2002 Conference Proceedings

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THE ACCESSIBILITY INTERNET RALLY: HOW TO RALLY YOUR COMMUNITY AROUND WEB ACCESSIBILITY

Sharron Rush
Executive Director
Knowbility, Inc.
(512) 478-4596
srush@knowbility.org 

Suzanne Hershey
Director of Strategic Alliances
Knowbility, Inc.
(512) 478-4596
suzanne.hershey@knowbility.org

The number and variety of assistive technology devices introduced since the passage of the ADA in 1990 has contributed to technology's potential to create greater opportunities for people with disabilities. This potential remains largely unrealized however, due to a lack of awareness, understanding, and expertise within the community of how to facilitate access to technology and training. Recent studies examining disparities in access to technology, such as the series by the US Department of Commerce, have resulted in funding for community technology centers aimed at bridging the "digital divide." The most recent data from this study, issued in the fall of 2000, indicates that people with disabilities have seen the least improvement in access to technology and training.

More recently, Congress passed Section 508, an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 as part of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998. Although it was signed into law on August 7, 1998, standards for Section 508 were not finalized until December of 2000 and were meant to take effect by June of 2001. Section 508 mandates that when "Federal departments or agencies develop, procure, maintain, or use Electronic and Information Technology (EIT), they shall ensure that the EIT allows Federal employees with disabilities to have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to the access to and use of information and data by other Federal employees." The amendment requires Federal electronic information technology to be accessible to people with disabilities, including employees and members of the public.

Section 508 has been resisted, and in some cases directly challenged, by significant portions of the information technology industry. Barriers to access still exist for people with disabilities and communities are seeking innovative means of removing both the specific barriers and industry resistance to accessibility. Knowbility, Inc is a 501(c)3 organization founded in 1999 to promote access to technology for people with disabilities. Knowbility's mission is to overcome the barriers that exist for people with disabilities in the area of information technology (IT). The organization grew from community collaboration in 1998 called the Accessibility Internet Rally.

Accessibility Internet Rallies (AIR) are competitive, fun events through which web designers develop accessible web sites, pro bono, for nonprofit organizations serving diverse needs within the community. Teams of web designers and nonprofits build up to 25 accessible websites in a single day. Akin to high-tech barn-raisings, AIR "web-raisings" bring together high tech designers, information technology trainers, local educational institutions, agencies that serve people with disabilities, and nonprofits working to address wide-ranging needs and issues - youth services, arts, housing, health care, the environment, eldercare - around common goals: technology access and diversity.

The Rallies build community awareness about access to information technology resources - on the web, in education and training, and in employment - for people with disabilities, and they build community itself, encouraging partnership and collaboration among diverse participant organizations and individuals in the private, nonprofit, and government sectors.

AIR provides the following benefits to communities:

After previous AIR events, corporate participants have used their accessibility know-how to secure new contracts and have and incorporated accessibility training into their spectrum of business services; students with disabilities who participated in AIR through a web developer training program were hired as web developers, and companies redesigned their own websites for accessibility to reduce barriers for employees with disabilities.

While the Rally itself takes place on a single day, there are a number of activities leading up to and following the event itself, including training for web designers on how to build accessible websites, training for nonprofit organizations on inclusion awareness and communicating via the web, a "matchmaking" party/worksession where the tech teams and nonprofits meet their partners for the event, and an awards ceremony where participants celebrate what they have accomplished together. There are numerous opportunities for leadership and partnership in organizing the Rally, and many avenues available for deeper relationships between companies, nonprofits, and organizations serving people with disabilities as a result of the Rally.

The AIR model is readily replicable, with the program components and partnerships tailored to meet the strengths, needs, and goals of individual communities.

For an AIR event to take place, the following individuals, organizations, and resources are needed:

The key to a successful AIR event and ongoing community benefits is a strong local partnership with people and organizations committed to accessibility. Knowbility has produced Accessibility Internet Rallies in three cities and is developing a replication toolkit for the AIR event. Knowbility provides support to participating communities through partnership development and training, technical assistance, materials, and some web hosting for websites created through the Rally.

For Review and Comments Only - Not An Official Proposal Submission

Knowbility - Applied Materials brief 2001.doc Page 3 07/10/2001

Knowbility - Applied Materials brief 2001.doc July 10, 2001




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