Maximum accessibility

June 2, 2012 • Posted in blindness, technology for people who are blind, travel, Uncategorized by

Sharron RushWhitney and I just got back last night from a web design conference in Dallas — my friend Sharron Rush gave the opening keynote yesterday, and when I heard she’d worked with Google to come up with a way to award conference scholarships to people with disabilities who wanted to attend, I went ahead and applied. And won!

Sharron co-authored a book called Maximum Accessibility: Making Your Web Site More Usable for Everyone. She is director and co-founder of Knowbility, a non-profit in Austin that helps make the internet and other technologies accessible to people who are blind, visually impaired, hearing impaired, have mobility impairments and cognitive or learning disabilities. Sharron’s keynote, “The Big Umbrella of Inclusive Design,” was described in the the Big Design web site like this:

Lessons learned – and those that we are still learning – have profound impact on design effectiveness and flexibility. As we design systems for inclusion, we find that as we remove perceived barriers we also solve unanticipated problems and improve user experience for all.

Google contacted Sharron a few months ago to tell her they were pleased to see her on the program, but were disappointed the conference wasn’t focusing even more on accessibility for those of us with disabilities. Sharron brainstormed with Google, and together they came up with this scholarship idea to make the conference more affordable for people who have disabilities. I was one of a handful of Google scholars to attend, and I sure appreciated the opportunity to talk with designers there about what a difference Accessible websites have made in my life.

Thanks to the efforts of programmers and website developers who value the importance of accessibility for the blind, speech synthesis allows me to Google to do my research, I’m able to fill out online forms on my own, I flip through websites to find information about events, times, locations and on and on. All that stuff the rest of you do using your eyes and a mouse? I do that by using my ears and keyboard commands.

We Google scholars all had lunch together with the folks from Knowbility after Sharron’s presentation, and it was heartening to be around so many people with an active interest in keeping the web accessible.

One huge bonus: A young man named Jason Hester from Knowbility sat next to me at lunch. Jason is able-bodied, and when I asked what got him interested in this sort of work, he credited a favorite professor at Texas State. I knew immediately who he was talking about. Professor Neill Hadder was in my group at the Seeing Eye last December. Neill was training with his new German Shepherd Bill while I was training with Whitney!

Judy Spock On June 2, 2012 at 9:55 pm

We never know when we might affect someone’s life, OR when someone else might affect our own! Sometimes it is years later the effect is realized.

bethfinke On June 3, 2012 at 10:35 am

You are so right, Judy. And that’s one thing that motivates me to get out there and do stuff like, well, fly to Dallas for a convention. You never know who you might meet!

italianhandful On June 3, 2012 at 7:43 am

Thank you Beth, you keep opening my world, and I’m forwarding this to the young web designers I know.

bethfinke On June 3, 2012 at 10:46 am

Forwarding this sort of info on to web designers is a brilliant way to keep “accessibility” in the conversation. THANK you.

Carl On June 3, 2012 at 10:00 am

I take for granted that you rely on tools I never really think about because you are so great at using the computer…..probably better than some people I know who are not blind! Kudos to Sharron and Google and all those who realize that because of what they keep doing, people like you and me can communicate through your blog.

Alexis On June 4, 2012 at 8:27 am

It sounds like you had a great conference! I’m also a big advocate for accessible websites.

bethfinke On June 4, 2012 at 9:19 am

You know, I hope they do this Google scholar thing again next year. If they do, I’ll be sure to let you know in time to apply for a scholarship —

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