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:

M-Enabling Summit

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The M-Enabling Summit is fast approaching! The sixth meeting of this global conference will be on June 13-14 at the Renaissance Arlington Capital View hotel in Arlington, Virginia. This year’s theme is “Making Connected Things and Services Accessible for All.” With more than 30 sessions on topics ranging from the role of artificial intelligence in accessibility to accessibility in higher education, this conference will provide many opportunities for professional growth.

On the evening of June 13, the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai will present the FCC’s Awards for Advancement in Accessibility. In 2015, Knowbility received a Chairman’s Award in the miscellaneous category for its Open Accessible Internet Rally (Open AIR). Open AIR is a competition in which teams of developers are partnered with accessibility experts as they work towards improving the accessibility of the websites of nonprofit organizations.

The M-Enabling Summit is organized by the Global Initiative for Inclusive Information Communications Technologies (G3ict) and E.J. Krause and Associates (EJK) and aims to expand accessibility for senior citizens and people with disabilities. Knowbility is a supporting organization of the summit. The conference will be preceded by a pre-conference session on June 12 organized by the International Association of Accessibility Professionals.

Global Accessibility Awareness Day is May 18

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With the growing prevalence of digital technology in daily life, the need for accessible hardware and software has never been greater. Awareness of the need for accessibility is on the rise, too. There’s even a day dedicated to the subject. The sixth annual Global Accessibility Awareness Day is May 18, 2017. On this day, designers, developers, usability experts, and others in the tech community will join meetups around the world to learn about the importance of creating technology that is accessible to all.

The idea of having a day dedicated to promoting accessibility around the world came from Joe Devon, a Los Angeles-based tech entrepreneur. In November 2011, he wrote a blog post on his website in which he expressed his frustration with the lack of attention given to digital accessibility. He suggested the creation of a day in which developers would test webpages for accessibility problems with an accessibility tool. They would then blog about their experience improving the accessibility of their work. 

Reflecting in 2014 on that original post, Devon noted that witnessing his father encounter problems with an inaccessible bank website motivated him to generate more awareness about web accessibility. His father couldn’t see or hear well, and adjusting the color scheme on his browser was no longer helping. Motivated by his desire to improve his father’s experience with the web, Devon wrote his initial post hoping that others in tech would empathize with him.

“So many of us in this profession work so hard to get things right, yet we are failing people who need us the most. People we might love. So I issued a call to action. At first to web developers, to learn about accessibility and make it part of our workflow. All I expected was to be ignored, like most of my posts.” Accessibility Camp Los Angeles: Towards an Accessible Web
— Joe Devon, Diamond website, November 19, 2014

But Devon’s idea wasn’t ignored. That same day, Jennison Asuncion, an accessibility consultant then living in Toronto, responded with a message of support. Together they co-founded GAAD and the first annual Global Accessibility Awareness Day took place on May 9, 2012.

Starting in 2015, Global Accessibility Awareness Day is celebrated on the third Thursday of May. This year, events are scheduled across the United States and around the world. In Austin, Texas, Knowbility partnered with Environments for Humans to host the AccessU Summit, a virtual accessibility conference and a Happy Hour pub-crawl to finish off the day. Click here to learn more about the AccessU Summit.


Jayne Schurick – May 2017 Featured Volunteer

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As a freelance usability researcher, Jayne Schurick works for companies including Pearson, Mile7, and HomeAway. Schurick has been connected with Knowbility for more than 10 years.

It all started in December of 2006, when Schurick was living in Austin, Texas, and wanted to learn about accessibility. She met for lunch with Jim Thatcher, a computer scientist and prominent leader in digital accessibility, and he encouraged her to meet Sharron Rush, Knowbility’s Executive Director. Knowbility’s Christmas party was scheduled that same evening, and Schurick decided to stop by.

A few years later, in 2011, Schurick stepped in to help organize Knowbility’s annual John Slatin AccessU conference. Experts from around the world gather in Austin to teach courses on topics ranging from accessible social media to user experience design. The conference is held every May, but Schurick starts preparing the previous September. She works closely with Knowbility and St. Edwards University, which hosts the conference.

“John Slatin AccessU has become the go-to place for people to acquire the practical skills they need to strengthen their accessibility practice,” Sharron Rush, Executive Director of Knowbility said. “Jayne’s selection of instructors, choice of themes, and curation of class content is a large part of why this is so. I can’t imagine doing this without her.”

Volunteering for Knowbility lets Schurick fulfill her wish to help others.

“I love the work, I love Knowbility,” she said. “I love Knowbility’s mission. I like everybody that I meet in the community. I like helping Knowbility in every way that I can.”

Besides playing a critical role in setting up AccessU, Schurick helped launch and maintains Access Works, a platform that connects people with disabilities with companies looking for usability testers with disabilities. Companies pay Access Works to host their usability tests. At the same time, testers are paid for their time and feedback.

“There’s a real need for that program,” Schurick said of Access Works. “I want to see it happen. I want to see it come to fruition.”

Schurick has a master’s degree in psychology from Cal State Northridge and completed graduate work in industrial engineering at Virginia Tech. She lives with her husband, dog Luna, cats Elliot and Smokey, and four chickens in the Santa Cruz Mountains near San Francisco.

Introducing Anthony Vasquez

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My name is Anthony Vasquez and I’m Knowbility’s latest hire. In my role as communications specialist, I’ll use this blog to post about Knowbility events, interview our experts and leaders in the digital accessibility community, and share my thoughts on trends in assistive technology. Read on to learn a bit about me and my experience with digital accessibility.

 In 2014, Wayne Dick, Cal State Long Beach computer science professor emeritus,  recruited me to conduct accessibility testing for Knowbility. I worked as a contractor for a little more than two years. Now, I hope to play a larger role in the organization contributing news and information about digital accessibility, highlighting upcoming events, and showcasing the work of our experts and others striving to improve equal access to technology, information, and inclusion.

 In 2006, when I was a sophomore at Cal State Long Beach, I became the first blind American to study Mandarin at the college level. Disabled Student Services and the school’s Language Lab worked together to ensure I had braille versions of my Chinese textbooks and course materials in an accessible digital format. I also used specialized software to access Chinese electronic documents. Since then, technology has advanced greatly, and screen readers like Freedom Scientific’s JAWS and Apple’s VoiceOver now provide Chinese speech.

 I have a master’s degree in East Asian Studies from Stanford University and bachelor’s degrees in journalism and Chinese studies from Long Beach State. I live in Southern California and enjoy hiking, exploring new restaurants, and traveling.

 If you’re interested in being interviewed for Knowbility’s blog, email me at This May, I’ll be in Austin, Texas for Knowbility’s AccessU 2017 conference. If you plan to attend, feel free to introduce yourself in person.

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”