Friday, August 29, 2008

Knowbility Press Release in Response to Closing of UT Accessibility Institute

512 305-0310 / 512 797-7351

Decision opposed by technology industry leaders, disability community, academics

Austin, TX- August 29th, 2008 – The University of Texas announced last week its intention to close the Accessibility Institute, founded by Dr. John Slatin, a faculty member who passed away earlier this year. The Accessibility Institute was founded by Dr. Slatin in the early 1990’s as the Institute for Technology and Learning (ITAL), to research effective methods for employing technology in teaching and learning environments. His work at ITAL and the emerging dominance of electronic information technology led Dr. Slatin to research design methods and practices that would ensure that no one was left out of educational opportunity because of disability. His own progressive blindness was one factor, but Dr. Slatin’s passion for art, literature and the humanities led his commitment to include everyone as technology transformed teaching and learning. At the Accessibility Institute, John Slatin pioneered studies that helped an emerging industry frame its ideas for highly usable and inclusive interface design methods.

A colleague in the English Department, Dr. Peg Syverson, worked closely with Dr. Slatin.
“John was not merely an innovator; “ Dr. Syverson says, “He was a visionary. And he was not a visionary who merely saw into the future. He brought the future he saw into being. And the future he brought into being was dazzling and entirely unexpected. John saw … that technology could become a vehicle for liberation and transformation in the humanities.”

At the Accessibility Institute, Dr. Slatin built a staff of researchers and graduate students who integrated technology, accessibility, and learning for everyone through research, education, advocacy, consulting, training, and service to the campus community and state agencies struggling to comply with accessibility requirements mandated by the Texas legislature. UT’s example of incorporating accessibility into all educational research and development was one that is upheld as a standard all over the nation and the world. The World Wide Web Consortium invited Dr. Slatin to co-chair its Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Working Group, a position he held in 2005 and 2006.

Because of the recognized leadership position held by the University of Texas, the closure announcement came as quite a shock to the campus community and to accessibility experts and technology industry leaders globally. As business, government and academic institutions all over the world strive to build inclusive information technology design tools and techniques, the closure of one of the nation’s leading research institutes in the field is baffling to many.

“I learned that UT’s decision was final on the same day I learned that Target stores had settled their accessibility lawsuit with the National Federation of the Blind,” says Sharron Rush, accessibility expert and co-author with Dr. Slatin of Maximum Accessibility, an accessible design manual published in 2002 to great acclaim. “While John might chuckle at the irony, he would be bitterly disappointed in the short-sightedness of the University. We have invited the Provost’s Office to meet and hear our concerns and suggestions for transition, but they have so far declined to meet with us. ”

Ms Rush, her nonprofit employer Knowbility, and others in the disability, academic, and technology community launched an effort today to persuade the University to maintain and build on this important body of work. They have petitioned the administration to give serious consideration to requests to move the Accessibility Institute into the School of Information or otherwise provide continuity to a transition of Dr. Slatin’s work. The petition, addressed to Executive Vice-Prvost Steve Monti, took just a few hours to garner more than 130 signatures from people all over the world, including representatives of Apple, Adobe, Google, IBM and numerous academic institutions and state agencies.

Selected comments:
Dr. Jon Gunderson, University of Illinois: It is very important for the advancement of universal design that institutes like the Accessibility Institute at UT becomes an important part of the basic research agenda of the university. I urge you to reinvest in the institute to bring researchers to bear on the fundamental and applied accessibility of human disability and technology.

Dr. Terry Thompson, University of Washington: UT-Austin has long been a model for web accessibility. This tradition should be upheld, not just for the benefit of UT-Austin, but for higher education institutions globally who have turned to the Accessibility Institute for guidance and leadership.

Dr. Chris Strickling, Texas Department of Aging and Disability: I am disturbed to discover that there are people at the university who do not recognize the value of the work and vision of the Accessibility Institute. Web accessibility, universal design research, and all of the projects of the AI are of immense importance to our communities, both academic and cultural.

Katherine Druckman, Publisher: As a webmaster for a major publication…I know that web media will only become more significant, and with it accessibility studies must continue. People in my field have come to know UT as a knowledge center, and as a Texan I would be quite saddened if that changed.

James Craig, Apple: The Accessibility Institute…started me and countless others on the road to helping thousands make accessible products and websites enjoyed by millions of people worldwide. The Accessibility Institute's influence for the greater good cannot be overstated.

Matt May, Adobe Systems: As painful as the loss of John has been to the field of accessibility, it would be especially sad to also lose his institute, all within the same year. We need the work of the Accessibility Institute to continue, in order to benefit a constituency which faces greater and more complex challenges to access than ever before.

To sign the petition, read more of the comments from around the nation and the world, or learn more about the issues and the importance of this work, follow the links on the Knowbility homepage at

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Step Backwards for Accessibility: UT Accessibility Institute Closing

From Sharron Rush, Executive Director of Knowbility:

"As news has spread of the closing of UT's Accessibility Institute, many have asked for a simple way to register their objections. Knowbility has created and posted an online petition and we welcome all the support you can bring. Below is background (thank you Mike Moore for a great summary) if you want to distribute to other networks and here is the link:"

Petition to Save the Accessibility Institute

From Mike Moore, accessibility specialist for the State of Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) Center for Policy and Innovation :

1. The Accessibility Institute at the University of Texas will be closed effective August 29th 2008.
2. Proposals to move the work to the College of Information and/or the College of Computer Science have not been accepted. Although those institutions are capable of conducting the research there are no specific funds, faculty, or researcher positions to support this work.
3. The two primary researchers from the Accessibility Institute are no longer available. The founder and Director, John Slatin, PhD passed away last spring and Kay Lewis, PhD has accepted another position.
4. The University’s IT department has few resources dedicated to accessibility. Two systems analysts are assigned 15% of their time each to oversee accessibility for the University’s 1M+ web pages.

It is very disappointing that the University has made this decision. The University of Texas has the stature, funding, reputation, and experience necessary to attract researchers and faculty needed to continue and build the Accessibility Institute. All that the University’s administration seems to lack is the interest.

The UT Accessibility Institute through Dr. Slatin was able to considerable influence on the development and implementation of accessibility standards world-wide. This included the formation of the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative and the WCAG 1.0 and 2.0 as well as the US Access Board and the Section 508 standards. Although I have tremendous admiration and respect for John, I do not believe that he would have been as influential had his advocacy not been backed by the solid research conducted at the Institute and the prestige of the University of Texas. The loss of the UT Accessibility Institute is a loss for the University, the State of Texas, the nation, and the world. Most importantly it is a loss for millions of disabled people who have benefited from the research, education, and advocacy that was conducted through the Institute.

The University runs promotional commercials during sports broadcasts where Walter Cronkite, speaks about the influence of the University. “The University of Texas, what starts here changes the world.” This was certainly true of the Accessibility Institute. By closing the Institute, the University of Texas is signaling that accessibility is not a priority anymore. I can only hope that this decision does not change the world.

Today I am ashamed of my alma mater.


The Accessibility Institute
is a research organization located on the UT Austin campus. This institute has focused on research of accessibility issues and offers training and consultation services to promote all aspects of Web and software accessibility for the university community. The initiative demonstrated and projects by the University of Texas served as a model to others nationally and across the globe, including The University of Wisconsin at Madison's Trace Center, as well as The University of Washington who called "A Promising Practice in Web Accessibility".

With the move to provide more educational content on the Web, a Student Web Accessibility Project was developed specifically to support accessibility of instructional resources on campus. The project had several components, including assessments of online instructional resources against Section 508 standards for Web accessibility, development of resources to support the creation of accessible online course materials, and assistance to developers in integrating accessibility into project planning and design of instructional sites. Findings were published in EDUCAUSE Quarterly in 2007.

The Accessibility Institute also ensured 508 compliance through reviews for entities such as the Government of Victoria, Australia; and its own UT portal into the Texas Digital Library.

From a personal standpoint, I find the tutorials very useful when I work on developing web pages for my state agency. I hopet the state of Texas, the international community and its affected populations don't lose this valuable resource. As A UT alumnus, this event will be the tipping point on whether I will be willing to contribute money to my alma mater.

I am most saddened that the legacy of John is ending so abruptly.

I am inspired by John, and other people who struggle with disabilities whether temporary or permanent. I'm reminded of the call to action to Beth Finke made to the accessibility community at the 2008 John Slation Access U.

"I can't get the technical stuff! CSS - What's that?! Cacading Spread Sheets? Thank you for the work you do, and keep doing it!"

"For most people, technology makes things easier. For people with disabilities, technology makes things possible." - President's Council on Disabilities

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

On the Bus: #3 Pub Crawl with Lee Nichols

The main blog is a must read at I Love Beer: The No. 3 Bus Route Drinking Tour

My boyfriend Ed brought along his video camera, and put a lot of effort into creating a fun reminiscent video. Some of the dialogue, especially Bobnoxious - was very entertaining. Or maybe not if you weren't there.

Here's my list of what I believe I drank through the course of the day:

Kodiak IPA 10:30 am NXNW Restaurant and Brewery
Great start with delicious food. First game was to randomly pick a card with a topic. If Lee mentioned that topic, the person holding the card won a prize. My topic was "The Olympics". I won while we were at the first bus stop!

Silver Margarita - noon at Iron Cactus
Tasty drink, but bad idea to have sweet and sour on top of brunch and then running for the bus.

Hoegaarden Wit - 1 pm Bagpipe's
Nice and refreshing, which I could say the same about Bagpipe's. Not the most comfortable place, and smelled like stale beer. I was feeling tired and almost bailed. Tweet!

Deschutes Mirror Pond Ale - 1:30ish Trudy's North Star
Nothing like a second wind with a tasty beer I had wanted to try. We also had three more people join us, including long lost pal of mine, Billy from Critical Mass Interactive.

Dos Equis - Poodle Dog Lounge
The fanciest beer I could find there.

Bud Lite - Ginny's Lil Longhorn
I went for the more expensive beer, and had to love Charlie Pride on the jukebox.

Real Ale Devil's Backbone - Billy's on Burnet
We arrived after everyone else, having waited for a bus that never came. Finally gave up and walked.

(512)Wit - The Draught House
After meeting owner and brewmaster Kevin Brand last week, I was curious to see whether he could deliver. OMG - I really enjoyed this beer!

Real Ale Lost Gold IPA - the Dog and Duck Pub
Enjoyed a tasty snack of fish and chips.

Sierra Nevada ESB - 10 pm The Ginger Man
And that's where we got cut off, never making it to Uncle Billy's. Not enough time on the bus schedule to make it there and then back north.

I wish that I could say it would be a long, long time before I'll drink that much in a day. Unfortunately the Austin Zealots picnic is this weekend, and I'm sure there will be a minimum of 25 different beers available.

It's all about drinking plenty of water, and pacing yourself!