Google Summer of Code 2013: Advancing Tech for Good

By Benetech, posted on

Over the past three months, we’ve had the pleasure of working with three very talented students as a part of Google Summer of Code 2013. This is our second consecutive summer partnering with this amazing global program, which offers student developers stipends to write code for open source software projects. What’s so great about the program is that not only do the students get to work on real world, open source software development with a mentor, but the projects that participate benefit greatly from the new talent, ideas and collaboration.

The goals of Google Summer of Code are right up Benetech’s alley. In fact, “Social Change Through Technology” and “Open Over Proprietary” are two of our Seven Benetech Truths. We believe that by approaching the development of technology from a perspective of how many people it can help, not how much profit it will make, we’re working to extend the benefits of technology to all of humanity. We’re also strongly committed to open source development and are delighted by the opportunity to inspire young developers to participate in this kind of “tech for good” movement. Of course, we’re happy to leverage their great talents to create lasting social impact!

This summer, our students have been working on three pretty cool projects, contributing code that extends the functionality of tools and capabilities we provide as part of our Bookshare initiative. I’ve been mentoring Jordan Gould, a Computer Science student at the University of Western Ontario in Canada. Jordan’s project is designed to integrate MathML support—in plain terms, the capability to make math more accessible on the web—into Go Read, our free, Android-based eBook reader that people with visual impairments can use to read Bookshare content. This integration will allow us to deliver better STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) educational content to our Bookshare users on a variety of Android smartphones and tablets.

Our Engineering Consultant Meghan Larson has mentored Anuruddha Hettiarachchi, an Engineering student from the University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka. Anuruddha’s project is meant to integrate what is known as “Tecla Access” support with Go Read. Tecla is a set of tools that provide access to mobile devices for those who are unable to manipulate them due to disease or disability. The “Tecla Shield” is a switch interface that lets a person control smartphones and tablets using external switches, such as a sip and puff switch, or the driving controls of a powered wheelchair. Making Go Read Tecla-accessible will improve its usability for people who cannot read standard eBooks due to mobility impairments.

Finally, our Senior Engineer Rom Srinivasan has mentored Yashasvi Girdhar, a Computer Science student from the International Institute of Information Technology, Hyderabad, India. Yashasvi’s project is intended to extend Bookshare’s application programming interface (API) functionality. This enhancement will support the download of books with images, which, for example, are important to users who are dyslexic or have a motor related disability.

All this work is important and incredibly meaningful. With these code enhancements, we’ll be able to improve the experience of accessible reading Benetech provides to multitudes of people with print disabilities.

Check back soon for a series of blog posts from our three Google Summer of Code students where they will tell us about their summer’s work. And if you’re interested in more technical details about our students’ projects, you can find plenty of those on the Google Summer of Code 2013 website and in the project repositories below: