January 6, 2011

Putting our Accessibility Heads Together

Accessibility has become an important selling point in getting computing solutions into many organizations. Organizations are faced with legislations and regulations that require their environments be accessible and they take it into account when looking for a solution that fits their needs. For government organizations, software that doesn’t live up to certain accessibility standards is simply not an option.

Let’s just be frank here. While the openSUSE community cares about accessibility as much as anyone else does in FOSS, we haven’t done that well in delivering the best accessible solution. There are various people who look at the situation in their own corners and try to make the best of it. Andrew Wafaa highlighted some of the challenges in two recent articles.

Meanwhile openSUSE presents a very unique advantage that hasn’t been leveraged yet. With DBUS, the GNOME and KDE communities have worked together to leverage GNOME’s long-standing applications to work well on KDE. As openSUSE is a major distribution that provides support equally to GNOME and KDE, we have a distinct opportunity to provide the best integration of KDE and GNOME with accessibility. Thus offering prospective users and organizations a real choice on a distro that is known for its stability and support.

So what’s the problem?

Well, its a variety of things. And most certainly not because no one cares.

While other distributions have formal accessibility teams, we don’t. And we don’t advocate for that. After all, one has to realize that a11y doesn’t mean accessibility for people with special needs. It means accessibility for all regardless of what your needs are. And that means that accessibility issues should be raised in mainstream conversations, not segregated off to some corner where no one else knows what’s going on. Therefore, if there’s a problem in openSUSE-GNOME accessibility, it should be discussed on that team’s thread.  If there’s a problem with the installer, it should be discussed on the Factory mailing list, and so on.

While, philosophically, we still believe in this, in practice, it hasn’t been a perfect world. We ended up being like a bunch of loose chickens running around without any real concerted effort. And this is a shame because over the years, we’ve had many great accessibility experts both in the community and on staff at Novell.

So what’s the solution?

Put our heads together!

At this point in time, we still aren’t going to put together a formal mailing list and such, but we do have an #opensuse-a11y channel that has recently begun to grow in population. Its a place where we all can kind of chat and keep tabs with each other about what’s going on while still focusing on our primary areas of work around the Project.

On Thursday, 13 January 2011, at 17:00 UTC, we’re going to have a meeting. We’re not going to use a formal agenda at this time but rather more like a kvetching where we’ll talk about our views of what we see as the obstacles. From there, we hope to have a better and bigger picture and develop an idea of how we can go forth collectively and individually in our accessibility work.

If you’ve had some interest in accessibility and have some thoughts or want to learn what others are saying, we invite you to join us.  We’ll be giving out free virtual coffee and hot chocolate throughout the meeting.  :-)

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