As many of you may have heard, from blogs by Eitan, Mike and Joanie, as well as an e-mail to the gnome-foundation-lists by Fernando, the Gnome a11y community is having a tough time.

I have been interacting with the a11y community for over two years now, and in that time the funding situation has never looked good. I do not wish to insult or demean companies that are no-longer involved in funding Gnome a11y. Companies and individuals have their own priorities that they must follow. Work they have done in the past on Gnome is very much appreciated by me, even if they cannot continue that work in-to the future.

That said, I believe that in the past two and a half years Gnome a11y has lost a huge amount of funding. First from IBM, which, to many peoples dismay, pulled out of a11y funding before I started work on AT-SPI. I was glad to hear that Mozilla is providing $10,000 to the Gnome foundation for a11y work. I’m extremely grateful for that, but I do not believe that Mozilla are providing the level of funding that they have done in the past. Our work on AT-SPI D-Bus has been funded jointly by Codethink, Sun, and another un-named benefactor. None of this funding is likely to continue past the end of February. All of this would seem slight were it not for the news that Oracle have let-go of important Gnome a11y community members working for the Sun Accessibility Project Office. Sun have been the major contributor to Gnome a11y, and this is a worrying signal that Oracle do not intend to continue the current level of contribution.

Assuming that Oracle do not wish to involve themselves in Gnome a11y, my back-of-the-envelope calculations indicate that we may have lost greater than $200,000 in anual funding over the last three years.

Although huge amounts of Gnome development takes place un-funded, by hackers, volunteers, users and hobbyists you would probably be surprised how much is done by folks working a 9-5. I don’t expect the figures to be the same, but as an example, 75% of kernel developers are paid by corporations for their work. The loss of the Sun Accessibility Project Office and other sources of funding will be felt very heavily by the Gnome a11y community.

Accessibility is incredibly important to the Gnome project, and not only to its users. Gnome has a fantastic, credible, accessibility story. This, to me, marks Gnome out as a class ‘A’ open-source project. Were we to lose this, it would be a turning point. In my eyes Gnome would then be a project in decline.

What can we do?

Firstly we need to go on a cohesive search for funding. The Linux Foundation has an accessibility group that I have been involved in for a long time. This seems to me the best place to combine our efforts in the great funding drive. Funding channeled through the Linux Foundation would not be Gnome specific, but cross desktop a11y technology is what we have long been striving for.

Ideally enough funding would be found to hire someone to work full time on Linux Desktop accessibility.

Outside of the search for cash all Gnome developers need to spend more time on accessibility. Its not always easy to make ones application accessible, and I’m sure it can seem daunting. There are still a11y community members ready to help out though. All is not lost. 🙂 I’m damn near certain that we are going to pull together. Gnome 3.0 will have the same great accessibility that has made me proud of past Gnome releases.