Campus, Long Beach, News

CSULB takes first place in national web design competition

Cal State Long Beach proved the strength of its computer science program by taking first and third place at Knowbility’s OpenAir 2016, a web design competition where teams all over the world participated.

OpenAir 2016 had 30 teams competing over the last 13 weeks to create or improve websites for nonprofit organizations in order to make them more accessible to users with handicaps. Teams from the University of Michigan, University of Central Florida and Manchester Metropolitan University competed against three CSULB teams.

Winners were announced Thursday on OpenAir’s live stream site.

Making websites more accessible includes adjusting the color contrast to make sites more navigable for people with vision problems.

“I have been working on web design and development since I was 16, so I’m pretty much self-taught,” journalism major Rodrigo Leon said.

Leon, one of the members of first-place team Hive Engine, designs websites and works on other smaller projects for the company Optimized360, in addition to freelancing.

Hive Engine consisted of Leon, marketing major Annie Georgieva, graphic design major Christi Wilbert and computer science majors and exchange students Florence Choquet, Christian Schaf and Janusz Spatz.

The team built the website for the nonprofit J’accede Quebec based in Montreal. According to its Facebook page, the mission of the group is to promote awareness and improve access for people with disabilities by building wheelchair ramps for businesses.

Georgieva said that the competition gave her real-life experience and that her marketing skills helped her stay on top of communicating with her team, in addition to improving the overall design of the site.

Jessica Looney, director of community programs at Knowbility, said OpenAir started in 1998 in Austin as a local competition known as the Accessible Internet Rally.

“We wanted to have web developers building websites and have nonprofits receive free accessible websites,” Looney said. “Three years ago, our chairman wanted to put the competition online and make it bigger.”

OpenAir 2016 split up professional corporate teams and teams comprised of students. In the past, it was one competition and had CSULB teams competing against professional teams.

CSULB computer science instructor Roni Allen said her class had the only student teams involved in last year’s competition, with one of the teams earning fourth place.

Part of the challenge of the competition was making sites that were easily accessible to people with disabilities.

“That was pretty much new to me,” Leon said. “There were a few things I knew about [accessibility] but some of the technologies for screen reader programs were pretty antiquated and we had to use new code to get them to read correctly.”

Screen reader programs help blind people or those with eye disabilities navigate through websites by having an electronic narrator read the website text aloud.

Allen took her computer science class to CSULB’s Disabled Student Services so they could see how people with disabilities navigate websites.

“Somebody was on staff [who’s] completely blind and she showed them what she does to test a website,” Allen said. “If you’re sitting in front of your computer and you turn off that screen, you can’t see what’s going on. She has to use her hearing to know what’s going on.”

CSULB’s third place team, The Dirty Six, consisted of journalism major Seth Perlstein, film and electronic arts major Olivia Oddo, computer science major Ming-Tse-Chen, linguistics major Elena Tsoi-A-Sue as well as international students and computer science majors Alexandre Morand and Rene Neumann.

The Dirty Six designed the website for the Amplified Voices, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit dedicated to ending child sex trafficking.

“It was an honor for us to compete in the OpenAir challenge,” Perlstein said. “There was more than 20 college teams around the country with tons of talented people. Just to be a part of it was really special and to place third, it feels great.”

Teams worked on their sites for their for the last 13 weeks and an estimated 200 hours of work was put into each site.

“It really vindicates all our hard work and all those weekends and late nights we put in,” Perlstein said. “Of course we’re glad to help our [nonprofit], but we also get to learn skills and add that to your portfolio.”

Perlstein said that learning about accessibility helps improve websites for people without disabilities as well.

“It’s amazing, I’ve watched all my students grow and to see them reach out and really want it. It’s exciting for me and it’s a real-world experience for them,” Allen said.

Second place in the competition went to A2 Accessibility, a team from the University of Michigan.

Perlstein highly recommends the minor in web technologies and applications because of it’s versatility and the amount of options it opens for students interested in technology.

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    The minor is Web Technologies and Applications. You can find out more information at

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