Learn about our new website and NewsMatch effort 

Learn about the new Access Press website and support our fundraising efforts at an upcoming virtual event, Access Press Presents: […]

Belo sitting on steps surrounded by flowers.

Learn about the new Access Press website and support our fundraising efforts at an upcoming virtual event, Access Press Presents: Digital Transformation at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, November 15.  

The event is free. Sign up in advance here.

But first, read a message from Holly Anderson, our executive director, on page 4 of this issue. The November event is also when Access Press announces our fund drive and matching dollars through the NewsMatch Program. Disability-focused journalism is more important than ever and we need everyone’s support for Access Press to continue its mission of serving Minnesotans with disabilities. All donations are tax-deductible. 

Event sponsors are still welcomed. Contact Anderson at 651-644-2133 ext. 3 or holly@accesspress.org 

The November 15 event features Belo Miguel Cipriani. The digital inclusion strategist is passionate about making online spaces accessible. Cipriani is blind and is an award-winning author and newspaper columnist. 

In 2018 Cipriani founded the publishing house Oleb Books, which focuses on publishing writers with disabilities. Through his digital access consulting firm, Oleb Media, Cipriani has helped countless organizations including Access Press build inclusive websites and apps. HuffPost referred to him as an “Agent of Change,” and SF Weekly named him one of the best disability advocates. 

Access Press has been able to benefit from Cipriani’s vast experience in the work on our own website. Cipriani uses assistive technology that many of our readers use. After he became blind, Cipriani began to use JAWS (Jobs Access With Speech). JAWS utilizes synthesized speech and Braille to allow users to read information as it is displayed on a computer screen.  

He also uses a digital recorder to document his thoughts and an application that reads back to him what he is typing on his laptop. With the use of assistive technology, Cipriani has been able to reinvent himself as a writer and digital access consultant. 

Cirpriani’s work puts a spotlight on the need for online news media to be accessible. That can be a challenge with the wide array of disabilities people live with. 

The newspaper board and staff are pleased to unveil a new website, which has been months in the making. “Our goal at Access Press is to have a website that is accessible to readers with a wide range of disabilities,” said Editor Jane McClure. “I myself live with multiple disabilities and understand all too well the need for good web design. Many websites are a frustration for me to use. Hand movements can be difficult, or I get thrown off by flashing messages. Type that cannot be easily magnified is another problem.” 

While there will always be readers who prefer print, an expanded website offers possibilities for more news and information. It also will offer more options for newspaper advertisers and supporters. 

Access Press has had a website since 2001. It was one of the first Twin Cities community newspapers to have an online presence, said McClure. 

The first website was the work of founding Editor/Executive Director Charlie Smith and his successor, Tim Benjamin. 

Access Press began as a vehicle to help Minnesota’s disability community organize around key issues and get information out,” McClure said. “Founding Editor Charlie Smith was someone who really believed in the need for disability-focused journalism.” 

In the pre-Internet days, it was not unusual to have people call a community newspaper office and ask about deadlines, so that meetings and events could be timed around when the newspapers hit the street. “We had community newspapers and we had telephone trees. If an organization needed to get news out, they’d divide up lists of member phone numbers and everyone would make calls. That sounds really quaint now,” said McClure 

The first Access Press website was quite basic. The Directory of Organizations, now the Access Press Directory, was a prominent feature. 

In 2009, the website took a great step forward. Access Press was selected for the Sierra Bravo Overnight Website Challenge. The annual event paired nonprofits with teams of web developers. The event was held for several years and helped selected nonprofits create or improve their websites. 

“Access Press worked with a young but capable crew during our overnight challenge. The ‘Code Cowboys’ provided great help in updates and changes. We worked in a large room at the University of Minnesota with other nonprofits and teams, with music, lots of Red Bull, pizza, snacks and even yoga to keep the participants focused. People were working away, with some getting tired and napping on the floor, on top of tables – anywhere,” said McClure. 

Our project was unique in that during the 24 hours of web development, Access Press brought in people with an array of disabilities to try out the site and share ideas for accessibility. 

After the event, Access Press was able to post a test website and invite readers to weigh in. That input was very helpful. 

One advantage of the website challenge was that nonprofits also received a year of free web hosting and consulting. Organizations each year the challenge was held benefited from about 2,000 hours of assistance. 

But websites can quickly become dated and be hacked. Access Press was no exception. Over the years as staff made changes, important website features were lost. 

The new website will be much more user-friendly and for some submissions, offer the chance to post in real time. “This gives us the chance for news and event updates in a more timely manner,” said McClure. “Most newspapers have had to drop longer print calendars for space and staffing. Being able to quickly find information online will be a great feature for everyone.” 

(Read more about Cipriani in an article from our October issue, at https://accesspress.org/access-press-invites-community-to-learn-about-digital-upgrades/) 

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