Silver is Good

For those of you who don’t recall, several weeks ago a few of us here at Capital Metro formed Team Raging Bus to participate in the Knowbility AIR Austin competition. This is a web design and development competition that focuses on building accessible websites for non-profit organizations. It was a fun side project and we learned a lot.

So have you ever gone to an award ceremony dinner where you were certain that you had no chance of winning? You think to yourself “I’m just going to go, have a nice dinner, make some contacts, collect a few business cards, and applaud the winners.” Then suddenly… Surprise! Now you have to make a speech.

Team Raging Bus won second place in our category for our Accessible Housing Austin site. First in our category went to the Texas Inmate Family Association site. First place in the Formula One category (which includes video, flash, and all those other rich media goodies) went to a beautiful site for the Austin Day Lily Society.

Plus, in a moment of wild coincidence, I got to meet Martin Kareithi. He was providing assistive technology testing for one of the other teams. As it just so turns out, Martin starts his new job Monday here at Capital Metro. He’ll be our Accessible Transportation Specialist, and I can foresee pestering him a lot to test our web stuff with his screen readers and braille devices.

So I can already hear all the web curmudgeons chiming in. “Who cares? What does all this have to do with anything?” Well, I’ll tell you.

At some point next year, you will see a new capmetro.org. The skills that we acquired to succeed in this competition are the same skills that we will be applying to rebuilding our site. So we’re making it our goal to build a site that is just as helpful and useful for our disabled users as it is to everyone else without sacrificing any of the aesthetic or functional benefits. In that effort, we’re going for the gold.

Team Raging Bus update

Team Raging Bus did a great job on Saturday. We were outclassed and outnumbered. But we still went from scratched notes and a low resolution logo on a software platform that we’d never used before to a complete, functioning website in eight hours.

Team Raging Bus at the AIR-Austin Rally

We spent most of our time focused on frantically completing the site, so we spent less time testing it for accessibility with a screen reader than I would have liked. But I compared the results against my own accessibility checklist and the judge’s criteria. We did pretty well right out of the box. We avoided the most common accessibility pitfalls by knowing what not to do before we went in. Everyone knew their roles and knew what accessibility areas they had to cover as they built it. We might not win any prizes, but we made a good site that is (hopefully) useful and usable by everyone. AHA! should get good mileage out of this site.

Spencer Duran, our representative from AHA!, was there for the whole rally. He was really helpful in fleshing out the site and combing the content. I asked him to give us a quote for our blog. Here’s what he had to say:

“Participating in Knowbility’s AIR Competition created an opportunity to work with a really great team. They took time out of their days to provide their volunteer services to develop a resource that will last, while still allowing our organization’s vision to drive the process. AHA! will be able to grow the website independently as we grow as an organization.” Continue reading “Team Raging Bus update”

Team Raging Bus

Greetings everyone. My name is Jody Tucker, and I am the new Webmaster/User Experience Designer for Capital Metro. My job here is to rebuild the aging and overtaxed Capital Metro website. But Erica has asked me to offer up a blog post on an interesting side event that some of us are participating in.

This Saturday (Oct. 16) a team of volunteer Capital Metro employees will participate in the Austin AIR Rally. AIR is an acronym for Accessibility Internet Rally. It is sponsored and hosted by the good people over at Knowbility. Basically, it is a web design competition focused on web accessibility for people with disabilities. Each team of web designers and developers pairs with a local non-profit organization to build them a brand new, fully accessible site.

Our team – Team Raging Bus – will be designing and building a site for Accessible Housing Austin. They’re an organization that buys, builds, and modifies accessible housing for people with disabilities. It’s small, but growing and has a great local impact. You can actually see the accessible houses you donate toward. I really like this organization, and they really need a good web presence.

The competition is stiff. We are competing against multiple teams that have been competing for many years. Some of the teams have more members than I can shake a stick at with some top rate web design and accessibility talent. We’ll be the noobs with a four-man team running around like interns at the NYSE pit.

But you know what? None of that matters in the long run. Oh yeah, we might go in on Saturday and get waffle-stomped (to be honest, I’m kinda expecting it). But the lessons learned from this will be applied to the top-to-bottom overhaul of Capmetro.org over the next few months. Our current site accessibility isn’t all that hot, and part of competing as a team is free training. Training! For free! Plus, we’ll be volunteering our spare time to do something helpful for a local charity. If I’m lucky, I might scoop up a few people for our accessibility testing group. So even if we bomb out at the competition, we win.

So wish us luck. I’ll have Erica post our site and the results next week.

MetroAccess Drivers Making a Difference

One of the ways Capital Metro ensures that our system is accessible is by providing paratransit—parallel service—for those in our community whose physical or cognitive abilities limit functional use of our fixed route bus system. It works like this: once a person is enrolled in the program (information from the customer and a qualified professional, such as a doctor or caseworker, help us determine eligibility for the program), he can schedule trips on the Internet or by phone.  MetroAccess will pick him up and drop him off at his destination. It costs customers $35 per month for unlimited rides with a monthly pass.

Tito Hernandez, left, and Ted Ward are both working on their 20th year of driving for MetroAccess.

MetroAccess drivers collectively make about 2,000 trips each day. Two of those drivers are Ted Ward and Tito Hernandez. They both began working at Capital Metro in 1991. When I met with them last week, neither of them was aware that Monday was the 20th anniversary of the ADA. In a way, they’re celebrating the ADA everyday in the course of their jobs. Ted says, “MetroAccess is a great system because people can get around—go to the theaters, dinners on Friday nights—just like everyone else.” That’s the spirit of the ADA, equal access.

Tito and Ted recounted many stories of customers who left a lasting, positive impression on them about living a positive life and having a grateful heart. Once, a customer and her five-year old daughter were riding in Ted’s van, and when they reached their destination, the daughter kissed his cheek and said, “Thanks for taking care of us.” Continue reading “MetroAccess Drivers Making a Difference”

MetroRail gets nod from Austin Access Awards

Tomorrow, the Austin City Council will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the ADA by presenting a proclamation to the Austin Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities. This proclamation will recognize several local businesses (including Capital Metro) for their accessibility, welcoming attitude and spirit of the ADA.

The winners include Austin Community College South Austin Campus, Barton Creek Mall Customer Service, and Westgate Regal Theater II.

Capital MetroRail is receiving an Honorable Mention award for its station and vehicle accessibility. Some of the accessibility features of MetroRail include:

  • Station ramps and low-floor boarding
  • Station announcements are both audible and displayed visually
  • Braille signage on station platforms and ticket vending machines
  • Raised, textured border strip alerts passengers they are near the station platform edge.
  • Ticket vending machines are fully accessible by people in wheelchairs, and include visual (English and Spanish), audible (English and Spanish) and Braille information.

The presentation will begin around 5:30 tomorrow in City Hall Council Chambers. You can also watch live on Channel 6.

Mobility Training helps people be more independent, feel confident on the bus

Anna and Vivian at Harry Ransom Center
Anna Meisel and Vivian Picow arrive at the Harry Ransom Center after taking 1L/1M to UT Campus.

Austinite and Capital Metro rider Anna Meisel has expanded her transportation options over the past few months thanks to Capital Metro’s free mobility training program.

Every Thursday, Anna meets with Transportation Travel Trainer Vivian Picow for one-on-one training that has helped Anna become a confident bus rider to get to several places she enjoys for errands and entertainment.

Anna had been exclusively riding MetroAccess, and while she likes the convenience of getting picked up from home, she wanted to have the flexibility of coming and going whenever she wanted instead of being tied to a schedule. She says, “When you have a bus come directly to your door, of course it’s convenient, but you have to schedule it and everything. I want to be more spontaneous.”

After a few months of training, Anna has mastered the bus to get to the Arbor Cinema, the grocery store and post office, Harry Ransom Center, Blanton Museum of Art, and the dentist. When I met up with her and Vivian at North Lamar Transit Center, Anna whizzed onboard the bus and “parallel parked” her wheelchair without a second thought; but, it didn’t start out that easy. Continue reading “Mobility Training helps people be more independent, feel confident on the bus”

Happy Anniversary, ADA!

The following was written by community activist and retired Capital Metro employee Nancy Crowther. Read more from Nancy in today’s Austin American-Statesman.

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Once upon a time in America there was a wee little community of people with disabilities.  They were called “the handicapped.”

The phrase ‘handicapped” actually comes from a law passed in England in 1504 whereby only wounded solders could be on street corners to beg. They would often tip their hat from their uniform. They came to be known as “handy-cappers.” And so goes the phrase’s origin. Not the best of images but the label was used for people who had “something’ wrong with them.”   I actually thought, as I was growing up, that the only sports people with “handicaps” could play were golf, horse racing and bowling. I led a sheltered life.  I now find the h-word offensive.  I am one of “those” people.

I was taken to school by my father in the station wagon because there were no wheelchair lifts on the school buses. In junior high, still no lifts on buses or accommodations to help me get to school, my father, retired Army Lt. Col., arranged transportation through the US Army base at Fort Hood. I had an ambulance ride to school. Yup, a real-live ambulance with flashing lights so everyone knew when I arrived and left school, every day. That did a job on my social life! It worked!  Got me to school! Continue reading “Happy Anniversary, ADA!”