Friday Sep 20, 2013

New iOS 7 accessibility features... foreshadowed by AEGIS research

Apple just released iOS 7, a major update to their mobile operation system. As with the the last several major updates, this release includes a number of significant accessibility enhancements. This time the major emphasis seems to be an features for folks with severe physical impairments. These advances are part of "Switch Control", which comprises two key things:

  • A scanning UI that will scan through the interface, selecting the object the "cursor" is over when the user activates a connected "switch"
  • A "gesture switch" that uses the front facing camera to recognize certain types of head movements as activating a "switch"

Together these advances allow someone who has extremely limited motor control to completely control their iPhone or iPad - including the ability to make and receive phone calls and text messages. 9to5mac has a nice video showing switch control of an iPad using head movements.

It is particularly gratifying to see Apple commercialize these solutions, as these are two of the things we were researching and developing prototypes for as part of the AEGIS project from 2008 through 2012:

We did extensive user testing of Tecla in the AEGIS project, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. One user told us that they would happily pay many hundreds of dollars for software that would allow them to control a smart phone, and were stunned to find out the software was already in the Android store, available for free. We also did targeted user testing of OpenGazer with users with Locked-in syndrome (they couldn't speak or move muscles beyond those in their face), and there the feedback was also overwhelmingly positive. For one of the women we worked with, there was no other option that would work for her, including $10,000 camera systems that tracked eye movements (but not those of her eyes).

It is an incredible time to be alive and involved in the field of accessibility. Every year brings more and better solutions, at more affordable prices. I can't imagine any other field I would rather be in.

Thursday Feb 23, 2012

Oracle and AEGIS at CSUN

Spring has come early to California this week, just like the 27th Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference (more commonly known as the "CSUN Conference"). And just like last year, blooming wisteria outside my bedroom window lets me know that CSUN will take place next week.

This year Oracle is giving a presentation on Java & JavaFX accessibility, and I'm joining several AEGIS colleagues in giving 3 presentations on our work in the AEGIS project. Finally, I'm taking part ATIA's Accessibility Forum. Here's the full schedule:

If you are attending CSUN this year, I hope you'll stop by at one (or more) of our sessions and say hello!

Friday Mar 11, 2011

If the Wisteria is blooming, it must be time for CSUN...

Every year like clockwork, the Wisteria outside of my bedroom window starts to bloom the week before CSUN. And this year is no different...

This will be my 20th consecutive year of attending - and presenting at - the California State University of Northridge yearly Conference on Technology and Persons with Disabilities, put on by the capable staff of the Center on Disabilities. And yet after 20 years, I can still clearly remember my very first conference, when I had just started working for Jane Berliss and Berkeley Systems, and at which I gave a presentation on our early outSPOKEN for Windows screen reader work alonside my co-presenter Josh Miele - just one month after my start in the accessibility field!

This year I am attending as part of a somewhat larger company, and I have a slightly different co-presenter...

On Friday March 18th I invite you to join the "Peter and Peter show", as Peter Wallack and I present The Latest in Accessibility of Oracle’s Platform, Technologies and Applications in the Emma B room. Among other things, we'll be talking about the Early Access release of the Java Access Bridge v2.0.2.

I also invited you to attend two interesting sessions from colleagues in the AEGIS project, who will be talking about and showing some of our research work there. AEGIS sessions:

As ever, there will be a ton of other great things happening at the conference - the "must attend" event of the disability technology field. On my calendar for the week are talks in building accessible mobile apps, progress in accessible TV and virtual environments, open source and free access solutions, and a number of the special events and talk. Oh, and also Josh Miele's talk.

See you at CSUN!

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 OpenOffice.org. 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!)

Monday Aug 09, 2010

OpenOffice now prints to Braille embossers (courtesy the odt2braille extension)

The AEGIS funded accessibility group at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven have just announced odt2braille, an open source OpenOffice extension that enables users to print directly to a variety of Braille embossers, or to export into either PEF or BRF formats.

You can learn more about the project at it's sourceforge pages, or download the early 0.0.1 release (Windows only for now), or peruse the manual. And of course, being that this is an open source project, you can also participate in development & localization (where you may note that it has be largely translated into 7 languages already).

Wednesday Jul 21, 2010

The AEGIS Conference website is open for business

As announced recently, the first International AEGIS Conference - "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. Now the conference website is open for business. You can browse the conference programme, learn about the venue, review the recommended hotels, and most importantly, register for the conference! Also, potential exhibitors are invited to review the exhibitor package.

In addition to the conference itself, there are a variety of satellite events, including the GNOME Accessibility Hackfest, the AEGIS User Forum, and the 2nd AEGIS Pan-European Workshop (the first Pan-European Workshop took place last year in the UK).

Seville is clearly the place to be in early October, and I hope to see you all there!

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 info-AT-aegis-project.eu by May 15th.

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.

Sunday May 24, 2009

AEGIS update: Newsletter, User Forum, and Pan-European Workshop

Since I first blogged about the AEGIS project last October, we have been busy: with user studies, putting together engineering teams, and generally getting going on the work of the project. So I wanted to provide a brief update, as well as let folks know about our upcoming events next month in the UK.

Highlights of recent AEGIS activity

  • The AEGIS website is being populated with content
  • We have published the AEGIS Factsheet which summarizes the project
  • We have published our first newsletter (including a report on the talk we gave at CSUN)
  • We have been conducting a series of end-user studies in several European countries (reported on at CSUN), which we will be discussing at our upcoming User Forum
  • The University of Cambridge has hired an engineer for their AEGIS-funded Opengazer work (and we will be demonstrating early results at the upcoming AEGIS User Forum)

AEGIS User Forum

On June 4th at the offices of Research in Motion Ltd. in Slough, Berkshire, UK, we will host an afternoon AEGIS User Forum. AEGIS is placing users and their needs at the center of all its ICT developments, focusing particularly on users with visual, hearing, motion, speech, language and cognitive impairments. At this event, we plan to have fruitful discussions between both end-users and application developers, to better understanding their needs when wanting to use accessible desktop, mobile and Internet applications. This will help ensure that future technologies and services will meet the needs of the end-users, and both mainstream and assistive technology developers.

The agenda includes an introduction to AEGIS, a technical presentation about AEGIS and the Open Accessibility Framework, and fairly lengthy series of demonstrations showing both some of our early AEGIS results, as well as mock-ups of the work we are developing. With that as background, the bulk of the afternoon will be taken up in an interactive discussion of the various AEGIS use cases we have developed around the AEGIS technical work.

AEGIS Pan-European Workshop

On June 5th (at the same RIM offices as the User Forum) we will host our first AEGIS Pan-European Workshop. At this workshop we will present the preliminary findings of the project related to the Use Cases selection and preliminary user requirements. We will also look at some of the more challenging and sophisticated aspects of the AEGIS work as it relates to some of the future mainstream ICT being developed. Several invited guests and a roundtable discussion round out the day.

We plan to publish the results after the workshop ends, including links to the technologies which we will be demonstrating.

Thursday Dec 18, 2008

Nice words about AEGIS

Sun's press release about AEGIS went out today. It includes thoughtful perspectives about the projects' importance from project coordinator CERTH, from the Royal National Institute of Blind People, from AOL, and from my own vice president at Sun. Speaking for Sun, Jeet Kaul (VP of the Client Software Group) said:

Every second of every day that passes, the number of new mobile devices and web sites grows at an astounding rate - with much of that growth bringing accessibility problems for people with disabilities. By building support for accessibility into the next generation of rich internet application frameworks and mobile devices, we can help ensure that people with disabilities can participate in the digital age.
Already the press has started to pick up on this. On behalf of International Data Group, writer Chris Kanaracus has already published the article "Sun, Consortium to Drive Tech Accessibility Project" (which can be found in The Industry Standard and PC World and Yahoo! tech among other places).

Thursday Oct 16, 2008

Announcing the AEGIS project - a €12.6m investment in open source accessibility

Today I am more than pleased to share with you news of the AEGIS project, a €12.6m investment in accessibility, with the vast majority of it focused on open source solutions.

What is AEGIS?

AEGIS stands for "open Accessibility Everywhere: Groundwork, Infrastructure, Standards". It is a major research and development investment in building accessibility into future mainstream Information & Communication Technologies.

AEGIS was made possible in large part by the European Commission through a grant under the Seventh Framework Programme funding for Research on eInclusion, in service of the ICT for Inclusion Unit of the Information Society and Media Directorate-General. In addition to the European grant contribution of €8.22m from FP7-ICT-2007-2, matching funds from AEGIS consortium members provide the balance of the €12.6m research and development investment.

Who is AEGIS?

The AEGIS project is made up of a consortium of 20 partners spanning 10 countries. They are drawn from industry (both large & small), disability organizations, and university & commercial research organizations; and they represent much of the leading expertise in accessibility from those sectors. The AEGIS consortium is:

In addition to these main participants, several partners are involving multiple of their departments/branches. At the Center for Research & Technology Hellas, both the Hellenic Institute of Transport and the Informations and Telematics Institute are taking part. At Sun, we are involving our engineering sites in the Czech Republic, Germany, and Ireland in Europe; as well as China and the United States.

When is AEGIS?

AEGIS is a 42 month project that just got underway with a kickoff meeting in Prague last month (posting pictures is on my to-do list...). Right now we are focused on refining our three and a half year plans, planning the initial user studies and requirements gathering, and working on our immediate deliverables (like getting the website up!).

What does AEGIS do?

The AEGIS project objectives are to take the early successes of API-based accessibility solutions (also known as "programmatic" or "engineered" accessibility), and expand upon them in three key areas:

#1 - AEGIS on the desktop

On the open desktop, AEGIS expands upon the existing, good work of the GNOME Accessibility Project, and the OpenOffice.org Accessibility Project. Key focus areas for the desktop include:

  • magnification improvements (and an open source framework for future magnification-based assistive technologies)
  • ensuring that there is good open source text-to-speech for all European languages
  • ensuring that that OpenOffice.org is an excellent place for authoring accessible content (and that people with severe cognitive impairments are able to communicate in written form with it)
  • building a robust accessibility testing framework for distributed open source accessibility development
  • developing & integrating real-time-text solutions for the deaf into existing open source audio/video chat software
  • developing open source eye-tracking solutions based on commodity web-cam hardware

#2 - AEGIS work on rich Internet applications ("Web 2.0")

For the web, AEGIS takes the programmatic accessibility ideas already proven in the open desktop, and brings them to the Web 2.0 world of rich Internet applications. Programmatic accessibility is significantly more complex in the web world - even more so with the rich visual interfaces enabled by technologies like AJAX and DHTML and Flash and JavaFX Script.

Instead of the typical three components of the desktop that have to work together - the application (component #1) which exposes accessibility API information as defined by the desktop/operating system (component #2) to assistive technologies (component #3) in order to achieve accessibility - you now have the fourth component of the web browser/web user agent, which sits between the application and the desktop/operating system.

Not only does this web user agent have to convey all of the rich programmatic/API information back and forth between the application and the assistive technology, it also has to play the role of translator - taking some canonical "web accessibility API" and expressing it potentially differently on each operating system it is running on.

In addition to these significant challenges, there is a multiplicity of technologies for creating and deploying rich Internet applications (such as those mentioned above - AJAX, JavaFX Script, etc. - and many others). Emerging specifications from the W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative - the Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA) - are critical, but aren't by themselves a complete solution.

Web browsers must support these standards, and translate them to the appropriate accessibility interfaces of the underlying operating system, and from there on to assistive technologies. But since web applications are commonly built with user interface component sets, it is critical to build support for these accessibility APIs and standards into those components, so applications built with them don't have to re-implement that support each time.

And to finish the job, developer tools used to create these rich Internet applications should explicitly aid developers in utilizing the accessibility APIs and standards provided by those component sets. And of course, the highly dynamic and visual user interfaces that we see in things like Flash and JavaFX use there own runtimes/user agents, where WAI-ARIA isn't as good a fit.

The AEGIS research and development work for rich Internet applications will be addressing all of these challenges, and doing so for a variety of user agents and user interface component sets on a variety of operating systems. And to the greatest extent possible, doing so utilizing open source technologies.

#3 - AEGIS research into mobile device accessibility

For the past few years, mobile devices have grown in capability and complexity and power such that they now rival yesterday's desktop computers. Yet while most of the desktop computing work is moving to (or in the case of the open source UNIX and GNU/Linux desktop have already moved to) API-based accessibility, what solutions exist for the mobile world today are still stuck in the previous generation approach to accessibility. What assistive technologies exist for mobile are bolt-on, reverse-engineered, and ultimately unsatisfying solutions with limited ability to work with downloaded/3rd party applications - the very place where mobile device capabilities are most rapidly expanding.

In AEGIS we will apply the same proven concepts and approaches of the open desktop to develop research prototypes for accessible mobile devices. Specifically we will work on accessibility frameworks and APIs, user interface component sets, developer tools, and sample applications to enable assistive technologies to work in a supported framework on mobile devices - without the need to reverse-engineer applications.

AEGIS' focus on economic disparities

In the United States where I live, people with disabilities endure a 70% unemployment rate. A 2004 labour market report for Europe notes an average 60% unemployment rate among the blind in Europe - with countries such as Hungary rising to 77% rate. As we move from the West to the Majority World, we starting running into situations such as I commented on recently in Afghanistan, and which Jim Fruchterman so eloquently discusses regularly in his blog. As difficult as it is for unemployed people with disabilities to obtain expensive, reverse-engineered assistive technologies in the West, in much of the rest of the world that isn't even a distant possibility.

We believe that we can dramatically reduce the cost of accessible technology by doing three key things:

  1. shifting from reverse-engineered and bolted on solutions to built-in and supported architectures for accessibility
  2. making the cost of building accessible technology - in developers' time and expense - as close to zero as possible
  3. building a large collection of open source solutions that can be directly used throughout the world with zero licensing or royalty charge

AEGIS' focus on open source

Open source is at the heart of AEGIS. It is the engine that pumps the blood into realizing the widest possible dissemination of the results of AEGIS' research, to enable the broadest possible adoption of AEGIS' techniques and solutions. While not everything done by consortium members under AEGIS will carry an open source license, the vast majority will.

To the greatest extent possible AEGIS work will build on top of existing open source environments and applications and tools and user interface libraries and assistive technologies. This is particularly true of AEGIS' work on the open desktop, but also in AEGIS' work on rich Internet applications.

By leveraging popular (and cross-platform) open source applications like OpenOffice.org and Firefox we enable large numbers of end users to benefit from our research and development work (and to do so on multiple desktop operating systems).

Likewise by leveraging popular open source developer tools like NetBeans, we enable large numbers of developers to utilize tools for creating accessible applications. And even when the open source technologies aren't part of wildly popular applications that have been downloaded more than 500 million times and are approaching 20% market share, the very fact that so much of AEGIS research and prototypes will be released under open source licenses means that others can incorporate them royalty-free.

And it greatly increases the chances that people with disabilities can get those results at little to no cost. Which bring us to...

AEGIS' focus on people with disabilities

If open source is the heart of AEGIS, then people with disabilities must be its soul. Everything we do in AEGIS starts with them. Some of the strongest disability organizations in Europe are part of AEGIS. Their contributions begin with requirements gathering, continue through their working in partnership with the research & industrial members by participating in development of specifications, and concludes with their critical role in user trials.

It is people with disabilities who have the most to gain from AEGIS research results - and the most to loose if we don't get it right. Technology - so full of promise and potential to help - is at the same time so very capable of leaving them behind. Every second that passes, 4 people are born into this world. In that same second, 36 mobile devices are activated, and 411 web pages are created. Globally we are on track to purchase 1.3 billion mobile devices in 2008. Create 12.8 billion new web pages. Google already indexes 1 trillion web pages! If we don't take care to build accessibility into these now, we run the grave risk of leaving far too many people behind.

AEGIS' focus on developer

It is precisely because of the staggering numbers in the paragraph above that we must also focus on the developer. The easier it is for a developer to create an accessible application or website or mobile device, the more likely it is that she will do so. The cheaper we make it - both in terms of the cost of the tools as well as the cost of developer's time - the more likely we'll see accessible results.

This is why, in addition to having the disability community help us set our requirements and provide input to our specifications and feedback in trials of our prototypes, we will have developers playing exactly those same roles with respect to the developer tools and user interface component sets and accessibility frameworks. Developers from AEGIS consortium industrial partners, and drawn from the computer science departments of University partners, as well as those who join our work in the open source community, will play a vital role in helping us make the process of building accessibility easy and inexpensive.

Sun's role(s) in AEGIS

Sun plays a number of critical roles in the AEGIS project. Sun - in the person of yours truly (and too many long nights) - wrote the bulk of the AEGIS grant proposal. And Sun - again in the person of yours truly - is the Technical Manager of the AEGIS project. But it is other qualities and attributes of Sun Microsystems that will play the biggest role in AEGIS as we carry out this very major undertaking:

#1 - Sun brought the API-based approach to the market

Sun has been the first and most consistent champion of programmatic & built-in accessibility approaches:

  • 1997 with the Java Accessibility API
  • 2000 with StarOffice and OpenOffice.org accessibility
  • leadership in the GNOME community as maintainers of the GNOME accessibility framework
  • work in the web community as maintainers of the UNIX portion of the Mozilla accessibility project,
  • work on an incredibly powerful and flexible open source screen reader/magnifier

#2 - Sun is the single biggest contributor to open source

According to the UNU-MERIT study in 2006, Sun Microsystems is the single biggest contributor of free and open source software in the world - both by lines of code and by person-months of contribution and by value. Number 2 by ranking isn't even close. In fact, according to this study Sun's contributions are greater than those of thee next 7 largest contributors combined! And with our recent acquisitions of MySQL and Innotek, you'd have to combine the next 10 contributors contributions to exceed Sun's. Since open source is at the heart of so much of AEGIS - including both those places where we have spearheaded much of the existing open source accessibility work and in the less accessible domains of rich Internet applications and mobile devices - Sun's incredible knowledge and expertise an standing within these communities will be critical to AEGIS' open source accessibility success.

#3 - Sun is tied into accessibility standards and regulatory efforts

As we move into a future of converged devices (cell phones that are web browsers and handle our e-mail, Blu-ray movies that include video games and get supplemented with new content all playing on the TV in your living room, and of course the desktop software you can use to make phone calls), there is an increasing push for accessibility regulations that cover these and future emerging technologies. As we move away from software built using a small number of platform-defined programming interfaces of Windows & Macintosh & UNIX, to the "wild west" of anything goes so long as it can send pixels over a the Internet to your screen, there is an obvious need for standards to help define how to make those interfaces accessible.

Sun played a very significant role in the U.S. Section 508 regulatory process which is the framework for technology accessibility in America:

In the standards arena, Sun is a deep and passionate believer in and promoter of open standards that are free to all to implement:

In conclusion...

To close this rather long post, I want to thank the European Commission e-Inclusion unit and my fellow consortium members. With AEGIS we are embarking on a very ambitious and challenging research and development program. I believe it will ultimately be an incredibly satisfying one.

About

Peter Korn

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