I’m taking a quick break from the whirlwind of activity to mention some of the open source highlights at the CSUN 2010 conference, or the 25th Annual International Technology & Persons with Disabilities Conference, to give it’s full title. I’m here wearing several ‘hats’ in addition to the main OSS Watch ‘topper’, and already I have met a very wide selection of people and had many interesting conversations. The common factor has been open accessibility, as you might well expect.
As a member of the GNOME accessibility community I’m helping to man the booth and supporting presentations (although I’ve not actually been at the booth that much yet). So far Willie Walker and Eitan Isaacson have presented. I missed Will’s but Eitan did an excellent and humorous presentation of how open source allows engagement with a project in order to fix problems. A couple of weeks work, including audit, turned the largely inaccessible user interface into something with working theme support and keyboard access. He clearly demonstrated how he worked with the Banshee media player and Orca screen screen reader teams to audit and fix the accessibility issues. There was a lively discussion, including how to get institution IT departments to accept open source.
The GNOME booth is festooned with the contents of the large GNOME event box, including the necessary swag collection. We’re running presentations and demos of the complete accessibility stack that GNOME provides. We also have a stack of OpenSUSE CDs and shirts form Bryen is a on the board and a GNOME a11y member. As Eitan tweeted today there is some Buzz around GNOME and I suspect that is partially due to the increased interested in Open Source. It’s 4 years since Mozilla first mildly perplexed the CSUN visitors by flying the open source flag through running a booth, thus preparing the ground for GNOME’s arrival this year. The use of Twitter to raise profile no doubt also helps. Another contributing factor is likely to be the CSUN team’s interest in and support of Project:Possibility SS12 competition students; one of the teams worked on GNOME Caribou with first class mentoring from Ben Konrath, module lead.
So far I spoken to 2 people who are keen to introduce open source participation to their students as part of the course work, and with an accessibility angle. One is a CS lecturer from CSUN Northridge itself, the other is introducing a new education technology PhD in Michigan. Both are excited about the possibilities that GNOME accessibility offers.
On Tuesday, before the main conference started, we held the GNOME accessibility hackfest, which despite is name was more of a face to face meet-up in order to discuss critical matters. The GNOME accessibility team are under resourced and Willie Walker has had to step down as lead due to being made redundant by Oracle. In Willie’s words he will ‘turn into a pumpkin’ from next week as he needs to focus on job hunting and family. Ben Konrath is also unsure how long he will be able to maintain Caribou. Thus a large part of the agenda was taken up with how the community will move forward. Another large discussion was around what to do for the next release of GNOME 3. The issue is there is a huge list of work to do and very few people to do it. To give a flavour of the problems, a large part of the accessibility plumbing has been rewritten, with obvious knock on effects. Another high risk factor is the new GNOME Shell redesign of the desktop which is being done with almost no reference to accessibility. A boost is that couple of developers said their employers have given them around 20% time each to work on GNOME a11y. At the end of the day we had a lot of useful discussion and the future looks OK, if not exactly ‘rosy’.
A real high at the end of the day was a surprise presentation ceremony organised by Peter Korn (Oracle, AEGIS). Peter had organised a large framed ‘graduation’ certificate for Will Walker and signed by members of the community. Willie was suitable ‘choked but soon recovered as we all enjoyed the accompanying bottle of 16 yr old Lagavulin single malt whisky, served in cups embossed with Braille (it was German Braille so no one could quite work it out).
I’m now heading back to the GNOME booth and to track down Willie Walker for an interview. In my next post I’ll provide more details of the Project:Possibility students activity here at CSUN.