This episode is a recording of a July 2023 WordPress Accessibility Meetup where a panel of guest speakers talk about AIR — the Accessibility Internet Rally. If you would like to watch a video recording from the meetup, you may do so on the Equalize Digital website here: Panel Discussion on Knowbility’s Accessibility Internet Rally.
WordPress Accessibility Meetups take place via Zoom webinars twice a month, and anyone can attend. Learn more about WordPress Accessibility Meetup and see upcoming events.
Mentioned in This Episode
>> CHRIS HINDS: Welcome to Episode 029 of the Accessibility Craft Podcast, where we explore the art of creating accessible websites while trying out interesting craft beverages. This podcast is brought to you by the team at Equalize Digital, a WordPress accessibility company and the proud creators of the Accessibility Checker plugin.
This episode is a recording of a July 2023 WordPress Accessibility Meetup where a panel of guest speakers talk about AIR — the Accessibility Internet Rally. WordPress Accessibility Meetups take place via Zoom webinars twice a month, and anyone can attend. For show notes, a full transcript, and additional information about meetups, go to AccessibilityCraft.com/029.
And now, on to the show.
>> AMBER HINDS: We have some wonderful panelists. I’m going to probably let them introduce themselves, but I’m really excited today to have Sharron Rush, who’s the co-founder and executive director of Knowbility, a nonprofit that is based in Austin, Texas, that focuses on website accessibility. We also have Adrienne Grace, who is a partner at Vim & Vigor; and MJ Jawili, who’s an accessibility specialist currently working as an accessibility product manager at Adobe.
So let me stop sharing my screen, and I think we’re going to start and hand things off to Sharron first. So I’ve got you with the spotlight, and I’m probably going to hide myself here in just a little bit, but we will be watching the Q&A, so if you have any questions, feel free to post those in.
>> SHARRON RUSH: Amber, thank you. This is very exciting to me, and I’m just thrilled that PAOLA invited me, and to be here with Adrienne and Marianne, who are two veterans of AIR. So my plan was just to kind of give a brief overview. I have about ten slides just to let people know a little bit about what AIR is and our history. So that when Adrienne and Marianne start talking about what they’ve done.., and I think Paolo has some questions for us, and we’ll start the conversation.
So my plan really is just to go through these quickly, give a little context, and then just start the conversation. I will share my screen and start mine from the beginning, not from the end.
Can you see those yet? Do you see the slides?
>> PAOLA GONZALEZ: Yes.
>> SHARRON: OK. All right, great. So thanks again for having me. This is very exciting. I love the fact that we’re talking to WordPress advocates, because what happens at AIR is mostly WordPress these days. They’re almost all WordPress sites, so this is really a great audience.
As Amber said, I’m co-founder and executive director of Knowbility. We’re a nonprofit organization based in Austin, Texas. This is a picture of our team. Prior to COVID, we’ve had a little bit of turnover, but this is the general makeup, and for those of you who may not be watching or don’t see the screen, it’s a diverse group of about 15 people; some in wheelchairs, people of all abilities, multiethnic men and women. We’re a pretty diverse group that’s dedicated, experienced, and stakeholder-driven. Absolutely always stakeholder-driven. We like to elevate the voices of the people we serve.
We’re a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. We were founded in 1999 in Austin, Texas, but this program that I’m going to talk about, the AIR program, actually started even before we were Knowbility. It was a community collaboration when I was working for Easterseals in Central Texas. So AIR is even older than Knowbility. We serve the global mission of accessibility. Our mission is to create an inclusive digital world for people with disabilities.
I think sometimes people wonder, because we’re a nonprofit advocacy organization, but we have three sets of services; awareness, of course, which the Accessibility Internet Rally is very much a part of. We do quite a bit in the education space where we have an annual AccessU Conference, which, when we were gathered before we started the public broadcast, Amber had some very kind words to say about this year’s AccessU Conference. We hold that every May in Austin at St. Edwards, and we also provide services to K12 Schools, and then we have this advisory wing where we do corporate training, accessibility audits, and usability for industry. So for a very small group, we get around a lot. We like to say we’re small but mighty.
Our position on accessibility, you know, of course, there’s the legal definition, and there’s often just a lot of thunder and lightning around the legal mandates, and we respect and value that, and we’re glad that those law laws are in place, but for Knowbility, we tend to approach this as a creative challenge. Accessibility means inclusion, right? And you want everyone to be able to have the same experience as online and to be able to get the same information. So we base a lot of what we do on the four principles that are outlined in the WCAG guidelines, and this little illustration that’s here is sort of a cartoon illustration of those principles of perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.
Perceivably, you see a fellow with dark glasses and you make the assumption that he’s blind, and yet the bullet above him says, “I can perceive it, even if I don’t see in the way that other people see. You provide a way for me to perceive the content of whatever the digital application is. I can use it,” and I like this illustration because it’s a guy with his arm in a sling. It’s a temporary disability, and I think it’s really helpful for us to remind people that, yes, we’re serving people with disabilities, but all of us have disabilities at some time in our lives, whether it’s due to injury or illness or just the glare of the sun on our mobile screens. So I think that’s a good reminder.
The third little illustration is a woman with a light bulb coming out of her head, and it says, “I can grasp it.” And it’s about being able to make content that’s understandable to people, whatever their cognitive abilities or disabilities or differences in the way that they perceive and process information is.
Then, of course, the last principle is robust, and making sure that the information that you’re providing is accessible, whether you’re using a small screen, a big screen, some kind of interactions, and those principles, I think, if we keep them in mind, they’re more appealing. We’re going to try to meet these principles of design, rather than, “Oh, we have to meet the legal mandates or we might get sued.”
So AIR really approaches designers and developers with that in mind. Let’s be inclusive. Let’s include as many people as possible, and let’s do it in this joyful, creative way that’s cooperative among the community.
AIR is an annual web raising, sort of like barn raising, where the community comes together and puts together and raises these beautiful, accessible websites, and it’s also a competition, because, let’s face it, technology folks tend to like to compete with each other, right?
AIR stands for Accessibility Internet Rally, and what happens is that teams of web professionals come together and design websites for community organizations that serve a lot of different kinds of community needs, and also individual artists, and the sites that they build are judged by accessibility experts, and then we give prizes.
Amber, will these slides be circulated? Will they be available to the folks? Because I have a link here to the AIR judging form. One of the things that AIR does is it provides, “Here’s how you’re going to be judged.” And it’s sort of an open-book test. You know what the point score is and how it’s going to be judged, and you get the judging form in advance. So that’s a live link, if after this, you’d like to look through that.
>> AMBER: Yes, if you want to send them to us, we can make them available.
>> SHARRON: Great. I’ll do that.
There are a lot of ways to participate in AIR. It really, as I said, predates Knowbility. It was a loosely organized community collaboration for two years before Knowbility formed as a nonprofit organization. We call the nonprofit participants clients, because those are the people we’re building the websites for. Those are the people who have the most expertise about their own missions and what they’re trying to accomplish by posting a website.
We really encourage the nonprofits who participate to have a limited scope, because we only have eight weeks to do this design, and so we encourage smaller organizations. We wouldn’t ask a team in eight weeks to redesign the website for, like, the American Red Cross or something. We try to keep it around the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. We try to keep small community-driven organizations, teams of web developers.
Often, there are teams, like here in Austin, we have AMD, we have Dell, we have Samsung, we have IBM. So those teams will often come together. They already know each other, they work together, and they want to learn more about accessibility together, and they sign on as a team, but we also encourage individual developers and designers who maybe want to know more about accessibility and don’t have a company team, or their company may not support their participation necessarily so explicitly. So you can sign up also as an individual, and then our challenge is to find these different roles that make up an ideal team and put these teams together. The people who’ve signed up as individuals and put them together in a team.
We try to be mindful of time zones and not have people from different parts of the globe on the same team.
This one story just kills me, because these people knew each other. Some of them worked for IBM, one of them worked for Google. They were in New York, London, I think one was in India, one was in Australia, and they designed a website for a public radio station in Nairobi. So it was a pretty eclectic team. They didn’t win, but they really won my heart. I just thought they were wonderful.
We have trainers. Part of the AIR process is that, as you sign up and you commit your volunteer time for these eight weeks, you receive some pretty valuable training.
People like Becky Gibson [phonetic], Nick Steenhout [phonetic], really highly respected practitioners and trainers will do a series of trainings. All of the trainings are done over Zoom. They’re recorded, and if you can’t make it during the time, they are all recorded. Because we do have people participating from all around the globe, and it’s hard to find a time when everybody can be there. So these recordings are available for you to come back and visit anytime during the contest.
Visibility Testers. One of the things that Knowbility maintains is a panel. We have about 1000 people with disabilities of all kinds that are our user testers, and we make that panel available to companies who want to do live usability testing using real people with real disabilities, and we make that panel available also to the team, so that as they’re doing their work, if they want to get some input from users with disabilities, that’s an opportunity that’s available too.
The judges, of course, who are going to judge the site… Knowbility staff. Did I leave out the mentors? Oh, Mary Ann, did I leave out the mentors? I did. Because each team also gets a mentor assigned to them, and that’s someone with the expertise and experience in accessibility who’s assigned to your team to help you as you come to these crossroads and make decisions. Mary Ann’s going to tell you a lot more about what it means to be a mentor.
We’ve got registrations open now. So if you go to the AIR site, if you go to “Knowbility.org,” you’ll see lots of stuff about AIR on the site. The registration is open now through August 30th. Starting the week of August 15th, if you sign up early, there’s some trainings that start that week, and it continues on through the first week of September, but it’s a great opportunity if you sign up early to go to those trainings live, because then you have a lot of opportunity to interact with the trainers that I spoke about.
On September 7th, we have what we call the kickoff, and that’s when the teams from whatever company or however we’ve put these independent teams together are matched and they meet their nonprofit organization, and they meet their mentor, and they get to start. It’s like, “OK, this is the starting line. The starting gun. The starting flag. Ready, go.” And you get matched up to your team and you get started on doing the design.
On October 12th, we have what we call the Checkpoint. So we have this sort of a social event. When we started, of course, it was AIR Austin and it was very localized. Everybody was in Austin. We came together quite a bit. There was quite a bit of beer drinking hoorah-ing and talking and sharing of information, and we missed that when we all went virtual during COVID, but we kept the virtual component after COVID because it really does make this a global experience; although, we missed the part where we all got to just get together and chat. So we have this Rally Checkpoint on October 12th, where people can kind of compare notes, talk, issue challenges, whatever.
November 12th is the final countdown where we really do count down the clock up to the time where it’s like, “OK, that’s it, pencils down, work turned in, and that’s that.” And then in November and December, the judges get to work and do their magic, and then in January, we have the awards.
I’m really working hard this year. This is our 25th year, so it’s a big milestone year. So I’m working hard to get some really, really sweet awards. Sometimes it’s artwork, sometimes it’s a bowling trophy, but I’m trying to maybe up our game this year, and that will depend, of course, on our sponsors too.
On January 12th, we bring the nonprofits back in and we train them on, “OK, you’ve got this accessible website. Now, how do you maintain the accessibility of it?” And that is a challenge, and it’s pretty fun to see the nonprofits sort of come awake to accessibility, but they also get a little bit overwhelmed about, “Oh, no, now what do I do?” So this is our handholding exercise.
As I said, this is our 25th year, and I just couldn’t help but share this. This was our very first website, and it’s still live. There was a company or organization maintained by the city of Austin called MAIN for Metropolitan Austin Interactive Network, and they hosted our first web page. If you go to this “Main.org/AirAustin,” you’ll see our first website page that was really talking about what we were trying to do, and inviting people to participate, and showing off the work we did.
That’s sort of my big broad overview, and there’s a whole lot more on the current website, “Knowbility.org/programs/air.” There’s FAQ pages, sponsor info.
Just like Amber said, we also rely on our sponsors. We really appreciate if your company wants to sponsor. There’s a lot of different levels, and there’s all kinds of guides for nonprofits, for individual participants, for company teams. We’d love to have you all come and join and celebrate with us. This is going to be, as I said, a really big year.
So I’m going to stop the share and turn it over to Paola and get the conversation going.
>> PAOLA: Yes. Thank you so much, Sharron, for sharing all that information. I know a little bit more about AIR now.
So let’s kick off our panel discussion. I want to start off with you, Adrienne. Tell us about your story at AIR.
>> ADRIENNE GRACE: Well, it’s probably very appropriate. I actually first heard about AIR at a WordPress meetup probably around this time last year; spring, last year. Sally Thune [phonetic] gave a talk and she mentioned it and said how much fun it was and how much she’d learned, and I think she has done it two or three years. So anyway, she was so excited about it, and I thought, “I have to check this out.” So I went and checked it out and I signed up while she was still talking.
So, yes, that’s how I kind of landed on it.
>> PAOLA: And what about…
>> SHARRON: Were you a company team or were you an indie team?
>> ADRIENNE: No, it’s just me, and once she said you could sign up as an individual, you didn’t have to be a company team, I was like, “OK, I’m in.”
>> PAOLA: Good to hear, and what about you, MJ?
>> MJ JAWILI: Yes, my story is similar in that I heard it from a friend. I heard it from many people in the accessibility community. It sounded like a really good time. I guess I decided to sign up when I had a mentor while I was working at DQ, and he told me he won first place. I’m pretty competitive. I didn’t realize it was a contest, and that’s when I decided to sign up.
Like Adrienne, I didn’t know anyone. I signed up specifically to be a mentor, because I guess I really like being a mentor. I love teaching. I think I love giving back to the community, and honestly, I think it’s one of the best ways for me to learn, which is to get that different perspective from a new person’s eyes. So I specifically signed up to be a mentor for those reasons. Didn’t have a team in mind, but I was so glad to be paired up with Adrienne and the rest of the team.
>> ADRIENNE: Yes, we had a good team.
>> PAOLA: Nice, and can you explain more about what you do during AIR? What’s the time commitment? What’s the structure of the project? What are the steps that you have to follow? I know Sharron gave us a timeline of the deliverables, but how was it from your experience as both a team member and a mentor?
>> ADRIENNE: As a team member, yes, we did all meet at the kickoff meeting, and our information was shared because we were paired up and made into a team by Knowbility. So we did not know each other, and I know they tried to kind of put different people’s skills together, and I don’t know if, Sharron, you’re going to talk about… I can see Marcia’s [phonetic] question here in the Q&A about whether or not you have to be technical, but I would tell you, no, you don’t have to be technical. There is a nice role for everybody.
We had somebody that ended up being a liaison with the nonprofit so that the nonprofit didn’t become bombarded with constant questions from five or six people. We had somebody that was really dedicated to the user content, and analyzing and writing it, and that was really, I think, a great experience because their site had grown over time to really consolidate and really make great user content.
We had somebody who was a designer specifically and made a whole style guide for us to follow, and then we had somebody that also did the development, did the hardcore coding, and then a few of us did user testing. And, of course, we had MJ who came in and answered all our questions, and I was a team lead.
>> MJ: Yes, Adrienne was our team lead and was keeping us on track. We also met about once a week. Generally, we had a standing meeting. Occasionally, individuals would meet up together if they had to, for example, meet with our client or just meet together to talk about some specific work that someone was doing, but we did have weekly meetings.
Generally, the commitment was about two hours per week, but of course, as deadlines, depending on what your role was, like if you’re a designer or content writer, you might have a heavier load earlier in the program. Developers in QA were busier towards the end of the program.
>> PAOLA: Oh, nice, and then going off of that tangent, what can you learn as a designer, a developer, or a team lead, or a mentor? We can start off with you, Adrienne.
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>> ADRIENNE: Gosh, I learned a lot. I did know some. I came from a design and some development, but really working with the content writer was great. And, of course, obviously, everybody’s questions for MJ were wonderful learning from that. Also, the usability testing was really wonderful to watch.
A couple of people couldn’t make it, so we specifically made sure that we recorded it, because that was a huge learning piece to see how it came from being this design to actually a functioning site, and where we needed to make some changes and tweaks.
>> PAOLA: Yes. I feel like for some people, it would be their first time probably seeing a user testing, even from a role as a designer. Because, usually, we just hand off a design and that’s it. [laughs] So that’s very good.
What about you MJ?
>> MJ: For me, I think what I learned was that… I guess the really nice thing about AIR is that you’re going to have a variety of people with a range of experiences, like professional experiences.
I came in expecting that everyone would have in mind, like, “OK, I’m going to be a content person or a designer or a developer,” and they would have the years of experience in those roles, but maybe just not any accessibility experience, but that wasn’t always the case. We had a wide range, and so it was actually really cool, because sometimes when you’re coaching or mentoring someone around accessibility, but they have all these years of experience, they might have these habits that aren’t really accessibility friendly, and it might be extra work to kind of undo those habits and to get them to think about accessibility.
Although the really nice thing that I learned was that, there is a benefit for having someone who maybe is entirely new to content or entirely new to design, which is that you can really get them going on the accessibility footing, really get them to start thinking about accessibility just out of the gate.
>> SHARRON: Oh, I love that. I love that position. Because I’ve always said, you need to teach accessibility while you’re learning to do your role. And, boy, that’s really validation of that opinion of mine. So I love the fact that it actually happened on your team.
>> MJ: Yes. I did not expect that, and I guess, too, other people here in the audience, if you don’t have that much experience with accessibility, AIR is the place for you. If you don’t have much experience in specific roles like content design or development even, AIR is still for you. Because this is like a safe space to learn and get that experience, if you can’t get that professionally. So it’s definitely something to consider.
>> ADRIENNE: Yes, 100%. I couldn’t agree more. It was a very supportive community, and there some of the training tools that Knowbility has to offer, and there’s no lack of people that are willing to help and answer questions.
>> SHARRON: Yes, it’s interesting because it is a competition and people want to win.
>> PAOLA: I was just going to say that.
>> SHARRON: Yes. There’s also this spirit of support, like, “Oh, well, try this tool, or do that.” And it happens.
Like at that October 12th, what is it called, the Checkpoint, where people just come together and get to share notes, somebody might say, “Boy, we sure got stuck with this problem.” And somebody from an entirely different team might just pop up and say, “Oh, well, try this technique or try this tool, or here’s some resources to help you through that.” I think that’s also another really great way of helping to build the community around our shared mission besides the fact that we want to be the best guy or the best guys and gals who win the contest.
>> PAOLA: Yes, and adding on to that, we had a question come in. It says, “I’m curious about the time commitment. I’m currently a student of user-experience design who will be on the job hunt in the fall, and I am unsure how you all manage your work with the volunteer time.”
>> SHARRON: Just from Knowbility’s perspective, we don’t manage that. Once the teams sign on, they self-manage, and I think that’s where someone in Adrienne’s role who’s the team lead might set the expectations at the beginning or define it.
How did you manage that, Adrienne? Did you have people with similar situations?
>> ADRIENNE: Yes, we did, and the person that had the least flexible amount of time had the most commitments. She ended up actually being the perfect person to be the liaison with the client, because the hours that she was available happened to also match when the client was available. So that was actually a really great win-win right there.
As MJ indicated, there are peak periods, if you’re doing design, that’s going to be much more up front, as is the content analysis and writing. The building, sort of in the middle with the testing, and that kind of goes through the end. So there were maybe a week or maybe even two weeks where somebody might have a bigger time commitment, but then after that, then it’s much more in a supportive role.
I would say work that out probably with your team members up front, and just be honest about, “Hey, I can work X, Y, or Z evenings or a weekend,” if you’re a student.
We had one woman that was a new mom, and so she would maybe be off camera during our meetings and would often, I know, work at night or early in the morning because that was the time was great for her, and that’s kind of the nice part about being a fully-remote team.
>> PAOLA: Yes. So there’s a flexibility depending on when people are available and how much they’re available. That’s good to hear.
I just want to segue us into…
>> SHARRON: Before you go on, can I just address that fact about being very upfront at the beginning as much as you possibly can? That when you first meet the team at that kickoff event, that you tell your team captain or your mentor or whoever is your central organizer that you have these time constraints, especially if you’re an independent team and not a company team. Because in order to plan, you kind of have to know those things in advance in order to be able to plan successfully.
If someone has a team where there are a lot of people on the team with time constraints, you could come to Knowbility at that point and say, “Boy, this isn’t looking like we’re going to get enough people,” and we can shuffle things around. There’s almost always a waiting list of people who didn’t quite get there in time to be on a team. So we can shuffle around, and the earlier that shuffling takes place, the better.
>> PAOLA: Oh, that’s good. Yes.
So doing this segue about training, what are your thoughts about the training aspect of AIR? And we can start off with you, MJ. As a mentor, what was your role?
>> MJ: Are we talking about the training for mentors or training the team?
>> PAOLA: I would say the one you mentioned, Sharron, that goes right before getting started into the project.
>> SHARRON: Yes. Well, we do try to give training to the mentors and the judges too, so that they know more about what their role is.
For example, mentors are not allowed to code. That’s not part of what they’re allowed to do for the team. They can advise and they can give resources and they can suggest approaches, but they are not allowed to code. They can’t be hands-on in that way. They’re mentors; they’re supposed to sort of just be your guide, and the judges also have to be trained about how the scoring works, but I think what you were asking about was the developer and designer training for the team members, right?
>> PAOLA: Oh, yes.
>> SHARRON: MJ, did you take any of that?
>> MJ: I did not. I’m happy to speak to mentor training, but the question might be for Adrienne.
>> SHARRON: Yes, it might be for Adrienne.
>> ADRIENNE: I wasn’t able to do all of the training, but because I do have a background in design and I’ve done some development, it wasn’t such a big hurdle for me, but I think that it’s a really great way to get people started.
As Sharron mentioned, many of the clients are going to be taking over their own sites. So they do want WordPress or things that… It’s not like your heavy duty backend react, all code all the time. It does give you some frontend tools that you can use to really build the site that are less intimidating than a big page of code.
>> PAOLA: And then going off of that, so how are the teams evaluated? I know this happens at the end of the process, and I think, MJ, you are a part of that as a mentor. So can you explain that a little bit?
>> MJ: Sure. So as Sharron was mentioning, it’s an open-book test. You do get a copy of the judging form well in advance, so the teams are well aware of what they’re going to be graded on.
As a mentor, I go over the criteria and the entire judging form with the team throughout, and we review you it even, especially at the end. Because I think, Adrienne, you had to write a little blurb. [chuckles]
>> ADRIENNE: Yes, I did.
>> MJ: As a team lead, you had to write a little blurb; basic information for the judges. The judging form includes up to ten different URLs of pages that the team feels confident will do well in the contest. You can very well create more than ten pages as a team, but six to ten pages are actually evaluated only.
Usually, there’s a whole list of accessibility criteria that the pages are evaluated on, things from text, contrast, keyword. There’s also stuff that doesn’t fall into WCAG, so Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, such as having the Knowbility logo that’s required in your design.
There’s also things you can do for extra credit, like aesthetics, exemplary effort; and some advanced things that the team can do that need to be accessible, if you’re going to do that, such as data tables, video, audio.
Then there are penalties. I don’t know if we got any penalties, but penalties include late submission or not doing at least six pages and getting that submitted for review.
I hope that answers the question, PAOLA, about the judging form?
>> PAOLA: Yes.
>> ADRIENNE: We’ve lost your audio.
>> AMBER: I think you’re muted, PAOLA.
>> PAOLA: Oh, I’m sorry. My cat muted me.
Adrienne, how do you feel about being evaluated? Do you feel like you were judged hardly on your work? How did you feel the whole time?
>> ADRIENNE: Oh, I felt like it was, you know, as she said, an open book test, and it’s nice to have those guidelines up front, and how many pages, you know, that you need that Knowbility logo. Those are small things, but it really is, of course, aimed around the WCAG guidelines, and those are all the things that you need to keep in mind, and to be able to go through at different points and just make sure, “Hey, are we on task for this?” “Are we going to include this?” “OK, we’re not doing video or audio so we don’t need to worry about that.”
As MJ said, I had to write up a bit for the judges as well about our individual experiences and us collectively. So getting input from everybody about their experience, the designers, the content writer, everybody. That was nice, and it was good to get that back at the end and see, “OK, this is where we excelled.” Some things are pretty much bare minimum, like either it meets text contrast or it doesn’t.
>> PAOLA: Yes.
>> SHARRON: Well, and they should know this, too, that every site is judged by two judges. So if there’s a disparity, if there’s a difference of more than five points in the scores that the two judges come to, they have to meet and go through and reconcile it, so that it kind of addresses the possibility that somebody might just overlook something or have made a mistake. I think that also helps really make sure that the judging stays objective and fair all across.
So every judge is going to judge two sites, but with a different partner each time for the two sites that they judge.
I saw some question of someone who said, “I’m so confused. Is there a fee to participate?” and the answer is, yes, there is a fee to participate. We think it’s a pretty modest fee. It’s like $25 a person, but what happened, when we started, we didn’t charge anybody anything, and here we are in capitalist America, where people don’t take it serious if it doesn’t cost something, and so they just wouldn’t show up, or they’d just drop out of their team. Or even the nonprofits sometimes would just stop coming to the meetings.
So after a couple of years, we said, “OK, I think we’re going to have to charge,” and we have charged ever since, and that problem has seriously diminished.
Like someone who spoke here who said, “I’m a student. Maybe I can’t even afford the $25. I’m living on ramen,” then, of course, we’ll look at scholarships. We have scholarships for some of the nonprofit groups. Especially after COVID, so many nonprofits were hit so hard, and their fee to participate is $150.
If you know a nonprofit, maybe a small community group, and even the $150 is too much for them, we do have scholarship applications, but we’re going to grill you pretty hard to make sure that you’re really going to show up and you’re really going to participate, because people rely on you. The client has a serious responsibility, too, and if your client isn’t there giving you the materials you need, giving you the feedback you need, you can be the best team in the world and not be able to make the progress that you want.
So we do ask for what we think are nominal fees in order for people to really demonstrate commitment to the program.
>> PAOLA: Yes. Thank you, Sharron. I’m going to answer out loud a few of the questions that came in just in case people didn’t get a chance to read them.
One of them was about QA. So it says, “Will QA be done alongside development, or will it be more waterfall process?”
MJ answered, “As decided on by the team, and can vary from team to team.”
Do you have anything else to add in there, MJ?
No. Oh, good. OK.
>> MJ: Does Adrienne have something to say? I think she was gesturing or something.
>> ADRIENNE: No, I was just nodding because I agree. Yes.
>> PAOLA: [chuckles] OK, and then another one was for QA role, “Do we need experience in auditing accessibility, or will there be a mentor as well?”
MJ answered, “No experience needed. You can learn on the job.”
Oh, that’s great.
Another question that came in was, “Can there be multiple designers on one team?” And the answer to that one was, “This is up to the teams to divide or double up roles. We had multiple people help out with QA, for example, but one official QA person.”
So I’m guessing this would answer that for every role, correct? So there can be multiple developers as well?
>> SHARRON: Designers, yes.
>> PAOLA: OK. There was another question that said, “Are there minimum requirements for being a mentor?”
MJ answered that, As far as I know, there are no hard requirements, but you are asked to assess your technical and accessibility skills.
>> SHARRON: Yes, that’s an interesting question, because this year, Paul Adam, the head of the mentoring group, he’s the one who’s going to be recruiting, and he said he had someone apply to be a mentor who looked like she really didn’t have that much accessibility experience. She’d been an auditor for a year or two, and he said he didn’t feel like she was experienced enough, and he wondered, you know, “Should I give her a test or should I do this or that?”
My position always is, like I told Paul, just talk to the person and make sure that they understand what they’re going to be called on to do. Because if you put someone in mentoring position and then they get into the situation and realize they don’t have the skills they need to do it, that’s not a very comfortable position to be in.
So just like you said, MJ, there’s no hard and fast rules about it, but I think some of the best mentors have been people who have been on teams before. So if this is your first time doing AIR, start by being on a team. Learn about the whole process, because it’s not just meeting WCAG guidelines. You can’t just be an Accessibility Auditor and think you’re going to be a great mentor. It’s also that idea.
I loved when MJ was introducing herself and she said, “Well, I signed on as a mentor because that’s what I like to do, and I’ve done that for a while, and I had experience as a mentor,” so she brought that experience of mentoring to the AIR, and of course, she had the accessibility chops to support it, but also understanding that it was a role that she was very comfortable in.
So if somebody’s never been a mentor, not been that much of an auditor, or accessibility expert, maybe they should start by being a team member, because that’s pretty fun too.
>> PAOLA: Yes, that makes sense. A few more questions that came in: “What is the guidance for using Generative AI for these projects? We all know that AI is taking over a few aspects of our lives.”
>> SHARRON: We haven’t made a policy on that. I guess we’re going to have to.
>> ADRIENNE: That wasn’t a problem last year so much.
>> MJ: I have comments on that. I saw that UserWay came out with an assistant to generate or correct your code to make it accessible, and it does not work.
You’re welcome to probably use it if you would like, but know that it will probably make your code even worse. Until Eric comes out with an official policy.
>> PAOLA: One thing that I’ve seen in the content aspect… I’ve used ChatGPT here and there, and at this point, if I go on Twitter or I read a blog, I can easily tell if it was written by ChatGPT or not. So those are my thoughts on AI. I don’t think…
>> SHARRON: We do have an AIR advisory board, so I think that’s going to have to be a question if we need to add to the… We do have a code of conduct and a rule book. The rules of air, the rules of the role, the rules of the rally. So I think probably this year, we are going to have to add something on that. That was a really good question. Not one I really want to think about, but it’s a good one. [laughs]
>> PAOLA: That is true. Yes.
We do have another question: “Is there somewhere we can see examples of websites developed during past events?”
>> SHARRON: Yes. On the AIR site that I gave you the link at the very last, if you knock around it, there’s a page of… What is it? Past sites and testimonials or something that’s got some of the goofy… We have a goofy video that’s like from 1999, where it was all in the same room. So there’s that, and then there’s a list of sites.
The problem, of course, is that a site that was built in 2004 doesn’t look like that anymore, but we do have some archives of some of the sites that you can see, and some screenshots of home pages, but that doesn’t really give you a sense of what they did.
Here we are on the ephemeral medium of the web.
>> PAOLA: Right, and then we have one more question here. It says, “What if someone was not available at all for training from August 25th through September 5th, would that prevent them from participating?”
>> SHARRON: No, because all that would prevent them from is having the live experience. I mean, even though they’re all on Zoom, the trainings are very interactive. Becky and Nick are both just such great teachers, and so the training tends to be really interactive, and you can get good questions answered if you can come live; but if not, you can see the recording, and you have access to all the archives and the material links and all the supports.
>> PAOLA: Right. So people still get that resource, and then we have another question that says, “If we have a nonprofit we would like to recommend and they sign up, can we ask to be assigned to that nonprofit to work on their website?”
>> SHARRON: Yes. We love that. That’s that whole community synchronicity, where people are designed for something that they care about and that they’re aware. So, yes, absolutely.
>> PAOLA: Good to hear. I do not see any more questions.
Sharron, would you like to remind everyone how they can sign up, and the requirements to sign up?
>> SHARRON: Well, I really strongly encourage if you have a group of people who already work together and want to learn more about accessibility, it’s a great team-building exercise. So sign up as a team if you have four to six people who feel like they’re up for that kind of a volunteer experience. Otherwise, just sign up as an individual.
The registration form is long, because they ask you things like, “What tools do you use? What do you prefer? What code libraries do you use? What roles do you prefer to do?” They ask you a lot of questions about who you are and what you do when you’re signing on as an independent, because we want to really try to make teams up that have a good synchronicity, and that was one of the first things I asked Adrienne when we met to sort of prepare for this talk.
I said, “Well, were you an independent team?” and she said, “Yes,” nd I said, “So how did that go?” [chuckles] We always cross our fingers, make our best guess, and hope that things go well, and they don’t always go well.
Sometimes the teams don’t have the right chemistry, and they fight, or they don’t make it to the finish line, but that’s what you do; you sign on as an independent, and if you have some ideas about, like, “I’d really like to work with people in my same time zone. I don’t want to have to work with people halfway around the world.” The things that will help us make the best match for you, I think, that’s really helpful.
So what you would do right now if you want to sign on to be part of a team, you would fill that out, pay your $25, because that gives us the commitment we know, and we’re already starting to look at the people who have signed on and kind of starting to sort through, and sometimes we introduce people.
Adrienne, did you meet all of your team the night of the kickoff, or did you meet them before the kickoff?
>> ADRIENNE: We met the night of the kickoff, and actually, one person was traveling, so she was out of the country and she couldn’t even join. [laughs] We didn’t get to meet her until the first or second meeting, but she was very communicative by email, so that was great.
>> SHARRON: That is good. One of the things we’ve thought about is, maybe when possible, to get the teams together the week before the kickoff so that they meet their teams ahead of time and can maybe have a little bit more team connection. So that when they meet their nonprofit, they’re meeting their nonprofit as a team instead of as this whole group of individuals.
I don’t know what you think about that, but that’s one of the things we’re considering for this year.
>> AMBER: I jumped back in because I have a few questions too, and I’m curious on that. Do you have a Slack channel? Or is everyone just…
>> SHARRON: Yes, there’s a whole AIR Slack installation. Some of the teams made their own private channels, so that was also a place of big announcements, and somebody might pop on and say, “Hey, what happened to that Aria training? I know there was an Aria training. Does anybody have the link?” And then you can give them a link to the video. It’s also a nice community kind of thing, and people who are in the same town…
The night of the kickoff, I think it was Atlanta who had a bunch of people there who had signed on at Atlanta and didn’t necessarily know each other, but they made a deal to get together at some community center, and they watched the kickoff together, and a couple of them ended up on the same team, and it was this sort of happy, little coincidence. So the Slack channel is very helpful for that.
>> AMBER: Yes, that’s really neat.
>> MJ: I want to add to that. There was a Slack channel for general communication, but there was also a base camp where our team worked. We got that for free through AIR, and there’s also a Google group for mentors to communicate.
>> AMBER: So there’s a lot of good tools for people to use.
>> SHARRON: And not everybody used the base camp, which kind of surprised me. Some people had other ways they wanted to work, so not everybody did use the base camp, but we do make a base camp available to every team for free, of course.
>> AMBER: Do you want me to ask these questions? You want to ask the questions that have been coming in?
>> PAOLA: Yes, go ahead, Amber. Yes.
>> AMBER: OK. Sure. So Sherry said, “I’m totally blind, and I just got my CPACC. I’m currently trying to find a career as a manual tester. Would this be a good idea for me to do?”
>> SHARRON: Well, I can’t think of any reason why not. I think it would be a great experience, and I think the people on your team would be really glad to have you on their team.
In the early years, when we were still doing it in person, we all came to this training center, and all the coding happened in one day. Those were very simple websites that we were building in the early years.
>> AMBER: It’s like a hackathon.
>> SHARRON: Yes, it was like a hackathon, except I don’t think there was even the word “hackathon” then.
One year, either year two or three, the judges had their room. The judges sat in the room and they would answer questions during the day. Anybody could come in and ask the judges anything they wanted, and so this one guy comes storming in, and he said, “I want to report that this team over here is cheating,” and we all just kind of went, “Really? What are they doing? How are they cheating?” “They have a blind person on their team,” and together with the judges, we all just laughed.
The Jim Thatcher [phonetic], who was one of the judges at that time, he said, “Well, son, that’s not cheating. That’s being smart.” [laughs] So yes, I think whoever’s on your team would be really happy to have you, and I think that would be a great experience for you, too.
>> AMBER: Yes. So Brooke [phonetic] asked, “With accessibility changing all the time; with AIR, how, after signing up, are we able to keep the website updated to be ADA compliant?” and I don’t know if you want to talk a little bit about the difference between ADA compliance and accessible.
>> SHARRON: I know that the terminology is always problematic, but once the site has been turned over to the nonprofit organization and the whistle blows and the race is over, the team has more obligation to the nonprofit now. Sometimes they’ve gotten to be pals, and they’ll have different arrangements.
Like one ad agency team said, “OK, we’ll work on your website one day a month. You send us the changes you want and we’ll do the updates. We only want to hear from you before the fifth of the month.” They made a structure for, “We’ll continue to help you, but don’t just call us when you need something. Do it by this formula.” And that worked out pretty well.
So some teams do stay engaged with their nonprofit, but there’s no obligation to do that, and we make that very, very clear to the nonprofits. I think that’s one of the reasons we have the January 12th training, which, again, is to reiterate, “OK, now you have a website, here are the resources you have. Here’s how you try to maintain accessibility.” And of course our staff is always going to be responsive to them, because we would like to always be able to point the Greyhound rescue thing and the shelter in Waco, Texas, and say, “This is a site that got made through AIR, and that the accessibility has sustained through the years.” But that’s actually pretty rare, unfortunately.
Nonprofits are really challenged these days. We do our best to try to continue to support them, and every once in a while, you get one of the nonprofits, too, especially those that serve people with disabilities, who get the fever, and they learn a lot about it, and they become really good maintenance people, and they do maintain it over time.
>> AMBER: Yes. So I think that kind of leads to the question that made me decide to pop in and interrupt you all’s fabulous conversation, but circling a little bit back to… I know they’re not all built with WordPress, but you said a lot are, and, of course, this being a WordPress meetup, I’m curious if you provide a recommended starter theme or plugin set that teams can use? And if so, could you share some background on that? Because I think that falls under this, too. Like maintaining accessibility is having a good tool set for it?
>> SHARRON: Right. Yes. Well, that’s part of the training. That’s of the training that they receive when they go through it. There is a specific training for the nonprofits that say, If your team has chosen WordPress, here are the maintenance tools.
For the developers themselves, we have a pretty broad library of tools that we recommend. They’re not exclusive to WordPress, but I’ll tell you, it’s just happened, and it’s like 80% of the websites. It’s way more than half of the websites now that are built with WordPress, and so I think that tool set is becoming more and more the default just because of the way it’s very easy for nonprofits to maintain.
We do have nonprofits who’ve come to us with Squarespace sites and want us to just improve the accessibility, and we have to say, “No, I’m sorry, we can’t, because the accessibility features are just too hard. There’s too much coding that your developers would have to do to…” I mean, Squarespace just is not an accessible platform. We try to deal with that at the registration time, though.
When the nonprofits sign up and they say, “We want to use a WIX space,” for example, it’s like, “Well, then you don’t want to participate here, because that can’t be made accessible, and it’s not fair to the team.” It’s not fair to the teams who are trying to do it to have to do all that extra work.
So yes, there are tool sets, and I think there’s a page in the training I could send you to. I’ll send that when I send the slides. Maybe I’ll make another slide that wasn’t in the presentation that’s just some of the resources that are open and available all the year round.
>> AMBER: Yes. Are you typically using a free theme off of “Wordpress.org?”
>> SHARRON: Yes, we recommend free themes, but we tell the teams that if they want to purchase accessible themes, they can. We don’t forbid that if you want to invest in a paid theme, but we only recommend free and open-source tools just because of the nature of what we’re doing.
>> AMBER: Yes, I know. At this meetup in general, we get a lot of questions from attendees about, like, “What’s a good theme?” “What’s a good plugin?” So if you had a list, I know people would definitely appreciate the ones that Knowbility says are good starting points.
>> SHARRON: OK. You bet. I’ll share that with the slides.
>> AMBER: Yes. Sharon asked, “Do teams sign up individually with each individual advising that they want to be on said team?” and they said, “We’d have to have a team name for you going in?” but I think I saw in the registration form you can register as a team. Is that correct?
>> SHARRON: That’s correct. You could register as a team, and the team fee is just the same as it would be if it was individuals. It’s $150, and teams are generally six people. You can just sign up entirely as a team.
Usually, the people who sign up as a team are companies. I mentioned the marketing firm that signed on as a team. A couple of banks have signed on. Last year, Dell had five or six teams. They had a bunch of teams last year. Microsoft too. People do sign on as teams and they’re usually companies, but there’s no reason that six independent people couldn’t put themselves together and call themselves “The AIR Rangers” or whatever they wanted their name to be and sign on as a team. That would save us a lot of head scratching. [laughs]
>> AMBER: So teams have names, then?
>> SHARRON: Oh, yes.
>> AMBER: I want to hear what everyone’s team names were, or favorite team names that you’ve heard, Sharron, because I think that’s a fun process. [chuckles]
>> SHARRON: What was your team name, Adrienne? You all had a good one.
>> ADRIENNE: Yes. We were all actually in California, so we did “Cali Girls,” but the L’s being 1s, and we were all female.
So it worked for us. Yes, it was fun. There were some really fun, creative names.
>> SHARRON: Yes. One of the AIR advisors said, “Can we give an award for the best team name?” [laughs] I wasn’t sure about that one, so I don’t think we ended up doing that, because that’s very subjective about who likes which name, so.
>> AMBER: Right.
>> ADRIENNE: It was just a fun part of it. That’s all.
>> SHARRON: I know. It was fun.
>> AMBER: Yes. Dana [phonetic] asked in the chat, “Can you give us an example of a website that has been successful at maintaining accessibility?”
>> SHARRON: I think the. Art Spark Texas. It’s an arts organization. Just like we do tech and disability, they do art and disability. They serve artists with disabilities, and they’ve actually participated a couple of times. When their website gets old and moldy, they come back and participate again, and they don’t always win first place or second or even third, but they usually get a pretty solidly accessible website and then maintain it pretty well over time.
>> AMBER: Is it this? I posted in the chat? “ArtSparkTx.org.”
>> SHARRON: Art Spark Texas. Yes, that’s them, and honestly, I don’t know if it’s a WordPress site. I hope it is, since this is a WordPress meetup.
>> AMBER: [laughs] Let’s see. Do that handy view source and search for WP hyphen. That’s what I did.
>> SHARRON: Yes.
>> AMBER: Yes, it is a WordPress websites.
>> SHARRON: Yes, that’s one of my favorite participants, and they’re the ones who, years ago, had the blind guy on their team. That’s them. [laughs]
>> AMBER: So nonprofits can come back if they want. It’s not a one-time thing.
>> SHARRON: No, it’s not a one-time thing.
>> AMBER: Is there any qualification from a maximum amount of revenue, or anything like that on the nonprofit?
>> SHARRON: No, but we have turned down nonprofits who their expectations were just too big. They had database driven, interactive, all kinds of games, and things where we just look at it and go, “We can’t do justice to this in eight weeks. So if you want to take one section or one project or define it a little more closely.”
There was also one year where a team, I think they ended up turning in a 50-page website and said, “Just go ahead and judge it all,” and they shouldn’t have done that, because if they’d just taken their ten best pages, they probably would have done well.
The judges will only judge up to ten pages each, so we spidered it and got some auto data, and they didn’t do so well on some of those other ones. So that was a good lesson that we have to really manage the expectations of the nonprofits, too, in order for them not to be disappointed, and also for the teams not to be overwhelmed.
I really appreciated MJ’s encouragement that you don’t have to be an accessibility expert. You don’t even have to be an expert in design or whatever. You can learn on the job, and when you’re asking people to do that, and then throw them a database-driven site with hundreds of pages, it’s not going to work. So we do reject nonprofits based on the fact that what they want is not within sort of the spirit of the event.
>> AMBER: Yes. Verwadi [phonetic] asked, “Do we get a certification or badge for participation or winning?”
>> SHARRON: You get recognition for winning for sure. You get this little thing that you put out, “Air Winner 2022” or whatever, and we’ve thought about badges.
One year, we tried to make it a game, and somebody said, Well, you’re trying to bring gamification to something that is already a game.
We haven’t pursued the badge thing much, but we’re open to it.
Another role is advisor. If people want to join the advisory board and help make those kinds of decisions, like, “Let’s have badges this year,” or things like that, that’s another way to be involved, but we haven’t quite figured out how that would work, but certifications of participation, everybody gets one. Whether you win or don’t win, you get a little thing that with Knowbility’s logo and the AIR logo. I think it’s a rocket ship this year, with your name and the fact that you participated as a team member. You get just a little certificate that you can print.
The one year that we had prizes, in fact, it was Art Spark Texas artists that created the art that was the award. The awards were these art pieces, but then when people are so far away, and there’s six people on the team, it’s hard to distribute them. So we’re thinking, this year, of some kind of, like, do we make things that people can download and print? Or is that just too cheesy?
It’s our 25th year. I keep saying this. For the top team winner, we’re going to try to get… One of the members of my board is a big wig at South by Southwest, so we’re going to try to get South by Southwest tickets as prizes this year. Wouldn’t that be fun?
>> AMBER: Yes, that would be neat.
>> SHARRON: Don’t quote me on that yet. It’s aspiration.
>> MJ: Our team got second place. I don’t know what the teams in other places got, but I got a 3D card that opens up as an airplane.
>> SHARRON: Yes. [laughs]
>> MJ: So that’s the surprise.
>> SHARRON: Yes. That was the prize.
>> AMBER: That’s fun.
>> ADRIENNE: Yes. One thing I wanted to say, because you mentioned that there’s some of these really big-name companies, Dell and things like that… I want to say that last year, the teams that won first and second were actually both independent teams.
So for anybody that heard that and was intimidated… Because I was intimidated at the initial kickoff when they said, “Oh, and here’s this team from such and such company,” and it’s like, “OK, head down,” and for me, at least at that point, it was, like, it’s not about the competition, because I was, like, “They’re going to do their thing,” and for me, it was just really much more client focused, honestly, and maybe that’s also the professional aspect that I bring to it, but we just were, like, “OK, we’re going to make the best that we can for what the client needs, help them reach their target audience in an accessible way,” and despite there being other big-names teams, that was something that stuck out to me.
>> SHARRON: I think that’s a great point. Yes.
When I said Dell had six teams, they were assigned to participate because their managers wanted them to learn more about accessibility. They didn’t necessarily have that same passion that some of the individual participants did. So that’s a great point, Adrienne.
>> AMBER: I didn’t see any other questions. Did we get all the questions you had, PAOLA?
>> PAOLA: Yes. I think we answered all the questions. So if we have any closing thoughts before we sign off, Sharron, Adrienne or MJ?
>> AMBER: And also maybe just remind everyone how they could follow up with you. If there’s a social media or some other preferred way to get in contact with you if they have questions. Each one of you.
>> SHARRON: Yes, there’s AIR. I’m going to put in the chat: “Air@nobility.org.” That’s monitored by about three or four of us, so somebody will answer you very quickly.
>> AMBER: And what about you, Adrienne? And, MJ, a good way to get a hold of you if anyone wanted to follow up or find you on social media?
>> ADRIENNE: You can contact me. Our website is “VandVcreative.com.” Or I’m on Twitter. I’ll put both of these in the chat. I’m at “@Adrienne_Grace_OC,” because apparently there are a lot of Adrienne Graces out there.
>> MJ: Yes, and for me, I have put my email address, it’s “Mj@mJawili.com.” Or you can find me on LinkedIn, username: “Mjawili.”
>> AMBER: Great. Well, thank you so much. We really appreciate you all coming and sharing this about AIR. I know I keep thinking, I’m, like, “Maybe this will be the year that I’ll find time,” because it just sounds so fun.
We’re going to sign off. This was recorded. We will have the recording available in about a week, once we have corrected captions and a full transcript.
Now I’m going to do the thing, where, before I actually hit “end,” I have to watch and make sure that our captions go into the transcript for people who are watching it. So I’m going to wave. We’re going to say goodbye, but not say anything for just a minute.
So thanks, everybody.
>> SHARRON: Thank you.
>> CHRIS: Thanks for listening to Accessibility Craft. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe in your podcast app to get notified when future episodes release. You can find Accessibility Craft on Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify, and more. And if building accessibility awareness is important to you, please consider rating Accessibility Craft five stars on Apple podcasts. Accessibility Craft is produced by Equalize Digital and hosted by Amber Hinds, Chris Hinds, and Steve Jones. Steve Jones composed our theme music. Learn how we helped make 1000s of WordPress websites more accessible at equalizedigital.com.