GNOME a11y hackfest at CSUN

Last week I attended the GNOME a11y hackfest at CSUN. Despite that I am no longer funded work on Caribou, I’m still glad I went. I was able to meet all of the other people working on GNOME accessibility in person which helps motivate me to continue to work on Caribou in my spare time.

One of the more difficult aspects of working on Free Software that targets people with mobility impairments is that there tends to be a big disconnect between developers of this software and potential users. Typically, Free Software projects are started to “scratch an itch” of the founding developers. That is, the projects usually solve a problem that the developers have and the developers themselves directly benefit from the software they create. As a developer of Free Software that targets users with mobility impairments, I don’t have the traditional motivation to produce the software because I don’t benefit directly from the software that I create. More importantly, because I don’t need to use Caribou to access my computer, I don’t have a good idea of how the users should interact with it or what features need to be included to make it useful.

I tried to address this issue a little by spending a couple of hours walking around the exhibition hall during my time at the conference. It was really nice to be able to see what commercial companies are doing to serve people in the same target group as Caribou. While I don’t think this is a substitution for including users in the various stages of development, it was still useful and definitely a step in the right direction in this area.

Over the course of the week, I spent a lot of time chatting with Flavio Percoco Premoli, the author and maintainer of MouseTrap. Soon after meeting, we realised that both Caribou and MouseTrap target the same users. We had lots of discussions about how we can make our software work well together. I’m really looking forward to working with Flavio on this.

On Friday afternoon, I had the pleasure of meeting the USC team that worked on Caribou for the SS12 coding competition. It was really great to meet the students after mentoring them during the competition at the beginning of the month. They’re a really inquisitive and smart bunch of people. They had loads of questions about Caribou and accessibility in general. I had a great time answering their questions and helping them clean up the patch they submitted as a result of the competition.

A big thanks to Eitan Isaacson for all his hard work in bringing this together. Another thanks goes out to the GNOME Foundation and Mozilla for providing the funds to make this happen. I hope we can do this again next year!

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