Open letter on future of web accessibility from Rich Schwerdtfeger

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Dear colleagues in digital accessibility,

We are at a critical juncture in the in the accessibility field today. More pressure than at any previous time has been placed on businesses world-wide to deliver accessible Information and communications technology (ICT). The great recession has forced people with disabilities to take action to pressure  governments and legal systems world-wide to establish policy to protect their rights to access ICT and be gainfully employed. In the past six years we have seen the adoption of WCAG2 AA, the web accessibility compliance criteria referenced by Australia, Korea, New Zealand, the Canadian Look and Feel, and the ADA. It will also be harmonized with a whole set of new requirements in the U.S. 508 refresh and EU Mandate 376. We have seen the enforcement of the CVAA in the U.S. and we have seen the ratification of U.N. Convention in over 140 countries setting the stage for public policy. There are other examples as we know but this comes at a time when we are fast approaching the loss of a generation of accessibility professionals that grew up in the assistive technology business and will eventually be exiting the job market. These people know how assistive technologies work. They know how platform infrastructures work and how ATs use it. With that knowledge and credibility they know how to drive change. What will happen when they are gone?

It is abundantly clear, I believe to all of us, that with the industry pressures to produce accessible ICT that we are going to have a shortage of knowledgeable, skilled accessibility professionals. This is why many have joined the IAAP – to help create curriculum and standardized education. However, we all know that this is only as good as the teacher and in our industry a qualified teacher of our craft must be passionate and focus not just on compliance but the usability of the solution. That requires education from a qualified, passionate teaching organization to put that course material together and deliver it in a way that will energize a new generation of accessibility professionals – that organization is Knowbility.

I joined Knowbility’s board a little over a year ago. In my mind they represent the best teaching organization of the accessibility craft. The people who have come out of Knowbility – either directly, through participation in Open AIR and AccessU or indirectly by hearing Knowbility presentations at conferences – come out motivated, invigorated, and driven. Knowbility is also a non-profit organization whose primary purpose is teaching accessibility. Yes, they do accessibility consulting engagements but it is for the purpose of producing accessibility education and supporting community programs and advocacy. Unfortunately, AccessU and Open AIR do not scale to the global scope currently needed.

This is why we have set out to build an LMS system to capture the necessary education and dispense it to organizations to build the skills to produce accessible IT, learn how to use web accessibility testing tools and countless assistive technology software. Some of the tools I use include IBM’s Policy Tester of course but I have learned to use others like Deque WorldSpace, JAWS, VoiceOver, Assistive Touch, TalkBack and other Android AT and voice recognition in order to understand how code interacts with them. Many of you reading this probably use still other tools and we need a wide range of training to produce reliable test results.  We need to teach how platform infrastructure can enable products to work with these tools to deliver a rich user experience to those with varied abilities. More importantly, we need to use an online resource for our community to collectively build the next generation of accessibility leaders. I would also like to see Knowbility produce IAAP certified education as well since Knowbility has a vast experience in teaching  accessibility and inspiring excellence, not just competence.

When industry leaders created ARIA and drove its adoption and standardization, we did not ask people to pay for it. We filed no patents on it. We made all our code contributions open source. This was a multi-million dollar investment for which many of you have benefited and for which we raised the bar for what it meant to be accessible. To build this online education system we need to give back too. Knowbility’s resources are limited, but they have identified a great matching opportunity if they can demonstrate community support for the concept.

Please donate to this effort and lets help create the next generation of accessibility professionals. Join our IndieGoGo campaign and urge others to join as well. The future of accessibility relies on greater understanding and improved skills.  Thank you!

Best,
Rich

Rich Schwerdtfeger

7 thoughts on “Open letter on future of web accessibility from Rich Schwerdtfeger”

  1. If this is supposed to be an open project, then why does the proposed curriculum favor particular vendor tools such as Deque’s Worldspace?

  2. Hi Sam,

    I just was giving an example. It was not meant to favor one vendors product over another. I apologize if you felt was was giving favoritism. We will look at open source accessibility test tools as well such as the Firefox accessibility test tool from the University of Illinois. I think you will agree that proprietary vendors would not be happy if we only looked at open source tools. There is no win here so that is why I just gave examples of products people would be familiar with. I did not provide an exhaustive list.

    Best,
    Rich

  3. To echo Sam’s comment: The proposed curriculum makes mention of only one accessibility testing tool which therefore appears to indicate that only one will be discussed. This makes it difficult to support such a project.

  4. Well, Karl it says tools “like” were you wanting me to place a link to every possible accessibility related tool, both open and closed?

    Second are you really not going to support such an effort because I did not do that?

    There is no way to please everyone. For example, I did not mention Window Eyes. So does that mean that AI Squared should not donate?

    Knowbility has been doing much of their work gratis or for a dramatically reduced cost for years. Sharron Rush volunteers to run the accessibility track at SXSW too. Sorry guys, but I think you are being persnickety.

    I will also tell you that the reality is if you go to a customer the are going to want you to be able to use that they can buy off the shelf and that are supported by a real company in many cases. It does not have to be Deque WorldSpace but I can tell you that they will have third party supported tools.

    The intent was to cover a range of tools and not to favoritism over one. I wills see if we can edit the blog entry but as I said we cannot keep you all happy.

  5. It certainly isn’t necessary to list all tools, and I never stated or implied that you should have. Actually, not mentioning any specific tool would have been just fine, too.

  6. Hi all,

    Sorry for the confusion and we made a quick edit to clarify. It’s funny that vendor neutrality would become the issue here becasue, much like AccessU our intent is to create an LMS with maximum possible accessibility and to make the tool as open and available to all credible teachers as we possibly can.

    Just as our annual AccessU conference hosts expert teachers from many companies who compete in the marketplace of accessibility consulting, we strongly believe in sharing the podium with people who practice web accessibility and are willing to share what they know.

    As Rich described the landscape, there is plenty of work and not nearly enough trained people around to do it. Deque has been an active participant and sponsor for many of our community programs and so they came first to mind I suppose but truly the intent was not to privilege one over another.

    And Sam, if you are not able to donate at this time, please think about other ways to get to know us better. We are actively recruiting for community advisors for other programs that teach accessibility Learn more and sign up here: http://www.knowbility.org/v/volunteer-contact/opportunity/3b/

    Thanks for your comments,
    Sharron

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