Thursday, March 3, 2011

Women at UDS-N Transcript

Interview #1: Penelope Stowe

Penelope: Yeah, this cycle with the development of unity as the new desktop...currently from the past Unity there has been no accessibility support.  Instead, with this one we're creating an entire framework.  Luke Yelavich has been moved to the accessibility team to work on this.  And so as the accessibility team, we get to coordinate all of the QA, all of the documentation and everything else so he can focus on that.  It's a big cycle and it's a big project as well.  It's not unachievable.  We don't see a problem getting it done.  It's just going to be a lot of work, a lot of time and effort.  But we're all really excited about this.  I've spent my week alternating between fear and bouncing off the walls because this is a huge chance for us.  We've never, as the Ubuntu accessibility team, had the chance before to create a whole, real working product to make Ubuntu more accessible.  And the amount of support from Canonical, from members of the community, from everyone has just been phenomenal.  And it's something that's going to be really special, and it's exciting!

Interviewer:  So how did you first get involved with Free Software, and how did you first come to Ubuntu?

Penelope:  I first got involved because I have friends who use Linux.  I'm not from a technical background.  I was an English major.  I've worked in publishing.  However, I did admittedly take a few Computer Science classes in college.  But that actually came because I already had friends who were Linux users.  And so first I started using Linux, and then started alternating with Mac OS.  And then it took a good two years using Linux before saying, "O.K. I'm going to get involved."  And I started out doing the Ubuntu Classroom team, which does classes in IRC for a whole range of users, and I got involved in the Ubuntu Women team (which encourages women to use Ubuntu).  And then what started to happen was that I got more and more involved, and the physical condition that I have started to progress and it started to be: What are the alternatives for me to be able to type?  And it turned out...I started going to people about this and they had no answers.  And I started thinking, "We're a big distribution; we have to have an accessibility team."  Everything was 3-6 years out of date.  And so I thought, "I'm just going to go ahead and take this over."  So that was 6 months ago (a little over 6 months ago).  And that's what I've been doing ever since.

Interviewer:  That's awesome.  So, can you tell us some of the specific features that will be worked on this cycle. What the starting points are.

 Penelope:  The big starting point in terms of accessibility is creating a framework that the existing Linux accessibility things such as At-Spi can then work with.  Basically it's creating something that can talk to At-Spi and that can receive information from At-Spi, but that will also talk to other things too.  This a two part thing because Unity currently doesn't have keyboard navigation support so both things will have to happen: Put in the keyboard navigation for people who need keyboard navigation vs. mouse navigation and for everyone else, and create this framework that can talk to the existing accessibility programs out there such as Orca, such as the various on screen keyboards so that things will work. 

Interviewer:  Nice.  In the last session I sat in on, you all were talking about the accessibility personas you're developing, and that seems like a cool thing to help developers.  I know that when I'm working on something I don't deliberately make things inaccessible.  But a lot of people don't have the knowledge and they make silly mistakes.  So can you tell us a bit about the personas?

Penelope: So the idea behind the personas is to create people, essentially, that can be used as use cases.  So usually you hear about personas in terms of design personas, but we want ours to be used for design for development.  So it's essentially taking it from: Well, we need accessibility to work for a screen-reader to I need my program to be accessed by John, who is blind - who is a full-time student, swims, and his life goal is to be a filmmaker.  So it gives a personality and a face and a name rather than just abstract concepts about accessibility.  Our personas are going to be totally blind, partially sighted, deaf, mobility impairment, and cognitive impairment (which, in our experience, seem to be the main or basic use cases that cover the widest range of computer users with physical or mental impairment).  

Interviewer:  That's great!  Is there anything else you'd like to say?

Penelope:  Well, thank you very much for interviewing me, and I'm really excited for this cycle!  And I'm really excited for Unity; I think it's a really exciting step for Ubuntu, and it's a really exciting step for the accessibility team!  And it's going to be a great cycle!

Interview #2: Michelle Hall

Interviewer:  O.K. I'm here with Michelle Hall at the Ubuntu Developer Summit in Orlando, Florida, and I'm going to have her talk about the charity that she and her husband established.  So take it away!

Michelle: Tell me what you'd like to know.

Interviewer: First, where did the idea come from?

Michelle: It originated with our little boy.  He has special needs; he's on the autism spectrum, and we decided that when he wouldn't let go of his daddy's computer that we needed to give him his own.  But we couldn't find something that worked for his own needs (he couldn't track the menu system).  So Michael, my husband, created this distro (i.e. Qimo) and we started working with it and then gave it to Quinn.  And we had an excellent response so we decided to take it out to the community at large.  And we've had great response!

Interviewer:  Very nice.  So we were talking, before I turned on the camera, about the traveling you and your husband have done to spread the word about what you're doing, and to help others do the same thing in their local communities.  Would you talk about this a little?

Michelle:  We traveled originally to L.A. for SCALE (the Southern California something Linux Expo).  Not this February but the previous February.  And out there we talked to a number of individuals who said, "This is a brilliant idea; what can we do to help?"  And we were picked up by a large number of press and the message was carried.  And this past year at SCALE I met a woman who had come to see me to tell me that she had taken Qimo into the Russian orphanage she works with for the Russian orphans...she's working on teaching them English, and she's using our program to help them learn English.  And hopefully get them adopted.

Interviewer:  Very Nice!  So we've been asking this general question: "What got you started in Open Source/Free Software?

Michelle:  I was dragged kicking and screaming into this.  My husband's the computer geek.  I am not.  I am not technical.  I majored in English Literature in college.  I I don't want to get into this.  No!  And then we started the charity.  And then we started getting emails from the Open Source community saying, "We want you involved...Come On!"  I resisted and resisted, and finally I met some women who were much like I am.  And finally I said. "O.K. I feel safe."  And I jumped in - into the deep end feet first but that's o.k.  And I've been involved for almost two years now, and really having a lot of fun!

Interviewer:  Very nice!  So is this your first UDS?  What do you think!?

Michelle:  I've be surprised and extremely pleased.  I expected to walk into sessions and be the only woman in the room.  I was afraid of walking into sessions that I had no clue about, but I've been really pleased.  I haven't gone into a session where I've been the only woman.  The community has been wonderful!  I haven't had any problems at all.  I've been very pleased!

Interviewer:  Well, do you have anything that you want to talk about in terms of your charity or your loco?

Michelle:  It's really simple.  If you have a computer at home, sitting in a closet, get it out, fix it up, give it to a child.  We work with at risk kids, and the letters I've gotten have been incredible.  We worked with a bunch of migrant children because we work right outside of the strawberry fields.  So we worked with these families who had incomes of $200 a month.  And the little girls would come to me and say, "We want to be teachers but we don't know how; we want to make our mommies proud and not work in the fields like they do."  So if you have a computer, don't take a sledge hammer to it.  Recycle it; give it to a child - to a little daycare that can't afford a computer.  That's all the change that we have to make.

Interview #4: Valorie Zimmerman

Interviewer:  We're here at UDS-N and I'm here with Valorie who is a documentation writing rock-star from Washington.  I really wanted to interview you because documentation is one of those unsung hero things that's really hard to do.  It's fantastic that there are technical writers willing to do that hard work.  So can you tell us a little about yourself and the work that you do?

Valorie:  O.K., I'm not a professional.  I have written in my life as a student, as a mom, in some of the jobs I've had.  My last child left home, and I felt like I wanted to get involved in the Open Source area more intensively.  I'm not a programmer in any way, or even very technical at all.  So I looked around and thought, "What's my favorite program?"  AmerRock.  The greatest music player ever.  And I wrote to the mailing list and said, "Hey your handbook is really bad; it's so old that it's unusable."  And they said, "You're right."  And I said, "Can I help?"  And they said, "You're on!"  So I ended up running the team.  So we gathered some more people...really when we started working other people just pitched in.  We have a quick-start guide done, and we're working on more technical stuff where we have screenshots of everything, explanations of every menu choice, and that sort of thing.  So I saw the end of this project approaching and thought, "Well, Kubuntu is what I use so why not ask to help in the same way?"  And they again jumped on me and said, "Our documentation writer just left so let's go!"  I haven't really learned anything yet, so I plan to tomorrow (I guess) and we're on our way.

Interviewer:  How did you originally get involved in Open Source?

Valorie: My son got tired of doing my Windows...Well I can do updates, but when things crashed he got tired of reinstalling Windows.  So he said, "Mom I think you're ready for Linux."  It's funny because I knew that he was interested in Linux.  I had bought him the 5 & 1/4 discs years ago (like a stack of 20 slack ware discs).  So I helped him get started in Linux.  He installed Mandrake years ago, and I found the Linux Chics (who were a great support).  So I didn't have to ask him for everything, and then by the time that I moved to Kubuntu, I found the Ubuntu Women (quite a few of whom had started with Linux Chics and who again became my support system).  One interesting thing, a friend who I met on My Space actually, mentioned that she'd been using Linux and I said that she should join Linux Chics.  And she said, "How do I do that?"  So I started telling her about IRC, and she didn't even know what it was.  So I helped her get onto IRC, and now she's starting Kernel development.  And so now when I have a problem guess who can help me!  So the burden is even less on my son.  So it's the circle of life I guess.  It's great!

Interviewer:  That's a  really cool story.  Yeah, I think about seven years ago I had a similar negotiation with my mom.  Maybe there wasn't much negotiating but I said, "I'm not doing this any more."  And I had her start using Debian at the time, but yeah, it made my life tons easier.  And then you're involved in the loco in Washington?  Can you tell us a bit about that?

Valorie:  Yes.  Some the people in Ubuntu Women, which is primarily a project to help women integrate into the Ubuntu community as a whole...We're not our own little thing; we're all involved in other things.  I met another person from Washington (through Ubuntu Women) and said, "Wow I heard about this concept called loco; why don't we do something?"  And so, yeah, I'm about to become one of the leaders of the loco which is still small.  We have the Seattle/Microsoft problem but we're working and we'll get there.  It's been great to meet Laura who's on the Loco Council...very helpful.  Jono Bacon...all of the people I've met have been just wonderful.  Talked to some Canonical employees.  The whole thing about UDS when they sponsored me...I sit down with a table full of people I don't know and we all introduce ourselves and start talking and it's just been a wonderful experience!  Every minute!

Interviewer:  So this is your first UDS?

Valorie:  Yes it is!  And again, the Ubuntu Women...I said, "Well I'd never be sponsored."  And they said, "Why not ask?"  And so I thought, "Why not ask?"  They could say no; they could say yes, and they said yes.  So here I am!

Interviewer:  Is there anything else you'd like to...

Valorie:  I'd like to say to the non-technical end-user: "Get involved!"  If you follow your interests, if you follow you heart, you cannot go wrong.

Interview #4: Amber Graner

     I tell people a lot of times, though now like my friends in the community, if I say this in an IRC channel, in good humor, will kick me out of the channel...I have this talk about the non-technical end-user, and I got really tired of saying that I'm a non-technical end-user.  I got tired of typing non-technical end-user.  So I started saying, "I'm an NTEU."  I'm into it; I'm not into it, and so it kind of caught on.  But it's not a I wouldn't call someone else an NTEU.  It's more like a self identifying term and it's relative.  It's a relative term.  Because all of the people I had experience with in Open Source (were people like my husband) were developers - were people who worked on Kernels, who worked on a base OS, who worked on maintaining a batch (or those type of things)...they were really skilled developers.  Well...sitting next to them and seeing their skills (my technical skills weren't like theirs) so I didn't always feel like I was technical.  Well, when you separate yourself from that group, no matter whether you installed Ubuntu yesterday, or have been involved in Open Source since the release of Linux's first Kernel, there will always be someone more technical than you and you will always have something to share with someone else.  So no matter how non-technical you think you are, you will always have something to share with someone else.  There will always be something that you can teach someone else.  While other people might say, "Well you wrote a script or you did this or you're not technical"...Well relatively speaking to who I'm surrounded by everyday I'm not the technical user.  But if you back it up a bit and I'm with my kids, or their teachers, or their friends, or my family members, I am the technical one in the room.  So it's really encouraging those people who self identify as the non-technical end-user that's important.  They are important in this technical organization.   
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