By Mike Gifford

April 10, 2013

We were successfully able to raise the funds to bring Vincenzo to DrupalCon. Thanks everyone, was a great community effort!

I first encountered @falcon03 in the Drupal 8 issue queue in September of 2012. At that point I didn't know why he was interested in accessibility issues or what, if anything, he had to contribute to the discussion.  With the Drupal 7 Core issue queues, over 400 people have participated in the discussions, patches and tests. Most are active on just a couple issues out of the many that were tagged with accessibility. A few of the participants, like Jason Kiss, had extensive accessibility experience. However, it was always a challenge to know if an individual has a disability or just thinks it is the right thing to do.

As @falcon03 got more involved in more issues, I reached out to bring him further into the Drupal community and learned that Vincenzo is a blind high-school student from Italy who is still not very comfortable with English. I was definitely surprised by this, considering the work I'd seen thus far.

We were able to bring Vincenzo in briefly on Skype for Drupal A11ySprint organized by Everett Zufelt in Toronto. It was pretty successful with a great cast of techies including Angie Byron, Jesse Beach, Elle Waters, Louis St-Amour and a collection of folks from My Planet Digital, who sponsored it. It's always brutal to try to bring someone into a code sprint via Skype, but Vincenzo hung in and was able to participate in a minimal level from Italy for some of the Sprint. 

Since that time Vincenzo has continued to open new issues and test existing patches with JAWS and VoiceOver.  More importantly, he's started contributing his own patches to Core and doing code reviews. It's been amazing to see his progress over the last few months (all while cramming for exams and preparing to go to university in the fall). 

I always encourage everyone to go to DrupalCamps and DrupalCons as they are a great experience of the Drupal community. Aside from being an important learning experience, they are a unique opportunity to connect with people over a coffee or lunch that you might otherwise only see in the issue queue. I'd hoped to help Vincenzo organize to go to DrupalCon Prague as that would be amazing (and closer), but the timing didn't work for him – but Portland does. Unfortunately, he didn't get a scholarship. I must say that the list of folks who did get scholarships is impressive, but I still wanted to find some way to bring Vincenzo along. 

So I worked with him to set up the following Kickstarter like campaign on Indiegogo: "Allow me to attend Drupalcon Portland 2013".  It is no small feat for any blind person to navigate a system with lots of accessibility issues in it (like Indiegogo.com) and create a video appeal as part of the campaign. We haven't added a caption for it yet, but an RTF file of his presentation is now available.

It's been quite neat to see this campaign grow and have people around the world contribute what they can afford to help bring him to DrupalCon. In less than a week he's raised over 1/4 of his target of $5000. We're learning a lot through this process, but really wonderful to see the generosity of this community doing what they can to support him with donations as little as $3 and as large as a DrupalCon conference ticket (Thanks Palantir.net).  Most of the donations have been between $25 and $50 so far.

The larger question for me though is how do we make it easier for the organizations who are using Drupal to contribute back to it. Especially on the subject of accessibility, it's very rare to find someone who thoroughly understands accessibility challenges, and also is intimately familiar with the challenges of a content management system. It's even more rare to find someone with these skills who is willing to invest their limited time to a project like this. 

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of organizations who need to make their websites WCAG 2.0 AA compliant, who are leveraging Drupal to help them meet this difficult goal. There are a few individuals who I know personally, (thanks Paul Jackson and Colan Schwartz), who have contributed to accessibility issues. However, I'm quite confident that Vincenzo's contributions are already greater than everything that's been contributed by all government agencies around the world combined. Although they have a much smaller budget, many organizations who support people with disabilities are using Drupal, and none of the non-profits who are using Drupal have contributed anything back.

So many organizations are stricken with a scarcity mentality, which is in many ways irrelevant on the Internet. When one person can have such a huge impact, how does it make any sense that an entity as large as the Government of Ontario (which is using Drupal and has strong accessibility legislation) does not?

By Jesse Payne
Working recently with an accessibility focus group has provided some very useful insight into areas where we can make some quick accessibility improvements to Drupal 7. Amongst several other similar improvements in terms of Aria related attributes, we have come to the conclusion that adding aria-describedby to form field elements will help with providing context between form elements and their descriptions. Without context, form field descriptions are confusing.