Texas School of Information Hosts Successful Accessibility Hackathon

Sandlin, Anu  |  Nov 21, 2018

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Students viewing a demonstration of JAWS, a popular screen reader software.

The University of Texas at Austin’s School of Information hosted an Accessible Web Demonstration and Hackathon on Friday, October 26, 2018. The five-hour event, which took place from 12:00 to 5:00 p.m. in the iSchool IT Lab, was co-sponsored by the iSchool’s IT Team and Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

Texas iSchool partnered with Knowbility Inc., a locally-based non-profit whose mission is to, "support the independence of children and adults with disabilities by promoting the use and improving the availability of accessible information technology.” 

Knowbility brought in volunteers from AccessWorks, a Knowbility program that connects usability and UX professionals to people with disabilities who can then test web sites and apps using their own assistive technologies (such as screen readers, screen magnifiers, special keyboards etc.). Anne Forrest and Barry Armour demonstrated assistive technologies used in the service of accessing Web and other digital content. 

There is no more compelling way to teach accessible design than to work with –and hear directly from— those who rely on assistive technologies every day.

Forrest, who suffered a brain injury several years ago, has been recognized as one of the nation's leading patient advocates for people with traumatic brain injury. Armour, a blind screen-reader user who lost his eyesight about 6 years ago, is an advocate for educating people about technology and making it accessible for everyone. Forrest provided a unique perspective on how screen color and movements affect people with brain injuries, while Armour demoed screen readers.

The group discussed some of the most common design considerations regarding accessible code. Event participants then had the opportunity to hack on the iSchool Website to help improve the School’s accessibility score –determined by the WorldSpace auditing tool, and used by UT’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement. 

“I can’t thank Knowbility (Sharron, Jillian, and Christi) or Anne and Barry enough for making our Accessibility Hackathon such a success,” said Sam Burns, Texas iSchool’s Senior IT Manager. “There is no more compelling way to teach accessible design than to work with –and hear directly from— those who rely on assistive technologies every day,” he stated.   

Thirty-three students attended the Accessibility Hackathon; twenty-seven were iSchoolers and two were from other programs. Attendance and participation did not require prior web or coding experience. “We had a wonderful turnout,” said Burns. “The students commented that having our partners from Knowbility –and AccessWorks volunteer advocates— made it a truly fantastic learning experience.”  

The Texas iSchool hopes to host another successful Accessibility Hackathon next year. “Knowing how to create accessible tools is both a responsibility and a privilege,” said Burns. “The more we innovate towards inclusion, the better we become as theorists, designers, and developers of future information systems.”

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