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:
- Allow developers and assistive technologies to leverage their investment in Microsoft Active Accessibility (MSAA)
- Complement MSAA to allow Open Document Format (ODF) supporting office applications and other rich office applications to support a rich usable experience for persons with disabilities
- Remove the need to reverse engineer information needed for accessibility on Windows (screen scraping and other techniques which result in unreliable access)
- Dramatically reduce the porting effort to enable industry applications on other platforms
- Support our W3C ARIA efforts
- Make it an open standard
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I recently spoke at the annual NFB Convention, in Dallas, with Becky Gibson. Here is a summary of the meeting:
Rob Sinclair, the Microsoft Accessibility Director, gave a great presentation on Vista and the upcoming accessibility features. Vista is Microsoft’s first step toward adapting content to meet the needs of the individual. Rob showed a talking login as well as the Window-Eyes screen reader reading parts of the desktop. Rob stated he wanted to raise the bar in the accessibility space. Due to the audience, Rob did not show off their speech recognition technology which will be bundled with Vista. I saw this at CSUN and was quite impressed. The downside is the new Vista functionality, much which is not accessibility related, comes at a price.
Later in the meeting Joe Steinkamp, from the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services spoke on the resources required to run Vista which will be prohibitive for many individual consumers and businesses. Vista takes 2 gb of RAM and a 128mb graphics card. For those running screen magnifiers, 256mb RAM is required. Also, it appears that a dual core processor is required. So, unless your company is forcing you to go to Vista or you buy a machine bundled with it, I don’t see many in the blind community being an early adopter.
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 Vista timeframe.
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 AJAX accessibility and discussed her work on the Dojo open source accessibility project which she is leading for IBM. I finished up with a discussion of our work on Linux accessibility and the open source accessibility ecosystem growing around our Linux Screen Reader and full screen magnifier projects. The point being, open source accessibility projects are attracting developers worldwide to contribute and accelerate new solutions.
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.
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:
- Failure to implement and validate your infrastructure
- Failure to ensure a workable, usable solution that interoperates with assistive technologies
- Failure to provide reusable, accessible component libraries to reduce the enablement work of developers
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 just returned from a face to face meeting of the Oasis Open Document Format Accessibility Subcommittee held at the RNIB Employment and Learning Center in Edinburgh, Scotland where we completed our accessibility report to the Oasis ODF Technical Committee. The public report highlights our requirements to fill accessibility gaps in the ODF 1.0 specification. A summary of our effort and the report can be found on Peter Korn’s blog.
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.
It was completed in only 5 months
It only produced 9 enhancements to the specification
Of the enhancements, the group went beyond basic compliance to address the usable access of office solutions
We were able to include a diverse set of users and technical experts addressing a broader range of issues
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.
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:
- Aaron Leventhal, Firefox accessibility lead (Arlington, MA)
- Ming Gao, developer (Beijing, China)
- Eirikur Hallgrimsson, developer (Nashua, NH)
- Dan Kinnunen, tester (Austin, TX)
- Wayne Deangelo, tester (Austin, TX)
- Mark Pilgrim, Firefox UI accessibility (Raleigh, NC)
- Ginn Chen, Firefox ATK, Sun lead (Beijing)
- Evan Yan, developer (Beijing)
- Neo Liu, developer, (Beijing)
- Tim Miao, developer (Beijing)
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.
- Mats Palmgren, developer (Sweden)
- Håkan Waara, developer (Sweden)
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.
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.
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:
- the definitions of open standards and open source
- Who uses ODF
- Who is working on its accessibility and the timeline
- Accessibility of ODF
- The history and future of ODF in the State of Mass.
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
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
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:
- Role attribute and Meta modules
- Access key replacement called the access element
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
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:
- Not every device has a keyboard.
- The author has to figure out what keyboard mapping to use so that his/her selection does not overlap one consumed by the target browser or operating system
- There is no descrliption as to the purpose of the access key
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:
- Assigns navigatio by role or by a target id whereby the target id takes precendence
- Where there is more than one role matching the access element, focus tracking would sequence through each element having the same role in a circular fashion following document order
- By default, an access element sends a focus event to the target element
- The author may assign a tittle attribute which acts as a description of the access element
- The author may choose a particular event handler to be triggered such as an activate by making declarative reference to use of events
- The author may optionally provide a key binding suggestion for which it is up to the user agent and end user to accept or override
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.
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
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
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
The most visible accessibility battle since the threatened boycott of Microsoft products is now center stage in the state of Massachusetts. It is center stage because the state of Massachusetts wants to move to an Open Document Format (ODF)
for which accessibility has not yet been fully addressed. To prevent its adoption those who supply a claimed compliant accessible office suite are pushing to have it overturned. While accessibility issues exist with this new format and its deployment it is important to note that these problems can be fixed. I can, in fact, remember when the proprietary office formats the state currently uses were not accessible at all. With effort, the accessibility story will improve. So, the real questions that need to be asked are:
- Can an accessible solution be provided?
- If so, can the time needed to do this be warranted?
- Can an accessible solution be provided in the interim?
- Can work in this space produce more accessible solutions?
- Can the cost of an accessible solution targeted at open standards and open source solutions benefit the user?
On November 5th I attended an ODF summit sponsored by IBM and Sun at the IBM Learning center in Armonk. The event was clearly about history, preserving state sovereignty, and putting a roadmap together for an accessible solution. My presence here helps to answer these questions.
1. The answer to this is of course yes. IBM is in fact doing that now for Workplace.
2. To answer this question it is important to understand the motivation behind Peter Quinn's move to take the state from proprietary to open formats and from proprietary to open source. In other words how did the state get to where they are today. This was captured in his "Open Format Freedom Fighters Forum" keynote. The state has a $24.4B dollar budget: 90,000 employees and contractors, with an annual IT spend of $700M. In 2003 it's challenges were massive legacy applications, limited maintenance, lots of heterogeneity, few sustainable processes, and the need to preserve history in a format that is accessible by all. This created a "perfect storm" analogy that seldom comes around.
The state's path to open standards and open source is an effort to bring some "common sense" to the commonwealth where they can build solutions that everyone else can have. The CIO office wanted to share code across state boundaries but the lawyers prevented it. They also wanted to preserve history in their documents. Much of the states documents are in proprietary document formats. Newer proprietary formats are not always backward compatible. Over time the loss of state history becomes a serious concern. Peter gave the open standards analogy of a toilet for which I will try to summarize:
Today you buy a toilet and no matter how many features it has you may install it in your house without a lot of worry. The reason is that all houses have a standard drain pipe, standard wax seal, and standard water hook ups. Now if you follow the "Gates model" you go out and buy the new Microsoft toilet that requires a special sized drain pipe when you build your home. Twenty years later the toilet breaks and you need to go buy a new one. You find one you like and you bring it home for installation and discover that the new toilet does not fit the drain. You find that in order to install it you need to buy the special "Balmer adapter." This assumes someone is still selling the adapter. The state's concern is best captured in a recent David Berlind article
. Simon Phipps (Sun) summarized it in one of his witty one-liners: "ODF is about avoiding corporate Alzheimer's."
The concerns of the state go far beyond saving money on licensing costs for proprietary solutions. Preserving history and bringing sanity to the state are more than valid reasons for the state's moving toward an open document format. To do this, the state should take the time to produce an accessible solution. It was clear that Peter Quinn wanted to make that happen.
3. An interim solution can be defined; in fact they have an accessible solution now. The state should execute on a parallel track to work with industry to build an accessible solution.
4. There is definitely an opportunity to build a more accessible solution. The existing office products are considered accessible because assistive technology vendors support them. However, just because a company claims they have accessibility support does not always mean they have a usable solution. At IBM the accessibility and usability of PowerPoint documents is a real problem. We have an opportunity for the industry to build more accessible document formats and think solidly about how they can be delivered interoperably with assistive technologies to improve their usability. We have an opportunity to garner user involvement up front and use that to impact the design of the accessibility support. We can also do this on more than one operating system. Members of OASIS
at the meeting agreed to form a subcommittee to address the accessibility of ODF.
5. Today blind users of IT will go out and purchase a screen reader. The cost of that screen reader can run up to $1400. Some assistive technologies are customizable and others are not. If solutions were open source it gives an opportunity for users and industry to enhances the assistive technology solution without waiting for the latest update. Furthermore, users would not be required to purchase such solutions. The use of open standards for interoperability allows for commonality of the infrastructure. This is a real problem on Windows where platform evolution has resulted in a plethora of proprietary APIs
, used for accessibility, and is arguably one of the reasons for the high prices of Windows assistive technologies. Comprehensive open standards for accessibility, like those being developed for Gnome, reduce the cost of ensuring an interoperable solution as ell as the time to market for an assistive technology. When I worked on Screen Reader/2 it took us 3-4 years to build a screen reader. At this time, no comprehensive accessibility API existed. When we developed the Self Voicing Kit for Java it took us 6 months to build a working solution and with a greater level of accessibility. This was because we had developed a single, engineered, accessibility API.
Despite the obvious benefits for moving to open formats, Peter has an uphill battle. The senate oversight committee wants to remove control of how IT is specified away from the state's IT department. Peter Quinn had 3 bullets to describe this in his pitch:
- creates total gridloc
- defies logic
This debate most assuredly will rage on. Meanwhile, members at the ODF Summit are forging plans to meet the state's ITD accessibility goals. Some of these members include IBM and Sun with extensive accessibility skills and resources.
Like many in the industry I have been reviewing and helping to define what accessibility features appear in UI Automation (UIA)
. UIA addresses a number of gaps in Microsoft Active Accessibility (MSAA)
At a high level some of these gaps are:
- access to text
- access to tables
- role and state implementation restrictions due to integer sizes
- some reduction in enablement by the author
- use for automated testing
Microsoft's challenge will be to move people to it. Today, accessible Windows applications are based on the use of a plethora of API and reverse engineering mechanisms. These consist of: MSAA; Proprietary COM access to an applications Document Object Model (MS Office, Corel, IE, etc.); the Java Access Bridge; graphics engine hooking to access to text, carets, and selected information, and more.
In the near term Microsoft is working to map MSAA to a single UIA API layer but due to problems with MSAA's specification implementations may vary and the end result will be that this will be unrealistic. At the moment access to UIA by an assistive technology is through managed code. This requires AT vendors to rewrite from scratch or integrate a managed extension to their assistive technology. Access to legacy applications by an assistive technology will result in a performance hit. ATs will have to communicate from a managed application across boundaries to legacy applications resulting in slower access. A positive step forward would be for Microsoft to release an unmanaged client API version for assistive technologies. Like any mature company Microsoft will be forced to support their legacy infrastructure or risk breaking the accessibility of existing applications. In short, this will be a long process.
While a significant step forward for Microsoft, there are some rather significant gaps in UIA that need to be addressed:
- Performance: The performance problem will be a real barrier to implementation on large documents where large amounts of information must be cached and processed by screen readers. To address this for Linux, IBM is working with the Free Standards Group to extend the accessibility API to support large documents defined as the collection interfaces. These interfaces run in the ATK bridging layer without additional work by the application developer.
- Device Independence: Support for multiple actions for device independence. These are provided in the Java Accessibility API as far back as 1998 and are now in the Linux GAP architecture.
- Support for relationships: This also was provided in Java and now in GAP. These are essential for diagrams, flow charts, groupings, etc.
One of the things that would have given UIA more traction would have been to get UIA into the open source community to get more backing as a cross-platform accessibility API where we would focus on a Linux implementation. I had originally suggested this to their director earlier this year and he expressed interest resulting in this public commitment
. Unfortunately, industry has yet to see a license agreement to review after months of waiting and we were forced to move on to alternatives.[Read More
Well, I just got back from SCUBA diving in Fiji where my wife and I went diving on the Fiji Agressor II. Here is the captain's log
. The vis. was great at 125 feet. We had a great shark dive at Nagali Pass where I saw the biggest green moray. Initially I thought the reef moved but it turned out to be a moray with a diameter of about 18 inches and 8-10 feet long. It felt like flashbacks of The Deep
On Tuesday this week I was interviewed on the the Computer America Talk Show and spoke on DHTML accessibility. For those that are interested here is the link:
Craig Crossman was a great host.
IBM's AlphaWorks site recently launced an accessibility topic
to host technologies that aid in the production of accessible solutions and which themeselves are assistive. AlphaWorks is a great venue for this effort as developer's can take these for a trial run, provide feedback to the developer or researcher, and in some instance decide to license the technology. I used alphaWorks when we wanted user feedback on the Self Voicing Kit for Java. Often, researchers develop technologies in a vaccum due to a broad range of obstacles. AlphaWorks is a way to get over the hurdles.
A number of technologies are currently posted on the site. I will discuss three:
aDesigner: This is a disability simulator for people with vision impairments. What I like about aDesigner is it is the only tool I am aware of which can simulate some visual disorder such as the effects of aging on the cornea and how it distorts visions for our aging population. It also simulates issues with color blindness which are difficult to perceive for those that are not impaired.
KeyboardOptimizer: Operating systems have a number keyboard accessibility options to help users with motor disabilities to type more easily and accurately. They depend on the user configuring these settings manually. There are also numerous settings that may need configuring to address your needs. Your needs may also change over time. This technology adapts to the individual as they type. It monitors how you interact with your computer and adjusts the keyboard response to meet your needs. This technology, developed by Shari Trewin
and is an accumulation of years of research.
Web Adaptation Technology: This is a project led by Vicki Hanson
is a technology that adapts web content for Seniors. This project originally sarted as a Web transcoding server research project for which I was a technical lead, in 2001, called the Web Accessibility Gateway
. Today this is an add-on to Internet Explorer. We have a number of IBM customers using this and it is has a number of adaptions for seniors including: magnification, TTS of selected text, smart page linearization, varying color schemes, and the KeyboardOptimizer.
Should these technologies appear in IBM products or would you like to use them yourselves? You decide. I encourage developers to provide feedback to these researchers.[Read More
Well, accessibility awareness has hit the mainstream. The November 3, 2005 IBM Systems Journal
is dedicated to accessibility.
As an author I just received my early copy. The article I co-authored covered accessibility requirements for users with vision impairments
. Section 10, "Lessons learned - Microsoft Windows Today" covers the evolution of accessibility on Windows. Windows accessibility has evolved over time and it provides an excellent example of what can happen when a comprehensive accessibility architecture and strategy are not employed up front. Today, producing accessible solutions can be a very expensive proposition on Windows due to interoperability problems.
I look forward to reading the article entitled Semantic triage for increased Web accessibility
since we are using semantic web concepts to address the accessibility of Dynamic HTML.[Read More
Today, IBM announced one of its accessibility contributions to the open source community
to be realized in the release of Firefox 1.5
Let start with Internet banking. Banks need to support a broad range of customers, including seniors, blind, low vision, and mobility impaired users. All of these customers have difficulty using a mouse. Web authors can now create the keyboard functionality, look and feel, and accessibility of the GUI. Users, accustomed to the keyboard navigation of a GUI will appreciate this for two reasons.
- GUIs hide information until you need it (menus, scrollable spreadsheets, expandable, collapsible trees
- User can tab to significant areas of their document, including GUI like widgets and then use the arrow keys to navigate within the widget (spreadsheet, menu) rather than being forced to tab to every active and visible element, that could be hidden by these widgets, or worse being forced to access alternative content reducing the user productivity.
Another business opportunity is education. Imagine a college, who has to get their students registered for classes, manage their scholarships and loans, view the school calendar, or possibly manage their own dynamic calendar. My own daughter will be attending college for the first time this year and I am keenly aware of the opportunities for this technology. Students want to use Windows, the Mac, and Linux to access the same information. Site administrators have to address all of these issues and having to support a fat operating system GUI for all these operating systems that is accessible just is not in the cards. Like a GUI, RIAs can hide much of the information until it is needed without having to navigate through pages of static content. For users who are blind this is a huge productivity gain. Also, these UI can be spoken with rich information, as in a GUI. For example, a blind user can hear their screen reader announce they are on a menu and it as a popup. A user who is blind may also hear verbose contextual information such as: you are on a notebook tab x 1 of 2.This is clearly a paradigm shift.
As the article states, this is part of an ongoing effort in the W3C
which IBM is leading to make RIAs accessible. Like all W3C recommendations this will need to have industry implementation. Firefox is the driving factor in making this a reality. Furthermore, IBM is working with AT vendors to support the technology. Currently, GW Micro
and Freedom Scientific
have versions of their screen readers in private beta using Firefox and users are raving about it. With these efforts around Firefox in place, developers can now start to develop accessible RIAs today rather than wait.
Going forward, Firefox is uniquely positioned to deliver the business opportunities of RIAs. It runs on multiple operating systems. Authors can enable their web content once and render it Firefox on multiple operating systems. Going forward, Firefox is being geared to support the accessibility infrastructures on both Linux and Windows.
The accessibility standards targeted at supporting RIAs may be rendered on Internet Explorer as well as Firefox and in fact make use of the keyboard support and the ability to drive magnification like Firefox. Unfortunately, Internet Explorer currently does not support this new emerging standard with screen readers. Businesses and federal agencies evaluating their browser strategy should take another look at Firefox 1.5 when it's released with the benefits of RIAs in mind.
See the HTML Accessibility Preview
for more information on the Firefox accessibility effort on RIAs.[Read More