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Reviewing 2016

2016’s been a bit rough around here. Three close friends have died, two from cancer and one of them in a car accident. Two of those deaths happened recently, less than a month apart, and I’m still unpacking those. But there’s also been an amazing amount of awesome this year too, and I’ll detail that below.

2016 Achievements

I haz the props!

One of the goals I set for myself in review of 2015 was to contribute code to WordPress core. In March of 2016, I received my first WordPress props, and in April of 2016 I was recognized as part of the motley crew of contributors to WordPress 4.5, otherwise known as Coleman. This was a huge achievement for me because I’ve pretty much been a WordPress evangelist in both my personal and professional lives since 2005, and it was really awesome to earn a spot on the WordPress credits page.

DictationBridge

DictationBridge, before it even had a name, began when Pranav Lal, Lucy Greco of UC Berkeley, and I started working together to discuss making a free addon for $750 just to bring a license current. I can’t be the only one in this situation, and I don’t believe anyone else should pay up to 68% of the retail price as a penalty.

In July of 2015, Chris Hofstader joined the team to take over the executive role on the effort. Together, Pranav, Chris, Lucy and I built out the amazing team of fourteen that’s bringing DB to the world.

In August and September of 2015, Pranav and Chris tried to negotiate a licensing deal with a group in Germany to use their code as the core of DictationBridge. The German group wished to maintain proprietary source code which was a deal breaker for DB, as we were committed from the start to the values of an open source project. Chris then called Mike Calvo and they negotiated an agreement that permitted Serotek to license the dictation code from its SystemAccess screen reader in a manner compatible with our philosophy that a blind or otherwise disabled person should never be forced to pay a penny more than anyone else to use the same technology. The agreement with Serotek made history as it’s the first time a vendor of proprietary closed source assistive technology software has agreed to open up its source in exchange for a very modest licensing fee.

The next bit of history we made happened when the Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired of San Francisco made an official endorsement of and large monetary contribution to the DictationBridge campaign. Quoting Brian Bashin, CEO of the SF Lighthouse, “The Lighthouse believes it has a moral obligation to support the access needs of blind and visually-impaired people wherever they live.” During the discussions between the DB team and our friends at SF Lighthouse, one of the major goals we set was to ensure that a blind person in an emerging nation could buy a cheap laptop at a flea market and have full access to dictation features built into Windows, a goal we’ve never heard expressed by a large organization in the blindness space before. By collaborating with SF Lighthouse, the DictationBridge team built what we hope to be a long standing bridge between those of us in the free software community and at least one well established advocacy organization.
The nature of the DictationBridge team is also a first of its kind in the blindness business. The team is made up of people from two businesses (3 Mouse Technology and Serotek), a number of independent contributors and a coalition of activists in the blindness and technology world. The team has a number of members for whom dictation is a requirement and not a feature and we’ve some of the strongest engineering and management talent available in the world of accessibility. Assembling an ad hoc team like this one on which everyone works toward a common goal is unprecedented in this field.

Both of these achievements helped add some awesome to a year that I couldn’t be happier to see on its way out. I haven’t nailed down next year’s plans yet, but they will definitely include more contributions to WordPress, and, hopefully, more projects like DictationBridge. With DictationBridge, we’re fast approaching the first public beta. And there’s still plenty left to do. Free software hasn’t eaten the assistive technology world yet, and this is something that can’t happen soon enough.

For right now, those are the only goals I have for 2017. I’m still working through what I want to accomplish as far as my business is concerned, and more importantly, a plan of action for accomplishing it without killing myself in the process. So for now, I’ll say a hardy goodbye to 2016, and as far as 2017 is concerned, bring it on.


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