Accessibility Strategy and Architecture
I had not reported on IAccessible2 adoption recently. I was pleased to see Stephen Partridge's blog posting of Adobe Acrobat investigating support for IAccessible2. This is sure to improve the accessibility of Adobe Acrobat. This is exciting news given the recent IAccessible2 Request for Comment. IAccessible2 is an enhancement to the Windows Accessibility API Microsoft Active Accessibility. It bring the Windows platform capability in line with Linux. IAccessible2 is a proven technology with strong implementations in the recently released Firefox 3 and Lotus Symphony.
schwer 120000D6E4 Tags:  accessibility eclipse tools actf web2.0 aria msaa iaccessible2 3,124 Views
Some of you may have seen the announcement announcement about the Accessibility Tools Framework (ACTF) donation to Eclipse. As many of you know, IBM promotes an open accessibility strategy in an effort to reduce the time that new technologies become accessible. In the past we have done this by initiating and leading: the Accessibility for Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA); donating code to Firefox to support WAI-ARIA; creating IAccessible2 and donating it to the Free Standards Group, now the Linux Foundation; and contributing to Linux accessibility.
Part of the strategy was to address a growing need to have an open source accessibility tools framework. One reasoning was that propriety test tools on Windows prevented us from distributing a modified version of the Windows accessibility test tools of IAccessible2 to developers. Another reason was that creating test tools from scratch was a time consuming process. Why not take the ones we were creating, internally, and donate them to the industry to build upon, free of encumbrances. Also, due to the overwhelming success of Eclipse, we felt it was an excellent place to build a community around a reusable and extensible tools framework that provide developers, consultants, and new technology providers with a starting point. The result is ACTF.
In ACTF we will be donating new tools like "AccProbe" which will allow you to do IAccessible2, MSAA, and WAI-ARIA testing. We will have new browsers and validation tools as well. The best thing about it is that you can participate, or borrow what is there as you see fit ... and you don't have to sign a license agreement![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]
schwer 120000D6E4 Tags:  easyweb browser accessibility aging web seniors 1 Comment 3,021 Views
IBM posted an insightful video highlighting the need to address access to the Web by the growing senior population and an IBM solution called the EasyWeb browser. While IBM is very involved in accessibility standards and infrastructure this video shows IBM's efforts to create assistive technology when the need presents itself.
Taking a step back, a feature of the "EasyWeb" solution is its personalization capabilties. The end user is allowed to specify how the web experience is delivered to them without any special assistive technologies. Personalized access is a key component of a long term strategy industry must take to deliver a workable solution for all users. For the growing 65+ senior population, this is a transformational solution allowing them to participate in the "digital generation."
When asked why I work in accessibility - this is why.[Read More]
Recently, IBM announced its participation in the Open Office development effort. One of the benefits to the Open Office community is that they will be able to benefit from our accessibility implementation in the Notes 8 Productivity Editors. In the Notes 8 Productivity editors we implemented a new open accessibility API called IAccessible2. IAccessible2 was contributed to the Free Standards Group, now the Linux Foundation, in 2006. IBM is a big supporter of open accessibility standards and we are pleased to see Open Office benefit from the work.
I recently read an article about the donation, "IBM beats Microsoft over the head with its own code" which took a kernel of a fact -- that IA2 is an extension of Microsoft Active Accessibility (MSAA), a Microsoft-developed technology -- and in the interest of simplifying it for his readership, made a few mistaken conclusions about it.
Let me clarify by saying IAccessible2 is an accessibility API, which you can add to your MSAA enabled Windows application, to provide additional accessibility features needed to handle rich internet applications, rich text, and documents - in this case ODF. IAccessible2 in no way modifies MSAA. Microsoft has made MSAA available to industry as as a standard accessibility API for Windows and modifying it would break interoperability with assistive technology. Furthermore, Microsoft made MSAA available for all to use on Windows. IAccessible2 is derived from work we did on Java Accessibility and the UNO Accessibility API (which I discuss in an earlier blog entry). It is in no way derived from Microsoft work.
IAccessible2 does not just support screen reading. Accessibility features of IAccessible2 also assist alternate input solutions for people with mobility impairments. IAccessible2 also provides support for screen magnification solutions. AI Squared, developer of the industry leading ZoomText screen magnifier, provided valuable feedback in IAccessible2's design as well for this reason.
One of my functions is to co-chair the ODF Accessibility Subcommitee in OASIS. The accessibility subcommittee is pleased to see the article recognize our accomplishment in making ODF accessible and our recent work called “Accessibility Guidelines for Implementations of Open Document Format v1.1.”
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The accessibility industry has noticed some recent IBM accessibility resource adjustments as a result of the economy.
IBM has been doing much of the heavy lifting, both financial and with resources, for the WAI-ARIA work. This includes working with assistive technology vendors, browser manufacturers, and industry. At this point we believe WAI-ARIA is far enough a long that the browser manufacturers can carry that aspect of WAI-ARIA forward. With that statement I would like to give praise to the excellent work done by the
We, now, have to invest in applying WAI-ARIA and WCAG 2 to our products and that will require us to focus more inwards. I will continue to chair the WAI-ARIA subcommittee in the WAI PF working group and work with AT vendors to ensure that it works for people with disabilities. The WAI-ARIA specification and best practices guide are very far along and we are working to wrap things up to get to last call. I would like to point to this outstanding podcast by Freedom Scientific.
Similarly, the Linux Foundation has done a stellar job in delivering a new standardized accessibility API in IAccessible2. IBM and industry uses IAccessible2 in products like Lotus Symphony, Acrobat Reader, and Firefox as well as a host of mainstream assistive technologies. Consequently, we consider IAccessible2 an overwhelming success and will step back to let industry move forward with continued adoption. At this point we feel IAccessible2 is at a point where the Linux Foundation can carry the ball. It is in good hands.
Going forward, as a member of the Accessibility Interoperability Alliance steering committee, I will be working to help coordinate efforts with the Linux Foundation to ensure greater interoperability with assistive technologies on multiple operating systems.[Read More]
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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.
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]
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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]
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.
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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]
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Some readers may have been following the progress of the accessibility of Linux desktops. The two main desktops being targeted for accessibility in the industry are Gnome and KDE. Both desktops use on the accessibility architecture defined by the Gnome Accessibility Project. The architecture builds off work IBM did with Sun on the Java Accessibility API back in 1998.
There are a number of, what we call, "gaps" in the total GAP solution. These are in the areas of assistive technologies and accessibility infrastructure performance. To date, the main screen reader on the platform, Gnopernicus, and the provided magnification solutions are not what users come to expect on a Windows system. Gnopernicus, is not scriptable which allows developers and end users to customize the audio interface. Magnification, today, is also limited to a window rather than full screen.
A shining star on the platform is the Gnome Onscreen Keyboard which benefits from GAP. GAP provides the list of named actions on accessible objects as well as a list of all named hypertext links in applications. The breadth of support on the Windows platform is lacking in these areas.
A more pressing issue which effects the quality of screen reader support is the provision for solid, performant document access for large applications. The problem areas are Open Office and Firefox. The accessibility architecture on GAP attempts to restrict people from gaining access to document structure. The existing API depends on numerous cross process calls to get access to information in large documents resulting in inadequate performance. Also, the use of the GAP ATK API is inadequately documented making it difficult for application developers and assistive technologies, new to the platform, to discover how to enable their products or write new assistive technologies. The performance of Open Office accessibility is also impaired by using the Java Access Bridge to implemant an accessibility API bridge between Open Office and the ATSPI. ATSPI is the CORBA-based communication layer through which assistive technologies acquire the accessibility information from the GAP architecture.
To address these issues, IBM has recently become active in the open source accessibility effort through its work in the Free Standards Group. IBM is in the process of proposing API extensions to ATK and the ATSPI to improve performance and improve access to large documents. Also, while being dormant on the screen reader front since Screen Reader/2 and the Self Voicing Kit for Java, IBM is developing plans for an open source Linux screen reader.
Also, last year IBM released Via Voice TTS for Linux through Wizzard Software. It is available in Simplified Chinese, German, Spanish, Finnish, French, Italian, Japanese, Mexican Spanish, Brazillian Portuguese, Traditional Chinese, US English and UK English. We felt releasing Via Voice was essential for Linux due to its high quality at high speeds and the breadth of languages it supports.[Read More]
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 was elated to find that Microsoft has added support for WAI-ARIA in Internet Explorer 8. Although I am sure support is not complete, this is a statement of commitment by Microsoft and it gives the effort support by over 90 percent of the Web browsers. IBM is already incorporating support for WAI-ARIA in toolkits, like Dojo, which is being consumed by many IBM products to deliver a usable, accessible experience to people with disabilities for Web 2.0 applications.
The next question we need to ask is what ATVs support this level of WAI-ARIA implementation in IE 8. If we are going to start playing with this we need an assistive technology (AT). Hopefully, either Microsoft or AT vendors will divulge this information for developers soon.
I want to personally thank Microsoft for making this step forward.[Read More]
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]
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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]