Grain of Salt

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An Open Letter to Oracle on the Topic Of Accessibility

Dear Oracle:

You don’t know me, so please permit me a brief introduction: I’m Joanie. By day, I’m an assistive technology specialist working with individuals who are blind or visually impaired. By night, weekend, and holiday for almost four years now, I’ve been a GNOME community contributor working primarily on the Orca screen reader, a project led by Sun’s Accessibility Program Office.

Working with the engineers at Sun, both inside and outside of the APO, has been an honor for a variety of reasons, not least of which is our shared common belief: Access isn’t a privilege; it’s a right. Towards that end, Sun Microsystems strived to ensure that ALL users have access to software and information.

Does Oracle plan to do the same?

Sun Microsystems believed that these things shouldn’t be denied to those who aren’t employed, or who don’t live in the “right” country, or who don’t speak the “right” language, or who cannot afford to purchase thousands of dollars’ worth of access technology.

What does Oracle believe?

Through its significant, ongoing contributions to the GNOME desktop, Sun Microsystems has made computer access possible for many individuals with disabilities, from all walks of life, all over the world.

Will Oracle embrace the opportunity to continue this important work?

My assumption was yes. In fact, I was feeling quite hopeful. After all, the past few years have been hard on Sun. But with Larry Ellison’s promise of increased investment in the Sun brand, and Oracle’s strong commitment to accessibility, things would finally be turning around: If one under-funded APO could accomplish everything that it has, what could the two combined and properly-funded APOs achieve? At the very least we’d be able to finally get a handle on all of the accessibility challenges facing GNOME 3.

I was wrong. 🙁

Last week, Oracle laid off two more members of Sun’s already-decimated APO. One of those let go happened to be both the Orca project lead and the GNOME Accessibility project lead, Willie Walker. I truly hope this was an oversight on Oracle’s part, and one that will be rectified very soon. Because if it is not, and if no other company steps forward to continue this work, the accessibility of the GNOME desktop will become the open source equivalent of an unfunded mandate, doomed ultimately to fail.

Oracle’s decision threatens to leave many individuals with disabilities around the world without access to a modern desktop environment. I find that tragic.

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