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.