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Linux Journal: Accessibility: The Next Challenge for Linux

Jun 13, 2000, 08:20 (7 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Bryan Pfaffenberger)


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"As many as 500 million people worldwide have disabilities that are impacted by inaccessible software design. If you're developing software for Linux, take a moment to read this article and learn how to make software more accessible for people with limited vision, hearing and dexterity."

"Linux (and free software in general) is about social justice. If you don't believe this assertion, just ask the growing numbers of Linux users in impoverished countries. In some countries, the cost of a personal computer, operating system and a commercial office suite exceeds the per capita annual income. Projects such as KDE, the K Office suite, GNOME, Gnumeric and Abiword promise to bring computer technology to people and communities who might not otherwise have the means to afford it. Still, the Linux community could be doing a better job of addressing the needs of another disadvantaged community: people with disabilities. And we're not talking about small numbers here. According to a recent Microsoft estimate, as many as 30 million U.S. citizens and half a billion people worldwide have physical or cognitive disabilities that limit their use of inaccessibly designed computer systems."

"Here's an area in which Microsoft has established a commanding lead. In 1995, following several years of internal consciousness-raising by accessibility champion Greg Lowney, a former Windows project manager, Microsoft announced a formal corporate policy of taking responsibility for the accessibility of its products. You'll learn more about the results of this policy as you read what follows, but let me make my point up front. Although Microsoft deserves unstinting praise for its leadership in this area, there's an argument (and, I think, a very important and convincing one) that the interests of people with disabilities aren't well-served by a market that gives them no genuine alternative to Microsoft products. A critical analysis of Microsoft's accessibility initiatives discloses that they are not entirely altruistic; in fact, they fit very neatly into Microsoft's ambitions to acquire near-total dominance of the PC operating system market. What's more, Microsoft's efforts to draw communities of people with disabilities into a Microsoft-only world could serve, in the end, to discourage the development of revolutionary new assistive technologies that rely on a looser coupling between the operating system, window manager, and desktop environment - precisely the technical advantage that Linux provides."

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