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AccessWorks interns join the blogroll

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As part of a project called AccessWorks, Knowbility has hired people with disabilities to perform web site accessibility assessment, research employment related topics on the web, and to blog about their experiences.  While our interns have found a great deal of documentation out there about  barriers to accessing information online, much less is available about producing content and successfully posting to the web.  Expect to hear from them about that and other related topics.

John Slatin Accessibility Fund Project

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Andrew Kirkpatrick from Adobe had a brilliant idea for doing two good things at once. He wanted to honor John Slatin’s memory by spreading the accessibility gospel and to help Anna, John’s best beloved meet the enormous expenses they incurred through John’s illness. Andrew came up with the John Slatin Accessibility Fund. Here is his blurb about it:

“The John Slatin Fund Accessibility Project matches accessibility experts with companies that would like a brief review of their site for accessibility. In return, the site owner is asked to contribute a minimum of $500 to The John Slatin Fund. The John Slatin Fund was established to help John’s beloved Anna offset the medical expenses incurred during John’s long illness. The goal of this project is to raise $25,000 for that purpose. Learn about the project and sign up..”

Among the great things about Andrew’s idea is the fact that it allows small companies and private practices – like law firms, doctor’s offices, dental clinics and such – entry into accessibility assessment at price so low it will encourage people who might not otherwise have taken such a step.  And it helps Anna, who said she had not planned a memorial or planned for life after John because she was so consumed with his recovery.  Read his blog, The Leukemia Letters for the story of John’s last three years, with Anna his “warrior-fairy” always at his side.

John Meyer Slatin (1952 -2008)

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I am stunned by the passing of John Slatin, beloved colleague and mentor to me and so many others. John died on March 24th, 2008 of leukemia and left family, friends and colleagues devastated by the loss. Despite his long illness, we continued to believe that he would remain among us as a teacher, a pathfinder and a warm and witty friend.

John was an incredibly accomplished accessibility expert and was known to many for those skills. But he was also a poet, a writer, an art and music lover with a deep and abiding appreciation of the humanities. John was a visionary who understood, not only how technology could contribute to the humanities, but especially how the humanities could save technology itself from being a mechanistic vehicle for cataloging “information.” Long before he became blind, John was exploring ways in which narrative experience could and would be transformed by new media. As Peg Syverson said at John’s memorial service on Sunday, John did not just see the future, he brought the future into being. Peg’s remembrance of John’s work with her and others in the English Department at the University of Texas’ Computer Writing and Research Lab was exciting to hear and reminded us that his accessibility work was an organic outgrowth of John’s interest in the expression of human experience – all human experience.

More reflections on SXSW and accessibility

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There were more accessibility panels, and mentions of accessibility in other presentations than at any other time that I recall. Susan Gerhart is a software engineer who was at SXSW for the first time as a panelist. She has lost her sight to eye disease over the past several years and is living in a city, Prescott AZ, that is not rich in support as she adjusts to the new world she lives in. Blogging at As Your World Changes, her observations are astute.

Shawn Henry introduced accessibility basics in an engaging and thorough overview, although when she mentioned that John Slatin had been scheduled to present with her, many in the audience felt the pang of his absence due to his ongoing health issues.

Several folks told me that Becky Gibson’s accessible Dojo demonstration was the highlight of the panel presentations because of its strong, usable content. We have really turned a corner as we see accessibility increasingly folded into basic development technique, and the ARIA techniques and Dojo toolkit that Becky demonstrated are great support for that effort.

I missed a few of the other accessibility panels while preparing to welcome Marta del Rio and Javier Hernandez, representatives from the University of Monterrey and the government of Nuevo Leon. They had come to SXSW for the first time to talk about the creation of the Mexican Manifesto for Accessibility and Usability, scheduled for Tuesday – right up against the keynote. But there was a surprisingly large crowd of people interested in how the Mexican government was incorporating accessibility, usability and citizen language into communications between the people government agencies. Speaking in Spanish with real time translation, Marta and Javier spoke about the need for transparency and ease of navigation from one level of government to the next across a broad range of devices, bandwidth and literacy. Ending with a tequila toast for the success of the Manifesto, it was a fascinating presentation.

What was I thinking?

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Kelsey Ruger convinced me that Knowbility needed to blog as a way to participate in and share all the great momentum around accessibility these days. But to start a blog during SXSW was one of the least thought-through things I have done in a while. Sooooo much is happening and time to write about it is a challenge…but here is a quick tour of the last few days…

Friday, my panelists arrived and I got to meet these great women in person…Susan Gerhart, Lisa Papas and Becky Gibson met at the Knowbility office and we spent a few hours going over the content for the “Accessible Rich Media” panel that we would deliver the next morning. Our approach was to set up the problems by having Susan demonstrate barriers (she is a software engineer who has become increasingly visually impaired). Then Lisa Pappas of SAS would take us through a look at testing tools and the approach industry has taken through the collaborative work of the Accessible Rich Media Initiative (ARIA), recently adopted by the W3C’s WAI . Finish up with Becky Gibson’s code-slinging demonstration of the Dojo toolkit and their support of WAI-ARIA and we will have packed the hour with as much of an overview as possible. Turned out great, except for the timing. Each of the panelists has so much great info to share, we had no time for questions and so followed up with others excited about accessible rich media at the Knowbility on the trade show floor. Podcasts will be available soon and we will post here.

Gez Lemon hosted a Core Conversation – Get Rich, Stay Accessible – on Sunday around the same concerns. It was well attended and sparked great exchanges that will be useful in the days/months/year to come. A central concern is that accessibility should not stifle innovation. Developers who care about accessibility may still want to use cool Javascripting, AJAX, and DHTML widgets and other applications. One of the issues that came up during the conversation was the fact that the WaSPs initially rejected much of the ARIA work as unacceptable hacks. But that seems to have changed, as this WAI-ARIA article by Martin Kliehm WaSP member and co-host of the SXSW conversation, indicates.

Phew!

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Feeling like we’ve completed a marathon, Knowbility staff is reviewing the wonderful experiences of SXSW Interactive and CSUN Assistive Technology conferences. Will post reflections and panel followup, so please check in.

Knowbility Twitter Updates for 2008-03-09

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  • Be sure to stop by the booth at the trade show today at noon. Can’t miss us we are right in the front. #
  • If you get a chance be sure to checkout @feather ‘s "Everything I know about Accessibility I learned from Star Wars" panel at 11:30. #
  • Core Conversations: How Accessible Should Your Site Be? at 3:30 today with @jeffbeckham. #

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Knowbility Gets a Blog!

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After ten years of evangelizing, training, and developing community around the critical notion that technology should be designed to be available and usable by everyone, Knowbility has invited several members of our community to weigh in on the current state of technology inclusion.

How is the industry doing? Are we nearer to reaching accessibility goals? What are the critical issues facing our field? Now that we have the attention of government agencies, how do we get the standards to actually be, well, um….enforced?

These and many other questions, comments and ideas around the happy notion of accessible technology will be explored on this blog. Welcome!