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March 18th, 2015

FOSS & Accessibility: The New Frontier

Charlie Kravetz said he was a little nervous at SCALE 13x. Not only had his presentation slides gorped about a week ahead of the expo (he got them back together and working, of course), it was Charlie’s first time speaking in front of a group. And the message he wished to convey in his talk, “Accessibility in Software,” was an important one.

Charlie stepped up to the plate at SCALE 13x and knocked it out of the park.

Don’t take my word for it. Watch the video, which is available online.

Truth in advertising: I cheated. I wasn’t supposed to watch the live feed of Charile’s presentation during SCALE 13x because there’s a de facto rule about watching presentations in the hotel while they’re going on. But I was working in the media room and couldn’t get over to Century AB, the room where Charlie spoke.

The reason I mention this is that I was moved and inspired by Charlie’s talk, even watching it while doing other duties in the media room. I would suggest you watch too before reading further. It was a real eye-opener from a first-time speaker. It wasn’t so much his delivery — clear and concise in a very folksy manner — but what was revealed in the talk that made it so enlightening.

Knocking on wood, I have no use for accessibility software, so it’s not something I think about often. Not yet, anyway. In fact, it seems that unless you’re a developer with some sort of disability, you probably don’t think of accessibility software at all.

This needs to change, and change quickly. Despite a wide range of philosophical viewpoints about the purposes of technology — ranging from simply lining one’s pockets to a keystone in helping humanity advance (I’m firmly in the latter camp) — there’s an opportunity in the wider world of software to make advancements in accessibility; to make technology work for those who need it.

So this is the gauntlet being thrown at the feet of any developers wishing to pick it up: I’m in — with what limited programming skills and wealth of documentation and organizational skills I have — with helping folks like Charlie and my FOSS Force colleague Ken Starks organize, produce and promote FOSS accessibility programs. It’s a natural use — probably the most fundamental use — of technology: to able the disabled as much as possible.

The choices are simple: Do you want to produce the next Angry Birds — entertaining but not uplifting — or do you want to help give speech to the silent? Do you want to develop “the next big thing”(TM) or do you want to help those with communications disabilities communicate — receiving and transmitting communications — like everyone else? At its most base level, do you want to write software that helps the wider world rather than one that just helps a few?

The choice is pretty clear.

Are you in? Mention what you’d like to do in the comments below and feel free to contact me at lcafiero at fossforce dot com if you’d prefer.

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Larry Cafiero

Larry Cafiero, a.k.a. Larry the Free Software Guy, is a journalist and a Free/Open Source Software advocate. He is involved in several FOSS projects and serves as the publicity chair for the Southern California Linux Expo. Follow him on Twitter: @lcafiero

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4 comments to FOSS & Accessibility: The New Frontier

  • Colonel Panik

    Thanks Larry, that presentation was awesome.

    We need some “How I used Linux and saved the ___________”
    stories. You fill in the blank.

    I don’t understand this Linux stuff other than it is/was
    community driven. Community works when we do it right.

  • Bruce Byfield

    What makes accessibility especially important is that many of those who need it are unemployed and can’t afford proprietary acessibility tools.

    Moreover, the only way they can get the proprietary tools is through a grant from a government program or NPO. That means, in effect, that governments and NPOs are subsidizing commercial software vendors.

  • Neticis

    Never ending changes of GTK, QT libraries cause unstabilities in accessibility tools. Therefore I recommend Luwrain Linux (http://luwrain.org), which uses approach similar to Android, but with proper Java.

  • Never ending changes of GTK, QT etc. graphical libraries cause unstabilities in accessibility tools.
    Therefore I recommend joining forces around Luwrain Linux (http://luwrain.org), which uses approach similar to Android but with proper Java and all Java benefits.