Putting Oracle a11y news in perspectiveFebruary 9, 2010 3:01 pm community, freesoftware
Oracle laying off GNOME contributors is certainly bad news for the project. It’s particularly bad news because Willie Walker, one of my favourite GNOME contributors, is now out of a job.
I just want to put this in perspective, though. In 2007, IBM made deep cuts in its support of GNOME accessibility, affecting contributors such as Peter Parente, Eitan Isaacson and Aaron Leventhal, who are no longer paid to work on GNOME accessibility work. The IBM cuts were perhaps deeper than those that Oracle are announcing right now (but I suspect that we’re not finished hearing bad news from Oracle). So we’ve been through this (and worse) before.
Next, it’s not all bad news on the accessibility front: other distributions are carrying a small amount of the accessibility mantle (Ubuntu, OpenSuse), with projects like MouseTweaks being funded by Canonical, the Inference lab in Cambridge has been funded for some projects (Dasher, OpenGazer (the newer development of OpenGazer is not yet available for download)) through the AEGIS project, and of course as others have noticed, the Mozilla Foundation has repeated its accessibility grant of the last two years to the GNOME Foundation, and supporting Orca is part of its accessibility roadmap. Mozilla has also funded work to port AT-SPI from Orbit to DBus, and other work on Orca and Accerciser.
So there are people who care about accessibility in GNOME, and there appears to be a potential for funding for accessibility work, for the right people with the right contacts and the right projects.
Perhaps it’s time for the GNOME Foundation to start seeking funds from government bodies, other public institutions and private funding to fund accessibility work for the greater good? I know that we’re currently raising funds for a sysadmin, and have not yet reached the level of support where we can make that position a regular fixture, but accessibility is different.
No one player is willing to put enough funding into accessibility to properly support Orca, gok, Dasher, AT-SPI, Accerciser, MouseTweaks, keyboard accessibility tools like SlowKeys and StickyKeys, and so on – but perhaps there are lots of people who are willing to support a project for a specific feature, or general stability & bug fixing work for a11y on the desktop?
If there is no commercial justification for a company like Oracle to pay two people to work full time on free software accessibility, then it’ll be a hard sell to any other company. But perhaps the GNOME Foundation could bear two full time accessibility employees with targeted grants working on a public roadmap? Raising $250,000 – $300,000 a year for accessibility from grants doesn’t sound that hard.
But then, maybe I’m nuts…