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Open Source Accessibility 319

tbray writes "The strongest push-back against Massachusetts' effort to institute open, non-proprietary document formats has come from the accessibility community, who claim that Open-Source desktop software lags behind Windows; and thus that a transition to Open Document will amount to discrimination against the blind and those with other disabilities. This is serious stuff. Peter Korn, who's an Accessibility Architect at Sun, has written a massive piece that provides a general introduction to the subject, a discussion of how Open Source is doing on the the accessibility front (things could be worse, but they could be a lot better), and finally, a detailed look at the (interesting) history and (uncertain) future of these issues in Massachusetts. Anyone in Open Source who thinks they can ignore accessibility issues is probably wrong. Getting any younger? Eyes as good as they used to be? This is everybody's issue."
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Open Source Accessibility

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  • So let's fix it. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ritz_Just_Ritz ( 883997 ) on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @10:19AM (#14043188)
    I'm not an expert (as a matter of fact, I'm not even qualified to be called ignorant on the subject), but what can we do to make things better? Surely this is not an insurmountable problem and given the rather substantial savings for government institutions (ignoring the lobbying payola), you would think the people with the purse strings would have an interest in this answer as well.
    • Well that's fairly easy. If you are a programmer start writing some open source for those that are disabeled. If you are not a coder, well find one and beat him on the head until he does start writing. I don't know if lobbying would help. The fact these programs do not have great disability support is the fault of the opensource community, not the gov't, and I doubt the gov't can force someone to write some code (well they probably can, but that would look bad "Yes programmer do my overlord bidding")

    • by dwandy ( 907337 )
      (as a matter of fact, I'm not even qualified to be called ignorant on the subject)

      Need: Management ( check! )
      Need: Programmer ( vacant )

    • Yea, sounds great! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by EraserMouseMan ( 847479 ) on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @10:50AM (#14043494)
      So here's what you want. You want highly-skilled developers to volunteer months of their time to write this free of charge. Then you'll turn around and charge MA $100/hr to implement OOo. Sounds wonderful. I'll get right on that. I love how all the Open Source junkies want developers to donate so they can charge big bucks to deploy the Open Source software.

      Everybody loves FOSS. How come there isn't an FOSC(Free Open Source Consulting) withing the OS movement? And don't talk about how you installed Red Hat for your grandma either. I'm talking about taking 3 months out of your personal time to help deploy a Linux solution for a mid-sized business and not charge them a dime. That's what the OSS developers do every day.

    • by StormReaver ( 59959 ) on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @12:01PM (#14044162)
      "...you would think the people with the purse strings would have an interest in this answer as well."

      You and many others are falling victim to Microsoft's red herrings. Open Source has absolutely nothing to do with OpenDocument. Here are some answers (yet again):

      1) OpenDocument is a format specification, not a program.

      2) Any program, Open Source or proprietary, can implement OpenDocument filters. That is all that is necessary to support OpenDocument.

      3) Microsoft is fighting OpenDocument by changing the subject. This is being done to maintain Microsoft's monopoly stranglehold on one of its two profitable rackets.

      4) If people think Microsoft Office has better accessibility than OO.o/StarOffice, then they can continue using Microsoft Office. All Microsoft, and any other proprietary company, has to do is write an I/O filter to work with the OpenDocument format.

      We need to keep our focus, and not allow ourselves to get diverted into senseless debates about irrelevancies.
  • by Lord Byron II ( 671689 ) on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @10:21AM (#14043205)
    Light grey text on a white background with salmon-colored links. That's just great on the ol' eyes!
    • by Bogtha ( 906264 ) on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @10:49AM (#14043488)

      Not to mention it's 10px Verdana. If you don't have Verdana installed on your system and another font is substituted, it looks about 2px smaller due to Verdana's larger than normal aspect ratio. Given that Mozilla's default is something like 15-16px and many people have to increase the size above the default, I think this isn't the best person to be preaching about accessibility.

      Folks, if you have a website, even if it's just a weblog, the most effective thing you can do to increase accessibility is to read Dive Into Accessibility [diveintoac...bility.org] and apply the things you learn to your website.

  • by alexwcovington ( 855979 ) on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @10:21AM (#14043209) Journal
    and for the remainder of people, OpenOffice.org will work just as well under Windows for the folks that need the Accesibility tools, until Linux catches up (not long)
    • The law says that you must accomodate the disabled, which means conforming to various accessibility standards. If OpenOffice doesn't conform to those standards, it won't be using in government!
      • Surely opensource is a plus in this area..
        Those charities that push for and fund interoperability efforts could have a much more direct impact on opensource, instead of spending large amounts of money trying to convince vendors to implement accessibility features which may not directly meet their needs, they could actually hire coders to create these features exactly according to their specifications.

        Instead of this, these groups seem to be spending all their time and money lobbying.. Why not produce open source accessibility software that not only suits your requirements exactly, but also benefits other people too?
    • Actually if you use the KDE environment, you have most of the accessibility features that Windows has out of the box, and it works about as well.

      However Microsoft Office XP and 2003 provide additional accessibility tools that Windows XP does not offer out of the box, and that is the issue - but where Massachusetts is already providing reasonable accomodations by continuing to offer Microsoft Office to those with physical disabilities, Microsoft is simply raising up a strawman so that they can avoid having t
  • by doktorstop ( 725614 ) on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @10:23AM (#14043225) Homepage Journal
    I can see it coming =) Seriously, I dont think that accessibility is the biggest obstacle, or the primary target. Inconsistancies in the GUI make it difficult for people to get used to Linux, even if they have no sight or hearing handicaps.
    • by Feyr ( 449684 ) on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @10:27AM (#14043269) Journal
      i said it when it was first posted to technocrat, i'll say it again.

      accessibility doesn't have ANYTHING to do in a STORAGE FORMAT. this is purely a software issue, with lots of money involved.

      how much do you wanna bet these so called "accessibility experts" are getting paid to say they don't want an open document format? who do you think is paying them?

      and a sun accessibility expert? come on, this is the company that brought us JAVA, an accessibility nightmare in its own right.
      • accessibility doesn't have ANYTHING to do in a STORAGE FORMAT.

        If one storage format has accessible software for it and another doesn't, then it seems pretty clear that to the end user, accessibility is all about the storage format.

        Your task then is to get people to take the long view: that on a long enough timeline, an open standard is always going to end up more accessable than a closed binary one. Open formats tend to become more acessible over time as more software becomes available, closed binary ones b
    • Accessibility is very important, but people seems to forgot about USABILITY when making things accessible.

      When making a program (or a website) then you need to be BOTH!

      The accessibility guidelines can sometimes be followed too closely and makes things COMPLETELY UNSABLE for those who most need it, and have no improvement for anyone else.

      I work as a web developer and see deadful things all the time (I've seen people put alt tags on bullet points!), which could be avoided if people would think alittle (or jus
  • by DaveCar ( 189300 ) on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @10:23AM (#14043226)
    In the Massachusetts case it doesn't just have to be OSS in use. Surely some office software vendor will provide support for OpenDocument AND accessibility.

    I mean there is more than one office software vendor isn't there?

    Yes, yes. I am new here ;)
    • by NutscrapeSucks ( 446616 ) on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @10:39AM (#14043406)
      Absolutely -- The cheapest and most obvious route to OpenDocument support for almost every organization is a translation filter for their existing MS Office apps.

      Since 3rd party filters are already in development, this whole scrum in Mass. is really pointless. Most agencies will probably just roll out the filter.
    • In the Massachusetts case it doesn't just have to be OSS in use. Surely some office software vendor will provide support for OpenDocument AND accessibility.

      The problem isn't that Word "supports accessibility" and that the various Open Document format word processors don't. The issue is that Windows support for the disabled sucks ass and the hooks, API's, and display features needed for the disabled are not available at all. The result is third party companies write hacks like JAWS that are really a way

  • by mwvdlee ( 775178 ) on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @10:25AM (#14043251) Homepage
    MicroSofts' somewhat more accessible Office suite is free to implement the Open Document standard just like any and all other applications.

    You see, that's the beauty of it; any (specialized for a certain disability) application can implement the standard at no cost or risk besides the development itself.

    Personally, I'm waiting for a bunch of BSD-like licensed libraries that implement translation of Open Document from and to other common formats like HTML, plain text, LaTeX, PDF, etc so anybody can suffice with just a few lines of code to support the Open Document format.
  • Reading TFA... (Score:5, Informative)

    by meringuoid ( 568297 ) on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @10:27AM (#14043264)
    ... it seems that the accessibility problems are not the fault of the open source programs or the Open Document Format, but the fault of the closed-source, proprietary Braille interpreters and screen readers which are incompatible.

    TFA actually has considerable praise for open source's accessibility in itself:

    Another important question is the extent to which the Open Document file format itself supports or fails to support accessibility. This comes up for things like storing the alternate text tag for an image, or noting the relationships of labels with the objects they label in on-line forms. While a thorough examination of the file format specifically for these issues still needs to be done, much of ODF is based on standard web technologies like SMIL for audio and multimedia, and SVG for vector graphics, which have and continue to be vetted by the World Wide Web Accessibility Initiative processes. We also know that two of the existing applications that currently read/write ODF can export Tagged PDF files in support of PDF accessibility, and Adobe has already conducted some tests to verify that accessibility across that translation is preserved (and thus must exist in the original ODF file). Finally, at this very moment the OASIS Technical Committee that created ODF is looking into forming a specific subcommittee to examine ODF for just these accessibility issues and address any shortcomings found.

    This is in stark contrast to proprietary file formats like those used by Microsoft Office. Those formats are totally opaque, with no peer review of accessibility issues possible. Thus we cannot objectively tell how well the Microsoft Office file format supports accessibility, or say whether it does a better or worse job than ODF.

  • At least for another 30 years or so...
  • Marketshare (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fireboy1919 ( 257783 ) <rustypNO@SPAMfreeshell.org> on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @10:28AM (#14043283) Homepage Journal
    These are highly specialized things. The reason there's not a lot of free software in this area is that there's just not a lot of demand for it at all, in either the Windows world, or the free one.

    I don't really see a problem, though. It seems reasonable to make an exception with open formats for those who need aid. We let seeing-eye dogs in where pets aren't allowed.

    And as far as the public face goes - dissemination of info to the public, that is - that should really be in 508 compliant HTML, shouldn't it? Which means no Word, PDF, openoffice, etc. anyway.
    • by shis-ka-bob ( 595298 ) on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @11:06AM (#14043642)
      I find is ironic that pro-Microsoft folks are touting handicap accessability. ASP and ASP.Net are notorious for generating remarkably bad HTML that is in no way compliant with 508 guidelines. As a quick and dirty test, open a web page in links (or any other text browser). If you can read it, it means that the 2 dimension 'web page' has been converted to a 1 dimensional 'text stream'. Braille terminals are able to represent these text streams quite successfully. Web sites built with some open source frameworks like Zope/Plone are almost automatically 508 compliant, but web applications developed with Visual Studio are rarely 508 Compliant. When you 'drag and drop' components onto a page, the relationship between the location and the order of the component in the 'text stream' is lost. So web development, as done by most developers using Visual Studio, results in pages that cannot easily be make 508 compliant.

      The Microsoft camp seems to be rather oportunistic in when they choose to extol the virtue of handicap-accessiblity

      • you mean it WAS true in VS 2003. VS 2005 fixes all of it, uses flow layout. It also writes standards compliant code.
        + it was not hard to switch settings to make it 508 compliant. Of course i do wish there was a way to use no client side scripting, but that wont happen.
    • I don't really see a problem, though. It seems reasonable to make an exception with open formats for those who need aid. We let seeing-eye dogs in where pets aren't allowed.
      So if all the state's tax rules, for instance, are stored in ODF format, and a blind person needs to access them, then they can have a special version created in Word format? That's your solution? Sounds a bit labour-intensive if you ask me.
  • by Billosaur ( 927319 ) * <wgrother@oEINSTE ... minus physicist> on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @10:29AM (#14043288) Journal

    Some were incensed at the American's with Disabilties Act (ADA) when it was passed, wondering why they had to go through all this trouble to accomodate a tiny fraction of the population. But the disabled population is not that small [dpi.org] and it grows larger every year due to various factors [prb.org] most people don't think about or recognize.

    Before getting back into computing, I spent 8 years in social services, working with the autistic and developmentally disabled. You don't realize what challenges there are to everyday living until you see how hard it is for anyone with any type of disability to do the simple tasks we "normals" take for granted.

    Ultimately MA is going to have to decide whether it can afford to turn its back on a small slice of its populace or continue the process of inclusion. I'm hoping for the latter, since within the disabled spectrum, there are plenty of people still capable of working and being productive members of society.

    Even if I lost the use of my legs, I could still program...

  • by JWW ( 79176 ) on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @10:29AM (#14043300)
    What really needs to be done is for the accessibility lobby to put pressure on Microsoft to support Opendoc.

    Microsoft is using them. The one thing Microsoft can't have is an open format supported for Office documents. Office is the real monopoly, windows loses a lot of its lockin if it weren't for Office.

    Microsoft will fight this tooth and nail. What Mass. should do if the Opendoc inititave fails, is mandate that their provider of office software publically provide specifications for their file formats. If Microsoft refuses that, I think they should return to court on antitrust violations.

    I'm sick of Microsoft always getting away with playing dirty. And it is playing dirty to use people who have accessibility issues using a comptuer to maintain your monopoly.
    • The OpenDOc initiative does not mandate any particular software. It only mandates that the file format be publically (and fully) specified (M$ XML doesn't cut it because it is undocumented proprietary binary pieces wrapped in XLM). Microsoft was invited to submit their own publically specified format. They proposed M$ XML, but that is not fully specified. They could have submitted their usual Word format - provided they fully document it. Even now, they are perfectly welcome to sell an M$ Office that r
  • by $RANDOMLUSER ( 804576 ) on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @10:32AM (#14043331)
    I've got a friend who has wet macular degeneration: he's slowly going blind, has been for years. He uses a 21-inch monitor, and every time he gets a new machine, I have to install his magnification software (sorry, the name escapes me). It costs several hundred dollars, and he's bought copies for NT 4, Win2K and XP through the years. He cussed for a solid ten minutes when I showed him KMagnifier, as it does everything his Windows magnifier does, and then some.
  • Youth (Score:4, Funny)

    by troon ( 724114 ) on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @10:32AM (#14043332)

    Getting any younger?

    Yes, I am.

    • Re:Youth (Score:3, Funny)

      by shis-ka-bob ( 595298 )
      I commend our superluminary overlord. If you happen to be looking for a date, I sugggest Miss Bright, who gained fame as the object of poetry ...
      There was a young lady named Bright
      Whose speed was much faster than light.
      She set out one day,
      in a relative way,
      And returned on the previous night.
      Poets may not think much of this, but for a physicist its relatively good.
  • by Noryungi ( 70322 ) on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @10:34AM (#14043349) Homepage Journal
    [...] the accessibility community, who claim that Open-Source desktop software lags behind Windows; and thus that a transition to Open Document will amount to discrimination against the blind and those with other disabilities.

    How on earth can an open-source document format be a discrimination against the blind and/or handicapped?

    If it's a documented standard -- and it will be -- an open-source document format can actually be converted into other documented formats (ASCII text, ISO-8859-X text, CSV, RTF, HTML, etc, even sound waves through a vocal synthetizer) that are actually easier to use for blind users!!

    Compare and contrast this with the plight of handicapped people who are now using proprietary document formats, created by proprietary applications under proprietary operating systems... and who find out, the hard way, that their applications do not work anymore with their Braille readers under the newest version of the operating system. Or that they have to go through countless hoops to convert the proprietary document into another proprietary format, that they have no way to check for accuracy and/or problems. Or that can be endlessly confused by the changes that each version of ____________ [insert application name here] intoduces in its already confusing GUI.

    I worked for about a year and a half for a non-profit that was dedicated to improving the access of blind people to computer technology. Those were the days of DOS and BBS, a time many blind people remember as a true 'golden age', since most information was textual, and there was very little that could not be done with a simple Braille terminal emulator and/or speech synthetizer.

    Windows changed all that, for the worst. I knew people who used to be good programmers despite their handicaps who found themselves out of a job. Others that found themselves increasingly locked-out of the Internet revolution because the www was increasingly becoming graphical.

    And now, people attack Open Document on the basis that it creates discrimination against blind people? Come on, that is the most ridiculous argument I have heard in a long while. If anything, a truly universal, XML-based document format would be perfect for these users!

    In the worst possible case, I will volunteer to write converters to make sure these new documents can be exported into proprietary apps. And I am not joking: this was actually one of the things I did at the non-profit I mentioned above.
    • Maybe you should write a letter to some of the folks involved. The article mentions at least these three:

      Mass. Commission for the Blind [mass.gov]

      MATP Massachusetts Assistive Technology Partnership [matp.org]

      The National Council on Disability [ncd.gov]

      There may be others that should be included as well, but that would be a start.

    • What it actually says is:

      "...a transition to Open Document will force Microsoft to make changes to their business practices that will amount to discrimination against their blind lust for money and therefore they are lobbying hard to buy the voices of
      the blind and th
      ose with other disabilities."
    • Sure, the format's open, so in theory you can build a tool to transfrom ODF into a paper hat, but it's a matter of practicality and the current state of the market. All the best accessibility tools* are for Microsoft Windows, and specifically for Microsoft Office. Therefore mandating ODF means that disabled people have to give up all their current accessibility tools and start using inferior products. TFA gives a really good summary of the state of play, including some of the advantages that GNOME has, so i
  • A blind friend of mine uses JAWS [freedomscientific.com] on his computer. He says he can't use Firefox because of JAWS' inability to work well with anything but IE.
    • This makes sense -- if you go back six or seven years ago, Microsoft was opening up the IE APIs to thirdparty developers, while Nutscrape was adamant about keeping their browser a closed box. IIUC, JAWS and other Windows screenreaders directly access the IE DOM rather than screen-scraping.

      Even after the launch of Mozilla, there's always been questions about the API stability and there has not been much if any thirdparty software which encapsulates Mozilla tech, which is a bit of a shame.
    • A blind friend of mine uses JAWS on his computer. He says he can't use Firefox because of JAWS' inability to work well with anything but IE.

      How about lynx? I'm pretty sure that works with speech synthesisers. Obviously you wouldn't get the pictures or animations, but... er...

      • Maybe a dumb question, but how does Lynx integrate with screen readers? Is there a library interface, or does the screen reader have to query the terminal and say "Well, this text is red so I guess it must be a link"? It seems to me that it would almost be easier to build a web reader around wget than Lynx.
    • He says he can't use Firefox because of JAWS' inability to work well with anything but IE.

      Has he tried Fangs [standards-...ndards.com], the aural extension for Firefox? Opera has aural support too.

    • by R4modulator ( 771354 ) on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @12:21PM (#14044353)
      I'm work for IBM as one of those 'accessibility experts' and am the module owner for accessibility in Firefox. IBM picked up the Firefox and Gecko accessibility work after AOL lost interest in anything Mozilla-related.

      JAWS 7 in fact works with Firefox 1.5. Ask your friend to try that combination -- Firefox 1.5 RC 2 is avalable on mozilla.org. Your friend can also try Window-Eyes 5.5 with Firefox 1.5 -- it works great.

      It took me since 2001 to get all of the APIs implemented that were required for Mozilla accessibility on Windows. We also had tons of keyboard, focus and UI issues to fix. Then there is the new stuff -- accessibility for JavaScript/DHTML/AJAX applications. Firefox 1.5 is the first browser to provide the ability for authors to make custom DHTML widgets accessible. See http://www.mozilla.org/access [mozilla.org]. So we're going beyond the status quo.

      For any application with any kind of document viewer or editor application with its own engine, accessibility requires a lot of work in the code. After that it requires a great deal of cooperation from screen reader companies so that two complex systems interact correctly.

      Aaron Leventhal
      http://www.mozilla.org/access [mozilla.org]
  • Huh? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by el_womble ( 779715 ) on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @10:35AM (#14043361) Homepage
    I'm sorry, this is absolutely riddiculous. The last time I checked being blind / deaf / disabled didn't stop you from programming. Providing you have the mental aptitude you can do pretty much anything with a computer - look at Stephen Hawking - he writes books on physics that's got to be harder than programming!

    If the various 'disabled' communities don't like the support that their 'given' with an open source project then they need to get programming the support themselves or raising funds so they can fund coffee addled nerds to do it for them.

    In fact, if this is the only thing thats stopping Open Office being supported by local governments then I'll be supprised if its not in the next release.
    • Several years ago MS dedicated a lot of work to accessibility in Office in order to get a MA contract. I believe it was between Office 98 and 2000. I would not be suprised if IBM or Sun were willing to make similiar concessions, assuming that the whole process isn't derailed by MS flunkies in government.
  • by jimand ( 517224 ) * on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @10:36AM (#14043376)
    Now's the chance for open source advocates to show the power of open source. If enough volunteers step forward to resolve the accessibility issues in OpenOffice so that Massachusetts can go forward with their Open Document initiative then it will be a huge feather in the open source cap.
  • What about accessability of those who can't afford to spend $500 on an office suite, and $200 on an operating system. I'm aware of the real meaning of accessiblity, but lets take a look at the real problems. By sticking with a closed format, you're making the document way less "accessible" then if it is in some open format. Open formats also allow anyone who wants to to make a more accessible application. With a closed format, it will only be as accessible as microsoft wants to make it.
  • I'd disagree (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Peregr1n ( 904456 ) <ian.a.ferguson@gmail.com> on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @10:38AM (#14043402) Homepage
    Having worked in accessibility for years I'd say that open source is the friend of accessibility. A document that can be easily read in any standards-compliant browser or application, or easily converted into accessible form (eg. speech), is most welcome.

    The main problem is documents which can only be opened in the particular application that generated them. Microsoft documents are an example of this; although as they're so popular, pretty much all accessibility companion-style programs sit on top of Word and change the style of delivery (style, size, clarity, to speech, etc) appropriately.

    So if everyone used open source, standards-compliant documents, there would be no need for the majority of accessibility programs. I think moving to open source document formats removes much of the accessibility problem at the source, rather than working round it, which is what most solutions do at the minute.
  • I'm on a team that manages a very large website for a state government agency. We are, as of recently, facing new statewide standards for IT accessibility. What we are finding out is that developing accessible applications and content actually goes hand-in-hand with other development best practices. For example, it's far easier to develop a site template that uses CSS for all aspects of presentation than it is to maintain alternative text-only content for screen readers (which is a requirement of the acc
  • by rolfwind ( 528248 ) on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @10:40AM (#14043419)
    Massachusetts' effort to institute open, non-proprietary document formats has come from the accessibility community, who claim that Open-Source desktop software lags behind Windows; and thus that a transition to Open Document will amount to discrimination against the blind and those with other disabilities

    What does one necessarily have to do with the other? Microsoft can put in the fileformat in their software just like OpenSource apps.
    • That's silly. If they had chosen a format for which no software existed at all, then they would have been criticized, and justifiedly so, despite the fact that anyone can implement it. It is claimed that they chose a format for which the current market does not supply adequate accesibility functionality. It was phrased in the form of a non-sequitur, but it's a valid point nonetheless.
  • When people talk about "accessibility problems", that is really just a code phrase for the lack of a good screen reader for blind users. If you don't know what a screen reader is, just look at JAWS [freedomscientific.com], the most popular screen reader in Windows. I believe you can even download an evaluation Windows version from there to play with.

    There are dozens of people working on screen readers for various linux GUIs. Just do a google search for "linux screen reader". But none of them are as full-featured as JAWS, and

    • But none of them are as full-featured as JAWS

      As the go to person for JAWS at my workplace I really have to say that JAWS blows. Because of the GUIed nature of windows it constantly reads garbage that even a blid person doesn't need to know. The voices are no better than the good old Talking Moose [zathras.de] that used to run on my Mac 512. The licencing is horrible and until about a year ago *required* a floppy to install correctly, and if that floppy failed you had to wait while they sent you a new one. No, in all h

  • should forbid IE-only websites, and flash sites! Indeed, those sites are impossible to "read" using a braille line, or a text-to-speech converter


    What will they come up with next? That Open Source software is too expensive? Not customizable enough? Putting too much power into the monopolists hands?

    Or maybe, staircase manufacturers should lobby goverments to forbid ramps and elevators. Indeed, on a ramp, the elderly may slip, and an elevator is unusable by a retard. They harm accessibility, bring ba

  • ODF does not exclude windows. Microsoft is free to implement ODF like everyone else. Moving to ODF will be difficult for everyone, not just the disabled, the argument is that in the long run it will be better for everyone, including the disabled.

    I don't thinks that you can roll out ODF in a day and things will just run smoothly. There will have to be a transition period where documents are available and accepted in multiple formats.
  • As a government entity, when Massachusetts purchases software, it has to be done through a competitive bid process. The state is simply saying that "needs to use and support the Open Document file format" should be added to the requirements list for those bids. Adding another clause about "needs to adequately support impaired users" is equally easy.
  • by aphaenogaster ( 884935 ) on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @10:48AM (#14043472)
    My grandfather started having eye problems around 90 so I bought him a used 21 inch ergo 1600 monitor. Set it to 800x600 and now he is a happy camper.
  • by 192939495969798999 ( 58312 ) <info&devinmoore,com> on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @10:52AM (#14043506) Homepage Journal
    Whenever an accessibility issue comes up, I have to remind everyone how it feels to operate a computer in accessibility mode. Turn on all the accessibility stuff you know about, then turn the monitor off and see how you do. We have blind people in our office that use computers with the monitor off -- until you've seen that in person, you can't understand how accessible computers /technology must be.
  • When Microsoft Office did not offer such accessibility features? Where was the pissing and moaning then?

    Let's not forget that People's Republik of Taxachussetts (Sorry, I live in Mass, I get disgusted by the rampant tax-and-spend mentality that has reigned here for years) is doing this to cut back on spending as well as to make documents accessible for as long as technology exists without dealing with vendor lock - and yet, for those folks who have handicaps which prevent their working with the current ve

  • It is just a matter of time before people everywhere (even people with disabilities) start using Open Source software as a legitimate alternative to Office (for example.) But, like everything else new to the market, it will have to make a name for itself first.
    OpenOffice 2.0 is a great start. Integrated voice-recognition, closed-captioning and text readers will come with time. For now, just get the product out there, get as many people as possible using it as their first choice in software. I believe
  • my 0.02$ (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dogfull ( 819023 ) on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @11:01AM (#14043587)
    Can't really RTFA :-)

    Anyone with any visual impairments (like myself) can use ZoomText, or another comparable programm on windows, like they did with MS Office. No big difference, and not openoficce's job to fix.

    As for the blind.... I'm sure one could hack together a screen reader for ODT, at least? It's a bloody xml file, after all. Provided the screen reader/braille reader already works with windows, it should be trivial.

    What bothers me more personally is how IE systematically ignores the 'larger font sizé' option on a lot of webistes. I figure this is because of some use of css, but I didn't put too much effort in finding out what exactly causes the problem.
  • The strongest push-back against Massachusetts' effort to institute open, non-proprietary document formats has come from the accessibility community, who claim that Open-Source desktop software lags behind Windows;

    Open Format != Open Source

  • by isolationism ( 782170 ) on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @11:29AM (#14043859) Homepage

    ... and also someone who loves open source, I have come to the same conclusion myself -- that Open Source has a way to go before it can stand shoulder to shoulder with its proprietary counterparts. The fact is, open source is already at a disadvantage when it comes to accessibility -- because so many of the accessibility features out there are being pushed by the vendor (making them effectively proprietary).

    Consider Flash. It is, as some of you may be surprised to know, accessible -- but only when used with a Microsoft toolchain. That's right; for users with special needs to use Flash, it has to be being rendered through Macromedia's plugin (obviously), in MSIE, to one of a very limited group of screen readers only available for Windows (JAWS, WindowEyes, one or two others) and all on, you might have guessed by now, Windows platforms only. Even the Macintosh -- which is natively considerably more accessible than Windows (or any other OS, essentially) doesn't support accessible flash.

    We've all heard the rumours of Microsoft releasing its "Flash Killer" application; maybe it will be natively more accessible than Flash, but then where will that leave open source and operating systems besides Windows? Does anyone think Microsoft cares about the greater good enough to want to make the spec -- much less the product -- available for any other operating system?

    Now consider Adobe Acrobat. Version 7 is chock full of accessibility features that revolve around the new tagged document structure. How many apps currently generate tagged documents? Not many. Again, Adobe has partnered with Microsoft so that just about every Office product will generate tagged PDF. There are one or two other desktop publishing packages that do it. OpenOffice managed to squeak tagged PDF 2.0 into their product (and good on them for doing it) but the support is minimalistic; it is an attempt at addressing the problem but is shy of the mark as far as users with special needs go.

    Never mind that OpenDocument is anyway readable on free operating systems; users with disabilities generally wouldn't touch Linux with a ten-foot pole because the screen reader software available for it is also somewhat lacking where it counts; consider JAWS by Freedom Scientific, where they employ dozens of employees to do nothing more all day long than write key mappings and shortcut-features to applications. Guess which browser is better supported in JAWS -- MSIE, or Firefox? Guess how good the custom support for OpenOffice.org is in JAWS? You would be correct to guess it is non-existent. These people have invested thousands (and in many cases, over the USD $10,000 mark) in technologies to allow them to use computers to do their jobs or just live; it's unfair enough to have something continue to be inaccessible to them, but considerably worse (and understandably frustrating) to have something be accessible then have it taken away for the benefit of others.

    The only potential saving grace in the browser market is the release of Opera for free; since it has better innate accessibility features than either Firefox or MSIE (which has virtually none) there may be some mass migration to these systems. HTML is inherently one of the most accessible forms of markup available today because of its strong, structural meaning and the fact that it is one of the very few languages that are completely open, appropriate for most uses, and heavily wide-spread.

    Several opens-source projects have already made accessibility an important part of their web projects; for example, Plone [plone.org] and especially Atutor [atutor.ca] are star examples of how you can build a great application and still have it accessible to users with disabilities by design.

    I would like to congratulate all authors and participants on those projects and others who work at making open source software accessible to everyone, not just the enabled majority. I would like to encourage everyone else to do some re

  • This is just too obvious. Microsoft should fire the astroturf campaigner they hired to set it up. (see my older comment [slashdot.org]).

    Blind people lack (good) eyes, not brains. They'd not seriously cry over a document format, which is a backend-issue, when their specific problem is with frontend presentation.

    Heck M$ Word will almost certainly include OpenDocument import (it will, of course, lack OpenDocument export), so there's really no reason here.

    Follow the money, people. Who stands to lose if MA goes ahead? M$, nobo
  • Skinnable Apps (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Artifakt ( 700173 ) on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @02:12PM (#14045512)
    I've posted to threads several times with links to Skinnable Open Source applications, and found that the most common response to mentioning skins is people dismissing them as eye candy and a waste of programming to include in an inteface. I've had numerous slashdot users complain that skins are worse than useless, because a non-standard interface hinder's widepread corporate or government adoption of new programs.
            Guess what - a skinnable interface is one that can easily be adapted to overcome a given visual handycap, and a non-skinable interface is one that will be effectivly unusable for some people with normal or better intelligence - period.
            Instead of dissmissing skinnability, how about working on any of three things:

    1. Skin deliberately to address at least some common visual disabilities.
    2. Code an app that shows how persons with common visual impairments see things (i.e. click button 1 to see what this web-page or interface would look like to a person with red-green color blindness... click button 2 to see what it looks like to someone with blue color blindness, click button 3 to see how this looks to the average 50 year old, etc.).
    3. publicize how OS is addressing these needs, if only to offset some of this "Open Source sounds like Communism" FUD you're so concerned about.

Never buy from a rich salesman. -- Goldenstern