CSUN trip report - UNIX Accessibility series & Java stuff


Last month was the annual CSUN Conference on Technology and Persons with
Disabilities.  This year accessibility to computers running UNIX (such as
the Solaris operating environment, GNU/Linux, and other computer systems)
was a conference theme.  There was a UNIX Accessibility series of
conference sessions all day Thursday, and demonstrations of open source
assistive technologies for UNIX systems in the Sun Microsystems booth on
the show floor.  This year also saw the second annual Linux Accessibility
Conference, which was held on Friday in the LAX Hilton conference hotel. 

This lengthy trip report describes in some detail all of the events
relating to UNIX Accessibility at CSUN, and touches on some events relating
to Java Accessibility as well.

The key messages relating to UNIX (and Java) Accessibility at CSUN were:

 1. The development of a free, open source graphical desktop for UNIX
    systems called GNOME 2, with accessibility support built in as a
    forethought (vs. bolted on as an afterthought).  GNOME 2 will be the
    future desktop of the Sun Solaris operating environment, and of
    numerous GNU/Linux systems.  

 2. The development of the free, open source GNU Accessibility 
    architecture (also known as the GNOME Accessibility architecture), a 
    comprehensive API-based mechanism for exposing accessibility 
    information by applications to assistive technologies.  

 2. The development of Gnopernicus - a free, open source screen reader
    and magnifier for GNOME by BAUM Retec AG.  Gnopernicus was 
    demonstrated on an Intel RedHat Linux system, with both speech and
    Braille, at CSUN.  Gnopernicus fully supports the GNU Accessibility

 3. The development of GOK - a free, open source dynamic on-screen 
    keyboard for GNOME by the University of Toronto Adaptive Technology
    Resource Centre.  GOK was demonstrated on both a Sun Solaris system
    and an Intel RedHat Linux system, with both single switch access
    and support for the Madentec Tracker head-mouse.  GOK fully supports
    the GNU Accessibility architecture.

 4. Sun's announcement that StarOffice and the open source OpenOffice.org
    office productivity suite of applications (word processor,
    spreadsheet, presentation package, and drawing package - with full
    support for reading and writing Microsoft Office file formats) will
    become accessible with full support for the GNU Accessibility
    architecture, as well as support for accessibility under the Microsoft
    Windows desktop via the Java Access Bridge.  Sun demonstrated an
    early version of StarOffice with (early) accessibility support, 
    showing how the accessibility information was being made available 
    via the Java Accessibility test tools.

 5. Sun's announcement of the formation of the Sun Netscape/Mozilla
    Accessibility Task Force.  This task force of Sun engineers is
    focused on building support for the GNU Accessibility architecture
    directly into the open source Mozilla web browser, to be released
    in a future version of Netscape for UNIX systems, and to also be
    available in applications that embed the Mozilla gecko HTML rendering
    engine in other applications (such as the Galeon GNOME web browser,
    and the Nautilus file and document browser).

 6. Sun's release of FreeTTS - a free, open source text-to-speech engine
    and voices for the Java platform.  Sun demonstrated FreeTTS on the
    Solaris operating environment - a UNIX platform - with emacspeak, 
    the Emacs speech environment developed by T.V. Raman.  Sun also
    provided information on how to download FreeTTS and get involved 
    with the project.

 7. Ai Squared's demonstration of support for access to the Java platform
    in the shipping ZoomText for Windows version 7.1.  ZoomText was
    demonstrated providing access to the ICEMail free open source e-mail
    client for the Java platform.

 8. Benetech's demonstration of Sonorus - a prototype Personal Accessor
    for the blind that is designed to provide wireless access to a new
    generation of things like ATM machines, vending machines, elevators,
    etc.  The Sonorus prototype is a Compaq iPAQ running the SavaJe
    Java platform.  Benetech demonstrated how a user with Sonorus could 
    interact with an otherwise inaccessible vending machine to purchase
    soft drinks and candy.

Below is a fairly detailed summary of each of the seven sessions relating
to UNIX Accessibility (and Java accessibility), as well events at the 2nd
Linux Accessibility conference.

 o The first session in the UNIX Accessibility series was the "UNIX
   Accessibility overview" by Dr. Gregg Vanderheiden of TRACE (and CSUN
   keynote speaker), J.P. Schnapper-Casteras of project Ocularis (and
   organizer of the 2nd Linux Accessibility Conference), and Marc Mulcahy,
   Rich Burridge, and Peter Korn of Sun Microsystems.

   In this session, Dr. Vanderheiden spoke of the importance of the UNIX 
   Accessibility  work, looking at the trends in society, trends in 
   technology, and the fact that this work is defining the next set of 
   accessibility standards in the industry.

   JP Schnapper-Casteras gave an overview of the present UNIX
   accessibility efforts, including work on the UNIX desktops, 
   console-related work, tools, and the overall accessible use experience.
   Marc Mulcahy gave a demonstration of Speakup, the console screen reader
   that can be built into the GNU/Linux kernel that Marc uses every day as
   part of his work in building the GNU Accessibility architecture.  Rich
   Burridge explained what the Sun Solaris Operating Environment was, and
   gave an overview of the accessibility options available today for it.

   Finally, Peter Korn presented Sunís vision of UNIX Accessibility.
   Peter talked about Sun's long-held computing principle: "Anyone,
   Anywhere, Any time, Any device" - with "anyone" including people with
   disabilities, "any device" including talking and Braille notetakers as
   well as cell phones, PDAs, and desktop computers.  Peter also spoke
   about the four big themes behind the UNIX Accessibility work: 
   1. Built-in vs. Bolt-on; 2. Evolution of screen access approaches;
   3. Formal division of responsibility; and 4. Open source accessibility.
   These four themes were referred to again and again throughout the rest
   of the UNIX Accessibility series, and were also the topics of the panel
   discussion later in the afternoon.

 o The second session in the UNIX Accessibility series was titled "The
   Accessible GNOME 2 desktop: An Introduction."  Gary Little and Peter
   Korn of Sun Microsystems gave this presentation.

   Gary Little gave a guided tour of the GNOME desktop - using the
   shipping GNOME 1.4 edition for his demonstrations.  Gary showed
   features that will be familiar to existing Windows users - the
   "GNOME Foot" menu (like the Windows "Start" menu), the GNOME Panel
   (similar to the Windows System Tray).  Gary also demonstrated features
   that will be new to many users and provide functionality not available
   on existing PC systems - the ability to have multiple "desktop"
   workspaces, that applications on the GNOME panel are live and can be
   manipulated directly (rather than just icon-based menu items), the
   powerful theme engine in GNOME that does a lot more than simply change
   the colors and sizes of the standard user interface elements, and some
   of the powerful built-in applications of the network-based GNOME
   desktop (such as the Weather application, which gives weather
   forecasts and satellite weather animations for locations worldwide).  

   Peter Korn then spent a few minutes talking about the new accessibility
   features in the forthcoming GNOME 2 platform.  He briefly demonstrated
   Gnopernicus and GOK - the two free, open source assistive technologies
   being developed for GNOME.  And he demonstrated Sun's SunRay network
   appliance, an inexpensive network terminal that displays a GNOME
   desktop (or other Solaris session) that is generated on a central Sun
   server - and can be redirected to any SunRay terminal on the network.
   Using this network terminal in an accessibility setting, a user need
   not use a specially modified workstation (as is presently typically
   the case with PCs), but can walk up to any SunRay appliance, insert
   his or her smart card, and have delivered an accessible GNOME desktop
   session with whatever assistive technologies are needed.  Then, when
   the user moves to a different room, s/he simply removes the card and
   inserts it into a new SunRay appliance in the new room, and the
   accessible GNOME desktop session is redirected to the new SunRay.

 o The third session in the UNIX Accessibility series, "Gnopernicus:
   Screen Reading & Magnification for GNOME", was a presented by Thomas
   Friehoff of BAUM Retec AG.  Thomas talked about BAUM and the work they
   do, and also discussed why they were investing in the GNOME platform
   and building an open source screen reader/magnifier.  Thomas talked
   about BAUM's frustrations with the current situation of blind desktop
   accessibility - with Windows dominating the market and little room for
   competition in the Windows AT marketplace.  BAUM and their customers
   are interested in alternatives.  Thomas noted that much of the business
   for blind access in Germany is a service business - with companies 
   like BAUM providing much of the value through customization of the
   accommodation.  Thomas also noted at BAUM that software sales drive
   hardware sales (BAUM is a major manufacturer of Braille displays).  
   Also important in Germany is the growing interest in the GNU/Linux
   environment, with the German parliament standardizing on GNU/Linux for
   all of their desktop computer systems.  Finally, the software
   development team at BAUM wanted to do something different for a 
   change, and found a lot of promise and possibilities in the open
   source model and the GNOME Accessibility architecture.

   Thomas presented in some depth the architecture of Gnopernicus, noting
   how Gnopernicus has three separate output modules (for speech, Braille,
   and magnification), and that each bit of information output to the user
   is sent as a marked up stream encoding all of the pertinent
   information about that output - allowing for maximum flexibility in
   how it is presented to the user (e.g. speech emphasis for text in
   boldface; using dot-7 to indicate text in a button).  Because
   Gnopernicus is an open source project made up of a series of separate
   modules, other companies and organizations could take these modules
   and put together their own assistive technology products, with
   potentially very different user interfaces.  Thomas ended the
   presentation with a demonstration of Gnopernicus running on an early
   version of the GNOME 2 desktop - with access to the GNOME 2 panel,
   calculator, Gedit text editor, and a few other applications.  The
   home page for the Gnopernicus project is: 

 o The fourth session in the UNIX Accessibility series was a presentation
   from Jutta Treviranus and Simon Bates of the University of Toronto
   Assistive Technology Resource Centre titled "GOK: a full featured
   on-screen keyboard for GNOME."

   Jutta and Simon demonstrated a number of the features of the free and
   open source GOK on-screen keyboard, and also showed how GOK provided
   access to Glade, a GNOME development tool for building graphical
   applications.  They showed the scanning and direct selection features,
   as well as word completion and the ability of GOK to dynamically
   display menu and sub-menus.  They also demonstrated how GOK presents
   new dynamically created keyboards as the frontmost application changes,
   illustrating this with their dynamic menu keyboard which provided
   direct and scanning access to menus and menu bars.

   The University of Toronto Assistive Technology Resource Centre does 
   a lot of research, and is using GOK as a vehicle for exploring ideas 
   for improving the efficiency and user experience of computer users 
   with physical impairments.  To that end, Jutta presented some of 
   the more unusual on-screen keyboard layouts they are thinking about.
   Finally, Jutta talked about their focus on clinicians, and on
   their plans for making GOK a very flexible and configurable tool to
   allow clinicians to adapt GOK to the specific capabilities and motor
   functions of each individual user.  Jutta and Simon's presentation
   can be found at: http://www.gok.ca/csun2002/  The GOK home page is
   at: http://www.gok.ca/

 o After a break for lunch, Bill Haneman and Marc Mulcahy of Sun
   Microsystems presented the fifth session in the UNIX Accessibility
   series : "The GNOME Accessibility architecture in detail".  Bill and
   Marc are two of Sun's GNOME Accessibility engineers, and this "from
   the source" presentation went into detail on the GNU Accessibility
   architecture.  The presentation provided two view of the architecture
   - the services provided to the writers of accessible applications,
   and the services provided to authors of assistive technologies.
   Their presentation can be found at:

 o The sixth session in the UNIX Accessibility series wasn't a
   presentation per se, but a panel discussion on various topics
   relating to UNIX Accessibility.  Making up the panel were: J.P.
   Schnapper-Casteras of project Ocularis and the Linux Accessibility
   Resource Site maintainer; Jutta Treviranus of the Adaptive Technology
   Resource Centre at the University of Toronto; Thomas Friehoff of BAUM
   Retec AG; GNOME Accessibility engineers Bill Haneman and Marc Mulcahy
   of Sun Microsystems; and Peter Korn of Sun Microsystems acting as panel
   moderator.  The panel revisited the four themes of Sun's UNIX
   Accessibility work: 1. Built-in vs. Bolt-on; 2. Evolution of screen
   access approaches; 3. Formal division of responsibility; and 4. Open
   source accessibility.  The panel also responded to questions from the

 o The seventh and final session in the UNIX Accessibility series was
   really a Java Accessibility session.

   This "Topics in Java Accessibility" session began with a presentation
   from Willie Walker of Sun Microsystems Labs on FreeTTS, a free, open
   source text-to-speech engine his team made available for the Java
   platform.  FreeTTS is based on Flite (Festival Light) itself a free,
   open source text-to-speech engine developed by Carnegie Mellon
   University.  FreeTTS can be downloaded from

   Next, Mark Nelson of Ai Squared demonstrated the shipping ZoomText
   Xtra version 7.1 providing access to the Java platform.  Mark pointed
   out that now screen magnifier and screen reader users of ZoomText would
   have access to the thousands of Java applications that supported the
   Java Accessibility architecture, including over 250 Oracle Java
   applications that are part of Oracle 9i.  Lynn Monsanto of Sun
   Microsystems then gave an update on accessibility in the Java platform
   and the Java Access Bridge, and presented Mark Nelson with a surprise
   when he showed ZoomText Xtra providing access to ICEMail, a popular and
   free e-mail client for the Java platform that Lynn had downloaded
   earlier in the week from the Internet.

   Peter Korn of Sun Microsystems gave a presentation on StarOffice - Sun's
   cross platform, comprehensive office productivity suite that can read
   and write Microsoft Office file formats, noting a Windows 2000 Magazine
   poll concluding that 15% of respondents used StarOffice Suite as part
   of their jobs.  Peter noted that most of the functionality of StarOffice
   is available in the free, open source OpenOffice.org edition of the
   code, and that both StarOffice and OpenOffice.org would be accessible
   in the future.  He then gave a demonstration of programmatic access to
   StarOffice - showing how the Java Accessibility test tools were able to
   build a complete hierarchy of the StarOffice user interface, and
   querying individual objects in that hierarchy showing the text he had
   entered into the word processor.  The StarOffice/OpenOffice.org 
   accessibility web site is: http://ui.openoffice.org/accessibility/

   Finally, Jim Fructerman and Charles LaPierre of the Benetech
   Initiative, along with Peter Korn, introduced the Personal Accessor
   Initiative and Sonorus - Benetech's Personal Accessor work on the
   Compaq iPAQ outfitted with the SavaJe Java platform.  The idea behind
   the Personal Accessor is that the problem of access to public systems
   (like ATM machines, copiers, elevators, etc.) can be broken down into
   two parts with one part in the public system and the other carried by
   the user.  Especially in those cases where the user needs accommodation
   that may be near impossible to build into the public system - such as
   Braille, eye-gaze, voice recognition, etc. - wireless access to systems
   that transmit their user interface to a device the user carries with
   them is a powerful and potentially inexpensive access solution.  Using 
   Java and Jini technologies, a wirelessly accessible system can transmit
   a program that implements a remote version of the system, and an
   accessible user interface to that system, which would then be run on
   the Personal Accessor carried by the user (regardless of the
   microprocessor running the device or its underlying computing
   architecture).  This approach addresses issues of security of the
   wireless connection because the transmitted program can contain an
   encryption scheme of whatever strength the public system chooses to
   implement, and users need not worry about receiving a virus sent from
   a system they encounter because of the security model of the Java
   virtual machine in which the downloaded program would run.  An
   additional benefit is that the Personal Accessors need have no
   foreknowledge of the systems their users might want to interact with,
   as all the functionality of any new system is downloaded the moment
   they try to interact with it.

   Charles LaPierre demonstrated Sonorus interacting with a simulated food
   vending machine and also a soda machine, downloading a remote interface
   to those simulated machines and providing the user with a downloaded
   speech interface which the user navigated using the buttons on the
   iPAQ - with speech provided by the aforementioned FreeTTS engine.
   Charles choose a $0.60 can of Sprite, with his choice sent wirelessly
   to the vending machine server on the desk in front of him.

 o The Second Annual Linux Accessibility Conference was a forum for
   more in-depth Linux accessibility community's direction.  Presentations
   were given on subjects such accessibility checklists and guides for
   application developers, modifying the Linux kernel to speech-enable
   console applications, and Linux accessibility in the United States
   government. Among the most prominent parts of the conference was a
   roundtable on interoperability and collaboration, which lead to the
   formation of lengthy and detailed list of "to-do" items. 

   Notes from the Second Annual Linux Accessibility Conference can be
   found at: http://ocularis.sourceforge.net/events/csun2002/notes.html

Detailed information about the GNOME Accessibility Project can be found at
the main page for the GNOME Accessibility Project.  See:



Peter Korn
Sun Accessibility team

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