CALLING STATE AGENCIES: Join Texas AIR to Improve the Web for All!

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Knowbility is excited to announce The Texas State Agency Accessibility Internet Rally (Texas AIR), a new way for state agencies in Texas to participate in OpenAIR, THE international web accessibility competition that increases awareness of tools and techniques that make the Internet accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities, by training professional web developers and designers in accessibility standards. Kicking off in February 2018, teams of web professionals all over the world compete over eight weeks to build the most effective, impressive, and fully accessible websites for Texas and beyond.

Registration for OpenAIR via the Texas AIR track is now open, and available at no cost for all state agencies who register, thanks to the support of the Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities and the Texas Department of Information Resources.

How Does It Work?

Teams of web professionals are given eight weeks to build or improve the websites of Texas state agencies and non-profits. During the eight-week period, each team will receive accessibility training to comply with WCAG 2.0 Level AA, ADA and Section 508 standards (worth over $4,000), and be matched with a Knowbility mentor, the leading subject matter experts and trainers on website accessibility. Afterwards, teams will submit the work to the OpenAIR judging panel and the winning sites will be announced at the Awards Ceremony in May 2018, taking place during Knowbility’s AccessU Conference in Austin, Texas.

How TexasAIR is Different

For the first time since OpenAIR’s inception in 1999, Texas state agency web teams will compete in a category of their own and will be given the chance to submit a request to work on a state agency project or non-profit organization of their choosing. In addition, Texas state agency web teams will not be held to a content management system (CMS) requirement.

“The Texas Governor’s Committee is honored and pleased to sponsor The Texas State Agency Accessibility Internet Rally and would like to thank the Texas Department of Information Resources for their support of this competition. We firmly believe that this approach to training is highly effective in helping state agencies learn how to make their websites accessible to all Texans.

Competition drives excellence, and we hope that Texas state agencies will embrace the spirit of OpenAIR and assemble developer teams of all levels of expertise. We look forward to seeing novices and well-seasoned developers creating and collaborating with one another, allowing all state agency teams to embrace the true purpose of this competition: to gain and grow web accessibility skills.”

Ron Lucey
Executive Director
Texas Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities


Registration is now open, and is available at no cost for all Texas state agencies, thanks to the support of the Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities and the Texas Department of Information Resources.
Texas AIR kicks off in February 2018 as a part of our OpenAIR competition, but we encourage state agency web teams to register by the end of the year.

or contact us at if you have questions about registration.

OpenAIR’S Texas AIR Track is made possible by

Texas Governor's Committee for People with Disabilities

Knowbility Texas Department of Information Resourcesas well as TechSoup, the premiere global network for non-profits, connecting organizations with exclusive technology partners, donations, and offers.

Our Featured Volunteer: Katie Haritos-Shea

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Katie Haritos-Shea is an information and communications technology architect with Deque Systems, an accessibility products and services company. Since 2015 she has been on the board of Knowbility. She is fascinated with science and emerging technologies and with their potential to improve the lives of all, particularly people with disabilities, the under-served, and the elderly.

Based in Oakton, Virginia, near Washington, DC, Katie contributes to Knowbility’s mission in a variety of ways. In addition to serving as a board member, she represents Knowbility on the Advisory Committee of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the standards-maker for the web. She also helps at various online and in-person events like the OpenAIR accessibility competition, our annual AccessU conference, and the newly-launched Knowbility Accessibility Leadership Symposium.

In 2015, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web, appointed Katie chair of the W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative Interest Group. Before working at Deque, she worked at JP Morgan Chase where she was responsible for planning, training, and executing a firm-wide strategy for quality assurance teams to verify web and mobile accessibility. As one of the first Section 508 Coordinators for the US Federal Government, she ran Section 508 programs for various agencies for more than 10 years before working in the private sector.

In her free time, Katie loves riding motorcycles and horses. She is ferocious about interoperability on the web and its ability to support human rights around the world.

Reflections from the Inaugural Knowbility Accessibility Leadership Symposium

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The inaugural Knowbility Accessibility Leadership Symposium (KALS) took place earlier this year on May 15-16 at the Driskhill hotel in Austin, Texas. Knowbility board chair Rich Schwerdtfeger invited leaders in business, academia, and the legal profession to discuss ways to improve digital accessibility and challenges to inclusion for people with disabilities.

Disability rights lawyer and author Lainey Feingold attended the conference. Knowbility’s commitment to accessibility impressed her.

“I do a lot of speaking and I really know that the Knowbility conferences are very practical and hands-on and down to the nitty-gritty of what really needs to be done for accessibility,” Feingold said.

Among the roughly 20 attendees were Mike Shebanek, Yahoo’s Senior Director of Accessibility; Wayne Dick, emeritus computer science professor at Cal State Long Beach; and Mike Paciello, founding partner at the Paciello Group.

Kurt Mattes, Director of Accessibility at the VFO Group, emphasized that business leaders need to be given appropriate guidance to better understand the benefits of making their products accessible. Events like the leadership symposium can provide a platform for this kind of training.

“For too many years, we have focused on designer and developer,” Mattes said. “The business side does not understand the issue from an opportunity perspective because we have not given them the tools to understand.”

James Green, Senior Director of User Experience and Accessibility at Visa, liked that attention was given to innovation and creativity.

“Personally I would do it again, and my boss is much better able now to articulate accessibility to those above him (he is two reports away from the CEO of Visa),” he said. “He loved the entire thing, and I expect he would urge others to come.”

Feingold encourages more of these kinds of gatherings.

“I think any opportunity we all have to be creative with each other about it and to remind each other of why we’re doing it and talk about disabled people and their need for accessibility and the civil rights angle, the more we have an opportunity to come together and talk in that way, the better,” she said.

Knowbility Hosts Deloitte Volunteers on Impact Day

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On June 9, a dozen volunteers from Deloitte’s Austin office spent the day at Knowbility as part of Impact Day, Deloitte’s annual day of service. They were tasked with improving Knowbility’s communications strategy for the upcoming OpenAIR competition.

Saira Guthrie, Senior Consultant at Deloitte, said that she and her fellow volunteers enjoyed their day with Knowbility.

“Spending Impact Day at Knowbility was a unique, rewarding opportunity for folks from all different groups of Deloitte to come together,” Guthrie said. “I feel proud of the tangible communications plans we drafted, and hope our work helps Knowbility to keep non-profit organizations more involved and engaged throughout the OpenAIR program from start to finish.”

The 2018 OpenAIR starts this fall. Undoubtedly, Deloitte’s help with our outreach plan will make this year’s competition more enjoyable.

Jayne Cravens to Lead Nonprofit Recruitment for OpenAIR 2018

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The 2018 OpenAIR accessible internet competition is fast approaching. This year, Jayne Cravens, a communications and community engagement specialist and long-time friend of Knowbility, will lead recruitment of nonprofit organizations for the online competition.

OpenAIR, the accessible internet rally, matches nonprofit organizations that want to improve the accessibility of their websites with teams of university students knowledgeable in web accessibility. The first AIR took place in Austin, Texas in 1998. Back then, it was an in-person affair, much like a traditional hackathon. Cravens, who volunteered at the first three AIR competitions, said that the history of AIR deserves recognition.

“It’s a shame that it didn’t get credit for being a pioneering event because it was a pioneering hackathon,” Cravens said of the inaugural AIR. “It was my favorite corporate nonprofit partnership event because for the corporations, for the volunteers, they didn’t just come in for a photo opportunity. They didn’t just come in to move a sack of food from a shelf to a bag. They were working. They were really volunteering and getting something accomplished.”

In the late 1990s, having an online presence was already a big priority for businesses and nonprofit organizations. But awareness about accessibility, both in the built environment and online, wasn’t as high as it is today. Cravens has seen improvements in the level of accessibility awareness as well as growing interest among business leaders.

“We don’t have to convince anyone now if they build a building to make it accessible for people with disabilities,” she said. “We don’t have to convince them to make the doors wide for wheelchair access. We don’t have to convince them to use close captioning on a television show. And I know that it’s mandated by law, but there’s also an understanding that people want to appeal to customers and they want to get as many customers as they can.”

During the past few months, Cravens has been writing webpages with informational content for, OpenAIR’s website. Cravens, who co-authored The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook, will also lead webinars to prepare nonprofit teams for the contest. She plans to keep teams informed and motivated with frequent emails and phone calls.

“What I want to do is bring a lot of the excitement that came from the face-to-face encounters and find ways to create that excitement online,” Cravens said.

Cravens has worked with the United Nations and is a trainer, researcher, and consultant to many government initiatives and nonprofit organizations around the world. She lives near Portland, Oregon.

PM-Led Accessibility at SXSW 2018

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Vote up this panel on accessibility from a PM’s perspective!

Panel voting for South by Southwest (SXSW) 2018 is underway, and we’d love to have your support for PM-Led Accessibility: Leading Teams to Inclusion. In this panel, Robert Jolly will share his experience and advice for how interactive project and product managers can be leaders of accessible design and development teams. With accessibility baked into the process, our projects can be more innovative and inclusive!

Vote for our SXSW 2018 panel, PM-Led Accessibility

SXSW uses an interactive web application called the PanelPicker to involve the community to vote for their preferred topics and programming for the conference. The PanelPicker also allows for people to ask questions and have discussions around topics to further clarify and extend the information provided on the site. Please jump in and ask questions about this panel idea or join the discussion, and Robert will be sure to reply.

How to vote

  1. Sign in or create an account (it’s free) at
  2. Vote Up! for the PM-Led Accessibility panel.
  3. And, don’t forget to add your comments (or questions) to the discussion.

Thank you for supporting accessibility, especially in mainstream conferences like SXSW. We hope to see you there!


Accenture Labs’s Nishith Pathak joins Knowbility board

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AUSTIN, TEXAS (Aug. 9) — Nishit Pathak, Vice President and R&D Lead at Accenture Labs, will join the board of Austin-based nonprofit Knowbility. An author and two-time winner of Microsoft’s Most Valuable Professional award, Nishith’s more than 20 years of IT experience will contribute to Knowbility’s mission of ensuring equal access to digital technology for people with disabilities.

“We are very excited about Nishith’s addition to the board,” Knowbility’s Board Chairman Rich Schwerdtfeger said. “Nishith will help our efforts to expand Knowbility’s international reach, incorporate cognitive computing, and help us to grow corporate accessibility leadership.”

Based in New Delhi, Nishith has written technical books, reviews, and columns for multiple electronic and print publications. His technical expertise is in innovating, researching, and developing enterprise solutions for Fortune 100 companies. Nishith is an advisor for Microsoft’s Business Technology Platform. His research interests include artificial intelligence and machine learning as well as cognitive and cloud computing.

Nishith recently wrote an article titled “Learn AI – TheTime is Now” for Apress. He is also author of the forthcoming book Artificial Intelligence for .NET: Speech, Language, and Search: Building Smart Applications with Microsoft Cognitive Services APIs.

Nishit was born, raised, and educated in Kotdwara, India. Outside of work he enjoys spending time with his family and friends, entertaining them with his knowledge of palmistry and astrology. To learn more about Nishith, visit his LinkedIn profile at

About Knowbility

Austin’s  Knowbility, Inc. is a 20-year-old, international leader in accessible IT for people with disabilities — blind, visually impaired, deaf, mobility impaired, and other disabilities. Knowbility’s team of experts is internationally recognized for its role in creating the worldwide standard for web accessibility. Co-Founder and Executive Director Sharron Rush serves as Co-Chair of the World Wide Web Consortium’s WAI Education and Outreach Working Group. Since the first Air competition in 1998, Knowbility has provided accessible web training to hundreds of corporations, government agencies, and community-based organizations throughout the nation. Knowbility’s accessibility testing and consulting team has guided the creation of more than 1,000 accessible websites, making information accessible to the 55 million Americans with disabilities. ATSTAR, Knowbility’s professional educational initiative for assistive technology in the classroom, currently serves thousands of special education students, their teachers, and parents in four states. Our AccessWorks program employs people with disabilities as user experience testers.

Knowbility’s Eric Eggert to Present at Inclusive Design 24 2017

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Knowbility’s Eric Eggert kicks off this year’s Inclusive Design 24 tomorrow morning at 1 a.m. Eastern Time. Inclusive Design 24 is a day-long online conference organized by the Paciello Group and features live presentations on accessibility by 24 speakers.

Photo of Eric Eggert
                             Photo of Eric Eggert

Eric Eggert is a web developer and accessibility educator based in Essen, Germany. His talk, titled “ARIA Serious?” will explore the problems that result when ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications) is used incorrectly. ARIA is a technical specification introduced as part of HTML5 in 2014 that helps make dynamic web content accessible to people with disabilities.

Depending on how this nascent technique is used, sometimes developers may unintentionally introduce barriers into their products rather than improving the web.

“The promise is that ARIA makes websites more accessible, but when it’s used wrong it can go like horribly crazy,” Eggert said. “The other problem too, is many screen reader users are not used to finding widgets, like interactive ARIA widgets, on websites. SO, sometimes, although it’s technically accessible, using a simpler, more direct way to program something is a better approach.”

Eggert will offer examples of how thoughtful planning and knowledge of user preferences leads to a better web experience for all.

Eggert has been with Knowbility since April 2016 and is part of the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Education and Outreach Working Group. He’s worked for the W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative. This is his first time presenting at Inclusive Design 24.

“It’s really a pleasure to be picked as a presenter,” he said. “So that should be fun. It’s an illustrious list of names so will be really, really nice.”

The conference starts tonight at 8 p.m. Eastern and will be broadcast live on YouTube. Live captioning will be provided. Videos of all of the talks will be available for later viewing.


Knowbility Chair highlights empathy’s role to drive innovation

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Rich Schwerdtfeger giving his keynote speech during AccessU 2017 Rich Schwerdtfeger giving his keynote speech during AccessU 2017 

Knowbility’s board Chair Rich Schwerdtfeger spoke about the power of empathy to lead innovation in a keynote speech at the John Slatin AccessU 2017 conference in Austin, Texas.

Schwerdtfeger opened with a story from his early years at IBM. In 1990, when he first started working there, Windows, and its graphical user interface was beginning to replace DOS. At that time, there were no screen readers for Windows, and many in assistive technology feared what would happen if none were developed.

“People were worried about losing their jobs, not being able to go to school, not being able to send an email,” Schwerdtfeger said.

In 1993, IBM developed Screen Reader/2, which paved the way for other Windows-based screen readers.

Schwerdtfeger’s keynote focused on his role in developing Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA), a technical specification that helps make dynamic web content accessible to people with disabilities. Just as Windows’s dominance created the need for a new kind of screen reader, the rise of web applications about 15 years ago presented a barrier to equal access to the latest software. Schwerdtfeger explained how empathy served as a catalyst for solving this accessibility challenge.

“If you don’t feel for the people that you’re serving, you don’t see the problems that need to be addressed,” he said. “Once you have insight, it leads to innovation and that’s the motivation for change.”

From the beginning, Schwerdtfeger and his team decided to make their work open source. Despite Microsoft’s great market share of the browser market, IBM collaborated with Mozilla, the maker of the Firefox web browser. Schwerdtfeger’s team approached the World Wide Web Consortium, an international organization that sets standards for the Internet, shared code with other tech companies such as Google, Apple, and Oracle, and worked with vendors of assistive technology to ensure that web applications would be accessible.

By 2014, ARIA was incorporated into HTML5, many previously inaccessible websites and web applications were accessible, and developers now had a blueprint for creating accessible dynamic content. IBM’s leadership led to another milestone for accessibility.

“We broke one company’s dominance over the entire application space,” Schwerdtfeger said. “We created the first declarative accessibility API for the web. We grew the technical base of the entire accessibility community. We removed key roadblocks to the open web and ushered in new browser players that didn’t exist.”

Schwerdtfeger closed by outlining his current interest in making accessible technology for people with cognitive disabilities. He noted that as the aging population increases, the need for assistive technology aimed at older users will grow. He encouraged his audience to learn from the examples set by past leaders in accessibility and to use empathy to bring forth leadership that improves the world.

“Real leadership starts with empathy,” He said. “The leaders today need to change how they view accessibility. It’s time to go back to how we used to do this. Those that you aspire to be have already made the change.”

Schwerdtfeger has been Board Chair of Knowbility since 2013. He was the Chief Technology Officer of Accessibility for IBM and retired in 2016.


Conquering the accessible Rubik’s Cube

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We asked visitors to our booth to attempt solving the puzzle while wearing a blindfold. A teacher named Christy Smith solved it in 15 minutes at the Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA) conference. At SXSWedu, high school student Matthew Hebrado did it in 25 minutes. Still not impressed? At SXSW, 12-year-old Atticus Adair pulled it off in 20 minutes!

Watch Christy Smith solve the accessible Rubik’s Cube here:

Watch Matthew Hebrado take on the challenge here: