Molly Holzschlag

Getting

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.

Giving

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.

#TeamMolly

Brian set out to enter the information into the account on GoFundMe.com 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.

Cynthia Waddell

Cynthia Waddell passed away Wednesday, April 3, 2013. She was a tireless advocate for persons with disabilities. Cynthia was the Executive Director of the International Center for Disability Resources on the Internet. I heard her speak many times at the CSUN International Conference on Technology and Persons with Disabilities. She participated in the formation of Section 508, and she went on to focus on Information and Communications Technology, speaking at the United Nations and all around the world.

Hall Meetings

To me the best part of a conference is talking with people. Meetings in ballrooms and hallways are often very productive. So it was no surprise when, in 2009, after Cynthia delivered another wonderful presentation at the CSUN conference, that I found myself at the front of the room talking with her. Glenda Sims @goodwitch soon joined us.

VPAT Means What?

One thing led to another and the topic of Voluntary Product Accessibility Templates (VPAT) came up. A VPAT describes how a product or service addresses U.S. Section 508 guidelines. I noted that in my dealings with vendors who had VPATs I had come to see them as generally divergent from the testing that I was doing. Cynthia and Glenda agreed. Soon we were tossing around ideas for a more accurate backronym for VPAT. In short order we had a satisfactory work product. VPAT, we said, actually stands for Very Packaged Alternate Truth.

Visionary

Cynthia, for all of her many wonderful accomplishments, was still very approachable. She often took time to stop and talk about what she perceived as the pressing needs of the world for accessibility. She was truly a visionary, following her passion, doing her life’s work in a focused, purposeful fashion. I’ll always think of her when I waver on my path, and I’ll always remember that moment of fun Glenda and I shared with her.

Joe

Joe was my dad. He was born in 1917 and raised on the wild Atlantic coast in Ballyheigue, County Kerry, Ireland. When my dad’s family slaughtered an animal, other families would come and help, and take parts they could use. When another family did the same, his family would go help, and take parts they could use in their turn. The community shared.

Last spring I visited Ballyheige and stayed in the old schoolhouse my dad attended. The children were required to bring a piece of coal each day, to feed the communal fire. If a neighbor had a piece of wood, and you needed that piece of wood for your currach, you might offer to help two days tending lobster pots in exchange. That’s the way my dad lived all his life, even after he emigrated and came to New Jersey. He always sought ways to help people, to be of service to others.

We called my dad Joe, and me Joseph, to make a distinction between us. All my life I’ve maintained that distinction. I’ve felt that try as I might, I could never quite live up to his example. I felt that I couldn’t fill his shoes.

I recently changed my Twitter handle. It was @csunwebmaster. I wanted something personal, not tied to an institution or job title. I’ve been doing accessibility since 1999. Accessibility is my passion. So that’s part of my new handle: accessible. Jessi R @canadian_diva replied “@AccessibleJoe you changed your twitter handle! glad to know you’re accessible haha.” Well yes, I am accessible: easy to talk to or get along with.

Last night after Accessibility Camp Los Angeles I was talking with John Foliot @johnfoliot and Dennis Lembree @dennisl about Joseph and Joe. John said he always had a tendency to want to call me Joe and we talked about that. I told him about my dad, and how I had come to terms with being worthy of Joe. John said the handle is approachable. I like that.

It’s remarkable how many people can’t spell Joseph. They tend to spell it Joesph. A long time ago I determined that I would give restaurant staff the name Joe when making a reservation. Joe is easier to spell, and certainly much easier to hear in a crowd. So the second part of my handle is Joe because it is easily spelled and understood by more people. Isn’t this what the essence of accessibility is?

Here’s to you, dad, I hope I’m living up to your example.