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!