On July 28, 2022, AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons) announced winners of the organization’s prestigious Purpose Prize for 2023. AARP, with over 38 million members, is one of the largest non-profit organizations in the United States. It chose Sharron Rush, founder and executive director of the digital accessibility consultancy Knowbility, as one of only five AARP Purpose Prize winners.
AARP describes the prize as follows:
Purpose Prize honorees give back to their communities with a generosity of spirit that is at once impossible to match and irresistibly contagious. They are living their best lives so we can live ours.AARP Purpose Prize web page
Sharron joins an impressive cadre of winners for the 2023 award. I’m excited to congratulate my friend and accessibility community leader on this well-deserved recognition.
The AARP announcement is here: AARP Announces 2023 Purpose Prize Winners
This article has the following sections:
What the AARP Purpose Prize means for advancing digital inclusion of disabled people
Sharron Rush founded Knowbility in 1999. Since that time the organization has directly assisted thousands of people with disabilities in the digital space. With its public programs like Accessible Internet Rally (AIR) and the John Slatin AccessU Conference, it co-creates community year in and year out.
And with its accessibility consulting services, hundreds of thousands more are served as Knowbility spreads accessibility know-how in the public, private, and educational sector. (If Knowbility is not on your accessibility vendor list, it should be!)
Knowbility knows that digital inclusion takes work, attention, commitment and heart. Sharron and Knowbility are the antithesis of unethical practices in the accessibility space today, most troubling being the one-line-of-code overlays.
So what does being a Purpose Prize winner mean for an organization like Knowbility? Of course the $50,000.00 donation to Knowbility is sorely needed and will be put to good use. I asked Sharron what else she was most excited about in winning this award (her answers shortened for this article):
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The AARP Purpose Prize is an incredible honor and I am deeply grateful. There are many exciting aspects – the chance to meet more people doing purpose driven work, the organizational support that’s part of the award, and the opportunity to build new alliances within the AARP community – think of the overlap between aging and disability.
But probably the most exciting aspect for me is the powerful recognition of the importance of this work. I expect that this prestigious award will elevate the discussion of digital access and help more people understand why it matters so very much.
I believe that the AARP Purpose Prize, awarded by one of the largest nonprofit organizations in the US, will lead to a broader understanding of the fact that digital inclusion is necessary for millions of people to live lives of dignity and equity in these times.
The disability community works on this issue from many aspects and all across the globe. The opportunity to further our shared mission and broaden the conversation is tremendously exciting. Sharron Rush, July 2022
Being an Accessibility Elder
In the title of this story I identify Sharron Rush as a “path-breaking accessibility elder.” I started using the term “Accessibility Elder” about five years ago. The term was introduced publicly at Knowbility’s 2018 AccessU conference when the conference kicked off with a session titled “Honoring Wisdom, Embracing Change: A Conversation about Eldering in the Accessibility Community.” Sharron, Wendy Chisholm, and I shared our thoughts about what it means to be an accessibility elder.
To us being an elder isn’t just about age. It’s about time in the digital accessibility space, being willing to keep learning, honoring those who came before and making room for the next generation. Being in service to community, maintaining beginner’s mind to embrace new ideas and new technologies with discernment. There was a lot more during our panel. You can listen to the AccessU 2018 eldering panel (with captions) here.
For this article I asked Sharron how she thinks about the term “accessibility elder:”
When we started Knowbility in 1999, digital accessibility was a mostly unknown and often misunderstood concept. As the field has grown, being an accessibility elder means that I can help those who are starting careers find that human centered, mission driven approach that brings progress and helps millions of people live more independent, productive lives. Sharron Rush, July 2022
Sharron Rush is an accessibility elder in the best sense of the word. It is wonderful to see that recognized by AARP.
Vote for Sharron to receive the AARP Inspire Award
The AARP Purpose Prize comes with a $50,000.00 cash prize for Knowbility. The organization then gives the public the chance to vote for their favorite Purpose Prize Winner. The winner of that vote receives the annual Inspire Award which comes with an additional $10,000.00 for their non-profit.
Sharron’s organization, Knowbility, provides invaluable services and training and builds community in the digital accessibility space. With stellar projects like the Accessible Internet Rally (AIR) and the annual John Slatin AccessU Conference, Knowbility is short on funding and big on service, ideas, and commitments. You can cast your vote for Sharron and Knowbility to win the Inspire Award here. Please note you must create a log-in with password to cast a vote.