IBM scale back a11y contribution

IBM announced last week that they’re scaling back their efforts on open source accessibility projects. As one of the major contributors to this area over the past few years, they’ll certainly leave a bit of a hole if the community doesn’t rally round to help fill it. There’s often a perception that accessibility is “one of those things that Sun or IBM will take care of”, but this announcement (along with Bill Haneman, the “accessibility name” that GNOME folks may be most familiar with, recently moving on from Sun) should make it clear that it’s not the case, nor was it ever meant to be.

The Ubuntu accessibility team are doing a great job now too, but now would be a good time for anyone who writes GNOME software to re-acquaint themselves with the basic accessibility requirements and testing tools, to help spread the load somewhat.Check out this thread on gnome-accessibility-list for more reaction and thoughts on continuing to move open source accessibility forward.

2 thoughts on “IBM scale back a11y contribution”

  1. Beyond education of the community on how to make accessible software, which is a valuable skill for any developer, I don’t really agree that the community should step up to fill Sun’s shoes.

    In my mind a11y is a large and complex task that detracts community resources away from more widely used and appreciated contributions.

    I think such a task is better left in the hands of corporate enterprises who have a vested economic interest in providing the man power needed to make it happen.

    That said, I appreciate that a11y exists in Gnome and it gives me warm fuzzies to know that disabled people can use our software.

    But really, Sun didn’t pay for a11y development because it got warm fuzzies. It paid because it saw a risk to lucrative governmental contracts which require a certain level of a11y support.

    If Sun no longer has those economic drivers, then some other entity will step forward to fill that gap.

  2. The perception of accessibility as some sort of box that needs checking to satisfy governments is a problem we’ve had from the start, I think. Of course, corporations like Sun do have a vested interest in being able to sell to certain customers, but just look at the sort of people who post to gnome-accessibility-list for help– by and large they’re not government employees, just users like you and me who want to get stuff done with GNOME, but quite often can’t even install their Linux distro without assistance. There’s not much Sun or IBM can do to help there, really.

    In any case, numerous open source installation opportunities have no federal requirement for accessibility, just a practical one– if a university would rather install Windows than GNOME because it has a couple of hundred visually impaired students they need to cater for and GNOME isn’t up to scratch, we’ve just fallen another step back on the route to 10×10. If we’re all happy to take some of the credit for big wins like Extremadura, we all have to take some of the responsibility for any missed opportunities, too.

    Everyone is quite happy to make sure their applications run nicely on an N770, with its different screen size and input device, because that’s perceived as “cool”. When you couch it in terms of testing the same application with LargePrint fonts and single switch input devices though, suddenly it becomes somebody else’s problem, for some reason…

Comments are closed.