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.

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