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FOSS and Disabled Communities Out of Touch 263

Posted by Zonk
from the cross-talking dept.
Yinepuhotep writes "Newsforge has a thought-provoking article on the lack of communication between the FOSS community and disabled persons." From the article: "How can the FOSS community address the issues of the disabled? The most urgent task is to improve documentation. Perhaps you can make it a personal goal to be able to configure your favorite FOSS tool blindfolded while someone reads your improved instructions aloud. Your local LUG could organize ways to connect volunteers to assist disabled users with installations. Be sure to contact local disability rights groups to let them know what you're doing. They may also be able to provide more feedback about needs in your community."
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FOSS and Disabled Communities Out of Touch

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  • FOSS and Disabled Communities Out of Touch

    The article headline is a bad joke, right?

  • by im_thatoneguy (819432) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @02:46AM (#14951172)
    This is definitely a challenge for all developers world wide. However, this is nothing new, or unique to FOSS, just an old problem approached from a new perspective.

    As mentioned in the article, this leads back to an earlier Slashdot news post, on the Consistency/Efficiency debate.

    I would be inclined to lean towards consistency myself, and side with the disabled folks, but how can you create new and exciting platforms while still being maintaining familiarity. If you ask me, the web is an excellent case study in creating exciting new products, while simultaneously establishing conventions.

    Perhaps this article shouldn't be taken as a call to turn all of the FOSS software into retail clones, but to concentrate on bringing innovative features, while still maintaining a consistant and familiar interface.
    • by CarpetShark (865376) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @04:24AM (#14951316)
      This is definitely a challenge for all developers world wide. However, this is nothing new, or unique to FOSS, just an old problem approached from a new perspective.


      Yes. However, what surprises me is that the Free Software community doesn't have stronger ties with community-centric organisations such as voluntary groups, human rights groups, etc. They're really natural allies, considering the ethical concerns that both groups take seriously etc.
      • Hey, at least Linux is friendly to deaf people. My girlfriend is deaf, and she can do everything on it. We have closed captioning in Xine and MPlayer (and players based on those two engines), flashing bells, and everything else can be visual. She enjoys using it and says Linux is more accomodating to her than Windows ever was. She's glad she can watch DVD's with closed captioning in Kaffeine (and not subtitles--REAL closed captioning).

        Then again, I know that there are many deaf programmers out there who we
  • by killjoe (766577) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @02:46AM (#14951174)
    Can a blind person install and configure windows, iis, SQL server, exchange, and active directory?

    Once your favorite OSS tool is installed can a blind person use them?

    How about other types of disabilities? How about if a person is blind and deaf? Or is missing both arms? Or is a quadrapeligic? How do we help them install and use linux?

    It seems to me that you have to draw the line someplace. If somebody wants to put forth the effort then great but honestly why don't we concentrate on getting the documentation so that a reasonably intelligent non disabled person can use it first. Then we can worry about the blind.

    In the mean time if a blind person wants to run linux please have them contact their local LUG, I am pretty sure somebody would step up to the plate. Another option might be to buy a pre-installed linux machine, lots of companies sell them.
    • by murr (214674) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @03:10AM (#14951211)
      an a blind person install and configure windows, iis, SQL server, exchange, and active directory?

      I don't know about that, but MacOS X (starting with 10.4) is designed to be installable by a blind person.

      • Ok, what then? What about installing photoshop or oracle or apache?
        • Thats what OS X has a built in screen reader for.
      • by powermacx (887715)
        Tiger's (OS X 10.4) VoiceOver is indeed very useful. I'm not blind, but I had to go on for several days without a monitor after a power surge killed my CRT. Luckily I remembered the key combo to activate VoiceOver, and for a few days I used my Mac "blind", and was able to send and receive emails, even to the point of arranging my next monitor purchase thru it.
    • If somebody wants to put forth the effort then great but honestly why don't we concentrate on getting the documentation so that a reasonably intelligent non disabled person can use it first. Then we can worry about the blind.

      /me bows down

    • by Eivind (15695)
      First: no. A blind person has significant problems doing all of those things.

      I don't think that's a very good excuse though: "sure we suck, but the other guys do too."

      Fact is, a blind person can still both hear and read. Linux has some base advantage here, because everything can be acomplished from a command-line, and face it, if you're blind it's a lot easier to do "cp a b" than it is to point at the tiny picture and drag it to the othe tiny picture, then let go.

      It's usually not that hard to make a p

    • by TheFlyingGoat (161967) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @04:25AM (#14951321) Homepage Journal
      Other than configuring Windows, all the other examples you give are server administration related. While there are people with certain disabilities that are system administrators, most have already solved many of the issues they'll face in that field. Many are only partially disabled or have the proper equipment to deal with the situations they'll come up against.

      I believe more important is that the OSS community focus on making user software accessible to people with disabilities. Gnome focuses on this quite a bit. Firefox has done a decent job by including mouse gestures. There's still plenty of room for improvement, however.

      My wife works as an occupational therapist and I spoke with her about this a few months ago. She said that most popular Windows software is pretty well designed for people with handicaps (customizable menus, font sizes, color schemes, layout, etc). She hasn't worked with many linux programs, so she couldn't provide much of a comparison, but your comments are why disabled people might not choose linux over Windows. Just like most users, they just want software that works for them. If the software needs to be designed slightly better to work for them, then where's the harm in trying to improve it?
      • "She hasn't worked with many linux programs, so she couldn't provide much of a comparison, but your comments are why disabled people might not choose linux over Windows."

        That's fine. I say let's not worry about the disabled people until we get the corporations to adopt linux on their desktop. That's the prize. Get the corporations and the hardware manufacturers will write drivers. Get the corporations and the rest will follow.

        "Just like most users, they just want software that works for them. If the softwar
        • by BlueStrat (756137) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @06:30AM (#14951530)
          WHere is the harm? You just stated the harm. Every minute and every dollar spent making linux work for the blind is a minute not spent making linux work better for the average user.

          Actually, that's not quite true. One of the major bullet points for large corporations these days is complying with the myriad disabled worker regulations they must comply with regarding accessibility, etc.

          Having a company workstation OS that can be configured for a disabled worker is a big plus, and would help adoption by the large corporations. My point being that improving accessibility for the disabled is a win-win, for both the corporations and disabled individuals.

          Not saying that it would cause immediate migration or anything, but it *would* be a plus.

          Strat
          • by biglig2 (89374)
            Indeed, if you look at this Massachusetts case - where the state IT people wanted to insist on open standards for documents - the arguments used against were not that this was a bad idea in itself, but that all the standard accessibility apps they used targeted MS Office. (Either they didn't work with alternatives or did work with reduced function set.)

            Now, places like Government where they need to know that they will always be able to open their documents are low lying fruit for FOSS software, anything th
      • by hcdejong (561314) <hobbesNO@SPAMxmsnet.nl> on Sunday March 19, 2006 @08:53AM (#14951726)
        She said that most popular Windows software is pretty well designed for people with handicaps (customizable menus, font sizes, color schemes, layout, etc). She hasn't worked with many linux programs, so she couldn't provide much of a comparison, but your comments are why disabled people might not choose linux over Windows. Just like most users, they just want software that works for them. If the software needs to be designed slightly better to work for them, then where's the harm in trying to improve it?

        Interestingly, most of these items would benefit non-handicapped people just as much. Too many programs rely on a limited set of assumptions.

        One example I've come across: the assumption that a monitor has 72 dpi resolution. In Windows, you can resize the standard UI elements to be usable on monitors with a higher resolution, but applications that use nonstandard UI widgets all too often ignore this setting. Winamp is an example of how it shouldn't be done: it's tiny on my 21" monitor running at 1600x1200. Photoshop palettes suffer from the same problem.
    • by babbling (952366) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @04:53AM (#14951364)
      The thing is, if you make everything clean enough to be used by users with disabilities, the entire system ALSO becomes more usable for regular users, usually.

      A good example is webpages. Having them be standards compliant is important for users with disabilities. The standards compliance also helps regular users on text-based browsers, and regular users in general.
    • It seems to me that you have to draw the line someplace.

      A common mistake is to treat disabled users as a separate group. In fact, disability is something that affects most people at some time in their life and disabled users (with varying disability) will exist in all target groups you can come up with for your OSS project. Instead, focus on standardization. In this way you will enable assistive technologies such as screen readers, magnifiers and braille displays to make the most out of your application.

    • It seems to me that you have to draw the line someplace.

      Yes you do, but it seems to me that right now it's drawn far too far this side of anywhere that's useful for disabled people.

      If somebody wants to put forth the effort then great but honestly why don't we concentrate on getting the documentation so that a reasonably intelligent non disabled person can use it first. Then we can worry about the blind.

      You do realise that it most cases, getting documentation usable for a blind person will automatically make
      • I think he's referring to the state of documentation content, rather than format or accessability: Let's get good, solid documentation that is concise, relevant, and doesn't require advanced knowledge to understand, and then we'll worry about ensuring it's accessable to everyone and anyone.

        In my opinion, adding the additional onus of ensuring complete accessability to writing documentation would simply degrade the quality of the documentation for most OSS apps I've used even further. Documentation, as much
    • There are so many bigoted assumption in these statements, it is beyond sad. To wit
      don't we concentrate on getting the documentation so that a reasonably intelligent person can use it first. Then we can worry about the blind.
      Which I will rephrase as
      don't we concentrate on getting the documentation so that a reasonably intelligent person can have a good first time user experience. Then we can worry about the security.
      Or In the mean time if a blind person wants to run linux please have them contact their
    • Traditionally, when someone demands a feature in an open source project, they're told they can download the source code and add it themself.
  • ... poke an OSS developer in the eyes today!
  • Just FOSS? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by odano (735445) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @03:04AM (#14951200)
    How well does commercial software meet the needs of the disabled? I think all software needs to be updated, but surely it isn't just FOSS developers that are out of touch with the needs of the disabled.
  • by klasikahl (627381) <klasikahlNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Sunday March 19, 2006 @03:20AM (#14951226) Journal
    dmwaters, a really cool blind lady, is an IRCop on Freenode. I wonder what she'd have to say about the article.
    • Oh, and she's also a Gentoo dev. How could I forget?
      • I'm doing some sysadmin work with a blind guy from Florida and his capability is staggering. We use the same brand and model of notebook. We both run Gentoo. He had a problem with his alsa drivers the other day so I mailed him my /etc/modules.d/alsa file and he was able to fix his setup. He used to run a large site that managed a bunch of web cams in the Bahamas. He's on Skype. And so on and so forth.

        I've never met him since I live several time zones away but if I didn't know he was blind I would never have
  • larger problem (Score:3, Insightful)

    by a.d.trick (894813) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @03:21AM (#14951229) Homepage
    It's not just FOSS. The computer world as a whole has largely ignored them. There have been several notible attempts to make them equals (the W3C for example), but the problem is that software interface people are 1) generally not disabled and do not understand what it is like to be disabled, and 2) generally aren't even experts at all, but tossed in from the software development or marketing department. As a result they're often clueless about accessability (hell even usability is a serious problems in many cases).

    This isn't limited to FOSS. For a perfect example, see Netscape.
  • by nickgrieve (87668) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @03:21AM (#14951230) Journal
    The FOSS community has enough trouble getting things working for the able bodied let alone the disabled...

    rimshot

    thanks, I am here all week... tip your waitress...
    • killjoe actually has that angle pretty well covered, and managed to get upmodded insightful for it. Perhaps if you're said it seriously, and added a few details about Linux on the desktop, you'd have gotten something that would improve your karma (on Slashdot).

      It might hurt your actual karma though, so, be forewarned.
  • by onesadcookie (621500) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @03:22AM (#14951233) Homepage
    It strikes me that the open-source community is, by and large, an "every man for himself" environment. People create software that helps them solve the problems they have; they fix issues in that software that affect their usage of it. To a certain extent the highly organized, high-participation projects can alleviate that, but even there, if there's a dearth of volunteers for a particular task, what're the chances it'll actually get done?

    That's not to say that all accessibility enhancements must be made by the disabled; there are of course a few charitable developers out there who'd be willing to take on these tasks for the greater good, and there are the friends and relatives of the disabled, who are in some sense "closer to the front line"... Realistically (or perhaps cynically) though, unless capable open-source developers are suffering without it, or unless someone sits down and pays for the development of it, the accessibility of open-source software is always going to be a low priority.

    Don't like it? Do something about it yourself, or create a charitable foundation to pay for other people to. Such is capitalism, and such is human nature.
  • So true. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pimpsoftcom (877143) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @03:28AM (#14951238) Journal
    I'm what the state calls "Visually Disabled". Some people would rather just say I'm retarded, or even "useless". All are terms I often hear, despite the fact that I was born normal with better then 20/20 eyesight.

    Like it or not there is a large rift between the needs of the disabled and the people willing to take the extra time to address it. Disabled people, no matter the affliction, all have the same problem today: Only the people who need the extra interface flexibility are the ones interested in doing anything about it. And 99% of the time, they still cant because what they need is required to be able to build that very same system. Its a recursive dependency.

    We need a better focus on software based voice systems. Speech recognition, and yes better generation, it all needs to be there and sound good and be fast doing it. And yes, sounding good matters. I always laugh when I hear (google for festival, flite, blind linux) people talk about "eye candy" or "improved frame rates". They dont matter, and its just useless junk to me and others who lack the visual functions to care about how crisp the screen looks; What I and every other visually disabled person wants is "Ear Candy", the type of synthed voice that sounds like she or he really exists, so we dont get fed up with listening to that horrible robot voice all day and go crazy.

    One thing that most people dont understand as well is that most of us who are disabled in any way at all are dirt poor. It could be from medical bills, the lack of the ability to even work because of our disability, the fact that to most we are seen as less then human so people dont want to hire us for work we can do, or any number of other reasons. The fact is, most of us do not have much money and have a lot of free time on our hands. We could be open sources greatest contributors if the OOS community cared enough to do the things we cant to help us make the tools we need. Once our hungry minds have the option, you have no idea how much we will use it.

    I'm very lucky. I worked as a independent consulted for 5 years, taught myself as much as I could while I still had better eye sight then I do now in my "good" eye, and make sure to keep lights dim or off when I dont have to worry about a sightie needing more light to function so I dont get eye strain or migraines that could keep me from working due to my photo sensitivity. I made a living with Linux offering support, administration services, and my skills as a code monkey against all odds for 5 years, before my current job, because I did not give up. Many of my fellow disabled did not have the chance to use even that much sight, or did not get the time I did at a young age to learn things the "normal" way before my accident. That gave me a slight advantage, as now I know both worlds.

    Most of us dont have that. But then again most people dont understand, they cant. So everybody reading this, pick a day out of the week and go to bed the night before wearing a blindfold. Wake up with it still on and go through just one day without your ability to see. At all. Then maybe you will get a hint of what it is like for us, OOS's most eager and unwelcome members. And I say only a hint as that is all you will get; Because the first time you fall down, bump into something and break soemthing, want to cook a meal or need to take a piss, the first thing your going to do is take that blindfold off. Just remember that many do not have that option.
    • I read most your post and see what you're saying and agree to an extent.

      I'm disabled in the sense that I have very tight muscles and can't walk for more than an hour. While it's not going to cripple my life, it does mean that I'll never be able to play sports at the level of most people and I'd end up crawling before I finished even quarter of a marrathon.

      Now I accept these are my limits.. and to an extent (I know this is a very mean thing to say but..) some disabled people need to accept that computers may
      • Now I accept these are my limits.. and to an extent (I know this is a very mean thing to say but..) some disabled people need to accept that computers may just not be useable on there own at this stage. Most abled bodied people will full vision have trouble typing, finding stuff and such. How are you ment to teach a person who can't see the keyboard or the screen how to use a PC? It's like trying to build an IKEA bed in the dark.. Extremely difficult.

        Blind people have been using computers for years. There

      • But back to my point. Most people really won't help you guys out, they have no idea what it's like to be you (and honestly nor do I). They hopefully never will have to exprience your lives, but this also means they arn't willing to go out of their way to help you, unless you can show them a way to help without being them much trouble.

        You obviously don't have what it takes to be an OSS developer if you aren't willing to learn new techniques that help others. A lot is said about the "scratch an itch" motiva

      • Re:So true. (Score:3, Interesting)

        by colmore (56499)
        Man, you're really talking out of your ass, aren't you?

        Blind people have been using computers since day one. It's only modern GUIs that cause problems. Furthermore, while computer use might seem like a luxury to you, computers are a requirement for nearly every job a blind person could reasonably be expected to do.

        I'm sorry about your muscle problems, but leading into your diatribe with them as a way of making your readers think you have some sort of special sympathy for the disabled (and thus we're suppo
    • If you took a poll that said "what's the most important thing OSS developers should work on" the answer would not be "better sounding text to speech".

      Let's face it there are limited resources. Do we want those developers spending time to make it sound better for the benefit of few or make it look and work better for the benefit of the many?

      This is cleary a situation where the disabled community is going to have to raise some funds and pay for the development or do it themselves. Perhaps a federal grant woul
      • This is cleary a situation where the disabled community is going to have to raise some funds and pay for the development or do it themselves.

        That's actually a good idea, If it works, let's remember one of the major reasons why it worked.

        The point of open-source isn't that every user gets the source. It's that every user can hire someone to do something with the source. So, a blind community could hire a bunch of good developers, blind or otherwise, to make Linux better for the blind. That's possible on
    • We need a better focus on software based voice systems.

      When speaking in terms of "software requirements", this is a broad one. It would be very interesting if you could state requirements that are much smaller. That way, they could simply take the form of bugs/issues.

      Can you name software packages that would be much more usable "if only" they took care of this or that little thingy?

  • Wrong expectations (Score:3, Insightful)

    by iamacat (583406) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @03:47AM (#14951269)
    Free software is written according to developer's personal needs and interests. If I have a blind friend, I might try to test my Internet radio recorder with his/her screen reader. If not, oh well, I barely have time to finish a graphics-only, English-only version anyway. Given that disabled people have limited potential to be developers or to be rich enough to justify commercial support in most software*, the best bet would be government grants or charitable contributions of development money/personal time. It's unlikely that most FOSS can be made accessible, only a few "key" projects like Firefox and Open Office.

    * This is not to reflect on their intelligence or discount exceptional cases, but you know it's just harder for these folks to do things.
  • One of the Rhodes Scholars I knew back in my PhD program is blind. He was one of our best numerical analyst and could code in C or MATLAB as well as anyone else. He had a device that he connected to his computer that would scan whatever line the cursor was on and then raise some pins to form Braille. To read math books, he would request the LaTeX source from the publisher. He made all of his graphs in GNUPlot. He could even scan a page from a note and have OCR translate it to ASCII. He had no trouble gettin
  • The reaction that I'm seeing from the Disabled community is similar to that of sighted people who use MS products....
    Getting to learn how to use this was so horrid, I don't want to go through that again!
    Open Source may, ultimately, provide more freedom for disabled users, but in the meantime they've been scarred by how horrid the Microsoft solution has been.

    The Open Source solution framework is, by all appearances, going to be a far better, overall, experience for blind users -- but it's going to take some time to ramp up to the point where it's operationally better than (or even equivalent to), the current solution that third-party providers have managed to back-hack onto Office.

    In the meantime, it's going to take some work to convince these people that there's some long term value to helping the FOSS community get up to speed.

    • So,

      how about angles to force ODF support in MS Office in the meantime?

      Does the blind community already have the laws on their side needed to do this?

      1. State requires open document formats for the benefit of all citizens.

      2. Copyrights and patents are state granted. (State as in The State not as in a state.)

      3. You support open document standards as per the state requirements or you lose your copyrights and patents used in the programs that could support those formats and wont.

      4. Note, when wordperfect was th
      • how about angles to force ODF support in MS Office in the meantime?

        The blind may not, but the state should... Given how many millions of dollars MS makes off of MA, there should be a way to force them to provide what their (large) customer with what they need.

  • huh? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Simon Garlick (104721) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @04:33AM (#14951331)
    The most urgent task is to improve documentation.

    Not for me it isn't. "Open Source" does not mean "good works for charity".
    • Improving documentation would benefit everyone, not just the disabled. I've lost count of the number of software or hardware documentation sets that serve up fuzzy screenshots or poorly scanned pages as "documentation". I don't appreciate having to use my picture editing software to enhance the page just so I can at least read it. Text documentation seems to fall into two categories: Either it's been written by someone who has no clue about the software or hardware, but has been tasked to write it; or i

  • "Kenneth is working as an intern here at Microsoft for the summer on the Office team as a tester. He uses Visual Studio to find bugs (and to code on his own time). He writes emails in Outlook. Does all the usual stuff that most developers or testers at Microsoft do. With one difference.

    He can't see the screen because he's been blind since he was three years old."(Source [msdn.com])

    Check out the video at channel9 (click the source link above). There's especially one really good question/answer combo in there,

  • Issues with Moodle (Score:2, Informative)

    by thingie (16450)

    Talking to Niall Sclater [sclater.com], Virtual Learning Environment Programme Director at The Open University [open.ac.uk] on what they're having to do to Moodle [moodle.org] to bring it up to scratch for their large community of blind users was very interesting. The OU have 100,000 students, 10,000 of them with a registered disability, basically they're have to completely redo the accessibility of Moodle.

    There was, however, no suggestion that any of the alternatives, commerical or open source were any better.

    cheers, thingie

    If you're inte

  • The disabled users in Massachusetts do have a point:

    • Most existing Assistive Technology (AT) is geard towards Windows.
    • AT training is geard towards Windows and Windows applications.
    • Formal evaluation of special needs tends to be geared towards using Windows and Windows applications.
    • Disability legisation has made commercial developers (especially MS) at least consider accessibilty.

    I'm not saying that is right or wrong, but that is where we are. If you force a switch to other platforms and applica

    • [ Disability legisation has made commercial developers (especially MS) at least consider accessibilty.

      I'm not saying that is right or wrong, but that is where we are. If you force a switch to other platforms and applications, you do need to ensure that at least the current (and pretty awful) level of accessibility is maintained.]

      Ah, but that is the wrong thing to force. (at first?)

      Why can't the same disability legisation force commercial vendors to adopt the ODF as a supported format?

      all the best,

      drew
  • I've made transcripts of previous events I've organised [www.ifso.ie] so that deaf users can benefit. Having a sign language interpreter would be great, but the budget is usually not there.

  • Wouldn't the effort be better spent trying to fix the actual disability in the first place? We spend a frighteningly small amount on fundamental research, and it seems that almost every development comes up against the "moral" luddites who don't want any kind of medical breakthrough in case it offends their religion. *sigh*
    • Fixing the disability is not as easy as it sounds. Any one POTENTIAL solution can take years and years just to get to a true testing phase let alone a sellable phase, and then there's the actual cost of the fix for each person.

      In the mean time, OSS developers (and developers in general) are in pissing contests over who can do X task .3 seconds faster than the competitor.
  • Crock o' Shit (Score:5, Informative)

    by caffeination (947825) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @07:46AM (#14951627)
    It's just another thing being worked on. It's not a case of being out of touch, as clearly there are several tools, mostly aimed at the visually impaired, which is what they really mean by disabled.
    • Even Slackware gives the option to install a speakup kernel.
    • KDE has text-to-speech, though only the frontend in earlier versions.
    • KDE also enables you to resize the screen easily, helping those with less severe vision problems.
    • Check this out [sourceforge.net]
    Nothing in FOSS can be taken and presented as An Official Display of How Good It Is And Always Shall Be. Most things are work in progress.

    If there's a lack of communication, it's the fault of the disabled community. Or are FOSS developers to spend their time researching potential user groups' needs instead of coding? I imagine that disabled rights groups have already provided the necessary information, and are just waiting for the tools to appear, because from what little I've seen, they're very good at doing their part. If they haven't done that yet, tough luck. Unless they want some sighted programmer to just guess?

    Another thing I didn't like about this article was its use of the phrase "disabled people". It's about THE BLIND, so just say THE BLIND. Deaf people don't have any fixable problems with computers unless some idiot decides to make their program depend on sound feedback. There's little we can do to enable a dumb person to use VOIP, short of recognising their speech and converting it to text. Reduced mobility users need to complain to their hardware vendors if there are no Linux drivers for their single-handed keyboards or whatever they may need. They are working on blind access. Work is slow because FOSS runs on itch scratching. People make software that they want. Companies work on software that they use.

    I really want blind users to be able to have their needs catered for. I don't want them to need to send letters saying things like "Do you know that choosing Linux means excluding blind users?". But as in everything else, steps are being made. Unfortunately, it's quite a long journey:

    he has not found "a distribution that boots" and detects "Italian speech synthesizers, or Braille terminals with the brltty driver."
    • Re:Crock o' Shit (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jalefkowit (101585)
      Another thing I didn't like about this article was its use of the phrase "disabled people". It's about THE BLIND, so just say THE BLIND.

      Tell that to somebody with perfect eyesight and impaired motor skills [diveintoac...bility.org]. There are a lot of dimensions to accessibility.


    • he has not found "a distribution that boots" and detects "Italian speech synthesizers, or Braille terminals with the brltty driver."

      Considering that Windows largely doesn't support that sort of thing out of the box (i.e. You need to have someone install device drivers in the first place) that while I DO feel for the man, I can't exactly call this a problem of FOSS. Anyone that does is selling something.

      To be bluntly honest, statements like


      "Variety is bad, we don't

  • by awol (98751)
    Hmmmm, let me see... A small (but not trivial) sector of the community with too few resources to achieve something that many of them need, that the majority of society takes for granted and without which they are inreasing disenfranchised from the good life. Things that they probably have a right to access in a "modern" society. Sounds like a classic job for "The State".

    Given than the the Free Software would be accessible for all future members of the state it is a classical "good" spend of State Funds for
  • This is an additional reason to learn proper (X)HTML, CSS et al. They have very interesting accessibility features [atomz.com] which cannot be matched by ad-hoc MSIE HTML.

    BTW, while I'm evangelizing standards, every web developer, *especially* framework developers (Rails guys, I'm looking at you), should be required by law to read the damn HTTP RFC. Content-negotiation is so underrated; it could be very useful for accessibility. HTTP rulez [naeblis.cx], it's a shame that so few reconize it.
  • by mkeller (80035) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @08:01AM (#14951654)
    Until I witnessed a 100% blind person using a computer, my
    understanding of the problem was very flawed. With the
    monitor turned off he could browse web sites, read/write
    email, and puzzle through popup error messages. He used
    a text to speech software package that read to him faster
    than I could listen. The package also provided an interface
    for configuring a huge number of custom hotkeys which he
    programmed and used extensively. The way his brain adapted to a
    sound based interface was amazing. I've never seen anything
    like it.
  • Could someone please enumerate the types of tool required for each kind of disability? Perhaps some tools already exist and we can match needs with solutions. If not, then at least we have an idea of the types of things we should be looking into to address this.
  • Astroturfing??? (Score:3, Informative)

    by evilviper (135110) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @09:20AM (#14951782) Journal
    This whole story sounds just about completely made-up to me. I've talked with a lot of blind people who use Linux, and they all say how great it is, and how completely impossible it is to use Windows.

    A few Linux distros were put together for the express purpose of making a distro for the disabled. Some, like Slackware, come ready for disabled users, having a "speak-up" enabled kernel on the CD, meaning you only need to type a few characters before it will start reading output to you...

    The individual who they detailed in the article presumably already had someone set-up Windows for him, installing all the speech software necessary. His problem is that he'd have to install Linux (not hard really, hook-up a null-modem cable between computers), get speech-synthesis working, and he apparently doesn't understand English in the slightest, needing brazilian translation as well.

    This frustration doesn't strike me as being any more serious than the standard Windows user trying to switch to Linux, when he's not familiar with it... They just don't want ANY CHANGES at all. I really don't see this as a disability issue at all.
    • needing brazilian translation as well.

      You mean portugese, but i digress. It seems to me that the issue here is not with linux being Ready for the blind, so much as linux being ready for the Blind non-english reading user. Considering that english is actually a 'minority' language it would seem that what people should be doing is making sure that blinux etc all have usable documentation in as many common languages as possible, eg: chinese, german, french, etc etc.

      I can understand why the blinux developers
  • by danimrich (584138) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @09:41AM (#14951826) Homepage Journal
    I think the organizations that represent disabled people haven't realized that they should not deal with the FOSS community the way they do with Microsoft. FOSS development has mostly depended on someone needing/wanting/linking a certain functionality and then trying to code it. Whereas Microsoft will likely think about markets, good press and money.
    I would suggest that the representative organizations set up a mixed team of blind and seeing software developers who could contribute to the FOSS community.
    • >FOSS development has mostly depended on someone needing/wanting/linking a certain functionality and then trying to code it.

      Exactly! If they want accessibility features they should compile gentoo and code it themselves. People whine about wanting FOSS to be easier to use and more accessible. Those people need to learn C/C++ and the FOSS API's's and help out. Lets move on to more pressing topics, like how we can attract more people to desktop linux!
  • renaming "The Gimp".

    Just a thought. ;)
  • by caffeination (947825) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @10:16AM (#14951919)
    Less serious than my other comment, I've just found this gem in a page about how a CLI is better for the blind [eklhad.net]:
    If you watch a sighted Linux user for an hour, you will notice that he spends most of his time in screen applications.
    Seems even the visually impaired have trouble catering for themselves all of the time. Either that or this guy's got a very subtle sense of humor.
  • He discusses [sun.com] particularly the opposition raised in Mass. wrt the (in-)compatibility of OpenOffice on Windows with the current Windows accessibility technologies (interestingly, OOo is better accessibility-wise on Linux than Windows!) However, it outlines a lot of stuff and is definitely relevant to this discussion.
  • by Skapare (16644) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @01:19PM (#14952654) Homepage

    ... I do have this eye condition where my eyes focus differently in different colors. Where normal vision would see a white dot on a black background, when that dot is made up of 3 narrow band colors, what I see are 3 separate dots. They aren't too far apart, although the blue one is out of focus and fuzzy. When reading white text on a black background, I get a mix of colors. I can read it, but it causes eyestrain. Reversing that to black text on white background makes it easier on my eyes. That's how I'm typing on Slashdot right now. Every character I type has fuzzy color edges to it ... red on the left and bottom, blue on the top, green on the right, and yellow below the red on the bottom.

    I deal with this in a number of ways. Since I do most of my programming, system administration, and network administration via the text mode console in Linux, I just change the colors there to better suit my needs. By making the contrast between foreground color and background color limited to a single color, where the other 2 colors have the same intensity between foreground and background, I can read text easily with no eyestrain for hours. So in that sense I'm taking care of myself, and I'm lucky enough to not be disabled in a way that prevents me from managing to do that from the starting point that's designed specifically for normal vision people.

    That said, there are still some troubling issues that people need to be aware of and sensitive to. There are a few programs that operate in a text environment (can run on console, or under xterm, etc) that intentionally alter the color environment, and screw up my color setup. It needs to be possible to disable that. In one program I was trying, which erased all my color maps and substituted the defaults, someone suggested the monochrome option it had. In that mode it still erased all my color maps, and then showed me only white text on black background. That didn't actually help at all. What I need is for programs to either leave my colors alone, or at least provide an option (documented in the man page ... yes, I read those) to turn that off. And by "off" I don't mean not to use different color text for highlighting, I mean just don't alter my color maps.

    It's worse in X. Not all the colors can be changed in one place. Each application has its own separate configuration for colors. It would help if there was a standardized place for all applications to check for color preferences and at least use them by default. And web pages are a bit worse because each web site, if it can even be changed at all, has to be changed separately. It's getting a tad bit better with more widespread use of style sheets and such.

    I also have to be sensitive to the fact that there is a wide range of possible disabilities or just difficulties (what I classify my condition as) and that program developers just can't easily envision, or certainly can't readily test, how their software deals with all the possible needs of different users. I'm sure stuff I've written might be difficult or impossible to use by some others depending on their disability. But the better we can communicate between developers and users, the more we can both improve usability.

    This condition I have is only a problem when the light sources are made up of discrete narrowband colors. A broad continuous spectrum doesn't really cause the problem because it just makes things a tiny bit fuzzy in a smooth way that is easy to focus on. Sunlight is almost perfectly continuous. Incandescent light bulbs are also just as good. This condition doesn't affect my ability to actually see; it merely causes stress and eyestrain when the conditions are worse. One of the worst things for me are fluorescent lights. Then everything I look at under that lighting has the problem. White LEDs are no better. Ironically, those orange-peach colored high pressure sodium lamps often used on streets and parking lots don't cause me any problems at all (though they ca

  • I don't know if there are good solutions for blind computing -- the very idea scares me from a UI perspective. :) What a problem! But it's quite intriguing actually...

    My first thought is that I assume blind people don't need much in the way of graphical interfaces.

    So you would think that Linux, or any Unix-like operating system, would quite automatically be much nicer for blind people than, for example, windows, seeing as you can actually GET THINGS DONE on the command line, an interface that I imagine is
  • Disabled users may be helping the FOSS community, or at least a large part of it, to finally acknowledge a general attitude problem.

    The "attitude problem" here is with people who think the FOSS community owes them anything.

    Very likely, many office workers would like to sue, or at least to stop, any manager who told them, "next month you will have to use programs you never heard of before, with a different look and feel, because of some policy based on obscure theories about software engineering."

    And very ma

I have never seen anything fill up a vacuum so fast and still suck. -- Rob Pike, on X.

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