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31 August 2011, 11:17

TransferSummit: Accessibility adoption expands in open innovation

by Steve Lee and Sally Khudairi

In this, the third in a short series of articles introducing some of the topics which will be discussed at the upcoming TransferSummit in Oxford, Steve Lee and Sally Khudairi discuss the importance of accessibility solutions and the benefits of an open-source-based approach to such technologies.

For many, making ICT systems, software, and content accessible to people with disabilities is no longer an option, but rather a necessity, and, in some instances, a legal requirement. With the growing adoption of open source in mission-critical solutions, developing proper accessibility (“a11y”) solutions requires an understanding of the key issues, techniques, technologies and communities to ensure that innovations reach as many users as possible.

The future of computing hinges on bridging social gaps, and incorporating universal design concepts across a range of situations and devices ensures that all users will benefit, whether disabled or not. The World Health Organisation's estimate of one in seven individuals having a form of disability such as blindness, deafness, restricted movement, visual impairments, age-related deterioration, or learning difficulties, means that meeting their requirements is paramount to their interaction with computer technology, particularly as it becomes a more pervasive part of everyone's daily lives.

As such, not only is accessible design good for humanity, it makes good business sense.

Organisations that embrace open development techniques to enhance innovation and increase sustainability are also often considering open innovation as a way to accelerate user-centered accessibility and reach new end users.

Having accessible solutions that leverage open innovation and open-source-based technologies – open a11y – is a great goal for those seeking to gain a competitive edge. But getting there can seem like a case of finding a needle in a haystack: from determining the most appropriate solutions to use, discovering new research and products, separating the hype from the promise in emerging innovations, to fine-tuning the options available within a rapidly growing industry.

There is an increasing demand for a broad range of innovative accessibility solutions: seamless bridging of operating systems with the desktop, enhanced assistive technologies (on-screen keyboards, screen readers, speech synthesisers, integrated head-eye motion detectors to use as pointing devices), significantly finely-tuned user interfaces and experiences (UI/UX), and improved web accessibility (web site/browser/desktop/assistive technology/collaboration). This increase dovetails with the "technology trend du jour"; creating opportunities for enterprise mobility to evolve into enterprise-grade portable solutions. The mobile cloud goes global, reinforcing how established accessibility standards and best practices benefit developer and user communities alike.

Open a11y – now what? How do we navigate that haystack?

On 7-8 September, attendees from the administrative, research, government, and private sectors will come to TransferSummit for intelligent conversation on the opportunities and implications of open source across technologies, industries, and innovations. This year’s theme, “Open Innovation Everywhere”, dovetails open development, collaboration and innovation with due diligence, procurement, and total cost of ownership of open source mobile solutions.

This provides an ideal opportunity to explore some of the most salient open innovation and accessibility issues faced in the rapidly accelerating mobile space. With more than 55 million tablets projected to be sold this year and more than one billion smartphones expected by 2013, today's challenge is to ensure that accessibility transitions successfully from the desktop to new technology such as communication and universal data access. The need to support a wide variety of devices and interaction methods, combined with the sharply rising times to market, magnifies the challenges faced.

Highlights include presentations by Mozilla's Accessibility QA Marco Zehe on "Building accessibility through large ecosystem innovation", eBay's Tester-at-Large Julian Harty on "Providing mobile accessibility through collaboration", and the Open Gadget Playtime, featuring a number of open technology devices that showcase how open innovation can provide new ways of interacting with technology. Examples include eViaCam, used for alternative access to technology, and the Tekla device that allows mobile devices to be operated by people with very limited physical movement.

Co-author and open a11y expert Steve Lee oversees TransferSummit's accessibility-oriented content and programmes. He will be leading numerous discussions pertaining to the opportunities presented by open innovation and collaboration as they relate to the accessibility community. In "Community Anti-Patterns", Lee will also share strategies, advice, and lessons learned on nurturing the diverse and healthy communities integral to effective open innovation.

Communities drive the development, adoption, and proliferation of standards and methodologies, often spearheading education programs and products that engage users and drive future innovations. By attracting as many users as possible and engaging those users by supporting their contributions, the a11y community at large benefits by actively participating with other projects that, in turn, develop new accessibility products and solutions.

The opportunity to become involved in the myriad projects and communities that create tools of value for users of all abilities is ongoing. We look forward to you joining us at TransferSummit and contributing to the dialogue.

TransferSummit-at-a-Glance: 7-8 September 2011/Keble College, Oxford, UK

The enterprise-research forum allows participating researchers and IT executives an intimate setting to address the requirements, challenges, and opportunities in the use, development, licensing, and future of open source technology. Places are limited to 300 to give delegates the chance to learn, debate, and share with open source influencers in a highly interactive environment. Ample networking opportunities and special events include break-out sessions, “Best of British” gala dinner, Beers/Birds of a Feather, hands-on Open Gadget Playtime, and more.

For registration and the latest event updates, visit and follow @TransferSummit and the #TS11 hashtag on Twitter.

About Steve Lee: Steve Lee is co-founder and Accessible Technologies Programme Lead of OpenDirective. He is an active member of several open accessibility communities, including Mozilla, GNOME and Ubuntu. In addition, he is a member of the BCS Disability Group, technical consultant for the Drake Music Project and StraightStreet symbols, contributor to Ability Magazine, and board member of Project:possibility. Prior to OpenDirective, Steve was with Oxford University Computing Services' OSS Watch, the open source advisors to the UK Higher and Further Education sector, and Senior Software Developer at Exeter College, where he developed MIS Intranet systems. His latest interests include bringing open innovation to assistive technology software; developing various techniques for customising 'off-the-shelf' software to meet individual accessibility needs; and how open collaborative communities can involve disabled and older people. Mobile and cross platform web technologies are of particular interest.

About Sally Khudairi: Active in the web since 1993, Sally Khudairi is the publicist behind some of the industry's most prominent standards and organisations. The former deputy to Sir Tim Berners-Lee and long-time champion of collaborative innovation, she became involved with The Apache Software Foundation (ASF) in 1999, and was elected its first female and non-technical member. Sally is chief executive of luxury brand communications consultancy HALO Worldwide, vice president of ASF marketing and publicity, co-chair of ApacheCon, and advisor/co-producer of TransferSummit.

The H is proud to be a media sponsor of TransferSummit 2011.

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