- by Jack Bryar -
Before the Andover network began to transmogrify itself into a Linux and Open Source
center, I had a tradition. I usually ended the year with a
urging people to contribute their end-of-year bonus to any number of
charities I had researched and deemed worthy.This year is a little different. For one thing, the entire Linux
is largely centered around hacker donations of time and expertise to
the next big software thing. Go to a site like our own
SourceForge and virtually
you see is the result of donations of time and expertise by thousands of
volunteer developers. Why urge charitable contributions on a community
built around a volunteer ethos?
The problem is that it isn't enough. One of the problems with the
of Linux onto the scene is that the number of software projects
far exceeds the number of potential developers capable of doing the
or interested in doing the work. As a consequence, many worthy projects
need to be built or fixed or finished are left uncompleted. Many recent
software projects seem to be stuck in permanent beta purgatory. They are
studded with bugs that are extremely well documented but which never get
fixed. The reason? Not all worthy projects are intellectually
And bug fixing is just as tedious and boring in volunteer environments
it is in corporate ones.
The community needs to realize that there is going to be some important
that can't be managed on a volunteer basis. This problem isn't unique to
Open Source community. But it is the reason why most non-profits have
paid staff members. And it's the reason that members of the Open Source
need to consider increasing their financial support as well as donating
Take the issue of adaptive technology for the blind. It costs a fortune... and it sucks. The Open Source community could
a solution, but could volunteers alone sustain such an effort?
High tech has not been friendly to the handicapped, particularly the
on personal computers. Most programs are difficult to navigate for the blind. Even
tasks, such as installing software, can't be done without assistance
a sighted person. Such technical barriers go a long way towards
why, even in an era of full employment, the unemployment rate is so high
among handicapped workers. Even today, nearly 70% of the blind remain
JP Schnapper-Casteras, much adaptive technology is both
expensive" and poorly designed. Software and systems needed to assist a
computer user can easily triple the cost of ownership. While there have
attempts to adapt Linux to the visually handicapped (BLINUX comes to
Schnapper-Casteras thinks the time is right for a more comprehensive
JP has been trying to coordinate the development of a complete Linux
designed around the needs of the visually handicapped, that could lower
costs of custom software and adaptive equipment. The project, called
will involve a mix of current, free Linux software, mixed with new code,
to develop a consistent "Audio User Interface (AUI)." The idea behind
proposed distribution is to make the system easier to install and use, and
execute on low-end adaptive equipment.
Is this a worthy cause? I think it is. Curtis Chung, the Technology
of the National Federation of the Blind, worries that Linux doesn't have
sufficient acceptance in the workplace to be a solution compared to
But Windows we can't fix -- Linux we can. And the lower costs associated
(at least in theory) with a Linux-based solution may help lower the
to employment for many.
Can for-profit firms get into the act? Maybe. But if developing Linux
for the sighted is a loss-leader for Linux-centric developers, it is
pretty unlikely that anyone is going to make money on Linux for the
Can such a project be sustained by volunteer efforts? That's more of an
If you want to help by writing code you could
SourceForge and let Ocularis and other worthy projects know of your
and skill set. You can also
email the Ocularis
Technical and non-technical help is welcome.
However, I suspect that more than volunteerism will be needed here.
worthy project is not going to be all that interesting from a
point of view. And the most motivated would-be users don't have access.
could be time for a donation of m-o-n-e-y.
Schnapper-Casteras is organizing a Linux Accessibility Conference this
22-23 in Los Angeles. I understand he's still looking for sponsors and
assistance. That will require your checkbook. And if you want to make a
significant contribution to financing (gasp) paid
to do some of the necessary grunt work to develop the distribution ---
would also require writing a check.
A good distribution won't solve a lot of the problems associated with
access. Over at Slashdot last year, Chung
challenges faced by visually impaired people trying to operate in a
tech environment. He suggested that new technologies, such as the Web,
creating as many barriers as they removed. Unfortunately for the
many Web sites are not well put together, and don't consider the
Chung says that, even with adaptive technology, overbuilt or badly
sites are hard to navigate, "because the format is too complex or
of the exclusive use of unlabeled graphics or image maps to get to
places on the web site."
In Peabody, Massachusetts, the Center for
Special Technology, or CAST, has tried to sensitize Web developers
the need to make their designs handicapped-accessible. A couple of years
back, they developed a Web site called
Bobby . Bobby is a proofing
to help page developers to anticipate whether web pages are
even with adaptive tools. Sadly, our own SourceForge home page is
nearly impossible for the handicapped to navigate, according to
Even the Ocularis page
has some problems.
CAST is another worthy program worth supporting, and they, too would
it if you contacted
them. And I'm sure they wouldn't mind it if you sent them a little
- Jack, Kathleen, Justine, Alexandra & Sam Bryar
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