Where Do We Go From Here? Building National Consensus

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Maximum Accessibility: Making Your Web Site More Usable for Everyone
By John M. Slatin,, Sharron Rush
Table of Contents
Chapter 4.  Grassroots Efforts Support Maximum Accessibility


In 2002, world-renowned usability expert Jakob Nielsen served as the National Chair of the AIR replication effort. In speaking about his commitment to the program, Nielsen noted:

Regulations alone won't solve the problem. The public and Web designers need to develop awareness of the problems facing users with disabilities. The sad thing is that most of these issues, such as text size and clear pictures, are fairly simple to fix once you realize you're designing for this audience. The AIR program has been shown to be a very effective means of raising awareness at the grassroots level in a competitive context that is enjoyable and that produces good results. [5]

[5] As quoted in Knowbility [2001]. Reprinted with permission.

AIR replication in Dallas (AIR-DFW) and Denver (Rocky Mountain AIR) in 2000 produced those good results in terms of a number of accessible Web sites for nonprofit organizations, a feeling of camaraderie and community connection, and an increased understanding of the need for access by people with disabilities. The second annual AIR programs in those cities, scheduled for October and November 2001, respectively, were postponed following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11. Roots for AIR activities in those communities had not had time to fully set, so the uncertainty and distraction of world events disrupted organizational efforts. AIR-Austin, by contrast, had become so much a part of the community life that it was a comfort and a touchstone.

The week of the Rally is an active time. We hold a lively, music-filled "kickoff" in which we announce the pairing of nonprofit groups with development teams. In Austin, in 2001, the kickoff for the September 15 Rally was scheduled for the evening of September 11. As the day's events unfolded, we tried to determine what to do. We thought about canceling but reluctantly decided that there was no way to cancel that evening's activity unless we postponed the entire Rally, so we pushed on. We canceled the music, took a much lower-key tone and expected that not more than a few of the 150 registrants would come by.

And an utterly amazing thing happened. More than 120 people showed up, in various states of shock and grief. Every nonprofit and all but one tech team was represented. Adam Weinroth, the local Rally Chair, thanked everyone for coming. Adam spoke about the day's events and had the group observe a few minutes of silent contemplation of the tragedy and where we might be headed.

Several people remarked that they were glad they had somewhere to go and how good it was to be with people engaged in hopeful activities. Dr. John Houghton of St. Edward's University spoke from the stage to say that on this day when we had seen the worst that humans could do, it was fitting to end it by dedicating ourselves to work that was needed in our community and to demonstrating the best that is in us. We then matched everyone up, and an aura of joyful service to the community seemed to envelop us all. Throughout the week, we continued to hear messages of gratitude for creating a forum where people felt they were actively engaged in improving their community.

It was a strong reminder of how important this effort is in creating bonds within the community, of bringing people together around an array of good causes, and of how much people want to dedicate themselves to things beyond the scope of their own interests. It was inspiring to see that sense of service demonstrated.

Once integrated into a community, the AIR model is a powerful force for building consensus. Knowbility is currently creating an AIR replication process that fosters greater local ownership and that can be customized for the needs of various communities and purposes. As we offer this experience nationally, we are looking for ways to bring communities together on many levels.

Key elements to successful replication and sustainability include

  • A strong local nonprofit partner with connections to funders and the nonprofit community.

  • A strong high-tech industry lead in the region, able to convincingly communicate the benefits to business and to mobilize the technology sector around the issue.

  • The support of local government entities.

  • An active advisory board, willing to provide advocacy and leadership.

  • An effective public relations effort, able to get the word out in a clear and focused manner.

  • Realistic timelines and funding goals.

In order to promote maximum accessibility as the Internet continues to evolve, there is certainly the need for state and federal mandates. The role of local, community-based initiatives is just as important to this effort, however. The September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington and the effects of recession have resulted in an understandable reordering of priorities for programs that receive government and foundation support. Funding for community technology efforts has been cut, and local efforts struggle to maintain the ground they gained during the last decade. Despite the bust of the dot-com boom, the numbers of educational, employment, and consumer resources available online continue to grow. Therefore, the need for equal access has never been greater for millions of children and adults with disabilities. Increasingly, the opportunity to achieve equal access to learning, to work, and to the ability to lead an independent life requires access to basic information technologies. Although economic and world conditions have changed dramatically since 1998, this basic human need has not diminished, and it remains a challenge to our society to provide equitable access. We urge readers to support community technology efforts in your region and to advocate for the full accommodation of children and adults with disabilities within those efforts.

It is in the local communities that we can build understanding, acceptance, and ownership of the concept of accessibility. This understanding is essential to ensuring that the development of accessible technology is not confined to the narrow idea of compliance to a static standard. Rather, we must broaden our ideas of inclusion so that accessibility is a key feature in all considerations of new technology. We have the opportunity to include people with disabilities in mainstream society as consumers and producers to an unprecedented extent. E-government initiatives, community technology efforts, and grassroots development activities like AIR all contribute to our ability to succeed in realizing this opportunity.


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    Maximum Accessibility(c) Making Your Web Site More Usable for Everyone
    Maximum Accessibility: Making Your Web Site More Usable for Everyone: Making Your Web Site More Usable for Everyone
    ISBN: 0201774224
    EAN: 2147483647
    Year: 2002
    Pages: 128

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