2004 Conference Proceedings

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ECLIPSE: AN ACCESSIBLE SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENT ENVIRONMENT

Presenters
Alireza Darvishy, Accessibility and Software Consultant
Ruetihofstrasse 13
8049 Zurich, Switzerland
Phone: 0041-1-342-32-52
Email: adiy@tiscalinet.ch

Summary

Eclipse [3] is a non-commercial software development environment which offers disabled software developers access to the modern development environment without time-consuming modification to these tools.

The main focus of this paper is on computer accessibility for blind and visually impaired software developers. The most common approaches for developing software used by blind people are touched and it is shown that Eclipse presents a accessible alternative.

Introduction

Advances of technologies and support have finally come to a point in application development, that accessibility for the disabled is now possible [4]. Visually impaired and blind computer users need screen readers in order to be able to use computers. Most of these screen readers such as JAWS [5] are implemented on the Windows operating system [], while few, such as Gnopernicus [6], function on other operating systems such as Linux.

The screen readers use speech-output and/or tactile interfaces in order to convey information. Some blind and visually impaired computer users work as software developers and use various tools to develop software.

Approaches and tools used by visually impaired and blind software developers

The following list presents some common approaches to develop software as used by visually impaired and blind software developers. The list is not complete and may be extended with other methodologies.

Using command line interfaces
The traditional approach for visually impaired and blind software developers to develop software is to use command line interfaces. The program text is entered into a text file which then can be compiled and run using commands from command line user interfaces. Although this approach is often considered simple, it is batch oriented and not interactive. Debugging this type of program, especially the larger ones, is very tedious and time-consuming.

Using visual development tools
Visual development tools, as useful as they might be, are in their present state obviously not accessible for visually impaired or blind software developers. These tools can be modified using script facilities, e.g. the scripting language from JAWS [x], and thus adapted to the needs of visually impaired users. By adapting these products a blind software developer can access various windows such as browsers, etc. by using shortcut keys. Though the use of shortcut keys offers access to various windows, full access can usually not be provided. Furthermore, the adaptation of this type of software is expensive and very time-consuming.

Using the Eclipse platform
The Eclipse platform is designed for building integrated development environments (IDEs) that can be used to create applications as diverse as web sites, embedded JavaTM programs, C++ programs, and Enterprise JavaBeansTM. Eclipse has a set of guidelines and software packages for creating accessible Eclipse based software tools. Various windows (views), such as browsers, can be accessed through shortcut keys. Eclipse does not have to be adapted in order to work with screen readers. New suggestions can be made to improve accessibility of Eclipse. Guidelines and software packages should be deployed by software vendors, in order to ensure the accessibility of products (see next section).

Eclipse accessibility features

Accessibility features help people with a physical disability, such as restricted mobility or limited vision to use software products successfully. The major accessibility features of Eclipse [1] are:

Note: The Accessibility features mentioned in this section apply to the Windows operating system.

Conclusion

Accessibility for the disabled should now become a priority in application development since advances in technologies and support within operating systems have come to a point where this is possible. To ensure universal access to software environments, it is necessary to take the needs of the disabled community into consideration. Eclipse is the first step towards making modern software development environments accessible for disabled software engineers. As such Eclipse presents a good example, which should be acknowledged and developed further.

References

[1] http://download2.eclipse.org/downloads/documentation/2.0/html/plugins/org.eclipse.platform.doc.user/concepts/accessibility/accessmain.htm 

[2] http://leb.net/blinux/emacspeak_intro.html 

[3] http://www.eclipse.org 

[4] http://www.eclipse.org/articles/Article-Accessibility/accessibility.html 

[5] ttp://www.hj.com/fs_news/nr_JAWS50.asp 

[6] http://www.baum.ro/gnopernicus_what_is.html 


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