Earlier this month, I attended the GNOME accessibility hackfest at the AEGIS conference. My goal was to start planning the accessibility user help for GNOME 3.0. The documentation team often doesn’t understand the needs of users of accessible technologies, and understanding user needs is the first step to writing good help.
I got Joanie Diggs started working on Orca help, and Brian Nitz on Accerciser help. I led them through the basics of planning topic-oriented help and helped them revise their plans. It’s always interesting to teach people topic-oriented help with Mallard, and to see what they grasp quickly and what needs more explanation. It helps me develop my ability to teach people to write.
I also got a much clearer sense of how we should work accessibility information into our desktop and application help. The entire team helped me understand what types of information users might be looking for. For example, Joanie mentioned keyboard shortcut reference pages as something that will often be useful to users of accessible technologies.
This led us to a feature idea for Mallard and Yelp. Joanie wondered if it would be possible to aggregate the keyboard shortcut references from across the desktop. This is basically remixing Mallard pages into a new document, which is entirely doable. But in this case, we want to do it dynamically. And for that, we need a tagging system. I once blogged about tags for faceted navigation, and I think those would work for this kind of use as well. This probably not 3.0 material (unless Phil Bull asks for it, because Phil always gets the backburner features he asks for). But it’s a potentially powerful feature that’s made possible by Mallard’s design.
I also watched demos that gave me a better appreciation of the kinds of needs some people have. Tools like screen readers and magnifiers have high visibility, but there are so many other accessible technologies aimed at people with lots of different needs. All GNOME developers should have the chance to see this stuff first-hand.
On a personal note, I left my wallet in a taxi. Brian Nitz and Mario Sanchez Prada spent two hours with me at the hotel where I picked up the taxi, hoping that the same cabbie would come back there to wait for customers. He didn’t, but Mario heroically talked to every single cabbie that stopped there. End result: my wallet was recovered the next day, minus 30€. Thanks, Mario. You’re my hero.