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My year so far: Koha and accessibility


I joined the Koha team at Catalyst IT in the Wellington office in January this year, as an intern. My university friend Aleisha told me about the opportunity and I jumped at the chance.

Around this time, I had just started using a white cane as an aid for my low vision.

I have always had severe myopia (short-sightedness) and was able to drive for a few years, but in the last few years my sight has deteriorated immensely and I now struggle to do simple daily tasks. I rely a lot on my partner to help me.

My partner and I were living in Hamilton when I got offered the internship in Wellington. My partner had a job that he couldn’t leave right away so I had to move to Wellington by myself.

It was a struggle living on my own as a disabled person, but it was probably one of the best things I could have ever done. I became so much more independent, confident and capable which was amazing for my mental health and self-confidence.

Starting at Catalyst – Accessibility Advocate

When I started my internship at Catalyst I was encouraged by my team to seek out other parts of the company that I was interested in. I was quite passionate about accessibility and so I became a Catalyst Accessibility Advocate.

The position of the Accessibility Advocate was to support the Accessibility Team to promote and advocate for web accessibility and accessibility in general.

During my time at Catalyst as an Accessibility Advocate, I have helped to plan and present forums, helped plan and run a series of activities on Global Accessibility Awareness Day and ran an Accessible Building Tour through Catalyst House.

I also learnt a lot about Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and what the best approach is when making websites or web content more accessible.

Starting in Koha

I wanted to use my new knowledge of web accessibility and WCAG to improve Koha.

Koha is an open source library system. The Koha community and the software is maintained by people and organisations around the world. In the Koha team at Catalyst, we host and maintain client Koha sites.

I started off by exploring Koha’s Bugzilla, the platform where Koha users can report any bugs that they discover.

Then I had a browse through the bugs and looked at some simple ones that I could comprehend. These were things such as spelling mistakes on Koha pages.

Learning how to sign off patches was the next step. This is where I would look at the small chunks of code that people had uploaded to fix the bug, and then add my “signature” to show that I think this is a good piece of code and that it fixes the bug.

I then had a look through the Koha site and took note of certain aspects of the site where the accessibility could be improved.

These accessibility issues were logged as bugs on Bugzilla.

I then wrote and submitted patches for these accessibility bugs, which is where I changed the code in Koha to fix these bugs and improve the accessibility of Koha. You can see patches in the attachments box in the bug reports.

I also presented at one of the GLAMR Wellington Meetups about accessibility in Koha and what simple things I have done to Koha to make it more accessible, and how others can use these ideas to make their own websites more accessible.

Koha Community Release Maintenance

Once I became a permanent member of the Koha team at Catalyst, I volunteered to become a Koha community Release Maintainer for the Koha 21.11 release.

I am in charge of an old version of the Koha software (19.11 branch) that came out in November 2019. My job is to keep it stable and unbroken while sometimes back-porting bug fixes that might be useful for those using Koha 19.11 version. Every month I help to release a new 19.11 package to the world. You can check out my latest 19.11 Koha blog post with release notes.

Koha client upgrades

Once I got the hang of things, I started doing minor point upgrades where I take packages that are put out by the release maintainers and apply them to our client sites on Koha so that they have the most up to date version.

This helped me to gain a better understanding of open source as I was able to be on both sides of the releases: creating the release and sharing it with the world and then using the release to put it on Catalyst Koha’s client sites.

Open source culture

I love the open source culture at Catalyst and the unique way the Koha team works, enabling me to try out many different types of work such as upgrades, developing a device booking system, customer support and learning my way around Koha. I am also lucky that my team continues to support me being an Accessibility Advocate and working with accessibility.

In addition to my amazing job and opportunities that have come along with it, this year I also graduated with a Bachelor of Science (majoring in Computer Science) from Victoria University of Wellington, I turned 25 years old, and also got engaged!

To learn more about me and my disability, you can check out my zine I was asked to create for Wellington Zinefest “Wainui’s Low Vision Algorithm” here.