Supporting non-profits while hacking: Our gig at the Knowbility OpenAIR Hackathon
Recently, four members of our Cloud DNS Team got the chance to help a San Antonio non-profit (the Food Policy Council of SA) while participating in the annual OpenAIR hackathon using some of our Rackspace volunteer hours.
Our team came in 4th place out of 15 teams. The first three places advanced to the finals. The advancing teams had about three weeks to improve on their websites for the final round of judging. The grand prize was given at SXSW in March 2014 and the winning team received passes to SXSW 2015.
What is OpenAIR?
OpenAIR is an Accessibility Internet Rally contest through which web designers and developers build accessible websites for non-profit organizations. Knowbility is the non-profit organization that organizes the annual OpenAIR hackathon. Part of Knowbility's mission is to improve technology access for millions of youth and adults with disabilities all over the world.
Prior to this engagement, I had never thought about the need for the wider accessibility and usability of websites. I have come away with a great degree of appreciation for the needs of users of the Internet who use assistive technologies in order to consume the same information that most of us so easily access. Even the choice of colors (background/foreground) and fonts, can profoundly affect the accessibility and usability of a site; color choices should also be made to accommodate assistive technologies.
I also came face-to-face with the shameful fact about how easy it is to ignore the needs of this segment of Internet users and just develop for the mainstream. The additional work it takes to make websites accessible and usable to users who need assistive technologies is well worth it and should be part of every web developer's goals. Making websites accessible has tremendous impact in all walks of life including education.
There are guidelines, standards, documented best practices and tools to help developers build and test accessible websites. One such guideline is the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) 2.0 standards. WAVE is one of many online tools out there that can check you website for accessibility.
How does OpenAIR work?
The way things work for the OpenAIR Hackathon is that Knowbility lines up a number of non-profit organizations who need websites developed or need their websites upgraded and with the goal of making the websites accessible. Knowbility, through the OpenAIR Hackathon, matches such non-profit organizations with Hackathon participants (Teams) and announces these pairings at a Kickoff event. Knowbility also makes available a mentor for each development team and the non-profit they are paired up with.
Excellent training is available
MicroAssist, one of the sponsoring corporations, provides necessary training (over a period of about 4 weeks) to developers on how to develop accessible websites before the hackathon takes place. Some of the training topics include: Responsive Design and Accessibility; HTML5 & WAI-ARIA Forms with jQuery Validation; Accessible Forms; and Accessibiity Testing
Judging is by superb experts in the field
Judging of the websites takes place over about three weeks after the submission deadline of the websites. The judges for OpenAIR include accessibility and usability experts from all areas of expertise. They judge the Accessibility, Usability, and overall Quality of the website and is mostly based on sections of the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) 2.0 standards. A Judging form (based on WCAG 2.0) is also provided to the teams ahead of time to guide teams on where to focus their efforts.
Here is video from the first round awards event that was held in the Austin Texas Google office.
OpenAIR gets more exciting going forward
OpenAIR is going to get even more exciting and international going forward. This past Fall, there were a couple of teams that were either completely based outside the US or that had team members based outside the US. OpenAIR organizers are planning to make it an International competition. Why not? This is all about Accessibility of the Internet!
How to get involved
Participating in such a contest while providing much needed services to a non-profit organization was very satisfying to me. I had no previous experience of production UI web development so I learned a lot through the training and from my Rackspace teammates. I would do this again!
Hope you can participate sometime and contribute to making the web more accessible. For more information, check the OpenAIR site: