PendulumTech

February 22, 2011

UDS Diversity – Accessibility/Disability Version Meeting TODAY

Filed under: Uncategorized — by Penelope Stowe @ 7:50

One thing that’s been discussed recently quite a bit in the Ubuntu
community is fostering a diverse UDS. There is the newly proposed
Diversity Statement and Anti-Harrassment Statement, and as
part of that, there have been several meetings aimed at increasing
attendance of and friendliness to women resulting in plans to make it
happen
. Now it’s time to discuss how we can better serve those
with accessibility needs who wish to attend!

To start talking about the issues involved, a meeting has been
scheduled for Tuesday February 22 (that’s today!) at 20:00 UTC in
#ubuntu-accessibility on freenode.

I really encourage anyone interested to attend. Even if you’ve never
been to a UDS and aren’t planning on applying for sponsorship for the
next UDS, we really want your input on how we can do the best to
encourage people who have accessibility needs (ranging from physical
to food allergies to sensory or anything else that might fall under
the broad range of issues that “accessibility” covers) to attend and
how we can make sure UDS is welcoming for all.

July 14, 2010

Ubuntu Accessibility Team Personas Survey

Filed under: Uncategorized — by Penelope Stowe @ 14:15

One of the goals identified for the Ubuntu Accessibility Team for this cycle is to create personas that can be used by designers and developers to get them thinking about accessibility. Personas are fictional people created to give designers and developers a face and personality to consider when working. Personas just make it a little more personal rather than just concepts.

To help researching all the various accessibility needs of users, we’ve created a survey about how people with disabilities of all types use their computers. Now we need as many people as possible to fill it out. We really want to get feedback from as many different types of disabilities so we can figure out what best suits users as far as needs and where the major problems may lie. We don’t just want to hear from Ubuntu users, but everyone.

The survey can be found at two places:

1) On a wordpress blog with text boxes. This can be filled out completely anonymously (no e-mail required or anything): access.libertus.co.uk

2) On a wiki page that can be e-mailed to the e-mail address provided. This version also has some more background information on what we’re doing: https://wiki.ubuntu.com/Accessibility/Personas/Survey

If anyone has any questions or anything, please feel free to leave them here or you can e-mail ubuntu.accessibility.survey@gmail.com if you don’t want to ask publicly.

Also, please let me know if you have an access problem with both versions of the survey as I really don’t want anyone barred from taking it due to not being able to access it. We were able to test with a screen reader, but I know we don’t have things like variable text sizes or the ability to play with the colours of the sites.

We’re hoping to gather the responses we need by August 8th.

May 31, 2010

Ubuntu Accessibility Team Goals for Maverick Meerkat

Filed under: Uncategorized — by Penelope Stowe @ 21:02

The Ubuntu Accessibility Team met at UDS to discuss the plans for the team both in terms of structure and actions for the Maverick Meerkat cycle. It was decided that Luke Yelavich will lead the development part of the team and I will lead the outreach/documentation part of the team.

As the team is still getting back on its feet, our goals this cycle are very much based on providing a strong base for continuing work. We’re working on improving our documentation of what we do as a team and hoping to start on updating the accessibility documentation in general. As well, we’re planning to work more with other open source accessibility groups such as the ones for Gnome and Debian.

Our biggest documentation and outreach goal for the cycle, however, is to create personas of people with accessibility needs that can be given to the design team and to developers so that they can understand the needs of disabled people when working on Ubuntu and other open source projects. Right now we’re creating a survey to get an understanding of people’s needs. We’ll distribute this to all sorts of groups of people who may have accessibility needs when they use computers and take the results to create 4-5 personas.

I’m looking forward to the work this cycle and expect to see some great results soon!

May 12, 2010

UDS-M: Travel & Day 1

Filed under: Uncategorized — by Penelope Stowe @ 8:49

About a month ago I was informed that I had been given sponsorship by Canonical to attend the Ubuntu Developer Summit for Maverick in La Hulpe, Belgium (outside Brussels). The following weeks were busy including things like quitting my job (not related, but the date I gave them as last day was) and getting ready for UDS. This was complicated, of course, with concerns about all the volcanic ash.

After several extra hours of travel due to weather issues in New York, I arrived in Brussels Sunday afternoon and was met at the airport by Laura Czajkowski and Elizabeth Krumbach. I had a pre-arranged taxi to get me to the hotel since the coaches Canonical was using as shuttles weren’t wheelchair accessible and Laura & Lyz came out from the hotel to help me with my bags and such. We went back to the hotel where, luckily, Laura had already sorted the fact that initially they hadn’t put us in a wheelchair accessible room. The evening was spent hanging out and catching up with people I already knew and meeting others.

Monday started out with Jono Bacon’s plenary welcoming everyone to UDS. He gave a brief introduction to what was happening during the week and some of the people and groups at UDS. He also played a the UDS Maverick kickoff video that Robbie Williamson had created using PiTiVi. And, can’t forget he reminded us all to eat our vegetables!

After Jono’s introduction, was Mark Shuttleworth’s keynote speech. Mark highlighted the work being done with original equipment manufacturers (OEMS) to get “Ubuntu Lite” installed in as a dual-boot. This can boot to a usable web browser in 7 seconds, partially due to Unity a framework for netbooks and other devices with small screens. Unity maximizes the on-screen real estate and also has features that will make it easier to use with a touchscreen than a more traditional looking desktop. Mark also announced that he is hoping we can get Meerkat ready for a 10.10.10 release date since 101010 is 42 in binary.

After the keynote, we all moved from the auditorium to the conference center for the first sessions. I went to the Community Roundtable where we went over the various community track items planned for the week and brainstormed things we wanted to discuss in the daily roundtables.

My next session was Review Coming Changes to GNOME and what we want to do. We discussed what changes were coming to GNOME, both in terms of things that would make it into Meerkcat, and things that would be in GNOME 3.0, but not necessarily be in the next Ubuntu release. I had wanted to attend as I know I need to get more familiar with how GNOME works to know more about accessibility and while a lot of the discussion was over my head as a non-developer, I was able to use it to think about some of the accessibility issues that will be coming to Ubuntu over the next few releases.

In the afternoon, I headed to the session on Ubuntu Community Project Planning. We discussed how blueprints work and how to make them better and the process more understandable to people trying to create them. I picked up my first action of UDS, to work with Laura on better documentation for how to create a blueprint.

My final session for the day was Heuristic Evaluation and Bug Tagging, run by the design team. This was about tagging bugs with codes indicating what sort of bug it is. It will be interesting to see how testing these ideas go. The bug squad members attending seemed a bit nervous about how it might work, but if it does work, it may make the process better for everyone.

The evening was spent catching up with people and meeting new people. I seem to be the person people come to about accessibility stuff which slightly amuses me since I”m quite new to it and don’t know that much yet. Certainly one thing I knew even by the end of day one was how much I need and want to learn to understand more of what can help.

May 1, 2010

Blogging Against Disablism Day 2010: Accessibility & Ubuntu

Filed under: Uncategorized — by Penelope Stowe @ 13:29

Today is Blogging Against Disablism Day and I urge everyone (especially if you’ve never heard of it before) to check out the blogs posts being written.

I never planned on getting involved with accessibility on Ubuntu. I’m a wheelchair user which means fighting for accessibility is almost a daily occurrence for me whether it’s shops with steps or a lack of dropped curbs or just the stares and questions of “what’s wrong with you”. Although my impairment is directly involved with why I started contributing to the Ubuntu community, that had nothing to do with Ubuntu accessibility. Instead, it was because on those days when I can’t even sit up at least I can generally get onto my laptop and getting involved with the community gives me mental stimulation and a way to do something on those days when I can’t manage anything else.

However, when it came down to what I needed for accessibility on Ubuntu, I realised that I have no choice. I periodically can’t type. On MacOS (the other OS I use regularly), this means that I use a combination of MacSpeech Dictate voice recognition software and a program called Dasher which is a mouse controlled text input (not an onscreen keyboard, but much more fluid and faster to use). When I started asking around for similar things on Ubuntu I got good news and bad news.

The bad news was that no one seemed to have a working set-up of a voice recognition software that didn’t involve Dragon Naturally Speaking under Wine. I don’t want to go pay for yet another bit of voice recognition software and I don’t like running things under Wine if I can help it. There are a couple open source voice recognition programs out there, but no one I’ve found has been able to tell me that they have a working set-up that would be useable, especially for someone not very technical.

The good news was that Dasher is open source, has a Linux port, and is in the Ubuntu universe. However, it came with some caveats. Some of the documentation in the program is just wrong. For example, while this is not documented in the official documentation for Dasher yet, the only way to use it to directly input into other programs on Ubuntu is to run it from the command line.  And even doing that I find it crashes after a few minutes. The other option is to use it accessing it through the Applications menu, however, then you can only use it to input into its own text screen and have to copy & paste into whatever program you want the text for. I’m hopeful that this will change as I filed a bug about it with Dasher and it sounded like other people were supportive of creating a GUI menu option to be able to directly input into other programs.

So in my experience, Ubuntu as an operating system and open source software in general has some things is needs to improve with in terms of accessibility.This is why I’ve decided to put energy into getting the Accessibility Team going again. With multiple people working together to identify the main problems and either finding solutions ourselves or advocating to get others to implement solutions it should be easier to get Ubuntu to where it should be as an operating system accessible to all.

All that said about the software, the Ubuntu community is one of the most accessible communities (to me) I have worked with. I’ve already mentioned that one of the reasons I got involved was because it’s a community I can work with from bed. I’ve also found people in the community to be very accommodating. If I can’t manage to get something done because I’ve had a rough week and can’t handle typing or the energy it takes to think, others seem to always be happy to step up. And my experience in working with Marianna and Jorge in arranging for attending UDS-M in a week has been fabulous. Not once has it been suggested that I’m asking for something that’s too hard or beyond reasonable. I’ve never had as little hassle with accessibility arrangements ever – including when at school and while working. It’s the community that keeps me thinking that accessibility is something that is worth fighting for with Ubuntu rather than my looking somewhere else.

We have lots of work to do to become a truly accessible operating system, however, I know we can get there.

April 11, 2010

Reviving the Ubuntu Accessibility Team

Filed under: Uncategorized — by Penelope Stowe @ 7:24

The Ubuntu Accessibility Team will meet April 13, 2010 at 21:00 UTC in #ubuntu-accessibility on freenode.

This is the first time in over 3 years that the team has met. While there’s still a strong level of technical support happening on the mailing list and forums, I’m hoping that we can get some plans set for Maverick Meerkat and come up with the beginnings of a longer term plan make it easier for new users who have accessibility needs to use Ubuntu and find the information they need to do so. I encourage anyone with any interest in the project to come to the meeting.

For more information, including an agenda, please look at the Accessibility Team page.

March 24, 2010

Ada Lovelace Day 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — by Penelope Stowe @ 21:15

I’ve spent the day trying to figure out what to write for Ada Lovelace Day and, while I’m not much further from where I started, it’s getting to the end of the day so I figured it was time to just write and worry less about how it sounded. So here goes with a few of the women in tech who’ve made a difference in my life. This will be Ubuntu and Ubuntu Women heavy because outside of those groups there aren’t so many women in tech in my life. Even my college, which was a women’s college, only had one woman instructor in the CS department and I never had her. I’m aiming for some level of chronologicalness in this, but probably not hitting it right.

Lyz Krumbach welcomed me in with open arms when I was shy and attempting to go to some Philadelphia LUG meetings. While I didn’t make it to many, the fact that I knew that there was another woman who would be there did a lot to get me to actually get up and go. Lyz is a member of the Ubuntu Community Council, Americas Ubuntu Membership Board, Ubuntu Women, I’m not even sure what LUGS and LoCos as she’s just moved to California, is one of the people in charge of the Ubuntu Classroom team, and does many other things that I can’t even think of at the moment.

Laura Czajkowski is the person who actually convinced me to get involved in the Ubuntu community after a several month campaign on her part to drag me in for all that I kept protesting that I couldn’t do anything. Laura is on the Ubuntu LoCo Council and is in Ubuntu Women, Ubuntu NGO, and the Ubuntu-IE loco. And if that wasn’t enough when she’s not doing one of those things (or her day job as a software tester), she’s organizing Ossbarcamp and other open source events in Ireland and abroad and working on the fossevents website done by the PDPC.

Isabell L. is one of the most enthusiastic people I know in the open source community, and one of the youngest! Not only has she jumped into work on Ubuntu with both feet, but she also works on fossevents with Laura. In the few months I’ve known her, I’ve seen her become more skilled and she tries to soak everything up and learn everything. If Isabell is the future of women in tech, then I’m excited for what is to come!

Amber Graner may think of herself as a “non-technical end user”, but she’s spent the past year showing that that will not hold her back from being a woman in tech. Amber is head of the Ubuntu Women Project, works on the Ubuntu Weekly News, volunteers for pretty much all jobs out there, and, although her kids may joke about having lost their mother to Ubuntu, is raising two great-sounding kids.

Melissa Draper has been working in the Ubuntu community for years (I’m not quite sure how many, but I know it’s quite a few!). She’s currently on the Asia & Oceania Ubuntu Membership board and in the past has also held a position on the Ubuntu IRC Council. She’s also very active in Ubuntu Women. While I’ll admit we don’t always see eye-to-eye, I always know that she’s coming from what she believes in and has good reasons for her opinions. Melissa is often a reminder to me of the importance of having recognition of women in tech, especially in the open source world.

There are many other women in tech I’d love to talk about, but there’s not enough time. I guess I’ll just have to wait until next year to cover some more!

November 28, 2009

Remote Participation UDS Lucid Lynx

Filed under: CS,geek,ubuntu — by Penelope Stowe @ 12:17

Obviously as I’m very new to being involved in the Ubuntu community, I didn’t go to Dallas for UDS Lucid Lynx earlier this month, however, I did decide to do as much remote participation as I could. I was quite surprised and pleased by how well remote participation was set up and how well it worked. The Ubuntu Wiki page about remote participation was useful, although the best guide in terms of laying it out plainly was Laura Czajkwoski’s How to participate remotely and get your points heard. Laura did a good guide with helpful suggestions such as joining IRC channels for the sessions you want to attend a head of time.

The hardest part for me was that I was in work or commuting during most of the hours that UDS was happening. I am allowed to listen to things while at work so I set up so I could listen to the icecasts. I did my best to balance listening to the ice casts and getting my work done with occasional moments of actually saying something on IRC.

Generally I thought the integration of those participating remotely with the people physically at the sessions was good. There were some communication issues, but not many. The one that bothered me the most wasn’t even one that effected me. One of the sessions decided to turn off their mic and essentially have a closed session. However, this was not announced anywhere so someone started asking in the IRC channel for the room the session was in and in #ubuntu-uds about the mic being off. Finally someone else who’d overheard discussion in a hallway about how the session leaders wanted to have a closed session said something in #ubuntu-uds. It would have taken less than a minute for it to be announced in the IRC channel (preferably both in the channel for the room and in #ubuntu-uds).

I pretty much followed the community track since I’m not really technical and that’s where most of the discussions I was interested in were happening. Highlights for me included all of the Ubuntu Women sessions;  I feel like real work and progress was made in just putting together a really concrete plan for what is needed in the next few months to get the project back on track and keep it there. While I didn’t get to pay attention as much as I’d have liked to, the Ubuntu NGO session also seemed to go well. The Community Roundtables were also good, however, I was a bit confused about why they didn’t start on Monday. To me it would have made sense to have had the first one on Monday to really give a roadmap for the week.

I know at other times I’ve had more to say about UDS that I can’t think of right now and I’m sure that another post will happen at some other point. I do want to say how much I enjoyed being able to participate remotely and how much I did feel a part of things. It definitely exceeded my expectations going in.

November 22, 2009

Starting Over

Filed under: Uncategorized — by Penelope Stowe @ 17:38

It’s been ages since I even really looked at this place, but it’s time for me to start over and get going with it again.

 

In the past 18 months or so I’ve graduated college, moved, started a job in publishing, somehow kept said job in publishing, and somewhere along the way really gotten lost from much use of open source. Luckily, I didn’t fall out with the idea of open source, just the practice. I’ve been mostly a solid MacOS user for a while. Linux was there as a “I want to get back to is some day, but don’t have the time or energy to do it now” thing. And I don’t really have the energy for anything right now, but I have the time. So I’m back going again. This time I’m working more on not just running Ubuntu, but also getting involved. I think this will 1) help me have the motivation to keep working through when things get rough and 2) give me motivation to move more towards Ubuntu for most of my computer usage.

 

Several weeks ago, I upgraded my VMWare Fusion and installed Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic Koala). This went mostly smoothly with the most annoying problems being issues with VMWare and not at all Ubuntu. However, there was one major issue with the install. The sound didn’t work. I searched the internet for an answer and discovered pretty much immediately that it was an issue that VMWare Fusion has with pulseaudio. From the post on the VMWare forums I found, it’s specific to VMWare Fusion (people with MacOS machines that dual booted with Ubuntu 9.10 didn’t have this issue). Luckily, the post did offer a suggested fix which was to uninstall pulseaudio and install esound instead. So far this fix has worked for me.

 

Other than the initial sound issue, I haven’t been having any problems. I’m pleasantly surprised by how easy I’m finding it to mostly use Ubuntu rather than MacOS and am very glad that it wasn’t a hard transition back at all.

February 26, 2008

Some Thoughts on Women and Computing

Filed under: CS,geek,women and CS — by Penelope Stowe @ 8:54

About a week ago I went to a talk by Maria Klawe, the current president of Harvey Mudd College, on Women and Computing. This made me wish I’d been listening to Lugradio years ago so that I could have gone to LugRadio Live UK 2006 and see the BOF on Women in Open Source so I had something to compare it to/think about it in relation with.

Dr. Klawe’s talk focused somewhat on the differences in how women and men use computers and why, but was also very much focused on getting more women into computing. Considering that part of her audience was from a women’s college, in some ways she was preaching to the converted, however, it also, I think, may have given the faculty present a better idea of how to work with students and how to recruit more. Part of the reasoning that there is a problem is that the numbers of women in computer science programs in the US is going down. According to a NY Times article that came out over the weekend from 2000-2005 the number of incoming undergrad women choosing CS majors declined by 70%.

One thing that both the NY Times article and Dr. Klawe did recognize was that these are only representative of those going into CS specific programs. It doesn’t take into account women who self-teach. However, it is still an issue. They also very much pointed out that women use computers differently than men. The NYT article discussed how teenage girls are actually spending more time online than teenage boys, but that they’re doing different things as far as creating content. While a teenage boy might be writing a computer game, girls are doing graphics, blogging, and doing other similar things which while they involve the computer are not as inherently stereotyped as being geeky.

The real point of Dr. Klawe’s talk was that boys are more aggressive than girls (whether this is nature or nurture, she really doesn’t care) and male geeks have a culture that women are reticent to join. As a result, women tend to drop out of CS courses even if they are doing as well or better than their main counterparts. To be fair, as far as the aggressive parts of things went, she had hard data that backed her up. Where she really only had anecdotal data was in her discussion of stereotypical geek culture.

One thing she did was go around the room asking random people (and one not so random person) why they thought women weren’t staying in CS courses or maybe weren’t even starting them to begin with. All except one person she asked was male. The sole female was also the one that seemed to be less random. This student mentioned the perception that computer geeks, especially the guys, seem to code 24/7 and that they don’t do things that don’t involve computers and that women tend to want more of a life than that. In presenting solutions to getting more women involved in computing, Dr. Klawes made a comment about how some of the techniques (things like pairs programming and group projects which require human interaction) might help teach the guys social skills as well as help give the girls confidence. And that particular line actually kinda bothered me.

I’m most definitely female (in case it wasn’t obvious from the above) and I’ve been hanging out with male computer geeks for close to 10 years. I’m not particularly geeky (at least not with regards to computers), but I’ve never had a problem feeling left out. I also have to say that I don’t necessarily think that having their own specific culture that is in some ways not social is a bad thing. And I do have to say that I think it’s very social, just not in a normative way. I do think that anyone who suggests that to be good at computers you have to be the person who spends all their awake time coding is wrong, but I’m not positive that I see it as being a bad thing either. Many people I know essentially live for their job/studies doing it many more hours a day than is required. I suppose this could be a function of people I know rather than the general population, but I think it’s more common that expected. Also, most geeks I know socialize, just do it online rather than directly face to face the majority of the time and they do get out (the attendence at events such as LRL is proof, so is the number of geeks I know who seem to be out at least once a week at a bar/pub with their other geek friends). Since one of the places that teenage girls outdo teenage boys online is blogging and other social networking, one cannot criticize online socialization as separating the boys from the girls in this case.

I guess my point is that, yes, definitely, there needs to be more women in CS. I am in some ways sad that I didn’t decide to do more with it myself, despite the fact that I’m really struggling in the one CS class I’m currently taking. While there do need to be more women in CS, I do wonder if it’s absolutely necessary to completely erase/change geek culture or whether there are more specific ways to change things to make it more welcoming/possible for women. I guess I just have a problem making value judgments about what is “good” vs. “bad” in terms of socialization.

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