Imagine being able to influence the development of assistive technologies and web browsers at their core. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to meet the primary developers, give feedback, and even add a few features yourself? How much more accessible would the digital world be if you could sit down with accessibility experts and users with disabilities to conceptualize new solutions to old accessibility problems? Last week at the Mozilla Accessibility Summit (Oct. 10 – 12) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a group of accessibility developers, accessibility experts, and assistive technology users did exactly that.
Aaron Leventhal from IBM organized the summit with help from Frank Hecker, Executive Director of the Mozilla Foundation. Participants from Sun Microsystems, IBM, Novell, WGBH and WebAIM as well as independent developers came from all around the world to contribute (US, China, Sweden, England, and even Texas). Over the three day period we presented ideas, showed off our work, and dug into the code. This is the magic of open source development. For more details about the attendees and their presentations read Mark Pilgrim’s blog.
The Mozilla Accessibility Summit was an extension of the Gnome Summit (Oct. 7 – 9), which had an accessibility track. Gnome is a GUI framework for Linux that comes with many assistive technologies built in. Developers from Sun presented their screen reading technology (ORCA) and various other tools such as Dasher (a very promising alternative typing method) and GOK (Gnome onscreen keyboard). IBM demonstrated LSR (Linux Screen Reader) which is also a development platform for assistive technologies. These technologies and others were discussed further at the Mozilla Accessibility Summit.
Aaron Andersen (co-founder of xulplanet.com) and I represented WebAIM. We presented a prototype tool for evaluating XUL, the XML language used to create Firefox extensions. We discovered that this same tool may also be configured to evaluate Linux Glade files, an XML file used to define a Linux user interface. We also collaborated with Mark Pilgrim (creator of Dive Into Accessibility) of IBM in creating a new set of accessibility guidelines for XUL developers.
The most striking part of all of this is Mozilla’s dedication to the accessibility cause (read Frank Hecker’s blog on accessibility). The Mozilla Foundation decided to jump start its accessibility work by giving out small “mini-grants” to individuals and organizations interested in making Firefox more accessible to persons with disabilities. Travel expenses of some of the participants were funded by the Mozilla Foundation, including WebAIM’s Aaron Andersen. Some, including WebAIM, will also receive mini-grants to help make Firefox more accessible. These actions provide unique opportunities to developers who want to get involved. If you are a developer interested in helping with an open source project such as Firefox contact me at WebAIM or contact Aaron Leventhal at Mozilla.