Free Software Accessibility, Call to Arms

Chris Hofstader Director of Access Technology for Project GNU writes his thoughts on the future of Free Software Accessibility.

Call to Arms

In the time since I joined FSF/GNU as Director of Access Technology, I have focussed largely on policy, fundraising and coordination with other groups. Meanwhile, I've whined a lot about the state of the software which must be our highest priority.

We have three areas where we need to focus our hacking efforts: OS level things like dbus (I don't understand this part of a GNU/Linux system too well but Bill, Joanie and Janina seem to have good ideas for these areas), orca and other AT "middleware" that needs to communicate both with the OS and applications and, very importantly, support for the applications and how they communicate with the AT.

We thought of setting priorities but this would, at the start at least, just be a list of lists of lists and would probably, like so many lists before it, die on the vine.

So, instead of finding tasks and then volunteers to work on them, we are switching gears again and trying to first find volunteers and asking them what they want to work on. We may try to suggest specific high priorities for volunteers but, as they aren't being paid, letting them find their way to the projects they find interesting will likely be the best route to productivity.

We also need volunteers to step up and take the lead role on projects and project components. Don has taken charge of OCR and we've seen great progress there, Joanie owns orca and needs lots of help, Bill and Tony (of course) run the vinux shop, Sina is leading the Java Access stuff but, while we've talked about it a lot, we've no leader for speech recognition/dictation, no one on magnification, learning disabilities and other projects suited for people with non-vision disabilities. On braille, of course, we have John J. Boyer whose project has led the pack for a number of years. We are on our way to a FLOSS AT future but we've lots of work from now until then.

At yesterday's Open a11y (www.a11y.org) call, we discussed priorities and a list of mostly vision related items topped the list. This group needs help with regression testing for orca (this can be done by pretty junior people and those interested should contact Joanie but keep in touch with us so we can know what is going on around this small community) and the second item was poor performance of orca which needs people with C programming skills, an understanding of how GNU/Linux works under the hood and a talent for finding bottlenecks (Python will also be helpful) and this group should probably contact either Joanie or Bill but, as above, stay in touch with us.

A lot of us, including me, complain about performance and functionality in various applications when running orca. We've got to stop whining and get hacking. It would be good to have people take the lead on Firefox, OpenOffice and other "high value" programs. It would also be useful for people to take charge of entirely new AT (like speech recognition) projects to help us move forward in areas that are not already covered.

We need resources to be used judiciously but we also want our hackers to have fun working on projects they will find most rewarding. We need hackers, testers, documenters and probably a bunch of other skills that I cannot think of at this moment.

Please forward this message to as many lists you can find that may have interested parties on them. Also, if anyone on this distribution has skills in languages other than English, please try to send along translations calling for volunteers who may not speak English.

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