Monday, October 30, 2006

Some thoughts on assistive technology

Forgive me if the posts in the next few weeks lean a little heavier toward access technology, but the release of Internet Explorer 7 and pending release of Windows Vista are of particular interest, and will be greatly impacting, to those who rely on screen readers and magnifiers.

I just read a very good rant/discussion about
The truth about Windows Vista and the assistive technology industry
By Ranger1138 on
The Ranger Station, a blog written by “some dude in the assistive technology field.”

Ranger1138 brings up some good points about Microsoft’s approach to accessibility, costs of assistive technology, and how Microsoft is not the big, bad evil corporation, as many allege, but has, instead, provided the Windows platform that laid the foundation for uniformity in operating systems that has given blind folks the ability to use assistive technology to market themselves in the workplace today.

Another aspect of assistive technology I want to throw out today is open source. Are you familiar with open source software? It is a community approach to software development and has led to many innovations in the computer industry. Linux is the open source operating system. The code that makes open source software work is just that, open, and lets any software engineer work with it to tweak it as part of a bigger team. The added incentive is that many open source applications are free, or nearly free.

You may not know it, but there is an open source screen reader and magnifier program called
The engineers working on the Orca project are seeking input from users on what the program needs. The engineers will base their design on the input they receive.

In the Carroll Tech blog,
All About Access,
Joanie Diggs attempts to figure out why blind computer users are not participating in this ambitious and promising project. She seems flustered that the blind people who would benefit most are not providing input for the engineers who want to build a product that the group needs.

While her argument that this model of open source development is different than the current model in how blind users acquire assistive technology may have some merit, I think that the larger group of blind computer users either do not know about Orca or do not feel that they are tech-savvy enough to install and use the software, much less provide feedback on what it needs.


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