Thursday Feb 17, 2011

2nd AEGIS Conference announced - November 28-30, 2011 in Brussels

The AEGIS project has just announced our 2nd and final conference, titled "Accessibility Reaching Everywhere". It will be held in Brussels November 28 to November 30, 2011. More details, calls for papers, etc., to be announced in the coming months.

Sunday Dec 05, 2010

Updates on document accessibility: Australia PDF study & a new release of odt2Braille

Document accessibility, and support for authors to create accessible documents, is receiving a lot of attention lately.

Recently in the news is a report from Vision Australia. Titled "The Australian Government's study into the Accessibility of the Portable Document Format for people with a disability", it describes the real-world problems the people with vision impairments have when trying to read PDF documents through various assistive technologies. The Supplementary Report goes into great detail on how they conduct the study and all of the specific results they found.

In somewhat related news, the AEGIS-supported odt2braille project just list of new features. While this release includes a number of important new features, we will have to wait a bit longer to use it on platforms other than Windows...

Both the PDF study and the work of the odt2braille project (and the related, AEGIS-supported odt2daisy project) point to the most significant issue in document accessibility: the accessibility of the document depends upon the author creating it with all of the necessary document structure markup (and ancillary metadata). If the structure and metadata are there, the document can be printed well in braille, and rendered as a rich and effective DAISY book, and be read by someone with an assistive technology (though additional requirements come into play for AT use). If the structure isn't there...

Which is a good segue into noting that the W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative work on version 2.0 of the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines is in "Last Call Working Draft" state, and will hopefully soon join WCAG 2.0 as a final specification of guidelines for authoring modern documents for use on the Web.

AEGIS project video available

The AEGIS project has just released an 11 minute project video, which does a nice job of showing the breadth of work we are doing in this project. You can also view it (with English language captions) below:

Friday Dec 03, 2010

AEGIS Conference wrap-up

Last October we held our first AEGIS Conference, in lovely Seville. And after a whirlwind of travel (both personal & professional) I finally have a moment to reflect and write about the very many events of that week in Seville.

Overall I feel the conference was a great success. Some 33 papers were presented over the course of the 2 day conference itself - in the key topic areas of:

  • "Access on my desktop" - desktop & application accessibility
  • "Can I too?" - accessibility from the end-user perspective
  • "Rich RIA!" - technologies and solutions around rich Internet application accessibility (also known as "Web 2.0 accessibility")
  • "Going mobile!" - technologies around mobile accessibility
  • "Coordinating research" - European accessibility research activities
  • "Standardisation and valorisation" - standardizing and realizing accessibility solutions

We had many distinguished speakers - both giving talks in the various parallel sessions, as well as plenary talks. Micaela Navarro, the Regional Minister for Social Welfare for the regional government of Andalucia gave a powerful and moving speech about the importance of accessibility. Dr. Gregg Vanderheiden presented a vision of a Global Public Inclusive Infrastructure. And in a talk that was particularly close to my thoughts, Jutta Treviranus spoke about "Changing the world - on a tiny budget". The conference closed with an awards ceremony, recognizing the best conference presentation, the best conference paper, and the best software project "in the spirit of AEGIS" (I got to give out this last award, which was great fun).

The day before the formal conference, we held a morning user forum in Spanish that attracted a quite a few local & regional users with a broad range of disabilities, discussing their needs and the related solutions being developed in AEGIS. This was followed by an afternoon pan-European workshop which began with a set of demonstrations of AEGIS solutions, and concluded with a lively panel discussion - with many questions coming from (and interacting with) the audience attendees.

In parallel to the conference itself we held a series of "eSpeak text-to-speech tuning sessions" conducted by AEGIS partner SingularLogic. I understand that they got a lot of excellent feedback from native speakers, some of which has already resulted in speech quality improvements which have been contributed back to the eSpeak project.

Finally, I would like to mention the GNOME Accessibility Hackfest which took place during that entire week. I managed to briefly sit in on a few of the discussions - particularly the one on the AEGIS-sponsored GNOME accessibility testing work. I understand a lot of very good progress was made on GNOME accessibility at the hackfest. And I was particularly happy we managed to have this hackfest in Seville, as it not only connected many of the AEGIS desktop folks with the GNOME accessibility community in general, but also with the very active GNOME accessibility efforts happening in Spain - home of GNOME accessibility companies like Emergya and projects like Guadalinfo which provide hundreds of accessible telecenters enabling people (with disabilities) who cannot afford their own computer and access solutions the ability to get computer and Internet access. In fact, I had the pleasure of visiting a local Guadalinfo telecenter while in Seville, and learned a lot about their work and the challenges they face - as well as the enthusiasm behind their work.

For folks who missed the conference, or who were there and are interested in reading some of the papers behind the presentations you attended, I invite you to download the recently published AEGIS conference proceedings - running at nearly 300 pages!

And I invite you to start thinking about attending (or even presenting at) our next conference, which we expect to happen in the fall of 2011.

Friday Sep 24, 2010

T-minus 13 days to the AEGIS Conference in Seville

In 13 days - on Thursday October 7 (and Friday October 8) we will be holding our 1st International AEGIS Conference in lovely Seville Spain. I've attended many conferences during my career, but this is the first time I have helped put one together (and I have a lot more respect for marketing and tradeshow staff as a result!).

In addition to the conference programme itself, we have a number of related events taking place that week. The Wednesday before - October 6th - we are running a morning half-day User Forum in Spanish for users to learn about the prototypes we are building in AEGIS and actually experience some of them (providing feedback in the process). Then in the afternoon we have a half-day Pan-European Workshop. This will be our second User Forum & workshop, having held our first User Forum and Pan-European workshop last year in RIM's offices in Slough.

In addition to the conference programme and these two half-day events, we will also have a small exhibit hall, a space for poster exhibits, and a series of training sessions on accessible authoring of DAISY books and Braille material, using And finally, we have a room set aside for native speakers to help us with our eSpeak text-to-speech tuning sessions, where we hope to gather data and feedback to improve that open source text-to-speech engine.

Beyond all of these AEGIS events, we are delighted to be able to provide space to the GNOME Accessibility community, who is putting on a GNOME Accessibility Hackfest for the entire week.

All in all, Seville will be the place to be in early October! I hope to see some of you there. (If you are there, be sure to stay for the closing of the conference and the awards ceremony - because you must be present to win!)

Thursday Jun 24, 2010

The next step in the Section 508/255 Refresh, and Oracle's public comments


When Congress amended the Federal Rehabilitation Act in 1997, it directed the U.S. Access Board to create a set of Accessibility Standards that would apply to Electronic and Information Technology (E&IT) procured by the U.S. Federal Government (known as the "Section 508 standards"). It further directed the Access Board to periodically refresh these standards.

Likewise when Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, it directed the U.S. Access Board to develop a set of guidelines for telecommunications accessibility (known as "Section 255 guidelines"). It likewise further directed the Access Board to periodically refresh these guidelines.

In 2006 the Access Board convened the Telecommunications and Electronic and Information Technology Advisory Committee (TEITAC) to advise them on a converged set of accessibility provisions to apply to both Federal Procurement (Section 508) and telecommunications more broadly (Section 255). In April, 2008 TEITAC delivered their final report, containing their recommendations for a common set of accessibility provisions to cover both E&IT, and telecommunications products.


Last March, the Access Board announced the availability of an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking - an early preview of the their proposed accessibility provisions to cover E&IT and telecommunications (now together also called simply Information Communications Technology or ICT).

This past Monday, the 90-day comment period closed, with more than 150 public comments submitted to Among those are the public comments from Oracle, primarily authored by myself and Accessibility Program Director Peter Wallack (with contributions gathered from numerous Oracle engineering teams).

To broadly summarize the key Oracle comments (including those from the public hearing in March):

  • The proposed standards significant advance the framework for accessible ICT procurement.

  • Harmonizing with WCAG 2.0 AA is very welcome (and we have specific suggestions to tweek how that is done in the proposed provisions).

  • Recognition of the "dance of three" - platform responsibilities, application responsibilities, and assistive technology responsibilities - is welcome and very important (and we have specific suggestions to tweek how that is accomplished).

  • Formal requirements for tools used to author electronic documents are important (with more specific "tweek" suggestions).

  • Care must be taken with provisions around movie playback and VoIP software. The provisions should not transform general purpose computers that incidentally have such features (e.g. a server with a DVD drive on it, or downloaded Skype software added after the fact) inadvertently into "movie players" and "telephones", which are required to have a "CC" button on them or otherwise meet hardware requirements relating to "telephones".

  • 508 general exception §1194.3(f) - the so-called "back office exception" - shouldn't be completely removed. A narrowly tailored exception that would both require all "remote-able" user interfaces to be accessible while allowing physical interaction needed solely for maintenance, repair, or occasional monitoring to be excepted from compliance is important. The design of data centers essentially requires full use of the 8+ feet of height of server racks, necessitating that some switches and other physical controls be out of reach of someone in a wheelchair.

  • The Access Board's recognition that some ICT may receive "patches" to fix bugs or clean up functionality shouldn't trigger a reappraisal of accessibility provisions is welcome. Numerous Oracle customers have stable editions of our products and platforms (e.g. Solaris 8) in production systems that they will continue to maintain for many years into the future - as they have already done for more than a decade. It is important to recognize that the "expected life" of major ICT products can be decades.

Next steps

Now that the Access Board has closed the comment period, it will carefully read and review the thousands of pages of comments they have received. After their thorough analysis of them, they will issued a revised set of proposed provisions - a formal Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. And after another public comment period (and likely another thousand or so pages of comments), a second review and finally issuance of their Final Rule. And soon after that, ICT products procured by the U.S. Federal government (and the many States and Universities that likewise apply 508) - not to mention telecommunications under the jurisdiction of the FCC - will need to meet the updated accessibility provisions.

And while that is some time into the future - already ICT companies are delivering products into the market that meet many of the newly proposed provisions. For example, AOL already has real-time-text support in AOL Instant Messenger. Numerous software video playback products support and decode closed captions. The Java and GNOME platforms (including Solaris and other GNU/Linux environments) - along with the Apple Macintosh and iPhone/iPad, and the RIM Blackberry family of phones - define a rich set of Accessibility Services that are supported by many thousands of applications and which enable assistive technologies to provide access without any need for reverse engineering. And a growing number of websites are already making use of WCAG 2.0 and the emerging WAI-ARIA specification for Rich Internet Application accessibility.

So even though the refresh effort is far from complete, it is already having a profound influence on what is being developed and shipped today!

Tuesday May 11, 2010

GNU appoints Chris Hofstadter their Access Technology Director, releases Accessibility Statement

The GNU Project is at the heart of Free and Open Source software - the philosophy behind many specific open source efforts and software - things like the Firefox web browser, the office suite, the Java environment, and of course the GNOME desktop and its included accessibility functionality (things like the Orca screen reader and the Dasher alternate text entry system). Earlier today, the GNU Project issued a press release naming my friend and colleague Chris Hofstadter their Director of Access Technologies. Along with this announcement, they also released the GNU Accessibility Statement.

The GNU Project definition of Free Software sets forth "four freedoms" that must be present for something to be considered "free software". As I have traveled the world meeting with folks with disabilities, GNU's "freedom to run the program, for any purpose" has typically been the first attraction to GNOME accessibility and the accessible applications like Firefox and This freedom means that a blind Czech waitress doesn't have to spend 80% of a year's salary in order to purchase a commercial screen reader.

But the brilliance of their definition is that it doesn't stop there. It is the next three freedoms - (1) to study how software works and change it if you like, (2) to redistribute copies to help your neighbor, and (3) to distribute copies of your modified versions - that have provided access solutions to folks who would never have them - because their country or language represents too small a market for commercial access solutions, no matter what the price. These freedoms have meant that GNOME and included access features are being translated into 161 languages. When paired with the growing body of eSpeak text-to-speech languages (among others), Free Software is making technology available and accessible for the first time to folks who speak Afrikaans and Catalan and Croatian and Swahili and Tamil (among others) - all places where the blind had no options. For folks who use alternate text entry, the list of languages / locales that have access for the first time is larger still (essentially the majority of the 161 languages GNOME is being translated into).

So it should come as no surprise that the GNU Accessibility Statement notes that:

According to the United Nations in 2005, there were 600 million people with disabilities in the world. To use computers, many of them need special software known as “access technology”. Like other programs, these can be free software or proprietary. Those which are free software respect the freedom of their users; the rest, proprietary programs, subject those users to the power of the program's owner.

When the program owner decides what languages and countries get access, the result has been that too many of the 600 million people who need it get left out in the cold. As noted further down in the GNU Accessibility statement:

People with disabilities deserve to have control of their own technological destinies. When they use proprietary access technology, they have little or no way to correct whatever is wrong with it. Virtually all major decisions of the proprietary developers are made by people who do not have the disability; 20 years' experience shows that people with unusual combinations of disabilities, who require relatively unusual software, or who encounter a bug that keeps them from doing their job have no way to obtain the changes they need. These products are only changed or improved when the vendors see a business reason for doing the work; this leaves many users behind. As a secondary problem, proprietary access software is far more expensive than a PC. Many users cannot afford to give up their freedom in this way.

For users with disabilities, as for all other users, free software is the only way the users can control their own computing, their only chance to make software fit their needs rather than passively accepting whatever developers choose to offer them.

The GNU Accessibility Statement closes with several recommendations. For programmers, their recommendation is to use an accessibility API that is compatible with free operating systems and desktops. Their recommendation is to use the GNOME Accessibility API, the Java Accessibility API, and the IAccessible2 API (depending upon the platform and desktop in question).

The most rewarding aspect of my career in access technology has been my involved in the development of all three of these APIs, and the collaboration with colleagues at Oracle and IBM and the Linux Foundation and the GNOME community in the ongoing maintenance and improvements in these pivotal APIs that are central to free and open source accessibility.

Tuesday May 04, 2010

Access for All - 1st International AEGIS Conference in Seville, 6-9 October 2010

The AEGIS project has announced that the first International AEGIS Conference - titled "Access for All in the desktop, web and mobile field: an end-user and developer perspective" - will take place in lovely Seville, Spain on October 6-9, 2010. This will also be the occasion of the 2nd AEGIS user forum and pan-European workshop (the first one having taken place in RIM's offices in the UK last June).

The Conference Invitation is available, and the conference committee is soliciting scientific & technical papers. Submit paper abstracts to by May 15th.

Thursday Apr 22, 2010

White House contributes open source accessibilty code

As announced yesterday in the White House technology blog, Dave Cole and his team have developed several additions to the open source Drupal website content management system (which is used to run Specifically, one of their contributions is the module Node Embed, which contains explicit support for making media accessible on Drupal-based websites.

As stated by Dave Cole in his blog posting:

We take very seriously our obligation to make sure is as accessible as possible and are committed to meeting the government accessibility standard, Section 508. As part of that compliance, we want to make sure all images on our site have the appropriate metadata to make them readable on by screen reading software. To help us meet this, while making it easier to manage the rich photos and video content you see on our site, we've developed "Node Embed."

To my knowledge, this marks the first time that any arm of any government has formally contributed open source accessibility code to an open source project. And in this case, as noted in the Node Embed source code viewing interface, "all code is licensed under the GNU General Public License, version 2 or later".

Very cool!

Wednesday Mar 31, 2010

GNOME 2.30 released - with excellent accessibility support

Ever since GNOME version 2.4, the GNOME platform and desktop have included an accessibility framework, a flexible themeing engine with a set of themes for folks with a variety of vision impairments, a powerful (and industry-leading) accessibility framework and accessibility API, and also a set of assistive technologies. Thanks to the hard work of the GNOME Accessibility team, this support has continued to improve with each successive release.

Over the years since version 2.4 came out - on a 6 month release cycle that you can practically set your watch to - the GNOME platform has added things like grade 2 braille support and accessible login, application-specific scripting for screen reader users and full-screen color mapping for low vision users, mouse dwell-click support and a rapid text entry system for folks who can't use a keyboard. And thanks to this tremendous free and open source accessibility support, users with disabilities can do a tremendous number of things with this desktop. They can browse the web and read e-mail, create and read documents and spreadsheets, keep track of their calendars and and listen to music, and do these things at the very same time that that they are participating in several simultaneous IM chats (that are interoperability with virtually every IM protocol on the planet).

And now today - like clockwork - the GNOME community has released GNOME 2.30. And that release is made in over 50 different languages. Further, thanks to the commonly included eSpeak text-to-speech engine, it will speak to screen reader users in 27 of those languages!

So, congratulations GNOME. You have once again demonstrated to the world just much the open source community can do for (and with!) people with disabilities, wherever in the world they reside.

Tuesday Mar 30, 2010

New color, same passion

As is very old news by now, Oracle purchased Sun at the end of January. Life has been pretty busy these past few weeks - meeting all of my new colleagues, meeting the various Directors and VPs whose teams I'll be working with, and otherwise learning the ropes and IT systems here at Oracle. Hence the break in blogging (other things were always higher priority).

At Sun, the Accessibility Program Office was part of the "xDesign" organization - a group focused on the user experience of our products - and also focused expressly on our software's visual appearance. Soon after it was announced that Oracle would be acquiring Sun, our Director began an all-hands meeting with the hex code: "0xFF0000". This was both a metaphor about the change that was coming (Oracle purchasing us, not "Big Blue"), and also a statement about Oracle's color scheme. Oracle red is 100% red -> 255 for red (or 0xFF), and 0 for green and blue. Among the visual designers, this led to a spirited discussion about how one can make use of that color in a larger color scheme...

In the 9 weeks since Oracle completed its acquisition of Sun, I've found a few other things (besides the corporate color) that are different here at Oracle. But one thing is absolutely the same: the passion that the accessibility folks have for their work. At Oracle, I'm privileged to be working with a core group that is intensely focused on and passionate about ensuring that all of Oracle's products are accessible - so that the many folks with disabilities who are our customers are able to efficiently and productively get their jobs done.

And that intensity and passion - and belief in the importance of accessibility - isn't limited to my immediate colleagues. Like Sun, Oracle has accessibility experts scattered throughout the company. Embedded in the various product teams, these folks likewise care passionately about ensuring the Oracle products and technologies they are working on are accessible - if for no other reason than the very products we sell are the ones we use internally: for filing our expenses and for ordering new computers and for getting our salary information. And these employees would very much like those apps to work with their screen readers and screen magnifiers!

Further, going beyond Oracle's accessibility engineers & QA staff, Oracle has made powerful commitments to accessibility from its very senior leadership. Two quotes - from Oracle President & CEO Safra Catz, and from Chief Corporate Architect Edward Screven - state this commitment clearly and unambiguously:

"Oracle is committed to creating accessible technologies and products that enhance the overall workplace environment and contribute to the productivity of our employees, our customers, and our customers' customers."

—Safra Catz, President and CFO, Oracle


"Oracle's business is information—how to manage it, use it, share it, protect it. Our commitment to create products that simplify, standardize and automate extends to all users, including users who are disabled."

—Edward Screven, Chief Corporate Architect, Oracle

These quotes, and a ton of information about accessibility at Oracle, can be found at the home of Oracle's Accessibility Program.

Welcome to the new color!

Tuesday Jan 26, 2010

Vacation: scuba, friends, family, and... OpenGazer

[An admittedly odd collection of topics for a single blog post...]

Over the end-of-year break, I took my first significant vacation in years: a wonderful 3 weeks away from work, and in fact away from most e-mail and quite a bit of time away from all "screens" except the one on my camera. Most significantly, during those weeks I spent ~10 days in Hawaii - one of the favorite places for my wife and me to visit (and the site of my last significant vacation).

My wife, step-son Paul, and I went first to Oahu for a few days. We visited a high school friend of mine and his family (and also his parents, who were in town). We were staying in Waikiki (with a beautiful view from our room) - at the same time as President Obama! We didn't managed to run into him, but heard the sirens of his motorcade in the distance a couple of times.

We had a great time snorkeling in Hanauma Bay, and as before, I took my camera underwater. Anneli and Paul joined in the snorkeling fun. The water wasn't very deep, and sometimes you even had to climb over the rocks rather than swim. The view over the water was somewhat similar to under the water. There were nice fish near the surface, and also in and amongst the rocks. There were plenty of pencil urchins. Also some very strange fish (I think that one was a Panneliul fish).

In addition to snorkeling, we also drove around the island. We stopped briefly across from "Chinaman's Hat Island", and were awed by the steep mountains dividing the North Shore from South. We also did some shopping - making our pilgrimage to the Ala Moana Shopping Center and the "right out of Tokyo" Shirokiya store (they have the best mochi). Finally, we had a couple of great meals. Dim Sum at Legend Seafood in Chinatown, and a lovely Thai food dinner at the small and friendly Bangkok Chef (run by relatives of the high school friend we were visiting).

Then we flew to Kona where we stayed at the SuGAR cottage in Captain Cook. After unloading our car, Paul and I went for a dive with Gary, cottage co-owner and a dive master. The dive was right off Miloli'i pier, in and around the bay. Perhaps the most striking thing I saw was a blue starfish - something I'd only seen in aquariums. Most of this first dive was spent getting re-acquainted with my underwater camera gear (which I talked about in my previous blog about diving, though it was now upgraded with a second HID light). We surfaced to a beautiful sunset - a wonderful first day on the Big Island.

Paul and I did another pair of dives the next day with Torpedo Tours out of Kona (Anneli wasn't feeling well, and so spent the day re-familiarizing herself with the town). We went to "Kaiwi Point" and "Freeze Face" (so named because of the cold spring flowing out of a small cavern). There were small fish and fish that wanted to pose for me and fish that were hiding in plain sight. Away in the distance there was even a shark. Then our divemaster offered an octopus to Paul. Then I took my favorite photo of the trip: the octopus close-up! On the boat with us was a teacher-student pair getting their re-breather certification. Diving with them was a woman doing macro photography. And with that, the delightful day of diving came to an end.

We took a few days' break from diving. We went to visit Volcanoes National Park. It's amazing to be walking on Earth that is younger than you are! We walked out to the viewing point - crossing over cooled lava that looked like tree roots. Once we arrived, we shared the space with other photographers setting up for sunset photos. Folks who paid a lot of money could get closer - by helicopter or later by boat. As the sun set, I took a series of fiery photos.

The next day we went to Hilo, and visited Akaka Falls. After that, it was off to Puna, and a visit to Ahalanui Beach Park - where we did a bit more snorkeling, though this time without camera. They warn you about the dangers of the park, and unfortunately Paul failed to heed them. We drove Paul to the airport the next day, hung out in Kona that afternoon, and then went to the Sheraton Hotel in Keauhou Bay to watch another sunset and see the boats gathering for the manta ray night dive. We'd hoped to do the manta ray night dive ourselves, but the night we were scheduled go to it was canceled due to heavy surge, and we didn't manage to make it another night.

We did manage another day of diving though! Anneli and I had a wonderful pair of dives with Sandwich Isle Divers. We had been saddened by the closure of Dive Tek (who we loved last time in Hawaii), and are thrilled to have a good replacement in Sandwich Isle Divers! Having managed to "dial in my camera" during the previous dives, I had much better luck with lighting for these dives. At the first site - "No Conger Eeel" - I found that with proper light, things are colorful! Like the colorful cornet fish (alongside the Hawaiian cleaner wrasse). Or a fish posing for me. Or a fish hiding from me. Or a fish nicely framed against the blue. Other delights on this dive included a leaf fish, a crown of thorns starfish, and a colorful nudibranch.

At the second site - "Pine Trees" - I began by photographing a "retro diver" who liked to use "vintage gear". Then once I oriented myself on the bottom, I spotted a tiny pair of harlequin shrimp hiding in amongst the coral. Then came a beautiful moorish idol, followed by a second one. Then a passel of butterfly fish. One swimming nearer to the surface, then another with striking colors, followed quickly by a third. One swimming to the left, then one swimming to the right, and finally two swimming together! Sometimes a fish was hiding from me, while other times it was it was a school of fish in the distance. To prove that this wasn't the earlier dive site, I saw a conger eel who didn't like it when I got too close. In addition to the earlier nudibranch, this dive yielded a spanish dancer. Finally, this dive wasn't all about sea creatures. We also had fun with some large swim-throughs.

With diving done for the trip, we spent our last full day in the Southern part of the Big Island. We visited South Point, which is one of the windiest places on the Island. Here's another view of a windswept tree. In fact, it's so windy they have windmills there. You can see them from the coastline that looks like Mendocino. Here they are a bit closer up. Speaking of the coast, I loved watching the translucent waves as the crashed along the shore. In some places, the waves were busy creating green sand. South Point was a "working" region, and even now, folks were hauling up fish caught from boats down below. They tried to make a road to a pier, but they weren't too successful and the pier washed away. It was a spare and beautiful landscape, and I'm very glad I went there.

Near South Point is the town of Naalehu, where my aunt, uncle, and cousin live. Aunt and cousin were away, but it was really nice to spend some time with my uncle Louis. The brother of my father who passed away in 2001, he's the last link I have to that side of my ancestry, and this might be the last time I get to see him in person. We talked for hours, and among other things I learned some details of how my grandmother died. She had a stroke in March of 1985, and we at first thought she was in a "vegetatiave state", and after a short time on life support Louis had her disconnected so she could die peacefully. But she didn't - she took a gasp and kept on living. While others couldn't see it - especially at first - Louis believed she was conscious, and that she was able to communicate with him. After a month of therapy, she was able to move her eyes and her tongue. More physiotherapy later, and she was able to move her arms somewhat, and even stand. Unfortunately she didn't recover further, and she died in August of that year.

I'm sharing this story of my grandmother because of how this history connects with some of my present work. One facet of the AEGIS project that I'm the Technical Manager of is an incredible technology called Opengazer. Opengazer is being developed by Emli-Mari Nell and her colleagues at the Inference Group of the University of Cambridge. It is a multi-year research project to provide eye-tracking using commodity web-cams. As we demonstrated last November to the AEGIS review board in Brussels, as an interim step, Opengazer is now a functioning gesture switch. Emli-Mari has a video of it in action (assuming you have installed the open source VLC player or can otherwise play things in open source Ogg video format). Such technology would have made a huge difference to my grandmother's final months of life, as well as the lives of her caregivers. They could have had rich conversations, utilizing other technologies like Dasher or the GNOME Onscreen Keyboard hooked up to Opengazer. And while solutions exist today that they might have used such as the Tobii Eye Tracker for augmentative communication, these products are very expensive - potentially challenging to justify their many thousands of dollars cost, particularly if at first the doctors don't believe the patient is capable of communication. But with open source solutions like Dasher, GOK, the GNOME desktop, and where we are going with Opengazer, you could put together a powerful communication system for the < $300 it costs for a used laptop with built-in webcam.

But I digress...

I had a tremendous and very full vacation, and am now back at work, preparing for the excitement to come.

Tuesday Nov 10, 2009

Back to Prague for World Usability Day

A few years ago I traveled to Prague for World Usability Day 2006. Later this week I'm back in Prague for World Usability Day 2009. Along with a distinguished collection of speakers, I'll be giving a talk about the AEGIS and ACCESSIBLE grants that Sun is participating in. Also on the program is a presentation on a very neat Vision Impairment Simulator plug-in to NetBeans - developed under the ACCESSIBLE grant and being presented by my colleague Theofanis Oikonomou of the Centre for Research and Technology Hellas / Informatics and Telematics Institute. Finally of note (for me) is a presentation by Jan Vystrčil and Zdeněk Míkovec of the Sun Center of Excellence at Czech Technical University on their work to implement ARIA support on Web UI toolkits.

Prague is one of my favorite cities, and I'm looking forward to another visit...

" can speak in up to 27 languages"

Yesterday Vincent Spiewak announced the availability of the odt2daisy add-on to that will create full DAISY talking books for the blind and others with print impairments. Combined with the free and multi-platform office suite, the odt2daisy add-on enables for the first time completely free creation of digital audio talking books for the blind and print impaired - in both DAISY 3.0, and ANSI/NISO Z39.86 formats. As both and odt2daisy are multi-platform running on Windows, Macintosh, Solaris/OpenSolaris, and GNU/Linux systems, this further means that virtually any desktop computer user can utilize these tools (and when combined with OpenSolaris or GNU/Linux, the entire software stack is free).

When combined with the open source, cross-platform eSpeak text-to-speech engine, and odt2daisy can generate talking books in 27 different languages - including creating multi-lingual talking books where different portions of the document are pronounced correctly in the language they came from (see some of Vincent's screencasts to see how this is done -> simply mark the range of text as belong to a specific language in and odt2daisy will take care of the rest).

Finally, it is worth noting that this release of odt2daisy is one of the first shipping results of the AEGIS project, which recently wrapped up its first year of work.

Sunday Sep 27, 2009

Sun's 2009 Corprate Social Responsiblity Report

Last week Sun published it's 2009 Corporate Social Responsibility Report. As they have done with reports from the previous years (see the 2006 report, and the 2007 report, and the 2008 report), this report includes a description of Sun's work in developing technology for people with disabilities. You can go directly to the print/PDF & summary editions of the past reports. The print/PDF for 2009 is also posted.

Here is the full text of the accessibility portion:

OpenSolaris™ Accessibility Improvements

  • OpenSolaris 2008.11 included accessible install
  • OpenSolaris 2009.06 included some of the first built-in support for the emerging ARIA standard for Web 2.0 application accessibility™ 3.0 for Macintosh

During 2009, 3.0 for Macintosh shipped as the first office suite accessible to the blind via VoiceOver screen reader on Macintosh. This release also makes software the first cross-platform application accessible on all three desktop environments: Windows, Macintosh, and UNIX® (OpenSolaris and GNU/Linux technologies).

AEGIS Project

In December 2008, we announced a Sun-led consortium dedicated to solving accessibility challenges for all devices—from cell phones to desktops and Web applications. The consortium is composed of more than 20 companies and organizations and aims to help define new approaches and solutions for building accessibility support into future information and communication technologies. Funded by a grant awarded by the European Commission, this Open Accessibility Everywhere: Groundwork, Infrastructure, Standards (AEGIS) project will leverage open-source technologies wherever possible. More information can be found at

P.S. Life has been a bit too busy of late, and I've gotten behind in my blogging. I hope to remedy that...


Peter Korn


« April 2014