[Accessibility] NSF Proposal Draft #3

Janina Sajka janina at rednote.net
Tue Dec 9 11:47:24 PST 2003

Executive Summary

The Accessibility Workgroup of the Free Standards Group (FSG) requests
funding of [$xx,xxx] from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to convene a
face-to-face meeting of invited experts to develop an engineering agenda for
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).
In addition to a consensus on accessibility standardization, this agenda is
expected to promote future collabrative research that should provide
multiple, interoperable, hetro- genious accessibility products.

The beneficiaries of the accessibility standardization activity which will
be set in motion by this meeting are numerous, cutting across all sectors
engaged with either providing or using technology and include:

 * 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. However, 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 standards 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 need,
particularly, 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

About Us

Best known today for the industry supported Linux Standards Base (LSB), the
mission of the Free Standards Group (FSG), a standards body recognized by
The Joint Technical Committee 1 (http://www.jtc1.org), is published at the
FSG's web site, http://www.freestandards.org, and says:

   The Free Standards Group develops and makes freely available
   standards, tools and compliance testing, which allows open source as well
   as commercial 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 platform.

The Accessibility Workgroup within the FSG was approved by the FSG Board of
Directors in September 2003 with a mission to:

   develop and promote free and open accessibility standards to enable
   comprehensive universal access to computer systems, applications, and

The Accessibility WG will 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.

Why Accessibility Standards Are Needed

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.

Why an International Conference is Needed

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 occur.

Year One standardization activities of the Accessibility WG are described in
the Appendix to this request. 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 applications


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

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

"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 sequentially.

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.

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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