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.


CSUN 2011

I attended the following panel discussion at the 26th annual International Technology and Persons With Disabilities Conference, at 3:10 PM, Thursday, March 17, 2011:

Do We Need to Change the Web Accessibility Game Plan?

This panel was a discussion of current web accessibility efforts, whether they were effective or not, and how they could be improved, and was presented by:

Jennison Asuncion, @Jennison
John Foliot, @JohnFoliot
Jared Smith, @jared_w_smith
Sandi Wassmer, @SandiWassmer

The word “tribe” was used to describe the people working in accessibility around the world. That wasn’t the first time, but during that discussion I think we really owned it. We were the tribe. And the tribe wasn’t satisfied with the current mode we were in. We noticed that we gathered together almost exclusively at accessibility conferences and talked accessibility with each other. Preaching to the choir wasn’t working. We had to branch out.

Branching Out

Presaging this group revelation was Glenda Watson Hyatt’s @GlendaWH glorious standing ovation at SXSW a few days before for her presentation “Is Your Site POUR?” Those who were there say it was a life-changing experience. Branching out was already working for the tribe. Many more of us have branched out since.

This year I started a Meetup here in Silicon Beach, the Los Angeles Accessibility and Inclusive Design Group modeled after Lisa Herrod’s group in Sydney and Jennison Asuncion and George Zamfir’s Toronto groups. I also started Cities.

No Matter What

The tribe sticks together. 24 hours ago I saw a Tweet by Sarah Bourne ‏@sarahebourne “When the phone rings at this hour, it’s not good. My mom died.” Within minutes she was getting messages of sympathy from tribe members. Lots of them. When a tribe member is in trouble we gather together.

And when a tribe member makes good, we make a big deal of it. When I retired from CSUN earlier this year I was inundated with good wishes. Earlier today @Jennison Tweeted: “I am honoured and humbled to have been recognized today with a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.” I think Jennison is still getting congratulatory Tweets.


Also in the last 24 hours as we led up to the US Senate vote on the UN Convention on the Rights with Persons of Disabilities there were many posts and Tweets from tribe members. I don’t know if Bill Shackleton ‏@CRPDisabilities counts himself a tribe member, but I think he should. His tireless work live-Tweeting debate, making resources available, urging us all on, is remarkable. This type of giving, without reservation, and without personal gain is the epitome of what being an accessibility tribe member is all about. Three cheers to the tribe!