Reflections: “Accessibility Feedback” Nonprofit Startup

Introduction

In the fall of 1973 I began attending Augsburg College as my first college
experience directly out of high school. In the past forty-five years I have
experienced taking many college-level classes in various disciplines, a
forty-plus-year career in all manner of computer and telecommunications
technologies, personal, family, and community growth. Most recently I have been
focused on completing an undergraduate degree at Augsburg University. As
spring of 2018 became reality, it was as if I arose from the busyness of life
and realized that I potentially had the credits accumulated to graduate
with a BS in computer science. Up until the beginning of March, there
was some thought that I would need to take some math courses in the
fall of 2018. There were some last-minute negotiations that permitted
counting some early calculus courses at Augsburg and the University
of Minnesota, which meant that it was clear that I had the credits to
graduate. I now had to wonder about how I would fulfill the “Augsburg
Experience.” I puzzled over this aspect chiefly because my current path was
already quite full! I had been involved in many career-length experiences
already. On top of taking my current courses, I was already involved in
the very beginning stages of creating a nonprofit. The date is now late
March 2018, and with graduation coming up fast, I was very grateful
that Augsburg agreed to permit me to utilize the ongoing work for the
nonprofit that I am involved with as my experiential internship. In reflecting
on what has transpired from March until August, some things go as
planned and the rest takes a bit longer! The following reflections which
are prepared to answer the “Final Reflection” questions (designed to be
completed at the end of an internship), are not only a snapshot that covers a
specific time period from April to August, but a look back and a look
forward!

1 State your role and the organization. List your learning goals for the
experience and share specific examples to show how you accomplished each
learning goal.

In July of 2017, I attended the convention of the National Federation of the Blind
(NFB) in Orlando, Florida. At the meeting of the Computer Science division, I
was intrigued by a presentation which discussed utilizing a tool kit that

could make web sites more accessible. This paper will avoid most of the
detail around the approach. The key takeaway for me was that we as
Blind people had a lot of work to do to even identify and catalog the web
sites that are not accessible to us. Out of this takeaway the seeds for
moving the ball forward on identifying and reviewing accessibility are
sprouting.

Since last September a small group of Blind persons has been meeting
periodically to discuss the creation of a nonprofit to further accessibility. Earlier
in 2018, we zeroed in on the name “Accessibility Feedback.” My formal role
began to solidify in early March, as president. We began calling ourselves the
board of directors. We began to explore creating the formal structure of a
nonprofit corporation.

Learning Goals

Learning Goal 1 – What I want to learn or be able to do.

Implement a tax-exempt nonprofit that is sustaining. Take the first steps in
organizing the organization, obtaining people resources. Receiving feedback on
how effective I am in this role.

Learning Activity 1 – How I am going to learn it and what resources I will
use.

Work with the board members to form and create the organization. Work with
lawyer to implement IRS tax-exempt status.

Evaluation Method 1 – How I am going to show I met learning goal
1.

Write a two-page self evaluation, obtain and include feedback from board
members.

Personal Evaluation

At the 2017 Minnesota NFB convention, (held in October), I met Heather and
Dan Gilbert of Gilbert Law PLLC. I was struck by their passion and

connection to the disability community coupled with an understanding of
corporate law. My initial discussions with Gilbert Law, were focused
primarily around a different nonprofit that I and two other individuals had
begun working on creating in 2016. At that time we tried initially to use
Legal Zoom resources (without an attorney), to create the nonprofit. This
effort was ultimately not successful which generated a powerful personal
learning for me. I found that although I love striking out on my own, there
are times when there is no substitute for obtaining professional help to
move a goal forward. When the board of Accessibility Feedback began
discussions on creating a nonprofit, I recommended that we work with
Gilbert Law to accomplish this task. I was gratified to learn through
this process that we could still take bold steps such as streamlining the
application process by utilizing a simpler 1023-EZ form instead of the more
complicated 501-C3. I learned that there is a balance between trying to move a
project forward myself and collaborating with a team. Collaboration in this
case was much more fulfilling as we worked through the issues. Through
the process everyone on the board contributed to drafts of a mission
statement, organizational bylaws, as well as a number of discussions
about priorities and organizational goals. For example, it was decided
early on to set an initial focus on reviewing hardware instead of web
sites. This kind of collaborative goal and priority setting is new to me
and represents an entirely new vista that does not necessarily involve
technology or engineering. The culmination of our joint efforts with Gilbert
Law was approval by the IRS for Accessibility Feedback as a nonprofit
through some postal confusion we did not receive notification until July
2018 (although the IRS actually approved the nonprofit status in May,
2018.)

I view this reflection document as an organically changing checkpoint and self
evaluation of my efforts related to Accessibility Feedback. As will be seen in the
subsequent sections, we are still at the very beginning of our process in
developing the organization and goals. We now have the basis for beginning the
actual work of moving the accessibility ball forward. In retrospect, the activities
involved in this first goal filled up the available time for the entirety of the
internship period. I have personally spent over one hundred hours to date, since
the start of the internship period in April on goal number one (initial
formation and approval). Much less has been accomplished on goal two and
three.

Learning Goal 2 – What I want to learn or be able to do.

Acquire skills in nurturing and managing a nonprofit. Includes fundraising,
creating a lasting charter, interfacing with the community.

Learning Activity 2 – How I am going to learn it and what resources I will
use.

Utilize resources such as SCORE, other nonprofit leaders, reading materials,
putting findings into practice.

Evaluation Method 2 – How I am going to show I met learning goal
2.

Create policy paper and charter for the nonprofit.

Personal Evaluation

Although the work on Accessibility Feedback has been a part-time effort by all
involved, I am personally much more cognizant than before of the time required
in moving a task forward. Assuming that each of the four board members have
put in between fifty and one hundred hours since April 1, I believe that
our work to date is quite representative of the time spent. The policy
paper and charter are still in early development. We are now at the point
where we need to focus on the actual framework of the organization. The
strongest learning for me is that with all my technical management skills, I
have major gaps in my experience and knowledge of how to move an
organization forward and develop policy. This is a great learning for me!
My computer science classes had no focus or teaching in these areas
other than some small team collaboration efforts on various software
projects. In order to bolster my skills, I decided to apply for the MBA
program at Augsburg. I was accepted to the program in late July. The first
two courses pertain to organization and leadership. These are absolutely
key to furthering my learnings as to how to lead and build a successful
organization.

We spent some time looking into utilizing some of the volunteer resources
such as SCORE. The key learning that I came away with is that more success
will be had in bringing experienced nonprofit expertise onto the board
so that there is a mix of our current members, (who hold the mission
and vision), plus specialized expertise in how to move forward in the

specific key nonprofit organization building areas. As a board we have
met and discussed reaching out to additional resources. This effort is
ongoing. SCORE and other resources are excellent at advising on tuning
infrastructure. To effect the actual building of the infrastructure requires a
dedicated resource that has the expertise and power to make the changes
needed.

As we went through the process of forming the corporation and obtaining IRS
approval as a nonprofit, it became clear that we should be very careful
about fundraising until the IRS approval has been received. The risk is
that any person or organization that was expecting to take a deduction
on the funds that are donated would not be able to do so if the status
was denied. Fundraising is another board-level resource activity that
requires real expertise in the art and science of raising money! Now that
Accessibility Feedback is approved by the IRS we may proceed to implement
fundraising.

Learning Goal 3 – What I want to learn or be able to do.

Learn how to take market surveys. Successfully implement a market
survey.

Learning Activity 3 – How I am going to learn it and what resources I will
use.

Utilizing an accessible online survey tool, create a survey to understand the role
that our organization can play in facilitating accessibility of web sites and
consumer hardware.

Evaluation Method 3 – How I am going to show I met learning goal
3.

Write a finding on the survey results as well as produce the raw data. Seek out
and obtain mentoring from experts in surveys.

Personal Evaluation

The board spent quite a lot of time discussing the survey process. We see three
intersecting issues.

  1. Many of the online survey systems are not accessible. This means that
    a Blind screenreader user who accesses the survey cannot complete it
    without sighted assistance. This in itself is a huge accessibility issue.
  2. The authoring tools for creating surveys are not accessible to a Blind
    user. Authoring is totally different than taking the survey but just as
    critical to the survey creation.
  3. An inaccessible survey will not be answered in a quality manner by
    the very constituent we wish to survey until it is totally accessible.

The jury is still totally out on which survey ecosystem Accessibility Feedback will
use. We may need to write portions of it internally.

We spent a lot of time discussing what we want to obtain out of a survey. The
key elements are certainly in need of refinement. We are most interested in
understanding what kind of response Blind users will have to using a review
mechanism where it would be possible to review the accessibility aspects of
hardware devices. This of course spills over to reviewing web sites as well.
However, we have decided to focus on hardware first. All of the board members
have taken surveys with varying results. We want to provide an opt-in question
that would permit those who would like to assist further in the design of
the review process can leave their contact information. From a learning
perspective, it is clear that the task of surveying is larger than initially
thought!

2 How did your courses help prepare you for the experience? Use specific
examples. How did the experience enhance your understanding of your
education? Use specific examples.

I am blessed to have had the opportunity to take a variety of science, math,
technical, history, and ethics courses that give me a foundation for the work that
I am doing with Accessibility Feedback. The math and science courses, including
the two semesters of Calculus and two semesters of Physics, taught me a great
deal about problem solving. This problem solving, coupled with the two internet
programming computer science courses, permitted me to quickly grasp the initial
presentation of the web page altering tools that were demonstrated at the NFB
convention. A portion of the premise for Accessibility Feedback’s mission is to

permit the creation of tools that will intercept the HTML and Javascript
components of a web page and alter the constructs of the existing page so as
to make the elements accessible to the screen reading software. I was
able to return from that experience and explain the process to a very
experienced senior programming resource that I first hired to work on
complex projects in the 1980s. Without my computer science background I
would not have the experience or the knowledge to converse on complex
computer science topics. The data structures and database courses I
took helped me immensely in visualizing the kind of catalog system we
need in order to track and categorize the reviews for both web pages
and hardware. In our discussions pertaining to survey solutions I was
immensely aided by the algorithm and computer architecture courses that I
took.

Equally important are the liberal arts courses that I took, including the
history of machines which presented the invention of the printing press
and the changes to communication that were enabled. The evolution of
the steam engine and the breakthroughs that have been accelerated by
the military industrial complex are evolutionary concepts that continue
today. Now that the internet is the digital transformation of the printing
press we see a similar pattern. Society has moved to embrace the internet
and just as Braille and talking books facilitated the Blind to read the
results of the printing press, we need to be as vigilant as it pertains to
accessibility of the web, so that we are not left behind. The steam engine
revolutionized all mechanical devices that have come after it from the
automobile to the microwave oven. We need to be vigilant in demanding
equal access to hardware so that we are not left behind. Because of my
experience through the work in completing history and economics courses I am
convinced that change will continue and that we as Blind persons need to
continually expect change and react to it in a positive and advocacy-centric
model. We are a minority compared to the number of sighted persons in
the world. Thus when a new technology comes along such as the touch
screen on an iPhone, we cannot accept any answer that would tell us
that this technology is not accessible to us. In fact, by our insistence,
the iPhone is now the most accessible phone for Blind persons to use
and we use touch screen technology along with the VoiceOver screen
reader software every day. Self-driving cars bring the opportunity for
Blind persons to independently travel by car, only if we insist on equal
access!

The engineering ethics course that I completed exposed me to the culture of
engineering and how engineers have been used by external forces from the initial

invention of the catapult, to radar for the military. Engineers have always
struggled to establish ethics that benefit society against the backdrop
of other forces such as governments, rulers, political movements that
would try and take advantage of a technology or engineering function.
The ethics course gave me a totally new perspective on technology and
engineering. This context intersects fully with Accessibility Feedback
because through the nonprofit we expect to make sure that we move the
accessibility advocacy forward and insure that we as Blind persons are not
ignored!

The expression courses that I took, including theater, literature, and public
speaking, have provided me a context for collaboration, listening, and viewing
diversity as a positive as we continue to work together to further the vision of
accessibility. I count myself fortunate to have taken so many courses in different
disciplines that have all broadened my experience. The healthy debate, the
sharing of different ideas, the ability to respectfully agree and disagree are all
skills that I have used to foster collaboration and communication as we build the
vision of Accessibility Feedback.

The work I have done to date in envisioning, forming, molding, collaborating,
and furthering the Accessibility Feedback nonprofit is analogous to an entire
course in creating and organizing a nonprofit. This course is not over! The
experience reenforces the fact that I am always needing to learn and further my
education in everything that I do!

3 What did you learn about the organization and its role within the
community? Describe the work environment. What did you like about the
environment; what did you dislike?

Our work environment for Accessibility Feedback is fully virtual. We have board
members from Nevada, Minneapolis, Saint Paul, and Tampa. This means that we
need to use technology to assist in getting our work done. We utilize
electronic calendaring, email, Zoom audio and video conferencing, Slack
instant messaging, Dropbox file sharing. Since all the board members are
Blind at this point, we rely heavily on accessible software that works with
screen readers such as VoiceOver for the Mac and iPhone, JAWS and
NVDA for Windows, and TalkBack for Android. We use all the major
computer platforms. I am an avid Mac and iPhone user. One other board
member uses Windows heavily. Two board members use the Android
platform. We would love to use technologies such as Google Docs to
aid in collaboration. However, Google Docs is not that accessible. This

platform is definitely on our radar as one to review and advocate for more
accessibility.

Being a technical person I love the freedom that a virtual environment
provides. For both synchronized work as well as asynchronous activities
this environment provides for great flexibility. There is a nagging feeling
that the environment may not be as efficient as a hybrid where we got
together in the same room to get things done. I recall all the team building
exercises that I have been involved with over the years during my various
corporate jobs, and wish to have the same experience with the Accessibility
Feedback board. There is nothing that can replace a survival experience
where everyone needs to contribute in order to survive, or solve a problem
in close quarters. In a virtual meeting it seems that people try to put
on their best behavior. I have always subscribed to the old adage that
“one doesn’t really know someone until one has experienced personal
contact.” I love that I have a private office in my home where I can work. I
love meeting locally in coffee shops when collaborating. I grew up in
corporate cubicles, and I would never want cubicles for Accessibility
Feedback employees. There needs to be a blend of association and being
apart! I recently worked with three Blind high school computer science
interns. We needed a space to work together. We chose to use Fueled
Collective which is a work co-op space with several locations around the
Twin Cities. The majority of the space consists of a large common area
with tables where people can sit and work. I found the table concept to
be great for collaboration. However I did not like the noise from the
neighboring tables such as music playing and talking. I thought about this
arrangement for Accessibility Feedback employees and decided that Fueled
Collective is an option but does not replace the option for people to
work in virtual offices or from home when one wishes to focus on a task
individually.

4 Please describe how you developed as a professional and what you
gained from the experience. How has the experience shaped your future
goals?

The experience of working on the formation and organizing of Accessibility
Feedback is unique to me in my forty-plus years of varied experiences! From a
professional development standpoint, I am gratified that I get to think about
making life for Blind persons better every single day. Interfacing with other
aspects of an organization such as a board, external legal resources, public

constituencies are all a plus. I enjoy the expanded leadership role. Although I
have been involved in small business for years, the approach that I have taken
has been quite consultative without attempting to build an organization. I
enjoy learning about my strengths and weaknesses! I enjoy receiving
feedback from others on how I am doing. One of the greatest learnings
for me has been the myth of multitasking. I can only have one task in
the foreground. Every time I switch to another task my entire train of
thought gets disrupted. My brain learns by doing and experiencing. I can
master just about anything as long as I put the sweat into it. Before
starting to work on Accessibility Feedback, I had no intention of getting
an MBA. Now I see it as the logical and necessary next step if I am
to grow not only Accessibility Feedback but income opportunities as
well!

5 Describe one societal issue that affected your workplace, your work, or
you personally. How has your education at Augsburg helped you to understand
the issue?

Accessibility Feedback is all about diversity and respecting the majority and
minority! As a Blind person I and my fellow Blind persons are a minority. That
being said, it is crucial that we do not separate ourselves from others
whether at work or any other interaction. I have found that “minority”
can be a rallying cry, but if we all try and separate then we can’t come
together. Diversity in community is the most important aspect. If I can read
the same information that everyone else can read it places me on an
equal footing. If I cannot read the same information, operate the same
technology, move about with the same ease as others then I am placed at a
disadvantage.

Augsburg is a great respecter of communities. This was the case when I first
attended in the 70’s and is emphasized as a core value today! The key is mixing
it up. Bringing all manner of experience, all manner of varied backgrounds and
cultures together in a study environment reenforced for me the importance
of doing this in the work place as well. My thoughts about how this is
an important construct have evolved! For example, there was a time
when I thought that it would be quite a statement to create a company
dominated by Blind computer scientists. The reason for this was that there
is such a low representation of Blind persons in the computer science
field. I have totally switched my view on this. My current view is that
there needs to be a pairing of Blind and sighted so that there are equal

numbers of Blind and sighted developers in the company. This pairing is
important if accessibility is to be evangelized through an organization that
is creating a product, or service, or reacting to a product or service.
Interestingly, Blind, Inc. asks that sighted people who will be involved in
training Blind persons wear a sleep shade or blind fold for six weeks
as a training before they start their actual job and learn adjustment
to blindness alternative techniques. What we really need to figure out
is how to do the same with Blind persons. We are getting closer with
services that permit a Blind person to wear a set of glasses with a camera
imbedded in them, and converse with an agent who can describe what the
camera is seeing. Yet we cannot become too dependent on that camera
because networks go down, agents are not always available, and cameras
fail!

It is hoped that the reader will see that this entire paper is about
societal interaction and the importance of accessibility. My educational
experience at Augsburg has absolutely reenforced and instilled in me a
desire to further the goal of a cooperative respecting community in the
workplace!

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