OpenAIR Competition 2014

A Plastic Brain

This year I volunteered to be an accessibility mentor to an Accessible Internet Relay (OpenAIR) project on Team AxIS and was surprised and pleased to be helping an advocacy non-profit run by Anne Forrest called A Plastic Brain in Austin, Texas. Like so many of us in the disability community, Anne advocates for people from personal experience. A Plastic Brain is for people with traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Anne “lives with persistent symptoms from a mild TBI that she received during a June 1997 car accident and continues to recover.”

Cognitive Connections

Nineteen years ago when my daughter Siobhan was just over three years old we finally got a diagnosis of Cri du chat Syndrome and I wanted to start an email list. Lacking my own server, I got a lead to The Brain Injury Information NETwork where, for free, they set up a list for me and I soon was communicating with people all over the world about the severe cognitive, speech, and motor delays common to Cri du chat people. I’m currently contributing to the W3C Cognitive and Learning Disabilities Accessibility Task Force and I also help out with the WordPress Accessibility Team. So when I heard that Anne is working on a WordPress site for people with cognitive issues and she herself lives with traumatic brain injury a lot of things just came together for me. I’m so very glad to be helping Anne and her husband Michael Crider because on so many levels there’s a personal connection. And like with so many personal connections in this distributed world some of us now inhabit, we haven’t even met yet!

Completing the Circle

Just to cinch the deal, the development team is part of Cognizant with headquarters in Teaneck, New Jersey. Where I was born. This is just wonderful! The development team is located in India and when we all had our first meeting I was very glad to hear that when clients require it, they add accessibility. Their team, led by Antonia Jayaraj and seconded by AnanthaKrishnan M (Krishna) also includes Aparna Rajan, Prasath Manoharan, and Renuka Subramani and they are all doing a great job and each of the team members, including Anne Forrest and Michael Crider have contributed multiple times to reaching milestones. The evening of our first meeting, for instance, Michael and Anne created wireframes and a day later the development team had a minimum viable product (MVP) up on a server in HTML. Wow! Go team!

Cognitive Challenge

So this brings me to the heart of the matter, which is the reason the team would like to win the competition. We’ve all done great things for vision, mobility, and hearing, but there isn’t quite as much research for cognitive disabilities. While the W3C cognitive taskforce is changing that, we aren’t done yet. Anne has done much to inform us about her needs and how she makes connections. For instance, she responds better to navigation on the left, so we’ve included that in the design. Low contrast allows her to function better, so though we are meeting the guidelines, the contrast is lower. If there are other OpenAIR teams dealing with cognitive disabilities the AxIS team wants to collaborate with you. I believe that winning will help focus attention on cognitive issues, and the work the international accessibility community needs to do on this topic will be advanced.

World Information Architecture Day 2015

Global Conversation

This past February World Information Architecture Day 2014 took place in 24 cities, 15 countries, 6 continents. These stimulating events bring together an international community of world-class Information Architecture minds including academics, practioners, technologists, and business leaders for a global conversation. In 2015 there will be more cities, more countries, more events.

Not A Surprise

I attended World Information Architecture Day 2014 in Pasadena. We were given real world problems to solve for some community based projects and broke into groups to come up with solutions. The group I was in thought up ways for the Los Angeles Metro to increase ridership. When I brought up accessibility within my group I found that very few people knew about it. This is not a surprise.

Search Where The Light Is

I started doing outreach here in Silicon Beach on Jun 2, 2012 when I started the Los Angeles Accessibility and Inclusive Design meetup group. I immediately started going to User Experience meetings and talking to everyone. There is a wise saying: start searching where the light is. In Los Angeles the light is in User Experience with thousands of members and hundreds of active participants in two major meet ups and other groups.


At my first User Experience (UX) meeting I introduced myself to someone and she told me that she did user experience research and I told her that I do accessibility. The next thing I knew she had translocated herself to the opposite side of the room. I’m persistent. I kept at it. I announced my meetup events and other accessibility events such as Accessibiity Camp Los Angeles, the CSUN conference, anything I could use to get the message out that accessibility was important and needed and wanted by many people.


By the middle of 2013, the beginning of my second year of outreach, I would introduce myself to people at UX meetings and there would be a pause. Then slowly the person would say: “Oh, you’re that accessibility guy.” This was a big increase in recognition. From translocation to recognition in one year. Branding helped: @AccessibleJoe. I kept working the rooms. Some Global Accessibility Awareness Days have happened. They were a big factor in raising awareness. Thanks Joe Devon and Jennison Asuncion.

A Big Deal

Due at least in part to my outreach work the need for accessibility is being recognized by a mainstream organization. This is a big deal. The Executive Director of World Information Architecture Day 2015, Lara Fedoroff, has asked me to serve as the World Information Architecture Day Accessibility Director. Whitney Quesenbery is also helping. Lara wants to build accessibility into the events from the beginning. This means creating accessible web sites, paying attention to physical needs at the venues, getting accessibility information to event planners, and embedding accessibility experts into each team in each city.

Offer to Help

The offer to help make World Information Architecture Day 2015 accessible in all the meanings of the word will take teamwork. I’ve contacted a few accessibility experts here in Los Angeles and asked them to help with some preliminary user experience research being conducted by Elisabeth Bentley. I’ll eventually be reaching out to the world wide tribe of accessibility folks before this is over.

Cities Update


Anna Belle Leiserson @faithandweb is finishing up work on Accessible Nashville, a congregational/church theme. Thanks Anna Belle!


David A. Kennedy @DavidAKennedy finished Accessible Zen which is now available in the WordPress Theme Directory. Accessible Zen is a minimalist theme, white with nearly black text and dark blue headings with one center column. A gravatar photo of the blog owner leads off the page which is cool. If you have a gravatar it will pull your picture automatically. A heading and subheading make up the rest of the header. Then there’s the center column with posts, followed by a footer with search and whatever you want to add with Widgets such as recent posts, recent comments, archives, etc. David is now starting work on Accessible Alexandria, a government theme.

Los Angeles

Joseph Karr O’Connor and the Los Angeles theme team is doing AUX research and gathering requirements for a business/ecommerce theme. If you have any requirements or features you’d like to see please let us know @AccessibleJoe.

Theme Check Process

The WordPress Accessibility team has created a new theme hashtag, accessibility-ready, and it will soon be part of WordPress core. The theme check team has already checked some themes and approved them according to Guidelines: Accessibility. One theme that passes is Twenty Fourteen, this year’s official WordPress theme.

Molly Holzschlag


It was 1999 and I was at the National Association of Broadcasters conference in Las Vegas. At that time I was deeply involved in digital video. Apple was introducing Final Cut Pro at NAB that year and I wanted to be there. There was a pop-up bookstore with books on a wide range of technical topics and I was idly perusing them when I saw a book on HTML by Molly Holzschlag. The book was “Web by Design: The Complete Guide” published in 1998.

I started using HTML in 1995 and had created or helped to create a few websites, one for the college where I worked, but this was always in addition to my other work. Shortly after I started reading Molly’s book I had a chance to change jobs. One of the responsibilities was management of the website for a big educational organization. Based on reading Molly’s book I applied for and got the job. I began to think of web management as a career because of Molly.


Soon after getting that job we hired Molly to come and teach an HTML class and that’s when I first met her. I feel she’s a kindred spirit. She knows what a half sour is! We stayed in touch, renewing our friendship at conferences and trainings. I was, and still am, in awe of her skills. She’s a champion of open web standards and accessibility. And here’s the thing about Molly: she believes in an open accessible web. Not a Verizon web. An open web.

“If Tim Berners-Lee is the father of the Web, then Molly Holzschlag is its fairy godmother.”

Ultimately Molly’s work is about people and access to information. That’s what drives her. Molly cares deeply and gives freely because she knows that access to information is empowering. If you look at Molly’s Wikipedia entry it says “web evangelist.” One of the definitions of evangelist is “any zealous advocate of a cause.” And Molly’s cause is people and access to information.

Giving Back

I invited Molly to come here to Santa Monica to speak at Global Accessibility Awareness Day on May 9, 2013. She gave a very powerful talk which touched many people. I still have people mentioning that talk to me. She was supposed to fly out the day after but instead I was taking her to the emergency room. That was a turn for the worse of a serious health issue threatening her life and eventually her financial well-being.

I tried to set up a fundraiser with Molly some months ago but her heart wasn’t in it. I know she didn’t want to ask anyone for help, didn’t want to be a burden to anyone. Claudia Snell @claudiasnell and I had been in touch about Molly’s situation from the beginning. Last week Claudia contacted me to tell me that Molly was ready to accept our help. Claudia told me that Molly said we should contact her great friend Sharron Rush @sharrush of Knowbility. Sharron was already on board and ready to take action. Sharron had been talking with Brian Sullivan @BrianKSullivan, the founder of Big Design Conference, who had already done a fund raiser for his friend Keith Anderson @suredoc, and that’s how it all came together.


Brian set out to enter the information into the account on on the evening of Wednesday November 6. He was going to check back with us to take a look at what he had written before activating the campaign. We all woke up the next morning to find that we had raised $34k while we slept. According to Brian:

“When I had written the copy directly into the site, I clicked a button labeled Continue. It activated the campaign. Yes, I encountered a usability issue, but we rolled with it.”

Now, it’s Saturday night and $54,166 has been raised by 819 people in 4 days. And it’s all because of the generous people of the internet community who have gathered around Molly like a pod of dolphins raising a sick dolphin to the surface to breathe. Or maybe it’s more like a blessing of unicorns. LOL. There have been 2.5k social media shares about #TeamMolly in lots of different languages. Some common themes are Molly’s generosity, her teaching, her dedication to open standards and accessibility.

My High Point

The high point for me today was this Tweet from Molly:

@mollydotcom: Just wait until I’m out of this bed @AccessibleJoe – I’ll have some strong years in me. There is nothing we can’t accomplish together.

I’m going to sleep tonight knowing that the internet community and #TeamMolly have achieved something great this week and the fundraising is not over yet. There have also been pledges of about $25K worth of workshops being offered with proceeds going to #TeamMolly. This outpouring of generosity is wonderful to behold. And it’s all because Molly has always put people and access to information first, and it’s also because she let us help her.

April 2015 Update

Molly is not out of the woods yet, there is a second campaign to help her through continued tough times and I hope you’ll consider giving back to her some of what she has added to so many people’s lives. Thanks.

Accessible WordPress Themes

Are There Accessible WordPress Themes?

Recently I had a Twitter conversation with Marco Zehe @MarcoInEnglish in which he asked me about availability of accessible WordPress themes. I’m asked this question all the time.

WordPress Accessibility Team members have been working very hard on core, documentation, and a theme check process for accessible themes. We’ve devised an enterprise accessibility statement for WordPress. We have prepared a draft accessibility theme check process.

We have prepared the way for accessible WordPress themes to be created, uploaded, theme checked for accessibility, and made available in the WordPress Theme Directory. I’m attempting to do something about the lack of accessible WordPress themes with Cities, but the fact is that there are still very few accessible themes available. Here is a list of themes that claim accessibility.

A List of Accessible WordPress Themes

Themes constructed based on accessibility principles are only accessible in practice after they have been loaded with content and resulting pages are checked. Some of these are child themes, and you have to load the parent theme first. Some of them are not available in the theme directory and require manual uploading and installation.

In Theme Directory

Not In Theme Directory