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Thank you Joanie!

October 12, 2011

Last Thursday we had a wonderful visit from Joanie Diggs, one of the leads on the GNOME A11y team and maintainer of the Orca screen reader. Joanie was with us morning and night and provided us all with a great foundation in development for the visually impaired user.

I’ve got a subset of students who are working on a video magnification project for low-vision users and another group of students working on making accessibility modifications to the XFCE project. Joanie started in the morning by providing us with an introduction to user needs for low vision folks and blind folks. She showed us the different kinds of vision loss that users may experience and talked about the approaches for supporting enhanced viewing both on paper and how the approaches translate to computer usage.

We learned that the video magnification may be more complex than anticipated (no big surprise 🙂 ). Creating the proper magnification for the various different types of low vision (acuity, scope, etc.) may require different kinds of magnification. Joanie also talked about the goals of the software and provided us with some really good qualitative requirements including:

  • maximize visual efficiency
  • minimize eye strain
  • maximize working efficiency including:
    • reading and writing print
    • using software

Joanie also emphasized that users’ needs change based on content, environment, fluctuating vision and that users may need to use a combination of approaches.

Joanie came back in the evening when lots of good pizza was eaten. She gave us a crash course in Accerciser and event monitoring. She also got students and I up and running on the developemnt platforms on several different Linux distros. Two of Western New England’s Office of Information Technology folks showed up. Kevin Gorman, Director, Technical Support and Services, Information Technology Group, and Pete Szaban, Computer Graphics/Network Analyst/Technician, Information Technology Group were incredibly helpful by aiding in installation and debugging issues. Towards the end of the evening we talked about how to approach development for both projects and we spent some time talking about the various options for supporting video magnification. All of this was very helpful for both getting us started with the technologies, as well as exposing students to FOSS development practices.

So a big thank you to Joanie for providing us with both an understanding of the needs of blind and low vision users, as well as for giving us a solid start in FOSS development. We welcome your return any time!

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