Sun's Corporate Social Responsibility Report

Today Sun published its first Corporate Social Responsibility Report. Sun's CEO Jonathan Schwartz has been talking about bridging the digital divide since at least 2004. Prior to that, Sun CEO Scott McNealy signed an open letter to President Clinton on the role of technology accessibility to bridge the digital divide. So it should come as no surprise that our work accessibility for people with disabilities is featured prominently in our Corporate Social Responsibility Report.

The report begins with a summary of Sun's social responsibility activities, including:

We have created ground breaking assistive technologies that enable people with disabilities to become integrated players in the Participation Age — and we’ve shared them for free.

The report elaborates on this work in detail, in the section entitled "ENABLING ACCESS AND PARTICIPATION":

Developing Assistive Technologies

In 1998, the U.S. Congress passed the Federal Rehabilitation Act, which forbids the U.S. Government from purchasing electronic and information technology that is inaccessible to people with disabilities (with limited exceptions).

Sun has proactively taken this requirement one step further by building assistive technology into all of our systems, beyond just the products we sell to the federal government. We create and provide tools that are easy to build into Sun’s existing technologies and that address the special needs of the visually impaired. We also create and provide access to technologies for people with limited or no use of their limbs, or who have limited range of body motion and other special needs.

Just as important as our efforts to deliver assistive technology in everything we build are our efforts to help others offer these technologies as well. Through Sun’s open source practices, we make our programs available to the world by open sourcing them so that any developer has access to them, promoting further innovation and broader access. The following examples demonstrate Sun’s leadership in developing and offering assistive technologies:

  • Sun created the Orca open source screen reader/magnifier to enable access for the blind and low-vision community. This endeavor was funded by the University of Toronto Adaptive Technology Resource Centre (ATRC), which also developed the GNOME Onscreen Keyboard (GOK).

  • Sun makes Dasher available, an alternate predictive text-entry system for people with severe physical disabilities. Dasher was developed by the Inference Group in the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University.

  • Sun developed several themes for a variety of visual impairments. These themes are part of GNOME, the Sun Java Desktop System, and Sun’s flagship Solaris Operating System.

  • Sun also developed, defined, and implemented the Java Accessibility Framework and the GNOME Accessibility Framework, upon which these specialized software applications sit.

  • Sun received the American Foundation for the Blind Access Award for the Java Accessibility Framework, as well as the Helen Keller Achievement Award for the GNOME Accessibility Framework.

Working on accessibility is often a lot of hard, less-than-pleasurable work. A lot of it is convincing other engineers that they have to change how they do things (after first painstaking tracking down bugs and misbehaviors in other folks' code). It is convincing managers that they need to invest more resources in addressing accessibility. It is also telling product teams they may not make their shipping deadlines if they don't make the fixes you need (that one is particularly joyless); and occasionally working hastily with a product team to address something found after the fact in a shipping product.

But I must say, I feel tremendous pride and satisfaction in doing this work, and especially doing it at Sun. Sun is one of the very few technology companies to work on accessibility before it was a government mandate. We are nearly the only company to begin our work not with a PR campaign, but at the architectural level - building accessibility in from the start (and not bolting it on later as an afterthought). To my knowledge, we are the only company to receive the American Foundation for the Blind Helen Keller Achievement Award for technology accessibility development work.

And on top of all of that, I am especially proud that all of our accessibility work is available under open source licenses. Our work means that the many many people with disabilities who aren't employed in this country and around the globe, and who can't afford expensive assistive technologies, are able to gain access to technology and participate in the digital age without having spend hundreds and thousands of dollars on specialized access software. Since these solutions run on OpenSolaris and GNU/Linux, we further remove the burden of buying the OS and the office suite too! And since they are open source, our assistive technologies are being translated into dozens of languages (like Bulgarian and Bengali, Latvian and Lithuanian, Macedonian and Marathi, Slovenian and Serbian and Swedish, Tamil and Thai and Turkish, and the trio of simplified and traditional and Hong Kong Chinese - among many others). Many of these languages originate in countries with little assistive technologies options to speak of (and most folks in those countries couldn't afford them if they did!). So Sun's accessibility work is providing options that millions of people might never otherwise have to participate in the digital age.

And that makes me incredibly proud.

P.S. The report erroneously states that UToronto helped fund Orca. It is actually the reverse - Sun helped fund UToronto's work on GOK.

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Peter Korn

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