[Accessibility] NSF Draft 1 -- For today's call

Janina Sajka janina at rednote.net
Wed Dec 3 08:36:34 PST 2003

The Accessibility Workgroup of the Free Standards Group (FSG) requests funding of [$xx,xxx] from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to convene an
international conference to develop an engineering agenda, leading to the development and adoption of standards that will support comprehensive access
to information and user interfaces for persons with disabilities on computing platforms which adopt FSG standards (such as Linux and Solaris).

Best known today for the industry supported Linux Standards Base (LSB), the
mission of the FSG, a standards body recognized by JTC1, is:

  "The Free Standards Group develops and makes freely available
   standards, tools and compliance testing, which allows open source
   developers to concentrate on adding value to Linux, rather than
   spending time dealing with verification and porting issues.

   As the umbrella group for several open source standards efforts, the
   Free Standards Group acts as a key facilitator between the needs of
   the free and open source development community from which it came and
   the IT industry that increasingly relies on Linux as a solutions

The Accessibility WG was approved by the FSG Boarde of Directors in September 2003 with a mission to 

"to develop and promote free and open accessibility standards to enable comprehensive universal access to computer systems, applications, and services."
accelerating the use and acceptance of open source technologies through the development, application and promotion of standards.

to have common behavioral specifications, tools and APIs, making development across Linux distributions easier."

The Accessibility WG is to provide 
written specifications, as well as references to current specifications and standards, as discussed in
its Charter (available at http://www.a11y.org/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=20). It will also develop and provide test suites to
be used in a certification process. 

 The heterogeneous nature of toolkits, component inter process communication models, libraries, and applications on free and open source platforms has
made the development of robust and effective assistive technologies difficult, at best. Without standards and binary interface components:

 * Users with various disabilities can not effectively use the system.
 * systems do not meet legal requirements (which hampers marketing of free standards based systems).
 * developers cannot consistently write accessible applications.
 * comprehensive and consistent platform services that support accessibility do not exist.
 * assistive technology developers cannot create assistive technologies for free standards platforms.
 * the lack of standardization prevents leveraging the existing work, sharing of expertise, and reduces the value of individual contributions.
Of course achieving standardization for accessibility support in the free and open source environment will require substantial consensus among developer
communities, marketers of free and open source technologies, and user communities. The purpose of the proposed international conference, therefore, is
to achieve this substantial consensus regarding the Workgroup's Year One identified standardization activities, and to devise an engineering consensus
regarding Year Two and Three tasks, including particularly those requiring additional research and development before standardization may properly

The identified Year One tasks which require substantial international consensus are:

1.) AT-SPI

 The Assistive Technology Service Provider Interface (AT-SPI) was developed for the GNOME2 desktop and its approach to providing accessibility is in
 the process of being adopted by KDE.
 AT-SPI is toolkit-neutral. It is already compatible with and supported by GTK+2, Java/Swing, the Mozilla suite, and StarOffice/OpenOffice. Support via
 reuse of the related ATK interface in version 4 of the Qt toolkit (on which KDE is based) has been announced by TrollTech.
 AT-SPI enables assistive technology tools, e.g. screen readers, magnifiers, and even scripting interfaces to query and interact with graphical user
 interface (GUI) controls." As such it facilitates access for individuals who cannot use the standard GUI. It enables developers (or a third party) to
 build applications that are, or can be made accessible. The AT-SPI enables developers and distributions to meet the accessibility requirements of many
 individual and corporate customers.

2.) AT Device Shared I/O

 AT device shared I/O would make it possible for devices that are commonly used by persons with disabilities to operate smoothly with several client
 applications simultaneously.
 In some circumstances it is necessary to support simultaneous access for different client applications. For example, allowing a software-based speech
 synthesizer to speak while a multi-media stream is playing, rather than queueing its messages to play after the stream concludes. In addition, it may
 also be necessary to have messages queue or supress until a particular window or console has focus. This activity supports a seamless user experience
from bootup, in the console and desktop environments, and through shutdown.

 We will support/coordinate the development of libraries that allow client applications to share these I/O devices. Shared access to accessibility
 related devices, such as Braille displays, reduces the cost of ownership and improves the user experience.
 These libraries should offer a generic high-level abstraction of the underlying device to allow client applications, to use those libraries
 independent of the actual hardware in use. This simplifies the development of accessibility related software by sharing commonly used code such as
 low-level driver implementations in these libraries.

3.) Keyboard Accessibility

 Persons unable to use a keyboard and mouse sometimes use alternative devices. However, many users can be accomodated programatically through software
 that causes a standard keyboard to behave differently. Many of these features and behaviors have long been available in the XKB specification
 available at http://ftp.x.org/pub/R6.4/xc/doc/specs/XKB/XKBlib/allchaps.ps.
 "Sticky Keys" is one keyboard accessibility feature provided in the XKB specification. It supports users who cannot press key combinations. For
 example, the user is unable to press the Ctrl-Alt-TAB keys simultaneously, Sticky keys allows them to achieve the same result by pressing the keys
 Individuals with mobility impairments will benefit by having such features built-in and available through standard activation strategies, such as
 tapping the Shift key five times to activate Sticky Keys. The routines provided by the API will also benefit assistive technologies such as on screen
 keyboard and screen reader applications.
 We propose to identify and adopt a subset of the XKB specification in order to provide standard keyboard features and behaviors required by persons
 with mobility impairments.
Future standardization activities already identified within the WG include improving support for magnification in console and Xwindow environments, and
providing a standard mechanism supporting numerous Text To Speech (TTS) voices in numumerous languages, yet providing a single, consistant interface to

The beneficiaries of these standards will be numerous, cutting across all sectors engaged with either providing or using technology.

 Implementations of free standards such as GNOME, KDE, and GNU software
 * * Vendors of Unix and Linux such as Red Hat Inc., Sun Micro Systems, United Linux, among others.
 * Vendors of hand-held devices, consumer and business products using embedded technologies, as well as those providing large industrial systems such
 as Hewlett-Packard Corporation, IBM Corporation, and Motorola Corporation, among others.

 Both individual consumers and institutional ones such as governmental agencies and educational institutions, many of which are now legally required to
 support accessibility.

The principle beneficiaries of FSG Accessibility Standards will, of course, be persons with disabilities worldwide. They are the reason for these
standards. It is also important to note that these benefits will be available world-wide in developing and developed nations alike because cost will
never be a barrier to anyone's participation, either as an end user or as a technical contributor.

In order to achieve the substantial consensus needed by such a standard we expect to invite between 20 and 30 individuals from industry, developer
communities, and persons with disabilities. We need to insure broad participation across all sectors of these groups worldwide, and we neded to engage
participants who would otherwise not become involved in this process. We request, therefore, funds to cover:

1.)	Travel and accomodation support for between 12-18 individuals;
2.)	Converence room, equipment, support staff, and meals
3.)	Organizational and advance expenses

Janina Sajka
Email: janina at rednote.net		
Phone: (202) 408-8175

Director, Technology Research and Development
American Foundation for the Blind (AFB)

Chair, Accessibility Work Group
Free Standards Group

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