Tag Archives: einclusion

Web designers: your chance to be a super hero!

 The nonprofit organization Knowbility now has 27 nonprofits and artists that have signed up to participate in OpenAIR2018 and get new web sites via its acclaimed hackathon, which takes place in February and March 2018. There is room for a few more nonprofits, NGOs, charities and artists – but now, Knowbility is turning its attention to recruiting web design teams.

OpenAIR web design teams are volunteers-turned-superheroes. They receive training and mentoring from some of the nation’s most prominent web design accessibility experts as they design new web sites for participating client organizations and artists. Design teams have about five weeks after the start date on February 8, 2018 to create these web sites that comply with ADA and Section 508 standards. The training and mentoring that design teams receive is valued at over $4,000 – but participating web design teams pay just $150.

Web sites are judged by Knowbility’s judging panel over a six week period (the nonprofits and artists get access to the designs to use on their own sites as soon as the design period is over, but team original designs are preserved for judging). Awards will be announced in May during Knowbility’s AccessU accessibility conference.

OpenAIR web design teams can be professional web designers, university faculty, university students – anyone who has designed web sites but wants to take their skills to the next level.

This is a great opportunity not only to get top-notch training in web design accessibility; it’s also a fantastic opportunity to:

  • enhance your virtual team skills and brag about being involved in virtual volunteering
  • be a part of an internationally-recognized event
  • help nonprofits that are addressing a variety of causes – fair housing, help for seniors, children’s education and more
  • gain recognition for your individual or your company’s corporate social responsibility focus / philanthropy
  • compete with other web designers

Your team could be the IT staff from a government agency. Or the entire IT department at a large corporation. Or staff from a savy hot tech startup. Or university students. Or university faculty. If you are an individual web designer, you can register as an individual and you will be matched with a team that has room for you or with other individuals who want to participate and join a team. Teams must have at least 4 members and no more than 6.

After the competition, Knowbility also asks design teams to guide their client organization’s through the process of replacing their current web site with the one the design team has developed, and to provide some initial guidance to the nonprofit in case they have any difficulties with their new site. This is not a requirement, but the guidance is greatly appreciated by the nonprofit clients (otherwise, the guidance will be provided by Knowbility).

A fee of $150 per team is due at registration. If you are an individual, note in your registration that you want to be a part of a team; you can work out how to pay your registration once your team is finalized.

Teams may register with a nonprofit or artist they already have a relationship with (however, there is also a $100 nonprofit registration fee – and if the nonprofit client or artist has to register ASAP, because the window for those registrations is FAST closing!).

Register ASAP! I suggest a deadline of January 12, 2018 to register! 

The Accessibility Internet Rally (AIR) has been happening since the 1990s. It used to be an onsite hackathon, mostly in Austin, Texas, and the designs happened in ONE DAY – back then, the nonprofits didn’t have web sites at all. I was a part of it back then – I’m thrilled to be a part of it again.

Also see:

Lessons for online outreach to nonprofits, NGOs & charities

Since June 1, I’ve served as the nonprofit liaison for OpenAIR – Accessibility Internet Rally. It’s an online event by Knowbility, an international nonprofit based in Austin, Texas. I have been working to recruit nonprofits, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), charities and artists in the USA and abroad to participate in the event, which begins in February, but there are some things nonprofits need to do now, or up to that date, to participate. OpenAIR provides participating organizations and artists with both a new, professionally-designed, accessible website that accommodates all visitors, and with expanded awareness about accessibility issues. They get more than a new website; they become a more-welcoming place online – and maybe offline as well.

People with disabilities want to donate, volunteer and otherwise support causes they care about, including the arts. But if a nonprofit’s or artist’s website isn’t accessible to them, they are left out – and that means leaving out potential donors, volunteers, clients, ideas, talent and more. All of that changes when the organization participates in OpenAIR. The OpenAIR website has full details on the benefits of participation, why every organization or artist should make web accessibility a priority, and exactly what participation looks like for a client organization/artist. If you decide to participate, all you have to do is fill out the registration form, and then you will receive a client needs survey which you need to fill out before December 15. Registration is $100, but we’re not billing anyone until December.

I have no budget for this outreach for OpenAIR. I can’t buy ads or airtime anywhere. I’ve been doing outreach for OpenAIR almost entirely online, mostly via one-to-one emails, but also via a few face-to-face visits with nonprofits representatives here where I live in Oregon, in coffee shops, on a front porch, while walking our dogs… Of course, the face-to-face pitches have been the most effective ones. That’s why I created a five minute pitch video, trying to recapture whatever it is I do face-to-face that makes people want to participate and that seems to be far more effective than emails.

Other than the importance of face-to-face, personal pitches to sell an idea even an online one, what else have I learned from doing outreach for Knowbility and OpenAIR? Listen up, because I think these are important in understanding outreach to and by any mission-based organization, including schools and government agencies:

  1. Many nonprofits, NGOs, charities and artists do not have any way to contact them electronically via their web site. I’m not kidding! There is no email address, no contact form, no nothing. And going to the WHOIS database to look up their registration info often doesn’t help: they’ve paid a company to block their email address from view, or the domain name registration company is the contact. All of these organizations and artists rely on donors and clients/audiences to exist – and, yet, they make it oh-so-hard to reach anyone at the organization except by telephone (and sometimes not even that is listed!).
  2. Many nonprofits, NGOs, charities and artists have only an online form to use to reach them electronically – no actual email address. Often, these forms require you to choose a reason for your message, and none of the reasons offered are why I’m writing. Or I get an error message after submitting the contact form – the person receiving the message is no longer at the organization, or the email address no longer works, or the script is broken, or something didn’t work and I can’t figure out what or why. How many potential clients/audiences also tried to use this form – and were turned away?
  3. We’ve got a long way to go regarding making accessible web design a priority, even at nonprofits that have a large clientele of people with disabilities or diminishing abilities (sight, hearing, mobility, etc.), even among initiatives that claim to focus on the digital divide, e-inclusion, social inclusion, social justice, equity and human rights. I am flabbergasted to find 99% of the nonprofits, NGOs, charities and artists I have checked out do not have anywhere near an accessible web design.
  4. Many nonprofits, NGOs, charities and artists flatly reject the idea that their site needs to be accessible. Some feedback I’ve heard:
    — “We don’t have that many people we’re trying to reach / that want our services that have a disability.”
    — “Seems expensive/too much work” (it’s NOT, BTW)
    — “A company owned by one of our board members did our web site – we don’t want to offend them by asking for a change.”
  5. There are still nonprofits, NGOs and charities that don’t control their own web sites! I thought this was a problem that was left behind with the last millennium. But, even today, there are a lot of organizations that got a site donated by a board member or some other supporter, or a consultant or volunteer did the site, and to make any change to the site, whether adding text or changing a photo or adding a page, the organization has to contact the company or person that controls the web site and ask him to do it (I’ve het to find a “her” that exerts such control). And these organizations are really reluctant to “bother” that person.
  6. There are some really awful domain names out there. My #1 rule for a domain name is that it’s easy to say, because that means it’s easy to remember. Yes, it’s wonderful if it’s also short, but if it’s short and impossible to remember, it’s not a good URL. There are even some organizations using the ~ (tilde) symbols in their web addresses! ARGH!

And before any for-profit/corporate folks comment to say, “Well, this is why nonprofits need to be more like businesses”, let me say that part of the above is YOUR fault. Why? Because (1) you refuse to fund “overhead”, which means you refuse to fund the web hosting, the domain name registration, or even a part-time person to manage a web site at a nonprofit, and you also refuse to fund classes for the person at a nonprofit charged with managing the web site, and (2) you donate space on your server for a nonprofit’s web site, or say you will otherwise host the web site, and pat yourself on the back for this in-kind donation, but then you don’t treat the nonprofit as a client, responding to their requests for changes to the web site promptly. And when a nonprofit comes to you and says, “We’d like our web site to be accessible”, you balk and say “Too expensive.” Even though it’s NOT “too expensive.” Again: ARGH!

Also see:

People with disabilities & virtual volunteering

I said it back in the 1990s, and I’ll say it again: Online volunteering / virtual volunteering can allow for the greater participation of people who might find volunteering difficult or impossible because of a disability. This in turn allows organizations to benefit from the additional talent and resources of more volunteers, and allows agencies to further diversify their volunteer talent pool.

In addition, ensuring that your volunteering program – online or onsite – is accommodating for people with disabilities will end up making your program more accessible to everyone. For instance, if you make sure your online training videos have captioning, don’t be surprised when people who have no hearing problems at all thank you, since they can mute the video and watch it at work or in a public area without disturbing people around them.

People with disabilities volunteer for the same reasons as anyone else: they want to contribute their time and energy to improving the quality of life. They want challenging, rewarding, educational service projects that address needs of a community and provide them with outlets for their enthusiasm and talents.

I was reminded of this recently when a fantastic testimonial from Alena Roberts for the Matilda Ziegler Magazine for the Blind was recently reposted to Inclusive Planet about online volunteering / virtual volunteering.

Here are 11 people’s testimonials about how virtual volunteering allowed them to volunteer, despite their disabilities, compiled by the Virtual Volunteering Project, that remain as powerful as when they were first-published back in the late 1990s.

I told this story back in April 2009, but it’s a good time to repeat it now:

Back in the late 1990s, when I was directing the Virtual Volunteering Project, I recruited and involved online volunteers myself to support the Project, feeling that it would be inappropriate to offer advice to other organizations to involve online volunteers unless I was engaged in the practice myself. The only recruiting I did was via the Project’s web site, on a page that was purposely not easy to find; online volunteers were oh-so-easy to recruit even back then, and by making the page harder to find, I regularly received applications from candidates who I knew were actually reading my web site.

One day, an application came in from a guy I’ll call Arnie. It was clear from Arnie’s application that he was… different. His answers to questions on the application were child-like (though everything was spelled correctly), and didn’t at all sound like they were coming from a man in his 40s (he shared his age despite my not asking for it). Among other things, he said that what he wanted to do most as an online volunteer was to share images and messages from the Virgin Mary, a skill set that I didn’t really have a need for at that time… But I kept reading Arnie’s application and thinking, well, while I know this person is very likely mentally disabled based on his answers, he spells just fine and he’s REALLY enthusiastic. There’s really no reason to say no outright. I’ll put him through all of the regular online screening steps and give him a trial assignment and see what happens, just like I do with all volunteers.

Unlike most other online volunteering applicants, Arnie followed all of the directions on the online orientation immediately, to the letter, and within just a couple of hours rather than a couple of days. I don’t remember what the first assignment was that I gave him, but just as the directions in the online orientation stated, he wrote back (within probably an hour) and said that he didn’t feel he could do what was asked for, so could he please have a different assignment? I think the revised assignment I sent him was regarding a list of names of people who had given me their business cards at conferences, but back in the 1990s, many people didn’t put their email addresses and web site addresses on their cards. I asked him to use Google to find that information for me, if possible. The next day, the finished assignment was waiting for me, with profuse apologies for each person he couldn’t find online, and a request for a new assignment.

I slowly became a bit obsessed with trying to create assignments for Arnie. He could do only basic things online, like looking up information, and he needed explicit directions on how to do every task, but he was SO enthusiastic about it all. I started saving things for Arnie to do that I could have done myself in far less time than it would take him to do. For each assignment he always wrote back promptly if he thought an assignment was too difficult, or wrote back to say how happy he was at the assignment, how excited he was to do it, etc.

I think Arnie’s favorite assignment was when I asked him to visit 20 or so web sites that were supposed to be targeted at children; I was putting together a list of things online mentors and young people could do together online, and I wanted to know if these web sites were worthwhile. A paid consultant could not have provided the thorough, brutally honest assessments that Arnie did. Things like

I did not like this site at all, Miss Jayne. It was confusing! I did not know how to use it! It is a bad web site for this reason.

      or

I liked this site very much, Miss Jayne. It was fun! I showed it to my mother. She thought it was fun too.

I was starting an online mentoring program at a local elementary school in Austin, and I invited all the online volunteers I had worked with to apply to be online mentors. Arnie was probably the first applicant. At first, my reaction was: he can’t do this. I have to tell him no. But then I kept thinking about it — *why* couldn’t Arnie talk online with a 10 year old? His tone would actually be perfect for a 10 year old. They would never know each other’s real name or be able to contact each other outside the web platform we would use for online exchanges, every message he sent would be screened, just like the other mentors. Why not let him go through the whole application process and see if he makes it? So, I did.

Among the screening required was two references who could attest to the candidate’s character and communications abilities. One of Arnie’s references was his doctor. When I called for the reference check, the doctor said, “Are you the Miss Jayne?! I’ve heard about you for a year now! Arnie lives to volunteer with you! It’s changed his life!”

I’m glad I was on the phone, so he couldn’t see me crying.

Arnie survived the screening process and was a wonderful participant in the program. His emails to his student were always perfect, full of questions and enthusiastic comments, written in short, simple sentences. The only thing I ever had to do was ask him to revise an email that had a religious reference in it, not as in “I went to church this weekend and it was fun,” which would have been fine, but as in “I hope you are praying to God every day!” Arnie quickly understood why that was inappropriate once I explained it to him, and it never happened again.

After more than a year of working together, Arnie wrote to say that he would need to take a break from volunteering, because he was getting “too full of worry” when he did assignments. I wrote him after a month saying that I hoped he was doing well, and he wrote back a lengthy, somewhat rambling apology for “letting you down.” I wrote him again to say that was NOT the case at all, wrote lots of encouragement and thank yous, etc. When I didn’t hear from him after a few months, I called his doctor, just to make sure he was okay. He was, but his doctor said he probably wouldn’t be using email anymore, that it had become too overwhelming for him. Sadly, I never heard from Arnie again.

What did I learn from all this?

I became a better volunteer manager for all volunteers because of Arnie. My descriptions of all tasks for volunteers became much more detailed and explicit. I better emphasized to volunteers that the time to drop out of an assignment was right at the start, and that there will be no hard feelings for doing so before the commitment has begun. I started reserving a diversity of tasks specifically for volunteers, and for my own list of tasks, I would always ask, could volunteers help me do any of this? I tried to identify a range of very simple starter assignments, so that new volunteers would not feel overwhelmed — or, if they did, they would know that online volunteering was not for them very early on. I look very much into what a volunteer can do, not what limitations a volunteer may have. I also learned that everyone, people with disabilities and otherwise, screen themselves when it comes to assignments, and it’s rare that someone will ask to volunteer for a task they are unqualified to do.

Since Arnie, I’ve worked with other volunteers with disabilities, though often, I haven’t been aware of such, since online volunteering often masks any disabilities a person may have. I can judge people online only by their abilities, rather than their appearance, if I stick to text-only communications.

When I’m working at a nonprofit organization, I involve volunteers not to save money, not to do what I can’t pay staff to do, but rather, to involve the community in the work of my organization, to create an army of advocates for our work, and to make my work more interesting with input from many more people. I’ll continue to strive to create inclusive programs, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because, in the end, it helps me be a better contributor.

2014 update:

vvbooklittleThe influence of this experience, and many others, as well as extensive research, can be found in The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook. This book, which I wrote with Susan J. Ellis, is our attempt to document all of the best practices of working with online volunteers, from the more than three decades that virtual volunteering has been happening. It’s available both in traditional print form and in digital version. If you read the book, I would so appreciate it if you could write and post a review of it on the Amazon and Barnes and Noble web sites (you can write the same review on both sites).

There’s also The Virtual Volunteering Wiki: a free resource featuring a curated list of news articles about virtual volunteering since 1996, an extensive list of examples of virtual volunteering activities, a list of myths about virtual volunteering, the history of virtual volunteering, a list of research and evaluations of virtual volunteering, a list of online mentoring programs, and links to web sites and lists of offline publications related to virtual volunteering in languages in other than English.

And there’s also our LinkedIn Group for the discussion of virtual volunteering.

Also see: Safety in virtual volunteering