Thoughts for our 18th year

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Knowbility was incorporated in Feb of 1999 – that makes us 18 years old this month. Much has changed since we dedicated ourselves to the mission of ensuring equal access to technology for people with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act was only nine years old. Inspired by the civil rights movement of the African-American community, people with disabilities fought for and won recognition for equal opportunity to participate in modern life. In 1999 it was still unclear how the ADA, signed into law by the first President Bush, would apply to the Internet technologies that were transforming the lives of all citizens. But our community clearly understood the great promise technology advances held for those with disability and worked hard for full inclusion. Knowbility’s advocacy work has been supported and sustained by that promise.

Archival photograph from Smithsonian exhibit on the history of the ADA. Veterans in wheelchairs gathered at a bus station. One has a sign on the back saying “I can’t even get to the back of the bus”

Archival photograph from Smithsonian exhibit on the history of the ADA. Veterans in wheelchairs gathered at a bus station. One has a sign on the back saying “I can’t even get to the back of the bus.”

Our federal, state, and local governments – reminded from time to time by citizen action – increasingly recognize that access to information technology is a civil right in the modern world. We have seen and been part of growing opportunity for people with disabilities to succeed as students, as productive employees, and as full participants in the social and political life of our nation.

The work is far from done however. As we start our 19th year, we take strength from what our community has accomplished – please read the following stories of some of those accomplishments by our staff and community colleagues. We also look forward as well to what comes next. In May, we will convene a group of leaders to consider those questions. Knowbility continues to offer training for web professionals, teacher training for assistive technology in K12 schools, earning opportunities for people with disabilities, and community programs in support of digital access.

On a national level, the US federal government has finalized the revised Section 508 regulations but other actions are less supportive. We may see a renewed challenge to the provision of equal treatment under the law. It is not reassuring that the White House has removed disability information about federal policy regarding people with disabilities, including technology policies, from its web site. In addition, a Department of Education website explaining the rights of students under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) disappeared and was only restored after great public outcry. The confirmation of the Education Secretary was rockiest around the issue of the rights of students with disabilities and advocates are closely watching policy development. We also watched with dismay the confirmation of an Attorney General opposed to the inclusion of students with disabilities, who claims that such a policy has led to the “decline in civility and discipline in classrooms all over America.”

The ADA has increased the visibility of people with disabilities. It also has led to the reshaping of the physical environment and vastly improved communications access. The world is better because of it and we won’t go back. It is becoming clear that in order to go forward with success, we must rededicate ourselves to the notion that people with disabilities – regardless of age, social status, or physical location – have the same rights as all other citizens.  In the 21st Century that includes the right to equal access to information technology in schools, in commerce, in employment, and in all aspects of life. Knowbility is proud to be doing this work in the company of such dedicated, brilliant, and tireless colleagues and advocates, including you reading this here, today.

Thanks for all you do.


Section 508 Refreshed. Now What?

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On January 18, 2017, Section 508 was officially “refreshed” by U.S. Access Board. This was a long-awaited and frustratingly delayed update to regulations aimed at improving accessibility in both physical and technology landscapes.  For this post, we’ll be focused on the web and technology-specific rules of Section 508.

A very brief history of Section 508

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 has had accessibility rules in place covering Information and Computer Technology (ICT) since 2000. The U.S. Access Board started working on this refresh in 2008 and issued notices of proposed rulemaking in 2010 and 2011, with the actual proposal being made in 2015. Compliance with the new rules is required for all U.S. government sites on January 18, 2018. That is one year from publishing but after nearly 10 years of work to update the original set of rules—17 years after the first ICT rules were introduced.

What’s in the refresh for government websites?

Essentially, the refresh updates Section 508 accessibility requirements for U.S. government websites to meet WCAG 2.0 Level A and AA guidelines. The WCAG 2.0 guidelines are more explicit than the original Section 508 rules even though they were published in 2007. Having the WCAG 2.0 guidelines incorporated “by reference” is important in that the Access Board has chosen—wisely, many might add—to use internationally-accepted guidelines developed by consensus from a broad representation of member organizations.

The original set of Section 508 requirements did overlap with some of WCAG 2.0, but they now get extended to help more people with varied and different needs. For a comparison of requirements between pre-refresh Section 508 rules and WCAG 2.0 guidelines, the U.S. Access Board published a handy Comparison Table of WCAG 2.0 to Existing 508 Standards.

Does this change Knowbility’s approach to work?

Knowbility has been using WCAG 2.0 guidelines in all of our work, so this update doesn’t materially change our approach to the work we perform. In fact, Knowbility is a member of the W3C and is an active participant in the W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative. What this means is that our dedication to current and future international accessibility standards translates into our education programs and client-facing services. As WCAG 2.1 is emerging, Knowbility will be at the forefront helping designers and developers understand and apply this knowledge to make their work more accessible for all.

How will politics and changing policies affect Section 508?

Trump issued a regulatory freeze after assuming the Office of the President. Uncertainty and speculation ahead of that order may be why the Access Board issued the final rule just ahead of Trump’s inauguration.  Questions we all have include: How can we expect that to impact the implementation of the refresh? Will enforcement activities for accessibility cases be deprioritized under the new administration?
Our hope is that people with careers in the federal government, along with the judiciary branch, will continue to foster the idea that all people are created equal. Accessibility and equal access to technology are essential in today’s world. We’re counting on that to continue from those that work for all of us in our government.

What’s next?

This update to Section 508 was sorely needed and is certainly a step in the right direction. With WCAG 2.1 guidelines emerging soon, we will need to see a more responsive approach to updating Section 508 to keep up. 17 years is too long to wait.

Anne Forrest’s story with Knowbility

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I first heard about the great work that Knowbility does through John Slatin, PhD, Sharron’s former co-author on cognitive disability, who was working at the University of Texas Institute of Technology of Learning.

I am a PhD economist and was working for a think tank in DC on economy/ environment issues. In June 1997, I had a concussion/traumatic brain injury in a car accident. I sought medical care and as I tried to return to work, I wasn’t successful because I couldn’t read, the computer affected my sleep/wake issues, and I couldn’t manage my daily life. I was treated for headaches (but no cognitive therapy) and was told I had a limited window of recovery.

On the advice of a doctor, I turned off electronics and did my best to find my way to rehabilitation which was a slow process.  Most of my doctors were telling me I would have limited time for my brain to get better. Continue reading “Anne Forrest’s story with Knowbility”

19th Annual OpenAIR winners announced

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Knowbility concluded its 19th Annual OpenAIR Competition last Thursday with an awards ceremony and celebration at the Sterling Events Center in Austin. This year the competition added a higher education competition in addition to the industry professional track. Teams were provided accessibility training, access to some of the best accessibility mentors in the world and were given access to IBM’s leading edge accessibility testing tool, the Dynamic Assessment Plugin (DAP).

The newly formed higher education track included teams from Huston-Tillotson, the University of Texas at Austin, Cal State University Long Beach, University of Central Florida, University of Michigan, and Manchester Metropolitan University. The goal of the initiative was to provide students of web design with principles for accessible design from experts in the field, as well as the real-world experience that comes with working with a professional client. Continue reading “19th Annual OpenAIR winners announced”

2016 Knowbility Year End Donation Drive

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This season we hope you will consider supporting Knowbility with a year-end gift to support accessible technology that gives millions of people with disabilities improved access to economic, educational and social opportunities.

Ensuring that everyone can learn, secure a job, and be independent despite an impairment or disability is not only our mission, but our passion. Life is busy. We’re all busier as we’re all more connected than ever. Schools are increasingly moving away from traditional schoolbooks, most businesses are now computerized and government agencies are conducting day-to-day business online. The digital world is a requirement to function in daily life.

Your tax deductible gift is meaningful to you will help continue to bring accessibility to the forefront. We know that together we can create universal access and independence.
For any gift over $500 you will receive an accessible rubik’s cube!

Knowbility Donation

2016 Year End Drive – Knowbility Donations


The Future of Digital Accessibility

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Hard work and persistent advocacy have built significant momentum in achieving equal access for people with disabilities to digital opportunities in employment, education, and social interactions. While there is much still to be done, accessibility-focused legislation has spurred progress  in industries such as healthcare, travel, and education. The result is increased awareness and implementation of digital accessibility on a much larger scale. Even if the Department of Justice ceases to enforce the mandates that encouraged these industries to pay attention to digital accessibility, the need for inclusion will not go away, nor will those people who fought for the protections in the first place.

Legislation isn’t the only area digital accessibility has gained a significant foothold. You would be hard-pressed to find a web design and development conference that didn’t include topics of accessibility, if not place it front and center. Usability professionals and the digital design community
Continue reading “The Future of Digital Accessibility”

Empathetic Leadership Opens Doors

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Board Chairman Rich Schwerdtfeger will lead Knowbility’s first Accessibility Leadership Symposium in May of 2017. The Symposium aims to address the rapidly changing landscape of digital communications by providing global leaders and executives in accessibility with an opportunity to exchange tactics, discuss challenges, and work on solutions in a collaborative setting.

On that note, creating an interactive, discussion-based environment is a top priority for Rich and the organizers of the Symposium.

“We’re not necessarily going to have a few experts dictate to people on how you should do things,” Rich said. “Instead, one of the things the conference is going to do is bring accessibility leaders from all over the world to share their experiences and input on how they address some of the key issues in accessibility. We want to learn from each other and build an expanded network of executives that work together to solve problems, hopefully making the whole accessibility process a lot easier.”
Continue reading “Empathetic Leadership Opens Doors”

Inclusion and accessibility at the Code for America Summit

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Last week I was fortunate to attend the Code for America Summit in Oakland where civic-minded technologists, government innovators, and entrepreneurs in the civic space gathered. Representing Knowbility, my aim was to connect with others to learn and share ideas around accessibility and inclusion for delivering government content and services to the widest audience possible. What I experienced was that and so much more.

On the first day of the two-day conference, Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Microsoft’s Chief Accessibility Officer, gave a thoughtful and passionate main stage talk titled: Accessibility in the modern world. In the digital accessibility community, we’re all aware of Microsoft’s work on inclusive, accessible experiences. But, it was truly enlightening to hear how she framed their company’s approach and the benefits they realized by doing so. She said: “We found a new way of working by hiring people with disabilities and building inclusive environments for all.” Their workforce diversity allows them to think of everyone as they design and develop, making products that are accessible and leaving no one behind.
Continue reading “Inclusion and accessibility at the Code for America Summit”

Accessibility Club #4 and BeyondTellerrand in Berlin

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I had the pleasure of traveling to Berlin recently for two events:  The one-day Accessibility Club on November 7 and and one of the two days of the BeyondTellerrand conference on November 8.

Accessibility Club

Karl Groves started his European Tour by kicking off Accessibility Club, organized by Joschi Kuphal of Tollwerk and Stefan Judis of Contentful. In his talk, Karl outlined the history of (semi-)automated accessibility testing: From Bobby to his own project

His main point was that accessibility tools are often not compatible to modern web development workflows, like using project boilerplates, templating, frameworks, versioning, unit testing, and deployment.

Accessibility testing needs to be integrated into the workflow and not be separated – else, it always lags behind. Karl then showed how testing can be integrated in common tools, like Grunt and git, in his examples using
Continue reading “Accessibility Club #4 and BeyondTellerrand in Berlin”