Accessibility Strategy and Architecture
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The OASIS Open Document Accessibility subteam had its first meeting today. Technical Accessibility leads from industry and accessibility advocacy were present. Sun and IBM brought along leads from accessibility architecture, strategy, and research.
The first deliverables from the group will be to perform an ODF accessibility gap analysis of competing document solutions and produce use cases to improve the usable access to documents. We will use this analysis to take industry beyond the level of accessibility experienced today.
I have had opportunities to work with most of the members on various standards efforts and research projects such as for Java accessibility,
W3C WAI efforts, and middleware transcoding for seniors - but never together as one team.
I expect a home run to be hit by this group. Together, with our assistive technology vendor relationships, we will make a difference and raise the bar. Having ODF as an open standard will result in the broadest industry impact.[Read More]
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Today, IBM released a full screen magnifier to IBM's emerging technology alphaWorks site called gScope. gScope is the first full screen magnifier solution on Linux to use of the new composite extension to X. Composite allows for redirecting of drawing commands to an off-screen buffer and then uses a compositing manager to decide how the windows will be arranged on the screen. While this facility can be used to create things like translucent windows it also may be used to allow for fast magnification.
Screen magnifiers on Windows have used drivers to redirect drawing calls into free memory on the card and then perform direct transfers to the screen using memory transfers on the card. This makes screen magnification fast. gScope uses composite to capture drawing calls redirected the desktop to create a managed off-screen buffer of it. gScope then works with the composite manage to copy the end result to the desktop in a magnification operation using the video hardware.
Before composite, magnification was peformed using system memory and the results provided were slower. The new magnifier will allow for magnification levels from 2 to 16. It can operate in full-sceen, line, lens, or docked window modes. In the spirit of open source this will come with source code and documentation. While this is an alpha release it is robust enough to allow distros to pick up the work. Strategically, the best place for this is in the Window manager as there can only be one composite manager running at a time. By providing an open source solution, KDE, Gnome and other UNIX desktop providers may get magnification for low vision users sooner rather than later. This fills a critical gap in an accessible Linux desktop offering.[Read More]
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The HTML working group has been working on building accessibility into XHTML 2 from the ground up. Of these, there are two cross-cutting technologies which will improve the accessibility of a number of existing W3C standards efforts through the use of modularization:
The Role attribute is now being used to assist in the enablement of Dynamic Web Applications. The W3C WAI Protocols and Formats working group is developing a new role taxonomy to be used as common roles designed to support platform accessibility APIs across the Windows and Gnome desktops.
Today's HTML access key is designed to be an attribute on an HTML element whereby the author specifies a key on a keyboard to either give the element focus or to activate the element. Access key has the following serious deficiencies:
The access element in XHTML 2 is like "semantic sugar" around XML events in that it provides a higher level semantic binding layer that is in-fact deterministic. It has the following advantages and features:
I hope to see these move into the XHTML 1.X namespace so that we can incorporate these features in today's markup without using a separate namespace. They are also applicable to other markup like SVG and thus solve a number of problems facing today's web content.
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I just completed a very hectic week at the California State University, Northridge Center on Disabilities' 21st Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference. For those not in the accessibility community this is the largest technical conference on accessibility in the United States.
The major theme at the conference seemed to be around the use of open standards and open source to advance accessible computing for persons with disabilities. Firefox, recently endorsed by the National Federation of the Blind, was probably the hottest topic at CSUN. Firefox sessions were overflowing and the Mozilla Foundation had their own booth at the conference. Handouts at the Firefox booth evaporated withiin the first couple of days. What was most interesting is the accessibility ecosystem building around Firefox. Aside from the IBM announcement of its accessibility contribution to Firefox last year, a plethora of young talent was showing their Firerfox extensions. One such person, Charles Chen, is working on Fire Vox, a self-voicing browser
The clear message being that through open source accessibility can be advanced without waiting for proprietary solutions.
An Open Document Format Panel, led by Sun Micrososystems, was held on Thursday which included myself, Peter Korn, Sun's Accessibility Architect; Janina Sajka, principal of Capital Accessibility and chair of the Free Standards Group Accessibility Working Group; Myra Berloff, Director of the Massachusetts Office on Disability; Accessibility Architect & Strategist at IBM; Malte Timmermann, Technical Architect for OpenOffice.org. TV Worldwide and their AT 508 channel videotaped thes ODF Panel Session. The discussion covered:
Audience participation was excellent with a lot of very inciteful questions. What was clearly conveyed was that the events surrounding Massachussetts and ODF have been a positive transformation for both the commonwealth and the industry. Through a rapidly emerging open standard we are having very visible transformation around the awareness of the need for accessibility and the opportunity to "raise the bar" on accessibility through an open standard.
Becky Gibson led a presentation on AJAX accessibility which made use of the Dynamic Web Accessibility standards work in progress at the W3C. It showed how IBM's leadership helped is helping to drive new opens standards which will drive not only the accessibility of applications like AJAX but also improve the overall accessibility and usability of the web. While IBM initiated the work early adopters showed other early adopters, like Victor Tsaran at Yahoo, who is developing new web componentry that will improve the overall usable access to the Yahoo site. Like the Firefox session, lead by Aaron Leventhal and Glen Gordon (Freedom Scientific), the Yahoo DHTML session was overflowing.
Linux accessibility was gaining momentum as well. Both Sun and IBM demonstrated early versions of their screen readers (Orca and LSR on Linux. George Kraft (IBM) demonstrated IBM's pre-alpha open source screen magnifier, called gScope. Myself and George Kraft gave a presentation on the IBM Linux Accessibility Project which covered how IBM was contributing code to the open source community to fill gaps in the Gnome Accessibility Project; API extensions to the Free Standards Group; and enablement to Firefox. Sun continues to lead the Gnome Accessibility Project effort and IBM is joining the effort to accelerate its readiness for end user adoption.This would not be possible without open standards and open source contributions.
While the theme of "open" stole the show I was very pleased at some of the advancements on Windows Vista. It appeared that many of the key AT vendors were running on Vista. Screen Reader access to Vista used, primarily, a combination of MSAA and screen scraping to read the desktop. What was most impressive about Vista was its voice recognition support. It was the best demonstration I have ever seen on Windows of voice recogniation navigation and dictation. Although this is a demo, if it is good as they showed, my hat is off to Microsoft for doing a superb job of helping users with mobility impairments through quality voice recognition.[Read More]
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I wanted to take a minute and point people to Frank's blog regarding Mozilla's presence at CSUN. This is an indication of the accessibility ecosystem building around an open source project. Frank's enthusiasm is contagious.
I was pleased to see IBM's contribution, as part of the open source community, foster a new grassroots effort around accessibility and the Firefox browser. Students are getting involved with accessibility in college by simply being able to contribute to the open source effort. The result is innovation through being "open."
Like any good open source project, IBM is no longer the only contributor. Others can share the load while increasing the innovation by a lot of very energetic people.
I remember the first time I was able to make Screen Reader/2 speak the GUI and see people with disabilities be able to use it for gainful employment. The experience is adictive.
I want to thank Frank, Aaron Leventhal, and the Mozilla Foundation for pulling this energetic team together at CSUN.
In the last month, IBM and Sun have come together on their efforts to make Firefox accessible on Linux. Solid communication between Sun and IBM facilitates the separate teams working as one large extended team with a agreed upon schedule. The following are the team makeups:
Mozilla is also kicking in resources to address cross-platform issues such as keyboard navigation in and out of plugins as well as investigating cross-platform accessibility support which incudes Mac OS X and ATK.
In additon, the Mozilla foundation is providing mini-grants (up to $10K) to developers for Mozilla accessibility projects. This list is not meant to be restrictive. If you are interested in putting together a proposal, you may contact Aaron Leventhal. Proposals are under consideration for completing the Accessible XUL Authoring Guidelines and creating automated checking tools for them.
What is important is this is a team effort between IBM, Sun, and Mozilla. The companies are setting aside corporate barriers to accelerate accessibility of an open source browser and operating system. This speaks volumes about the benefits of open source development.[Read More]
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I just returned from a face to face meeting of the Oasis Open Document Format Accessibility Subcommittee held at the RNIB Employment and
What is significant about the effort is:
The group has agreed to continue the work to raise the accessibility bar for office solutions through ODF. Many of the group members are also members of the Free Standards Group Accessibility Workgroup. In this group we will be investigating new open standard accessibility API extensions that will enhance the open document experience.
IBM is and has been involved with a number of open standards and open source accessibility efforts. Like with Firefox, the ODF accessibility work effort shows that through industry collaboration we can address accessibility issues faster and at the same produce innovative accessibility solutions. This effort is indicative of an IBM initiative highlighted in an article called Partner or Parish which illustrates IBMs effort to address tough industry problems through partnerships.[Read More]
Accessible open computing took another positive leap forward to accelerate the accessibility of Rich Internet Applications with IBM's announcement to contribute AJAX Software Development Technology to Dojo. So, you might ask, why are we doing this?
Three of the biggest failings of accessibility efforts in recent years are:
The intent of this work is to address all of these issues. This effort will allow the W3C WAI Protocols and Formats working group to have an interoperable test suite to validate its standards efforts. Firefox 1.5 and the sample web componentry provided on the Mozilla web site is a start. There is also test suite work going on at the University of Illinois. This library is targeted at robust industry reuse. As we progress with the standards effort, we can ensure that our specifications are well grounded in workable, interoperable solutions. This will facilitate moving the new specifications to recommendation.
I recently spoke at the annual NFB Convention, in
Rob Sinclair, the Microsoft Accessibility Director, gave a great presentation on
Later in the meeting Joe Steinkamp, from the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services spoke on the resources required to run
Rob plugged the new Vista Accessibility API, called UI Automation. UI Automation is a dramatic change from MSAA in that it is very focused on behaviors and automated testing. The behavior piece is a certainly good fit for automated testing. The challenge, as I see it, is the dramatic change from how other accessibility APIs work on legacy Windows, the Mac, Linux, and Java. When the user encounters a new UI widget they should be able to tell whether it is clickable, scrollable, togglable, and so on. This is good, however I am concerned over the lack of information that would indicate how the object would relate to other objects the user is familiar with - unlike what we are doing for Dynamic Web Accessibility in the W3C. Time will tell. At this point the major AT vendors do not support UI Automation. Rob recognized the need for a client API that did not run in managed code and that the work to do that had begun to address this. AT vendors do not want to rewrite as managed applications. It remains to be seen if this will be addressed in the
Becky Gibson and I gave a presentation entitled “Firefox and AJAX IBM’s efforts on accessible Open Computing.” In the talk we discussed why and how Firefox came to be accessible and support Rich Internet Applications. The talk was designed to convey how this open source accessibility project has advanced the accessibility and usability of the Web and the resulting accessibility ecosystem that resulted from this work. The Mozilla foundation, who at one time was not focused on accessibility now has one of the biggest supporters and in fact has instituted an accessibility grants program that has spawned such projects as Mac enablement and XForms accessibility support for Firefox. Additionally, Firefox is being enabled for Linux. This is a collaboration between Sun, IBM, and the Mozilla foundation.
Becky gave a demonstration of DHTML and
Finally, Joe Lazzaro, the lead for the state of Massachusetts Information Technology Division Department of Accessibility spoke on the move to the Open Document Format. Joe stated that the department will be following U.S. Public Law 508 accessibility guidelines. My take-aways from Joe’s speech is that the legislation has decided to hold the role out of ODF until it is accessible. The fight to make that decision was akin to the threatened Microsoft boycott led by Charlie Crawford back in 1995.
Joe said the group was evaluating two interim MS Office plug-in utilities to import/export ODF documents. They were from the Open Document Foundation and Sun Microsystems. Other than recent discussions around ODF I had not seen Joe in years. I was pleased to see the ITD group pick Joe to lead this effort.[Read More]
Recently, Aaron Leventhal wrote a tremendous article called "Firefox: an open source accessibility success story." I strongly encourage readers to take a look at the story as it gives you some insight as to how a lot of passion and a little support from a large corporation can help transform an industry with open source.
A few years ago, David Boloker convinced me to leave IBM research to join IBM's Emerging Technology team in Software Group and establish ground breaking accessibility infrastructures to enable these new technologies to be adopted. To do this, I needed crack, passionate, accessibility veterans like Aaron to make this happen in order to allow these technologies to be used by people with a broad range of disabilities. Before bringing in Aaron, our goal was to make accessible rich internet applications a reality. This was well before AJAX added the excitement to "Web 2.0" applications. In order to address the accessibility of these applications I needed a strategy that encompassed browsers, open standards, documentation, industry awareness, component reuse, assistive technologies, and tooling. Going the IE route was not going to happen. Microsoft was focused more on XAML than web-related activities and they appeared to be investing little in IE at the time. The obvious choice was Mozilla and open source which would also leverage IBM's browser team. Mozilla also offered cross-platform opportunities.
I had known Aaron since his days at Raised Dot Computing and of his passionate work on Mozilla. Aaron was working at AOL at the time who had recently worked out a deal to adopt IE as their browser which left the Mozilla accessibility work unfinished. Aaron also owned the accessibility modules for the Mozilla foundation. After a period of time I was able to get Aaron on board.
Aaron's first task was to establish a Mozilla browser as an accessible alternative to IE on Windows and weave the rich Internet application accessibility support, I had initiated in the W3C, to prove the standards worked. What Aaron needed was assistive technology support and we were able to establish that through work with GW Micro and then later with Freedom Scientific. I can't count the number of hours that Aaron put in but it reminded me of the days IBM developers worked on OS/2 around the clock. In October 2005 IBM announced Firefox as an accessible browser which supported rich internet applications. This hit when the excitement about Firefox was huge and what happened next is largely due to AAron's passion for accessibility and the IBM announcement.
Aaron managed to gather NFB support for Firefox as an accessible browser. Aaron worked with Frank Hecker at the Mozilla Foundation to establish an accessibility grant program. Aaron also helped establish the first VPAT for a browser which clearly stated its compliance to U.S. Federal regulations. IE's compliance is buried in the compliance of the Windows desktop and other browsers just don't state compliance. The article states numerous open source projects around the Firefox browser created by this grants program. As a result of this work, Firefox is clearly being established as the most accessible browser. It has shown how open source development can be used to solve the most critical accessibility problems. It has also allowed IBM to consider many more open source initiatives in the accessibility space such as we are doing on Linux.[Read More]
W3C Releases Working Drafts of New Specifications Addressing the Accessibility of Rich Inernet Applications
I was pleased to see the W3C announced the first working drafts of the roadmap and specifications addressing the accessibility of Rich Internet Applications. This was work I had initiated over 2 years ago in the W3C and it is nice to see that accessibility through open standards works. Although I initiated, and helped lead this, the end result is certainly a team effort by the W3C.
What is important about this announcement is that it also address the accessibility and usability of the Web by persons with disabilities by closing the usability gap between the web and rich graphical user interfaces much the same way that the new Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are meant to address the accessibility of all types of content which may be delivered over the Web.
As the article states, this work provides the tools the author needs to make these types of applications accessible and usable. This, in fact, addresses accessibility reform on the Web by allowing the author to add semantics to the web page to facilitate platform accessibility infrastructure support of your web application by the browser. It will also allow us to consider new web accessibiltiy test tools that are capable of handling both GUI and Web-based applications.
What is clear is the W3C has made leading a quantum leap into area that brings the usability of the web experience, for all users, in line with rich GUI applications without the overhead of supporting multiple operating systems.[Read More]
I recently had the great opportunity of presenting the IBM software accessibility strategy at the annual China Accessibility Information Forum in Beijing this November. The event was co-hosted by the Information Industry of PRC(MII), China Disabled Persons' Federation (CDPF), China Foundation for Disabled Persons (CFPD), and Internet Society of China (ISC), and cosponsored by IBM. This annual event is the most important event in China focusing on IT accessibility. This annual event, for which IBM has been a key cosponsor for the past 3 years, is the most important event in China focusing on IT accessibiliity.
The forum's theme was to "Promote Innovative Science and Technology, Establish an Accessible Information Environment." More than 300 attendees discussed the status of accessibility standards and regulations in China, as well as accessibility trends in technology innovation and business transformation.
My impression is that China is going through a major transformation on how they address accessibility. In the last 3 years, accessibility has gone from back to center stage. China is moving very rapidly, however their initial focus is one of eduacation. In the United States, the EU, and many other countries there are services and infrastructure for persons with disabilities (PWDs). In particular, our school systems have already made the transition to provide special education for PWDs. To me, it was apparent that China put this as a top priority and services organization and special education is stepping up to meet the challenge. Also, accessibility legislation is beginning to develop.
IBM, over the past 2 years, has been educating China on the improtance of accessibility legislation harmonization and it appears to be gaining traction. Recent indications are that China is looking to adopt the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 which has applicability beyond your basic web content. China realizes it can learn from our successes and mistakes and are eager to work with us, in industry, to accelerate their accessibility efforts. A webcast, in Chinese, of an interview with Frances West, the IBM Human Ability and Accessibility Center director is availablee at http://webcast.china.com.cn/webcast/created/973/44_1_0101_desc.htm and a live web cast of the 2-day forum is available at http://www.china.com.cn/tech/zhuanti/3wzalt/node_7005320.htm.
With the growth of accessibility comes business opportunity for assistive technology vendors. Chris Park (GW Micro), Jim Halliday (HumanWare), as well as Caroline Van Howe and David Dikter (ATIA) were present at the conference,
I applaud China's accessibility efforts and at the rate with which they are moving forward I expect to see great progress at next years forum. In our own way, IBM is helping develop accessibility competency in China at our own China Software Development Lab where enablement of our Productivity Editors (office applications supporting the Open Document Format) is being performed.[Read More]
The Open Document Accessibility (ODF) Subcommittee is developing a new document called Accessibility Guidelines for Implementations of Open Document Format (ODF) v1.1. This is currently out in draft form for review. To date the only guidelines like this have been developed for web user agents. We felt it necessary to to assist office application writers in now to fully utilize the accessibility features of ODF 1.1. The OASIS Technical Committee for ODF is currently taking the ODF 1.1 specification toward a fully recommended OASIS standard. IBM, Sun (Open/Star Office), and the RNIB (DAISY conversion) have signed up to support the standard. Through open standards contributions industry has been able to rapidly raise the bar on the accessibility of office applications. The new accessibility features of ODF 1.1 will make a more usable document format for people with disabilities.
I encourage review comments to be taken back to the ODF Accessibility Subcommittee.[Read More]
schwer 120000D6E4 Tags:  ajax odf fsg accessibility aria firefox windows iaccessible2 msaa 1 Comment 3,339 Views
IBM and the Free Standards Group (FSG), today, announced IBM's donation of IAccessible2 to the Free Standards Group. IAccessible2 is a new accessibility API, developed in the project codenamed Missouri. In developing IAccessible2 we had a number of goals in mind:
Project Missouri constitutes one of the largest, and perhaps the largest, accessibility efforts in the history of our company. It was named Missouri as the State of Massachusetts laid down the gauntlet in front of IBM to "show me" an accessible solution for ODF in 2007. It's creation constituted a multi-continent design and development effort between IBM Productivity Editor developers in Beijing, accessibility engineers in Austin, and assistive technology vendors in Florida, Georgia, Indiana, and Wisconsin. The accessibility engineers from IBM's Software Group Emerging Technologies Accessibility Architecture and Development team are industry accessibility leaders in the areas of ARIA, Firefox, Linux, and Java with some working on accessibility for 20 years. Project Missouri is a true testament to IBM's commitment to accessibility as is the donation of IAccessible2 to the Free Standards Group.
The FSGs acceptance to make it an open standard will speed up the process to make future industry innovations accessible. At the Free Standards Group Accessibility meeting yesterday two large enterprise companies joined the IAccessible2 standards effort - Oracle and SAP. All companies who innovate and who are committed to accessibility desire a vehicle to make those innovations accessible. The Free Standards Group Accessibility group now develops accessibility API standards for both Windows and UNIX. When a new technology is developed participating members have a vehicle, if needed, to extend the existing standards to meet their needs and with help from accessibility efforts from across the globe.
IAccessible2 includes support for rich Tables, editable text, documents, relationships (critical for AJAX, model-based authoring tools, etc.), extensible roles (key for ARIA), hyperlinks, selection, multiple descriptive actions (critical for mobility impairment and onscreen keyboards). Going forward we will be contributing developer guidelines, and open source tooling to aid developers.
Most importantly, IAccessible2 will have support by assistive technology vendors which removes a critical barrier to adoption.
In summary, IAccessible2 is a key ingredient in the convergence of rich Web and desktop applications. It supports usable access for people with disabilities on Windows, while reducing developers' efforts to support accessibility on other operating systems. With a rich open accessibility ecosystem in place with the FSG for accessibility API development we should now be able to move on to broader usability issues rather than fighting interoperability problems with assistive technologies in the native platform.
schwer 120000D6E4 Tags:  msaa firefox uia accessibility aria windows fsg iaccessible2 odf gnome 3,538 Views
I recently visited Andy Updegrove’s blog, following our IAccessible2 (IA2) announcement, and I noticed his question regarding why we chose to create an API other than UI Automation (UIA). I have had similar questions asked both publicly and privately. The answer to that begins in March 2005.
At CSUN 2005, I approached Microsoft with the idea of producing an industry standard, unencumbered, royalty free, accessibility API. Industry needed a comprehensive, standard, accessibility API to support solid interoperability between applications and assistive technologies. We had a 2 pronged strategy. Microsoft, I was sure, would push for the API being UIA and if this was not successful our alternative was a new accessibility API we were creating out of project Missouri that you all know now as IAccessible2.
At this time, the UNIX accessibility efforts were such that a new API was tenable although we would have, and did, take a lot of heat for suggesting it. That said, we felt it worth the effort to make this happen. We were willing to use UIA even though we had reservations which I discuss later in this blog entry. An indication that this effort was going on can be seen in a June 2005 Microsoft announcement. By October 2005, we were unable to make this happen and we had to cut and run because it would hold up our UNIX accessibility efforts in the Free Standards Group (FSG) as well as our new office suite enablement work for Workplace.
At this juncture I told Microsoft that we would take an alternative approach to achieve the goals I outlined above. Shortly after, the State of Massachusetts laid down the aggressive timeline for ODF accessibility and Missouri kicked into high gear across IBM. If we had stuck with UI Automation we would not have met the states needs, as you will soon read. Also, through industry contribution, UNIX accessibility had now matured significantly and going back to UIA would be similar to a slash and burn effect for that platform. Apple was in a similar situation. Fortunately, in the background we had been creating IA2. The goals of that project are defined in my previous blog entry.
My reservations about UI Automation then and today are multi-faceted and this is a result of a similar situation which happened when Microsoft released Microsoft Active Accessibility (MSAA) in 1995. So, let me digress:
MSAA (formerly OLE Accessibility) was designed with Assistive Technology Vendors (ATVs) input but with little contribution by the developer community creating a chicken and egg problem. Upon release it had little to no ATV support because application vendors did not implement it. This was because ATVs did not support it and because very little guidance was given to developers on how to implement it. As a result, MSAA had great promise but suffered from a number of gaping holes such as: support for rich text; tables (spreadsheets, etc.); hypertext links; relationships; and multiple named actions. Over the years industry vendors have produce a plethora of proprietary APIs, including Microsoft, to expose the information needed to fill the holes. ATVs have had to aggregate support for all these APIs and less reliable, dated, engineering techniques like “screen scraping” to produce an offscreen model. The result has been a nightmare for Assistive Technology Vendors (ATVs) and application developers to support and the results are often unreliable. In fact, one could argue that no single, comprehensive, standard, accessibility API for Windows exists.
Microsoft developed UI Automation with the intention of filling these holes but many similar problems exist today. Today, assistive technology participation in UI Automation appears to be limited to design time. Currently, the major ATVs don’t support UI Automation (UIA).
UIA is divided into a provider(application) and client side (ATV) API. The client side portion runs in managed code called the Common Lanugage Runtime environment. Today UIA requires ATVs to rewrite all or part of their software to run in a managed environment to access them. This has prevented widespread ATV adoption of UIA and thus application vendor support. Microsoft needs an unmanaged client-side UIA implementation, which ATVs can support, but that is not currently available for Vista or XP. Given the absence of an unmanaged UIA API and the extremely few applications that support UIA, we believe UIA really needs more ATV testing to prove readiness for wide scale adoption. Microsoft's challenge will be to get large applications, like MS Office, and ATVs to support UIA to work out any defects.
Now, all this said, the Vista desktop needed to be accessible. Vista access by screen readers is a combination of MSAA and screen scraping. In short, access to the Vista desktop is like XP today. Screen scraping is limited to the unmanaged environment. For managed applications Microsoft provided some basic UIA to MSAA mapping and some text access but the accessibility is limited. Consequently, support for managed applications is currently dependent up on a limited client side unmanaged API layer. Due to the limited number of managed applications, there is little business justification for ATVs to support them.
Getting back to IA2, I will turn the clock bat to 1997 when IBM and Sun got together to collaborate on a new accessibility API for Java – now called the Java Accessibility API. You can learn about the early work in my 1998 CSUN pitch with Phill Jenkins. The presentation includes a link to guidelines I created to assist developers. A new Java Accessibility API was needed because of MSAA’s dependence on other technologies, like offscreen models, which were not available on other platforms. Additionally, IBM created a pure Java Screen Reader called the Self Voicing Kit for Java to test the implementation on Swing with a real, scriptable, screen reader. This work is something both Sun and IBM are very proud of as it is also the basis for the work on UNIX, UNO, and IA2. The API works. Java’s accessibility problems today are not with the API but the transport layer in the Java Access Bridge. The use of MSAA and IA2 would be an excellent replacement.
We do believe that more work is required for application vendors to use UIA. With IA2 we complement MSAA, as is, and we have fully tested ATV support today. To validate this I refer to GW Micro's endorsement of IAccessible2:
"MSAA provides a great base for allowing applications to make themselves accessible. However, over the years it has become apparent that MSAA lacks important information needed to make certain elements accessible. IBM has taken the lead on extending MSAA, using the new IAccessible2 interface. IAccessible2 resolves the major holes left with MSAA by enhancing it, not replacing it. Switching from MSAA to other standards, such as UIA, is possible in the future, but is likely to be a very expensive endeavor. IAccessible2 allows you to keep existing MSAA support but then allows you to enhance in areas that MSAA falls short. GW Micro has been working with IBM to fully integrate IAccessible2 into its screen reader, Window-Eyes. Having Window-Eyes support IAccessible2 allows application developers to test using serious accessibility tools. IAccessible2 completes MSAA."
-- Doug Geoffray, Vice President of Development, GW Micro
The effort to enable IA2 supporting applications on other platforms is significantly smaller than with existing APIs. We have heavily designed and tested IAccessible2 to work on an entire office suite and with input from the Mozilla foundation who would implement this on Firefox. As indicated here, and Peter Korn's web log, IAccessible2 is not new in that it is derived from working APIs we helped design and implement on UNIX and Java. Also, IA2 was designed with the help of ATVs like Freedom Scientific and GW Micro during its implementation on IBM's Productivity Editors for Notes 8.
During the design of IA2 we added support for W3C ARIA unlike UIA. We believe changes to UIA are required to support Web 2.0. Going forward, IAccessible2 is an open standard and will allow others in industry to enhance it as new technology warrants. Proprietary APIs are much more restrictive and this kind of participation is very difficult. We believe they can both exist on the same platform as both are built on top of the COM transport layer.
An important benefit, for ATVs, is that they can continue to run in-process to get the performance enhancements they have realized with MSAA. This may prove difficult with the provider/client side architecture in UIA. For the non-techies running "in-process" is like talking to the person next to you vs. shouting across a street. The noisy interruptions will cause the conversation to take a lot longer to complete.
In short, because UIA has not been used by major application vendors and ATVs we believe it will take some time to be fully realized. In the mean time IAccessible2 will already have been implemented to support large rich desktop applications and W3C ARIA with full ATV support. UIA's immediate benefit may be for managed applications.
Beyond the planned IA2 support in Firefox 3 and our productivity editors in Notes 8 (Open Document Format support), we will be adding support in Eclipse. That work has just kicked off. By implementing it in Eclipse any application built using Eclipse will be able to make use of IAccessible2 and more usable access. This will allow us improve the usability of things like of rich model-based authoring tools for persons with disabilities in our Rational product line. Many vendor products work on Eclipse. IA2 will make the already strong accessibility of Eclipse more usable by persons with disabilities on Windows and once implemented it will be easier to make Eclipse fully accessible on other platforms.
I should point out that there are other vendors planning to support IA2 and I hope they will be making those announcements in the near future.
It is our hope that Microsoft will join the Free Standards Group and participate in IAccessible2. The effort dramatically improves the interoperability problem, between ATVs and application vendors, on Windows which does nothing but help Microsoft. Also, due to IAccessible2's synergy with MSAA, Java, UNIX, and UNO accessibility the uptake should be swift. Microsoft's experience in the area would be greatly welcomed and they could benefit from future accessibility innovations produced by the FSG. Like IBM, I believe Microsoft would like to move on to other accessibility challenges which have not garnered as much attention today. Here is the opportunity. I am cautiously optimistic.[Read More]