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 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.