The Accessibility Internet Rally (AIR) is a web design competition that increases awareness of the tools and techniques that make the Internet accessible to everyone - including people with disabilities. AIR participants - teams of professional web developers - are trained in accessibility and use those skills to compete to make accessibile web content for nonprofit organizations.
This year marks the 14th AIR competition and the first time the rally has been opened up to competitors internationally. Ella Jane Moore, the Knowbility Community Programs Manager has joined us for an interview.
How did the Accessibility Internet Rally get its start?
AIR is actually the event that started Knowbility - Sharron Rush, our Executive Director, put the first one together 15 years ago as a way to rally the development community around accessibility and the principles of universal design. It was such a success that Sharron founded Knowbility and we've been growing AIR ever since.
What are the larger goal of the Accessibility Internet Rally?
The immediate result of AIR is that dozens of nonprofits get new, professionally designed, accessible websites. What really excites me about the program is how many developers get accessibility training. Right now I have eighty developers registered, and that means eighty developers will learn the latest and greatest accessibility techniques and hopefully take them back to their jobs and implement accessible design on every project they participate in. AIR also does a fantastic job of creating stakeholders in accessibility. It fires developers up about accessibility and many spread the word, teaching coworkers and friends what they know, and advocating for accessibility implementation in the earliest stages of development.
How many teams participate in the rally?
This year's a little different than ever before. In prior years, the Rally has been a local event: AIR Austin, AIR Denver, AIR Dallas, etc. This year we've taken it international by making virtual participation possible. It used to be that anywhere from ten to twenty teams would compete locally; this year I'm hoping for fifty teams of four to six developers. That means two or three hundred developers get training!
How does the rally work? What is the process work for the participating teams?
We've also changed how the Rally works a little bit. It used to be the Rally was a one-day event; teams were given their nonprofit's content and had a few weeks to brainstorm and draw up a sitemap, and then gathered on one day to code. A lot of teams wanted to produce content management systems for their nonprofits but didn't have time to make them accessible in one day, so we've extended the competition.
This year, teams need to register by Wednesday, October 10th. The competition kicks off with an event on October 17th where development team/nonprofit match ups are announced. The event gives everyone a chance to sit down, talk to each other about needs and expectations, plan any meetings necessary, and the nonprofits give their team all of their content. Teams can start coding that night and have a month to work on them and meet with their nonprofits. On Saturday, November 17th, we'll all gather together again for a day of coding, hackathon style. Sites are due at 5 PM that day, and go live for the nonprofits immediately. Sites are then judged with regional winners announced in January and top prizes announced at SXSW Interactive in March.
Because of the international nature of the competition, we're finding lots of new ways to connect far away people to the events. Through a partnership with iDeafNews, we'll be able to provide live streaming with ASL interpreters. We'll use a combination of other technologies to see, hear, and interact with all our remote teams - in Bangalore, Dublin, Syndey, Toronto, everywhere!
What kind of training is involved?
The international nature of the competition has necessitated a change in the way we delivered our training. In-person trainings wouldn't cut it, so we've created a learning management system to be able to provide eLearning on-demand to all teams. We'll still be doing in person, instructor-led training, but we'll also be recording these and posting them online so those who can't connect because of distance or time differences will still be able to benefit from the wealth of our instructors' knowledge. Members of our AIR Training Committee will also be making themselves available for developers to answer any questions they might have and help troubleshoot any issues.
Training will cover basic accessibility, advanced accessibility, ARIA, accessible forms, video captioning, audio descriptions, testing and tools, and more.
How did you develop these training goals?
The training has developed organically over the years with the needs of our nonprofits. We try to provide training in how to make anything a nonprofit might need on their website accessible. The competition is meant for experienced web development teams, so we don't train on how to build a website, just on how to make it accessible. We also benefit by having some of the worlds' foremost accessibility experts as volunteers; for instance, Rich Schwerdtfeger, CTO for Accessibility at IBM and Chair of the WCAG WAI-ARIA Working Group is our Project Chair this year, and he's informing our ARIA training. Who better to develop training than the man who wrote the standard?
How is WorldSpace being used in the competition?
We had a unique challenge this year with the expansion of the competition - same number of judges, and upwards of four times the number of sites to evaluate. We needed a robust tool to assist our Judging Committee conduct a fair evaluation of every page on every site and WorldSpace was the natural choice due to its enormous feature set and great capabilities. Deque has also been a fantastic organization to work with - we're so excited to have Preety Kumar on board as a judge!
What made you choose WorldSpace?
WorldSpace is commonly known to be the most comprehensive web accessibility tool available. The options to check by Canadian Common Look and Feel, UK DDA, and Japanese Industrial Standard are fantastic and make perfect sense for an international competition. There's nothing else out there with that kind of feature set. We also know it to be easy to use; the option to use algorithms designed for templates which prevent extraneous errors from being repeated throughout the site reports is really attractive for us. We have a few blind judges, as well, so the accessibility of the reports was another key feature. It's ironic, but not all accessibility evaluation tools put out accessible reports. We love that WorldSpace does!