Wednesday Mar 28, 2012

GNOME 3.4 released, with smooth & fast magnification

The GNOME community released GNOME 3.4 today. This release contains several new accessibility features, along with a new set of custom high-contrast icons which improve the user experience for users needing improved contrast.

This release also makes available the AEGIS-funded GNOME Shell Magnifier. This magnifier leverages the powerful graphics functionality built into all modern video cards for smooth and fast magnification in GNOME. You can watch a video of that magnifier (with the previous version of the preference dialog), which shows all of the features now available in GNOME 3.4. This includes full/partial screen magnification, a magnifier lens, full or partial mouse cross hairs with translucency, and several mouse tracking modes.

Future improvements planned for GNOME 3.6 include focus & caret tracking, and a variety of color/contrast controls.

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!)

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.

Sunday Oct 19, 2008

Happy birthday GNOME Accessibility!

It was exactly 8 years ago today, in Minneapolis Minnesota, that the GNOME Accessibility effort began with the GNOME Accessibility Summit meeting. You can see past blog entries recognizing the fourth anniversary, the fifth anniversary, the sixth anniversary, and a rather belated seventh too.

I noted last year:

Tthe discussion has shifted. It is assumed that UNIX and GNU/Linux systems with GNOME are accessible - and that the access is built-in and free. After all, RedHat Enterprise Linux ships with blind & Braille access, as do several Fedoras and a bunch of Ubuntus, and of course OpenSolaris and Solaris Express Developer's Edition.

No longer is the discussion around the "if" of accessibility in UNIX and GNOME, it is around "how much" and "how efficient" is the access. Folks are asking about the best accessible developer tools, and the best music management app to use with their AT, and how to configure their open source software PBX with their AT. It seems every few weeks we get more languages supported by the AT tools, and every few months more speech voices. Some folks with disabilities say "it is coming along, but I'd rather stay in Windows, thanks just the same"; while others are finding that for what they do, the accessible UNIX environment suits them better.

That shift has continued. This past year GNOME open source screen reader Orca was invited to a "dueling operating systems" talk at CSUN (and from multiple independent reports, acquitted itself quite well and as a result encouraged folks to try it out). More assistive technologies came to the GNOME desktop, and all that were already there continued to mature.

We've also seen open source accessibility growing generally in the past year. A whole planet is tracking blog posts in that area. The WAI ARIA specification is just about done, and already not only is open source Firefox implementing support, but so is Google (and the UIUC toolkit and the Dojo toolkit), and of course Orca when used with Firefox. Another nice measure are all of the great audio walk throughs that Darragh Ó Héiligh has done in the past year, demonstrating one or another aspect of GNOME accessibility for the blind, on various GNU/Linux distributions.

One of the most notable events of this past year was Microsoft & Novell kicking off work to make their cross-platform .NET/Mono applications accessible on UNIX systems via the GNOME accessibility framework. According to Willie's blog report of the Boston GNOME summit last week, good progress was demonstrated (and more promised for next year).

The year closed with a bang! Yesterday and today in Beijing was the first ever summit. Accessibility was of the seven strands on the schedule. In that strand were the four talks:

And of course, we had a small announcement about a significant investment in open source accessibility by a distinguished consortium with generous assistance from a much appreciated benefactor. Yes, it was a fine year!

Wednesday Feb 27, 2008

GNOME Foundation accessibility outreach program: $50k for accessibility work

Behdad Esfahbod, a member of the Board of the GNOME Foundation, has just announced today the GNOME Foundation Accessibility Outreach Program. This $50,000 program is funded by the GNOME Foundation, the Mozilla Foundation, the Google Open Source Program Office, Ubuntu maker Canonical, and Novell, and provides grants for individuals to contribute to a collection of specific open source accessibility goals as part of the GNOME Accessibility Program.

For all the details, see the GNOME Accessibility Outreach Program website. Program technical judge, Orca project lead, and all around cool guy Willie Walker has a blog entry about the program you might also want to check out.

Thursday Feb 21, 2008

Orca & Accercizer articles in Linux Journal

Hot on the heels of Steve Lee's article Python Powered Accessibility are two more articles on GNOME Accessibility. Both of these are published in this issue of The Linux Journal. Eitan Isaacson has a delightful article on how to "Make Your Application Accessible with Accerciser", and my Sun colleague and Orca screen reader lead Willie Walker has a great article "Orca—Take the Killer Whale for a Ride". More recommended reading!

Tuesday Feb 19, 2008

Python Powered Accessibility

Steve Lee recently published an article in Python Magazine about accessibility, accessibility in the GNOME environment, and most specifically about using the Python programming language in GNOME accessibility.

That article has been reprinted on It provides both a nice introduction to accessibility for the general audience, a good introduction to GNOME accessibility, and a collection of good tidbits on utilizing Python to examine accessible applications on the GNOME desktop. Highly recommended!

Thursday Nov 08, 2007

Microsoft, welcome to the UNIX accessibility neighborhood!

Toward the end of the press release celebrating the 1 year anniversary of the Microsoft/Novell "Collaboration Agreement", comes word that the two plan companies to support the GNOME accessibility project - calling out the open source GNOME Accessibility Toolkit (ATK) by name. Under the heading "New Collaboration to Improve Computer Access for People With Disabilities", the release notes that Microsoft & Novell plan to build an open source "adapter" to allow a number of Windows applications that utilize the proprietary Microsoft UI Automation API for accessibility to expose that information via ATK when those applications are ported to run on UNIX systems. Though they don't call out the open source Orca screen reader by name, the release makes it clear that access by the blind is a key motivator for this work (and the National Federation of the Blind quote underscores this).

From my own conversations with engineers at both Microsoft and Novell in the past weeks, I understand that in particular this work will leverage the existing Mono project led by Novell which forms the basis of allowing C# and other Microsoft .NET applications to run in the UNIX environment. With this announcement, we look forward to such ported applications being accessible in UNIX environments.

I read this announcement as a clear endorsement of:

  • the GNOME accessibility framework and the fine work that Sun and many others have been doing for just slightly more than 7 years
  • programmatic accessibility in general (what we've been calling "3rd generation access" or "access by contract" for about a decade now at Sun)
  • the importance of interoperability on accessibility, and collaboration with other IT companies to deliver access solutions (what we've been doing in an open standards process with the Open Accessibility Work Group of the Linux Foundation; with folks like IBM also for more than a decade; and for more than 15 years with our involvement in the AccessX specification for the X Windowing system.)

Microsoft, welcome to the neighborhood!

Wednesday Nov 07, 2007

Another (belated) GNOME Accessibility birthday

Since I started blogging, I have been recognizing the anniversary of the GNOME accessibility project. The first one, for the 4 year anniversary, was a lengthy post, cataloging all of the great stuff that had happened in the past four years. Year 5 was somewhat shorter, though with year 6 we had a bunch to talk about - Orca 1.0 shipping, a bunch of new energy with the then new Ubuntu accessibility effort and IBM's screen reader effort, as well as along list of conferences with sizable accessibility presences.

As both a father, and as someone who has celebrated his 39th birthday at least a couple of times now, I feel that birthdays are really most important for the young, while the "more mature" feel less of a need to make a big deal out of them. That's my excuse for being late with this recognition anyway (it couldn't have been the massive deadline I had in October that kept me from blogging, or all the work heading into the seventh TEITAC meeting...).

Still, it is high time to recognize that last month, on October 19th, GNOME Accessibility officially turned 7 years old. And at 7 years old, GNOME accessibility is growing up nicely...

Rather than producing yet another bulleted list (after all, those are sooo six years old), I'll do this paragraph style. The biggest change for me is that at 7 years old, the discussion has shifted. It is assumed that UNIX and GNU/Linux systems with GNOME are accessible - and that the access is built-in and free. After all, RedHat Enterprise Linux ships with blind & Braille access, as do several Fedoras and a bunch of Ubuntus, and of course OpenSolaris and Solaris Express Developer's Edition.

No longer is the discussion around the "if" of accessibility in UNIX and GNOME, it is around "how much" and "how efficient" is the access. Folks are asking about the best accessible developer tools, and the best music management app to use with their AT, and how to configure their open source software PBX with their AT. It seems every few weeks we get more languages supported by the AT tools, and every few months more speech voices. Some folks with disabilities say "it is coming along, but I'd rather stay in Windows, thanks just the same"; while others are finding that for what they do, the accessible UNIX environment suits them better.

So, please raise a glass with me and toast to the maturing 7 year old GNOME accessibility project (just don't let anyone see you offering your glass to the tyke; after all, 7 is still underage for alcohol most places...).

Wednesday Sep 19, 2007

GNOME turns 10 and 2.20, at the same time!

On the 10th anniversary of the GNOME project, the GNOME community has released version 2.20 of the GNOME desktop. Like the previous releases (that have been happening pretty much like clockwork [calender-work?] every 6 months), this release includes a number of accessibility improvements, making the accessible GNOME desktop even better!

These changes include:

  • for users of the "accessibility themes" - things like High-Contrast, Large-Print, and that combination High-Contrast-Inverse-Large-Print, the new appearances preferences shows a nice, iconic preview of the theme

  • a new "Accessibility" tab in the Preferred Applications control panel, allowing users to indicate their preferred assistive technology for handling visual impairments and mobility impairments

  • an updated version of the Orca screen reader, containing "greatly improved support for OpenOffice, Firefox, Thunderbird, Pidgin (previously known as GAIM) and Java applications" - for all the gory details, see the Orca 2.20 change log

  • a new accessibility test tool, Accerciser which provides a much richer interface to the accessibility infrastructure than the previous tool, at-poke (and unlike at-poke, this tool itself is accessible!)

  • updates to the other two assistive technologies in GNOME - Dasher (version 4.6.0) and GOK (version 1.3.4)

GNOME 2.20 is already available in binary form from the GNOME Live Media site - in LiveCD, VMware, and QEMU/Parallels forms. If you are playing with the latest test release of Ubuntu 7.10 ("Gutsy Gibbon"), you can "apt-get update" to the GNOME 2.20 bits. Alternately, you can expect refreshes of OpenSolaris, Fedora, and other UNIX and GNU/Linux releases to include GNOME 2.20 in short order.

Wednesday Mar 14, 2007

GNOME 2.18, hot off the presses!

Just has it has been doing for the past 4 years or so, a new release of GNOME arrived today, right on schedule. For a summary of what is new in version 2.18, please read the release notes. Among the additions, of course, is version 2.18.0 of Orca. You can download your copy today!

Saturday Nov 04, 2006

Happy (belated) birthday: GNOME accessibility turns 6 years old

A couple of weeks ago, on October 19th, the GNOME Accessibility project had another birthday. Bad form of me to miss it, but when you are about to turn 39 for the second time, others' birthdays can get away from you...

Before summarizing the recent growth and gains, I thought it'd be interesting to look back on some previous anniversaries. Here is what things looked like at five years old and what they looked like at four years old. Four years after the "birth" of GNOME - and graphical UNIX - accessibility in a public meeting in Minneapolis announcing an open source effort to build accessibility into the UNIX desktop, we had one multiple awards and were shipping early versions of three assistive technologies in GNOME 2.8. We had also just begun a standardization effort around UNIX accessibility in the Free Standards Group. One year later, at the 5 year anniversary, Sun was shipping the Solaris 10 desktop with two of the aforementioned assistive technologies (and already had 2 million licensed users of that OS), Ubuntu 5.10 was shipping with early accessibility support, and we had significant adoption by the Spanish National Organization of the Blind in Andalusia and Extremadura.

Over this past year, the momentum has continued:

In addition to all of these significant achievements, we've had a number of key meetings moving the cause of graphical UNIX accessibility forward:

Finally, in this the sixth year of GNOME/graphical UNIX accessibility, we've seen a new battleground and opportunity in the fight over OpenDocument Format. This fight with Microsoft (who would prefer that folks not use ODF) is interesting for the cause of UNIX accessibility because it addresses one of the key reasons for folks to stay on Windows - the ability to read and write the same word processing and spreadsheet files, and presentations as their employer and their government. While we've largely moved to Web standards, and use standard e-mail protocols and standard calendar protocols (as long as or organization hasn't chosen the Microsoft Exchange Server with its proprietary protocols), we are only starting to move to a standard office document file format.

These standards are important, because when our companies and governments and organizations adopt them, they give us the freedom to choose whatever application we want to use, on whatever platform or operating system (and with whatever assistive technology) that we want. We aren't tied to an operating system that may not support our language, or find ourselves out of luck if our screen reader won't speak in our language, or find ourselves to be like one of the 70% of Americans with Disabilities who don't have the income to afford commercial assistive technology products. While Massachusetts has led the way in ODF adoption, we are also seeing this in Denmark, and in Belgium, and in Malaysia, and a number of other U.S. States and European governments and governments worldwide. Every one of these government ODF adoptions becomes a place where citizens with disabilities don't have to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars for access software that may not even be in their own language in order to read and exchange government documents. They become places where, with open source UNIX accessibility, we can accelerate our closing the digital divide for people with disabilities.


Peter Korn


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