wanted to explore the option of asynchronous sessions. So we have several of our sessions that will be pre-recorded. But we know that one of the other key components of access view is the ability for our attendees to interact with the presenters, with the experts in the field, you know, for that exchange of ideas and knowledge, and getting time to ask questions and explore some other options.

So with our pre-recorded sessions we've also scheduled Live Q&As. So that way, it's not just Oh, there's videos in there. Maybe i'll watch them. maybe I won't. It provides that other element of engagement and an opportunity for our participants to interact with each other. So we're really excited to see that come into play this year.

We have several keynotes this year, because really when we're looking at you know our theme of digital inclusion is the new normal, we saw some opportunities to talk to some people from varied different perspectives and ideas.

And so, you know, we have Molly E. Holzschlag, you know author, pioneer, and web accessibility open standards. We'll be talking about refining accessibility in the world Wide Web.

We have Christina Mallon, director of inclusive design at Microsoft talking about inclusive design as better design. We have Catarina Riviera, excuse me, Rivera, who is the founder of Blindish Latina, and talking about the future of work must prioritize disability inclusion.

We have Kelsey Ruger, Vice president of product at HelloAlice, with accessibility for small business. and then we have Kemi Yemi-Ese, who is a disabled therapist and visual artist talking about the art of perseverance.

So, really just a wide range of perspectives, in terms of you know, disability inclusion, or disability, inclusion design, and web accessibility standards. So, we're really excited about all of those.

In addition to all of these wonderful opportunities for learning and, sharing you know what's better at a conference than those opportunities to connect and to network and to share additional experiences. So we did make sure to add some of those, you know, fun, social interaction components.

So, in addition to having, of course, you know some on-site events, we wanted to also have some virtual events. So, we have one of our receptions, we're actually going to have a trivia night, but it will actually include not only our on-site attendees, but it will be able to include our virtual attendees as well.

So maybe we can do a on-site versus online. We'll see how it goes, but also we're looking at having an accessible escape room on site. But then also we have, one of our community members is providing an old-time radio show night that will be virtual. So just again, really looking at some new opportunities and ways to explore inclusion.

Anthony: Alright. Well, thank you for that, Jay. Is there anything else You'd like to Add Briefly, or should we move on to hear a bit about like our nonprofit history and development goals from Elizabeth?

Elizabeth Boyte: So I think that the unique nature of Knowbility being one of the few organizations in the nonprofit sector, to be doing the work that we do makes our work stand out in the space and it allows us to sort of answer these really big problems with real solutions.

And so we strive to intentionally design all of our programming, including AccessU, to be inclusive and accessible, but also consider the diverse needs of our served communities.

And so hybrid events really allow us to take into consideration what that landscape looks like, and also really address the fact that in-person events have innate barriers.

And so it's really exciting for us in our inclusive work to be able to talk about or to reach all sorts of populations that may not necessarily be able to travel for whatever reason.

So in our work, specifically within nonprofit, the nonprofit scope, we're working within community programs, AccessU is just one part of that. Sharron touched on this. AIR being sort of our baby that really created Knowbility. And then also addressing assistive technology needs in K-12 classrooms.

And then we also have monthly workshops where we are talking about assistive technology with educators, students, teachers, support staff. And then, equally, we just launched a Be A Digital Ally series that addresses all sorts of really basic accessibility design issues, mostly for content creators, but it's open to everyone and we welcome anyone to come and participate.

But all of these programs are only available because of our donors in our corporate partners. And so it's important that we sort of sit in the space that we recognize that because of the generosity of the people that support us, we're able to do our critical work in digital equity.

And when we think about when technology, whether that's websites or mobile apps or emerging tech like Vr and AI, all of that has to be accessible, and I like to think that accessible design is complete, design.

So, when we're not writing and building technology that does not consider the needs of everyone, then that's simply is incomplete. And so it's really cool that we get to be part of something where we're able to make complete design.

And then, started to touch on one minor point with hybrid events specifically. They do tend to come at a greater expense so I'm just gonna list off, because this is my job as Director of development, how grateful we are to our AccessU 2022 sponsors.

So in loving order: It's Google, Fable, Pearson, Oklahoma AbleTech, Code Mantra, NelNet, Aira, WebAIM, International Association of Accessibility Professionals, Better Leave, Monkee-Boy, and ICT Accessibility Testing Symposium. So, I think that I've covered everybody. So, back to you, Anthony.

Jessica: It's a good problem to have.

Anthony: Alrighty, Well, thank you Elizabeth. And yeah, that's just a kind of top-level overview of the Conference and the organization. And again, That's May 10-12 preconference on May the 9th. The kickoff reception really is gonna be with Molly E. Holzschlag on May the 9th, right I think at 5 Central.

Or it's 6? Five Central I believe, yeah. So, I know that, Lawrence said he was in a loud place. You can feel free to send us a question to the chat or based on what you've seen and heard today, you can just email us. we're gonna. Sharron and Jay and Elizabeth and Mariella will be available to answer any questions.

And actuallyMariella, if there's anything else you'd want to add about ways to know more about us, or spread the word of the conference.

Sharron: Before we turn it over to Mariella, can I say a couple of things about our keynote speakers, because I think we have a really spectacular lineup of keynotes this year?

I think if I was a journalist, one of the stories that to me is most interesting is the one about Molly. Molly Holzschlag was a pioneer of the Internet.

I mean, she was one of the, many, many women in tech now say they would not have had a career, they wouldn't have even thought to pursue it if it hadn't been for Molly.

She's written, I think, 30 or 35 books, but She's been very, very ill for the last about 6 years. I think she was unable to work. They weren't even certain that she would survive.

I think she had, I’m not sure of the details of her illness, but it was an immune system or blood disease, and so she was unable to work for that time. and This is her first time back in public since her illness.

she's gone back to school. She's getting a PHD. She's writing a book another book this would be, I guess number 36. and now, she's always been a strong advocate of web standards, but now she's talking about accessibility with this renewed passion of someone who has experienced the need herself.

So she's very much of an intellectual. She's a philosopher. She's a moral philosopher, and she always was aligned with accessibility as a principle. You know, we want to include everyone. Her vision of the Internet was that we include everyone.

But having had a disability experience herself personally, she has this insight that she says she never could have had without the experience that she's had over the last several years. And so I just think, in terms of writing a story, I think that would be one of the stories that would be of really strong interest for me.

And then, of course, you know, there are so many people who participate as instructors, participants, demo, people who give demos of their assistive technology.

They all have really, really compelling and great stories that really bring home the fact that technology can be transformational for people with disabilities, which we saw during Covid. You know, that if you're conducting your entire life remotely and don't have access to the remote connection tools, you're really, truly isolated in ways that maybe people who are more typically abled would be able to take advantage of.

So, I don't know. I just think there are a lot of human interest stories since we're talking to the press. So, thanks for indulging me. Take it away, Anthony

Anthony: Mariella, anything you want to share before we wrap up today.

Mariella Paulino: Absolutely. So, thank you so much for that, Sharron. I think it's so important to really highlight the stories behind the work we do, and knowing that about Molly gives me all that more excited to attend her keynote presentation, so jay, Elizabeth, Anthony, and Sharron, thank you so much for taking the time to do this press.

This is going to be recorded. So we are going to be sharing it far and wide with all of our press friends, so that they can write about this incredible event we’re putting together.

If you took the time to look at all of this and learn more about this, we're so excited to have you be a part of AccessU. One of the things that I want to let everyone know if you're watching this and you have additional questions. you could go ahead and you can email us at AccessU, so that is a-c-c-e-s-s-u at Knowbility, which is k-n-o-w-b-i-l-i-t-y dot org.

So email us at AccessU@Knowbility.org if you have any questions, and if you have any other questions related to what we do at large at Knowbility,, you can always email us at hello@knowbility.org.

I would love to open up this space, if there are any questions from our attendees in the chat, but otherwise I think we're going to just go ahead, record this, edit this, then share with our press friends.

any closing thoughts, comments from anyone? I see Jay saying no. Elizabeth says no. Anthony saying no. Sharron, any last thoughts or questions?

And with that said, If we do not have any additional questions, we'll go ahead and close up the recording. Thank you so much for making this time today and onward to a more accessible digital future with AccessU.

Alright, bye everybody! Alrighty. and we are going to stop recording.

Anthony: When we stop it’ll auto save, right?