2004 Edition Free and Open Source Software Developer's European Meeting


2004-02-10 - Bill Haneman


An interview conducted by Alain Buret
FOSDEM - First and traditional question : Please present yourself ...

Bill Haneman - I'm Bill Haneman; I currently live in Ireland and work for Sun Microsystems. I am the technical lead and 'architect' for the Gnome Accessibility Project,. I am also co-maintainer of GOK, the Gnome Onscreen Keyboard project, which is primarily designed and developed by the University of Toronto's Adaptive Technology Research Center.

FOSDEM - How and when did you start beeing involved in GOK ?

Bill Haneman - I became involved fairly early in GOK's lifecycle as a contact person for AT-SPI, the accessibility interfaces which GOK uses for many of its advanced features. I became co-maintainer about a year ago.

FOSDEM - Despite the GNOME Accessibility Project, does GOK interact with other accessibility project like brltty or something else ?

Bill Haneman - GOK doesn't interact with brltty (braille services) since its not currently targeted at blind users. However there is a patch available in CVS which makes GOK speak. Many, though not all, of GOK's features are available when using non-GNOME applications, and once the upcoming KDE bridge from Qt to ATK/AT-SPI is complete, all GOK features will be available with KDE apps too.

FOSDEM - What are the other cool things done by the GNOME Accessibility Project ?

Bill Haneman - I think the coolest things about the GNOME accessibility project is the fact that it and the assistive technologies that use it are bringing the Linux desktop to people who wouldn't otherwise be able to use it, and the fact that it's community developed and free. The gnopernicus screen reader and magnifier allows users with very limited or no vision to use gnome, for instance via speech and braille output, which is very cool. The AT-SPI interfaces, and the fact that the project is focussed on services and APIs that permeate the entire desktop from applications to toolkits, makes assistive technologies like that possible. It also means that GNOME now has a powerful application/service system built into every application; that's something that even most GNOME developers haven't really realized yet, I think. There are all sorts of applications for this that haven't been explored yet.

FOSDEM - What do you think that is still missing in the accessibility software ?

Bill Haneman - One noticeable missing element is voice command; we don't have a good voice recognition system that's Free Software except for Sphinx (CMU) which is still primarily a research system as far as I know. It would be nice for someone to try creating a voice command system for end-users based on Sphinx, so that we could build a voice command system for GNOME. We could also use Text-to-speech in more languages (with suitable licenses).

FOSDEM - Introduce in few words what you're going to talk about during your presentation ...

Bill Haneman - I'll be talking about what GOK is and how it integrates with accessibility APIs. I'll explain how it allows users who cannot use a mouse or keyboard to use desktop sottware, and also talk about how it can be extended for kiosks, used as a speech aid, and more. I also will give an overview of the GNOME Accessibility APIs and why they are needed. In my Sunday tutorial I will explain how to customize GOK for specific user needs. If there is interest I will talk about what application developers need to do to ensure that their applications are accessible to everyone.

FOSDEM - What are you expecting from your talk at FOSDEM and from the interactions with other developers present at the event ?

Bill Haneman - I hope to explore topics like 'making/keeping applications accessible' with many developers, and also talk about localization issues in accessibility, which is a topic which hasn't gotten as much attention as it deserves. I am looking forward to learning more about the uses which other developers might make of GOK and other assistive technology, and most of all I look forward to meeting more developers who would like to help make the free desktop available to everyone regardless of their physical abilities.


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