Sunday, December 17, 2006


GOK needs some tender loving care.

In October I wrote an email to the ubuntu and gnome accessibility lists suggesting we harmonize our on-screen keyboard efforts. As discussion happens on the OSK-ng wiki, and OSK-ng group, other OSK projects continue and I find myself considering a few options.
  1. Join one of the other efforts and make sure the great features in gok are on the road map.
  2. Give gok the TLC (refactoring and refreshment) it needs to be more easily used.
  3. Continue keeping gok alive, while attempting to harmonize efforts.
Note, as GNOME's gok maintainer, I am in the process of trying to find out how many dependent gok users there are currently and to get their thoughts on the matter. Underlying my thinking is this basic notion:
I want to focus my time and effort to help maximize the advancement of accessibility.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


IBM and The Free Standards Group (FSG) have announced a new accessibiliy standard API named IAccessible2 (codenamed Missouri). While skimming the now publicly available reference I found some obvious familiarity with existing accessibility APIs: Java (Java Accessibility API), Windows (MSAA), and Linux (ATK, AT-SPI). I'm pleased however, that this does not appear to be a common denominator API but rather has been heavily informed by the richer APIs from Java and Linux/Unix. I'm also particularly interested in finding out how the WAI-ARIA work has informed this standard. There are still some real challenges in the ARIA problem space and having the right accessibility API is a big part of the solution (while writing clever and configurable AT is arguably the other big part).

Now, I've gone ahead and erased most of my post after reading Aaron's post (Aaron is from Mozilla), Rich's post (Rich is from IBM), and Peter's post (Peter is from Sun). They have all provided much better information than I would have. Peter's post is extremely interesting for anyone looking for a history of accessibility work over the last ten years or so. I'm probably biased since that is about the amount of time I've been involved in accessibility.

Anyways, from a FLOSS AT developer perspective.. I'm pleased to report that the IAccessible2 IDL specification is LGPL licensed. Developers like me can hope to write to one accessibility API (instead of writing wrappers for each platform we target) and more easily port our technology across platforms (assuming we haven't already written our software on portable technology such as Python, Java, or Mozilla/XUL). Time will tell.

Exciting times these.

Saturday, December 2, 2006


thunderbird about box v3a1Today I happily note a small step on my journey into the Mozilla project. Since I am going to try and pitch in with Thunderbird accessibility stuff I went ahead and pulled the source from cvs, did some magic Mozilla build stuff, installed, and finally ran the latest version from the trunk.

I thought my blog needed some colour so I uploaded the "About" box from this version showing an artistic drawing of a blue winged thunder duck-swan thing in repose, perhaps about to ascend? It looks like it could be the parent of the bird shown on the newer logo.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Solving Disability

There is a movement towards defining disability in roughly the following way:
A disability is a condition resulting from a mismatch between an individual and his/her environment.
In the world of software user interfaces we might say:
A disability results from a mismatch between an individual and the user interface they are stuck with.
I would add:
Usability is the art of minimizing this mismatch.
and perhaps conclude:
If we can eliminate all the mismatches then we can eliminate disability.
This last one might appear silly yes, but remember I am toying here with new definitions. I think there are worthwhile reasons for shifting perspectives on disability, but I'll save that argument for a later post.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Thunderbird Accessibility

I'm a lucky guy. Thanks to Aaron Leventhal and Frank Hecker over at Mozilla, another interesting opportunity has come my way: hacking on Thunderbird accessibility. I'm hoping I can make an immediate impact on shortening the bug list.

I will also be providing counsel with a compelling new project recently awarded Mozilla funds. This project will essentially be a first step towards a cross-platform user-centric flexible input/control system primarily aimed at users living with physical disabilities. Steve Lee over in the UK will be driving this project and has done a great job of welcoming input from myself and other key people in this field.

I was fortunate to meet Steve over at the GNOME Boston Summit last month, where he, Aaron Leventhal and I were able to retreat to a coffee shop. Aaron showed us the big picture for accessibility in Mozilla-land and I was intrigued. (I phoned Aaron earlier this evening and he told me that he and Frank Hecker are making huge progress in getting Mozilla HQ behind this master plan).

So I'm looking forward to getting my hands into the formidable Mozilla codebase (via Thunderbird). The best part is that the timeline for this work is very flexible, allowing me to keep some cycles on GOK and my other projects. I'm not sure what directions this work might take me but it should be a great challenge and a great ride.