Tuesday Mar 18, 2008

CSUN 2008

CSUN is an annual conference, whose full name is Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference. It's a conference facing to disabled users and accessibility solution providers, rather than a technical discussion for developers. I joined this year's CSUN conference and had a great time.

There are a lot of booths on the conference hall. A lot of different manufacturers bring various access device or solutions, including both of hardware and software, to help different kinds of disabled people.

I worked on Sun booth for half of my time, presenting people the accessibility feature of GNOME desktop running on SXDE. People are impressed with Orca, GOK, and Dasher working with GNOME applications, such as Firefox, OpenOffice, etc. Open source and free are big attractions to the visitors of our booth. Many people showed big interests on magnifier function of Orca. I guess it's because screen reading is more helpful for experienced users, while magnifier can give vision impaired users more direct help. The integration of Compiz would improve magnifier a lot.

I regard this conference as a good opportunity to learn what other companies/parties are doing in accessibility field. So I tried to attend sessions presented by different companies/parties showing their access technologies/solutions.

IBM gave speeches on Web 2.0 accessibility. They introduced the accessibility issues of Web 2.0 mashup. Mashup is a web application combining data or capability from more than one source into an integrated experience. Mashups are catching on in the enterprise. The accessibility solution of mashup would need efforts from both of browser side and constructor side. The guys from IBM also introduced Fluid project, a collaborative project to improve the user experience of community source software. The Fluid User Experience Toolkit provides resources, tools, and documentation to help make user interface design and implementation easier. The toolkit includes personae and scenarios for common use cases within higher education, user interface design patterns, testing protocols, and accessibility guidelines intended to simplify the design process.

Apple showed their accessibility solution as well. I had an impression that Mac OS is not as accessible as Unix/Linux and Windows. But this time, Apple showed their screen reader solution - VoiceOver in Mac OS X Leopard. They provided every attendee a big screen mac box to let people try their product on the session. Basic functions of screen reader is demonstrated, such as reading navigated menus and dialogs, working with word processing tools, braille support, etc.. That's not surprising. VoiceOver has fancy GUI of braille display, as Mac applications usually do. What's cool is its magnifier function. It can just magnify a focused window or even a focused widget, instead of magnify the whole screen. Another advantage of Apple's solution is, vision impaired users can have VoiceOver support since they extract Mac OS on a brand new box bought from store. We don't have screen reader support on login interface on SXDE.

Google introduced their work in enhancing the accessibility of web content in various Google's products. Their efforts include providing both of plain HTML interface and interactive AJAX interface for their web applications, adding accelerator keys to commonly used actions, providing text presentation for some visual interface, etc. They have also been working on making AJAX application usable by access-enabling them via ARIA. ARIA-enabling core AJAX libraries have been under development to help build in accessibility into AJAX applications.

AOL gave a presentation named "Making Web Applications Work Like Desktop Applications Through Keyboard Shortcuts". They introduced Axs library, a small JavaScript library which provides methods which make it easier for web developers to implement web 2.0 sites with accessible features. The primary functions of Axs library include managing focus for DOM objects, providing shortcuts, and making them discoverable by generating a hidden but accessible table of related information. It seems to me that the library is mainly used for AOL's websuite package but not widely used by other developers.

A speaker from Opera introduced the accessibility status in Opera browser. Opera browser's screen reader compatibility was broken when developing some features such as small screen rendering, voice output/control. They're fixing this issue, and have improved it on Mac and Windows. The speaker also addressed the challenges of accessibility in web 2.0 new formats, such as MathML and SVG.

We, Sun, also gave speeches on our accessibility solution on Gnome desktop - Orca, GOK, Dasher working with Firefox, OpenOffice and other gnome applications. The demos are very well received.

There are other vendors presenting their access technologies as well, including Microsoft, Adobe, etc. But due to schedule conflict, I didn't manage to attend all the sessions. Here are some other interesting sessions I've attended and would like to share them with you.

o Enable Interactive Access to Map Images for People Who are Visually-Impaired

The speaker managed to make map images accessible for both of scanned and on-line map. A map image is firstly processed for graphic simplification to extract street information, and text of street name is detected. Then the processed map image is converted to a printable format, and print into braille-like sheet, so that visually-impaired user can learn the map by touch the sheet. And the sheet is put on a touch panel. When user click on a street, the relative street name will be read.

o Accessible Mobile Technology

A company, named CodeFactory, introduced their software products which make mobile phones and PDAs accessible to blind and visual impaired. They provide different version of the software to work on both of Symbian and Windows Mobile platform. The speech didn't address technical aspect, like what accessibility infrastructure they're using, but it's still good to know that people have been making mobile device accessible as well.

o Broadcasting Disability: An Exploratory Study of a Video-Sharing Website

A small research is done on describing and categorizing the disability videos on YouTube. The speaker searched all disability videos on YouTube between 7 days, and 147 videos are found. Then the videos are analyzed to tell the rate of different kind of disability the videos are presenting (70 videos about Deaf, 58 videos about Autism), and the content types of the videos (42 videos about personal story, 39 videos about video blog). I think it somewhat discovered a social phenomenon

o Dueling Operating Systems

It's a interesting competition between screen readers, including Orca running on Solaris, JAWS running on Windows and VoiceOver running on Mac. Three blind people use these three screen readers (Mike Pedersen from Orca team is one of them and armed with Orca of course) to accomplish several tasks given by the judge. The tasks include to login to the desktop, to visit a website and get the RSS feed, to operate word processor. Basically all the players accomplished all the three task, but all had some flaw. Orca user and JAWS user had to use some trick to login (listen to the sound played when login window show up, and remember the login steps), due to the screen readers don't work before desktop started. JAWS failed to get RSS feed. VoiceOver run into an abnormal status once, so that the user had to reboot OS to get back.

About

I'm a developer working on Solaris I/O framework. Formerly, I worked on Mozilla and GNOME projects.

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