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Open Source Accessibility

CmdrTaco posted more than 8 years ago | from the something-to-think-about dept.

Software 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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319 comments

Eyesight doesn't matter (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14043160)

In the future I plan to have my eyes replaced with robotic versions that allow multiple spectrum viewing and that also shoot laser beams.

Re:Eyesight doesn't matter (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14043206)

I plan to have my eyes replaced by fricking sharks with your eyeballs attached to their heads.

I have no doubt they'll cave (-1, Flamebait)

RapidEye (322253) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043182)

All the bleeding heart libs in power in Mass will cave - they always pander to the lowest common denominator instead of doing what is right for the common good!

Re:I have no doubt they'll cave (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14043207)

What is the common good? Who does the common good include?

Re:I have no doubt they'll cave (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14043340)

"Whatever is good for RapidEye is the common good". Or so I would surmise.

If liberals are bleeding hearts pandering to the lowest common denominators, conservatives are greedy savages who only pander to themselves.

Re:I have no doubt they'll cave (1)

muellerr1 (868578) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043243)

Clearly, the lowest common denominator would be anyone less fortunate than you are. And the common good would be to marginalize those people as much as possible. Just as long as you're above the cutoff line for lowest common denominator, there shouldn't be any problems, should there?

Oh wait, were you making a joke? Sometimes my Republican-dar isn't sensitive enough.

Re:I have no doubt they'll cave (1)

RapidEye (322253) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043408)

I won't even bother with those too cowardly to post with their own names...

As to Joking/Republican-dar - you need to get BOTH calibrated; 'cause I'm neither! =-)

Re:I have no doubt they'll cave (2, Insightful)

tscheez (71929) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043256)

Actually, you'd think the libs would fight the "evil corporation" that is Microsoft and force them to support OpenDocument.

Re:I have no doubt they'll cave (2, Insightful)

kimvette (919543) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043573)

No, there really isn't liberalism here in Massachussets - just typical politics. That is, whoever has the largest lobbying budget and pulls the most puppet strings will get their way. This is true at the local level, at the state level, and of course at the Federal level.

No, this is not flamebait, it's just the simple truth regarding politics in general. When was the last time any elected official acted in the best benefit of the common good rather than pander to lobbiests? See DMCA for example, and the broadcast flag, and current efforts to change P2P trading to a felony so that 14-yr-old children can be permanently marked as non-voting felons before they're even of voting age despite record companies' posting great profits in the face of P2P networks.

Re:I have no doubt they'll cave (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14043272)

Supporting people with accessibility is in the common good. Plain
fact is that if you have poor sight then you either use windows
or ignore the desktop (which you can do with emacspeak for instance).

This is a poor state of affairs.

Ironically, slashdot has a "type what you can see in the box" check for anonymous posting which is TOTALLY UNACCESSIBLE. Get it fixed guys.

Phil

Re:I have no doubt they'll cave (1)

B'Trey (111263) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043550)

You're mixing apples and oranges here.

In Mass, we're talking about government. Government has a responsibility to represent, support and answer to everyone. It's the very reason for government's existence. Reasonable efforts need to be made to support those with disabilities. I'd suspect that we would disagree on what constitutes "reasonable effort" but we do agree that disabled people have a right to access government services.

Slashdot, on the other hand, is not a government service. In a rational society, it would have no legal obligation to support disabled individuals in any way. I'm not saying that it shouldn't provide support, only that it should not face legal repercussions if it does not do so. Of course, we don't live in a rational society. We live in one where a restaurant owner can be fined or shut down because the toilet is a quarter of an inch too close to the wall. We live in this [fortune.com] society. This is the kind of crap that leads to "bleeding heart liberal" comments like the one above.

Re:I have no doubt they'll cave (1)

KinkoBlast (922676) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043579)

I saw a worse site once. It had that, only more obuscured, or an audio file that read something off. Worked well, exept that the link to the audio version was in 3 point font :-(

Re:I have no doubt they'll cave (2, Insightful)

dslauson (914147) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043347)

Whoah, hold on! Protecting the rights of the disabled is not, as you say, sinking to the lowest common denominator. This is serious stuff, and they're right: this is an area where the open source software is deficient.

This isn't just grasping for straws, here. I used to work for the gov, and accessability is, and always has been, a big issue. All our web pages had to be ADA compliant, etc...

Of course it would be a total shame to see this make Mass. switch, but if OSS developers want adoption by government institutions, they'd better make accessability a consideration, otherwise this will always be a roadblock, and one that government institutions can't help but acknowledge.

Re:I have no doubt they'll cave (1)

CaymanIslandCarpedie (868408) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043547)

(sarcasam (making fun of parent post not REAL opinion))
No shit!!! I hate how those handicapped freaks get all the good parking spots. And how come my tax dollars have to pay for some stupid ramp up the courthouse steps for a few old farts in wheelchairs???? Those bleeding heart libs are ruining everything!!!! Why don't we just take those handicapped leeches on society out back, put a bullet in the head and move on for the common good?!?!? I swear, when I pull up the the liquor store just down the road from my trailer and see that handicapped van parked right in front so I have to walk an extra 20 feet, I get sooooo mad I could spit!!!!

Re:I have no doubt they'll cave (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14043553)

Yeah!! And while we're at it, why bother with those Islamic browsers like FF and Opera? Marginal stuff! Anybody not using IE deserves what they get... (foams at mouth, waves Taser gun around, goes red, sees red - everywhere...)

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

Ritz_Just_Ritz (883997) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Re:So let's fix it. (1)

AviLazar (741826) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043327)

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")

As for savings, well the software is free but is there savings, that has yet to be seen. I guess there are companies out there who will offer tech support (for a fee) for these open source programs so that should not be a problem.

Re:So let's fix it. (1)

dlthomas (762960) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043539)

Does anyone know what the specific greivances are? What does MS Office do that OpenOffice does not? What can be done to put it right? Let's get hacking, and I bet we can have OpenOffice out ahead of MS Office in accessability before the bureaucrats have made up their minds.

Re:So let's fix it. (1)

SComps (455760) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043568)

Maybe the community should request that Mass develope the accessibility features and submit a patch. That's what would be requested of any individual (rather than government).

Re:So let's fix it. (2, Insightful)

dwandy (907337) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043473)

(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! (4, Interesting)

EraserMouseMan (847479) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Umm uhhh..... (0, Flamebait)

bazmail (764941) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043204)

forgive me if i'm wrong but isn't accessability for retards? pffft

Re:Umm uhhh..... (2, Funny)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043350)

> ...isn't accessability for retards?

Can we assume you're using it?

Why don't they write a reader for it then? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14043567)

Look, the standard is open as opposed to closed like Microsoft. Openness gives options, not takes them away.
If they need a reader filter for it they can write one. It's not like there are no programmer interfaces for the blind. If anything, OpenSource makes it easier to implement options for special a needs person. In my opinion they should stop begging for someone to do the job for them and get to work learning how to do it for themselves.

You can open a door to knowledge, but most people are lazy apathetic self created tech morons, who will try to claw your eye's out while you guide them through the door.

Speaking of Accessibility (5, Funny)

Lord Byron II (671689) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043205)

Light grey text on a white background with salmon-colored links. That's just great on the ol' eyes!

Re:Speaking of Accessibility (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14043373)

(Score:3, Insightful)

*Chuckle*. Well modded.

Re:Speaking of Accessibility (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14043428)

Or not. I read black on white text most of the day and the site is a great deal less harsh on my eyes (granted, I'm not... I was going to say blind but given the context of the article I think that would be inapropriate, so I'll just point how inapropriate it was as an excuse for not having anything apropriate) than most junk I see and I think if more of the web were easier to read it would be saving us some serious eye strain. It's like using a bigger font (or just some magnification) in your text documents... it's a small change but it makes the reading a little easier on the eyes.

Re:Speaking of Accessibility (4, Informative)

Bogtha (906264) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Re:Speaking of Accessibility (1)

OrcaCSS (914574) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043510)

I agree. That color scheme causes some eye strain. Thank goodness for the fuctionality provided by the zap colors bookmarklet [squarefree.com] .

Re:Speaking of Accessibility (1)

tobiasly (524456) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043591)

And blind people are lucky in one respect... they aren't forced to look at blog owners' pictures on every link they click. If I have to look at the face of that guy who coined the term "Ajax" once more, I might gouge out my own eyes.

Accessibility isn't needed for everyone (5, Insightful)

alexwcovington (855979) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043209)

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)

Re:Accessibility isn't needed for everyone (1)

duffbeer703 (177751) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043250)

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!

Re:Accessibility isn't needed for everyone (1)

NastyNate (398542) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043336)

I believe what the GP post was stating was that since OpenOffice documents can be opened in MS word, there is no loss of accessibility to those who need to use MS Office products.

Re:Accessibility isn't needed for everyone (3, Interesting)

Bert64 (520050) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043405)

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?

Re:Accessibility isn't needed for everyone (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14043479)

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?

If they didn't have something to whine about, who would listen to them? It would be a huge loss of status. They can not abide that.

Re:Accessibility isn't needed for everyone (1)

PhilipMckrack (311145) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043585)

It could be that they are not in the software business and don't want to be. Not everyone wants to dink around with code to get their computers to work.

Re:Accessibility isn't needed for everyone (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14043493)

The law says that you must
...

The law says you must do this and you mustn't do that all the time. It means, of course, absolutely nothing. There are billions of dollars at stake here - in the end the law is nothing more than yet another piece of paper useful for removing feces from your backside. Only it isn't very good at that. Hard to remove feces with a feces-covered document.

This is nothing more than one paid lobbyist trying to derail something useful. Neither he (nor MS) gives a rat's butt about the disabled (if they did they would spend all of these legal fees buying special equipment for them... or perhaps donating free computers with disabled-friendly Windows already installed so they can use all of the disabled-friendly features). Anybody who thinks otherwise is either stupid or lying.

Re:Accessibility isn't needed for everyone (-1, Troll)

jonnythan (79727) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043322)

Dude, linux has been "catching up" for the last 10 years.

It's never going to "catch up."

Bigger command line text (3, Insightful)

doktorstop (725614) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043225)

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.

Re:Bigger command line text (3, Insightful)

Feyr (449684) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043269)

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.

Re:Bigger command line text (2, Insightful)

StrawberryFrog (67065) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043396)

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 become less so as the software is taken off the market.

Re:Bigger command line text (1)

Freexe (717562) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043390)

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 just look at what overs advise) and follow the guidelines where approperiate.

Re:Bigger command line text (1)

alfrin (858861) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043397)

Um, you are away you can set the font for a command line right? You can set it to a big font. That's been here forever.

Not just OSS in Mass? (3, Insightful)

DaveCar (189300) | more than 8 years ago | (#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 ;)

Re:Not just OSS in Mass? (3, Informative)

NutscrapeSucks (446616) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

on the other hand (1, Insightful)

lashi (822466) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043246)

on the other hand, open source means anyone (with the skills) can take matters in to their own hands and address these issues to a higher standard than a commercial product, eventually.

Where as in a big profit motivated company may not want to spend time and money to go beyond covering the majority.

Re:on the other hand (3, Funny)

BushCheney08 (917605) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043260)

on the other hand, open source means anyone (with the skills) can take matters in to their own hands...

I don't have hands, you insensitive clod!

Re:on the other hand (3, Insightful)

dyoung9090 (894137) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043460)

And yet, they aren't taking the matters into their hands because it's not a problem they're dealing with, a bug they want to work-around or a nifty idea that would make thier life better. See, that's the thing about commercial products... they are, by their very nature, forced to consider what other people want or they don't exist. With the little home-brew jobbers, it's only going to get created if the author/authors feel they'll get something out of it and usually that's accomplishing some task they want done, not some task that some minority that they don't know somewhere may have a use for it.

Re:on the other hand (4, Insightful)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043496)

Your comment is so vapid as to be worthless. Open source is just another software development/distribution model with it's own benefits and drawbacks. Nothing more, nothing less. People on here seem to think that by adding the word "open source" to something it will automagically be able to singlehandedly cure cancer, solve world hunger, and make Julian fries. It doesn't always work like that. Take your post for example:

on the other hand, open source means anyone (with the skills) can take matters in to their own hands and address these issues to a higher standard than a commercial product, eventually.
A claim so vague that it can't be verified or invalidated. WTF do you mean by "higher standard"? That seems to imply that there exists a single optimum solution to the problem that will make everyone happy. Well, if you have it I would like to hear it. Meanwhile, in the real world the "higher standards" dependend on both personal preference and problem domain. For example, is Linux at a "higher standard" than Windows? Depends on who you ask and in what context. Even in the open source world there are often competing(occaisionally conflicting) ideas on how to solve a particular problem, competition is good!

Where as in a big profit motivated company may not want to spend time and money to go beyond covering the majority.
Care to back this up? Or even explain how open source is really all that different? I have a lot of niche needs, and I find that open source doesn't cover them as often as it does. I use a propietary OS(Mac OS X) that covers a lot of my niche needs very well. I also use some other propietary software(in the realm of language learning) that is outside the majority, but it works rather well. There are open source alternatives, but they don't work as well for me personally. Does that mean they don't neccasarily work well for you? Of course not! Does the ideology put behind the product have any bearing on how well it functions? Again, not really. Thats not to say I don't use FOSS, on the contrary, I also use FOSS products that meet other demands that I have(I use emacs to write Ruby programs). So what was your point again?

What is it with these vacuous fanboy comments on slashdot anyway?

Re:on the other hand (1)

bcattwoo (737354) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043521)

Where as in a big profit motivated company may not want to spend time and money to go beyond covering the majority.

But a copmany can make a good chunk of change selling something like an office application to the government. Whether it suits the majority of users or not, they are not going to get any of those sales unless it meets a minimum level of accessibility. Seems like a good motive to meet those requirements especially if it is going to make you one of the only players in that field.

Sure any programmer with the skills could make the necessary additions to an open source project, but why haven't they? Since there is no financial motive there needs to be some personal or idealogical motivation instead. Perhaps this apparent roadblock will be the kick in the pants needed.

Re:on the other hand (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14043577)

OK, except Microsoft have addressed accessibility concerns in their software, and the OSS comunnity haven't, that's what people are complaining about. I can't believe that your post got modded 'insightful' when it's a complete load of crap, just shows how biased slashdotters are.

Then use closed source (3, Insightful)

mwvdlee (775178) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043251)

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... (5, Informative)

meringuoid (568297) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Re:Reading TFA... (1)

joukev (621725) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043527)

Why do most people think that accessibility is just an issue for the blind? There are so much more disabilities with their specific requirements!

Jouke Visser (who happens to be the author of an Open Source Assistive piece of software :) )

I can afford to ignore it. (1, Funny)

RandoX (828285) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043280)

At least for another 30 years or so...

Re:I can afford to ignore it. (3, Insightful)

Wudbaer (48473) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043485)

...until you happen to have that crippling accident or contract that nasty disease. I really hope neither will happen to you, but there are enough people that yesterday thought exactly like you and that today curse the city because of all the damned stairs they can't pass with their wheelchair.

Re:I can afford to ignore it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14043522)

So you're like 10yrs old. Early 40s is when your eyes start to go.

Marketshare (3, Insightful)

fireboy1919 (257783) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043283)

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.

The rights of the individual (5, Informative)

Billosaur (927319) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043288)

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...

Re:The rights of the individual (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14043482)

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

Yeah, but wouldn't it be a bitch if then stair manufacturers started lobbying the government on your behalf that it should forbid ramps and elevators, claiming that they "lag behind stairs, and thus that a transition to elevators and ramps will amount to discrimination against the mobility-impaired and those with other disabilities.".

The chuzpah that these Microsoft-funded think-tanks have!

Eyes as good as they used to be? (-1, Flamebait)

hesiod (111176) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043292)

> Eyes as good as they used to be?

That's why they make these amazing things -- discovered recently, I believe -- called glasses, which allow you to see when your sight has started going. Amazing.

Anyway, If you can't see well enough to use a computer, use some fucking paper.

Re:Eyes as good as they used to be? (2, Insightful)

ultranova (717540) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043484)

Anyway, If you can't see well enough to use a computer, use some fucking paper.

I wouldn't recommend that - there are some places where you really don't want papercuts.

Besides, if you can't see the computer screen, where you can adjust the contrast, brightness, and font size, and perhaps even get a screen reader to read the text to you, just how are you going to see text on paper ?

Accessibility is a decoy (-1)

SalsaDoom (14830) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043295)

This is, essentially, a steaming pile of horseshit. We are not talking about changing to OpenOffice here, we are in fact, talking about changing to an open format -- accessibility remains dependent on the OS and the application just like it always has -- it has nothing to do with the format.

Its annoying this is getting as much press as it is, its totally non-issue. Nothing, absolutely nothing has changed on the accessibility front.
--SD

What really needs to be done (4, Interesting)

JWW (79176) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Accesibility Problems Can Be Fixed.... (1)

hanavi (674554) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043308)

but the fact that not all people can afford to spend over $100 on proprietary software for a proprietary format that is _FORCED_ by a government... that is a little bit more of an issue to me when it could be accesible for free using an OpenSource solution...

Re:Accesibility Problems Can Be Fixed.... (2, Informative)

danielk1982 (868580) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043384)

but the fact that not all people can afford to spend over $100 on proprietary software for a proprietary format that is _FORCED_ by a government

They don't have to.

They can either view .doc files via OpenOffice (which 90% of the time does the job) or they can downloaded the doc viewer from Microsoft. =)

Besides, most of the time, documentation is used internally anyway.

Yeah well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14043318)

Since a lot of that accessibility stuff simply plugs into Word this is just another argument for forcing Micro$oft to adopt ODF...

I'm not sure this is accurate (4, Interesting)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 8 years ago | (#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 (3, Funny)

troon (724114) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043332)

Getting any younger?

Yes, I am.

Re:Youth (2, Funny)

shis-ka-bob (595298) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043520)

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.

Vendor issue? (1)

Mr Silly (878789) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043338)

It appear from the article that without multiple vendor support MS Office products would have the same accessability problems as Open Office. It would seem that getting the vendors on board who do text-to-speech screen readers and those who write comprehension software for those with cognitive imparement would go a long way to solving the problems that are percieved. For the most part though the article does say that Open Office does meet the needs of a great many with minor dissabilities. At what point does one decide that a program should be avoided?

Sorry, but this makes my blood boil... (5, Insightful)

Noryungi (70322) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043349)

[...] 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.

JAWS only works well with IE (1)

scubacuda (411898) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043357)

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.

Re:JAWS only works well with IE (1)

NutscrapeSucks (446616) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043437)

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.

Re:JAWS only works well with IE (1)

meringuoid (568297) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043448)

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...

Huh? (2, Interesting)

el_womble (779715) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043361)

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.
 

Re:Huh? (1)

arkanes (521690) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043495)

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.

Re:Huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14043608)

"look at Stephen Hawking - he writes books on physics that's got to be harder than programming!"

Yes all he needs is an able bodied person with a pen and lots of patience....

duh.

Uaaah... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14043365)

Open Source.

I write open source because I like to do. I don't care if the stuff I write sucks plain ass or takes away the jobs of millions.

I don't care about hyper-hysteric /. articles whining about problems and having names in them.

You want to know why?
Because I don't have to care about stupid whining.

That's the reason why open source might take a little longer but still it is written by happy programmers.

I'm not going paid for writing open source stuff. So stop your stupid 08/15-user whinge and use Windows instead. I lose neither money nor nerves if you do so.

Re:Uaaah... (2, Insightful)

joukev (621725) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043549)

Luckily not every Open Source developer is such an egocentric ass like you are

Open source opportunity (3, Insightful)

jimand (517224) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Accessability (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043389)

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.

Re:Accessability (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14043546)

XP Home can be had for under $100. Office 2003 Professinal is under $300.

Well, (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14043398)

I'd say they're right. Maybe they are arguing for the wrong reasons, but with the ADA, they've got a valid argument.

I'd disagree (3, Insightful)

Peregr1n (904456) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043402)

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.

Accessibility == Good Development Practices (1)

mogrify (828588) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043409)

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 accessibility standards).

At least on the web side, if you already follow good development practices, maintain W3C compliance, etc., then adding accessibility to the mix isn't that much of a stretch. We've got some legacy applications left over that are going to be hell to bring into compliance because these practices weren't followed - the HTML's all mixed in with the logic.

We've got a lot of work ahead, but we don't consider it a hardship - our site will be easier to maintain in the long run, because accessibility standards just happen to encourage a highly maintainable site design.

Non Sequitor Argument? (4, Insightful)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

The Issue is "Screen Readers" (2, Insightful)

cwgmpls (853876) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043422)

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 certainly none of them are taught to blind students in school so it is unlikely that they are much use to the general blind community at the moment.

All it would take is for some reputable Windows screen reader maker, like Freedom Scientific or GWMicro to come out with a version for KDE or something. Certainly those folks have the skills and knowledge of the blind community to do it right and be quickly adopted by blind users. Why doesn't some Linux group cozy up to one of those two companies, get the product developed, and put this issue behind them?

If they're that serious about accessibility, they (1)

ArsenneLupin (766289) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043424)

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

Sheesh!

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 back the stairs!

Re:If they're that serious about accessibility, th (1)

cwgmpls (853876) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043461)

Actually, the most popular screen reader on the market, JAWS by Freedom Scientific, only works consistantly with IE and nothing else. That is because Freedom Scientific has a very cozy relationship with MS and codes their screen reader to work specifically with IE. If the OpenDocument people want the same level of screen reader support that MS gets from Freedom Scientific and GWMicro, they are going to have to develop the same tight relationship with these mainstream assistive technology companies that MS now enjoys.

I call bs! (1)

ankarbass (882629) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043430)

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.

Re:I call bs! (1)

ankarbass (882629) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043456)

bah

I don't believe that anyone thinks that you can...

Competitive Bid Process (2, Insightful)

sunderland56 (621843) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043455)

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.

Give them large monitors (4, Funny)

aphaenogaster (884935) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Obligatory monitor off reference (5, Informative)

192939495969798999 (58312) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043506)

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.

If I can't open the document in the future... (1)

MWales (686969) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043514)

If I can't open the document in the future because a future version of Microsoft Word fails to recognize my word document made with Word 2000, how will the accessibility features help anything? The motivation behind open document format is to preserve the ability to open these documents in the future.

And if accessibility is such a big issue, couldn't concerned users have both Open Office and Word installed, then have Open Office save the file as a word document, so said disabled person can use Word to view it.

Where were they in 2000 (2, Insightful)

kimvette (919543) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043531)

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 version of OOo/Star Office, they are going to make reasonable accomodations by giving those users Microsoft Office (they've been up-front about this from the very beginning) and others will convert documents as-needed for those employees.

This whole "Accessibility issue" is merely a strawman Microsoft is trying to raise, because they are intent on not supporting OpenDoc because if they were forced to support the OpenDoc spec, then vendor lock is a thing of the past and the office suite market will once again be competitive. Who knows? Maybe IBM will bring back Lotus Smartsuite (AMI Pro was great in its prime) and maybe Corel will fix WordPerfect and make it into a viable product again, because if competition is introduced, there will be incentive for others to put R&D into their office suites, and then products can be chosen by both technical merit and cost, and not due to vendor lock due to purchase decisions made 10+ years ago.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts already has plans for reasonable accomodations. The law doesn't require that EVERYTHING be accessible, but that accomodations be made for those who need the accessibility, and by offering Microsoft Office to those dealing with physical handicaps, they have fulfilled that legal AND ethical requirement.

So What? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14043561)

I'm kinda sick of all the preferential treatment that has been levereaged to a few thousand people. This is just plain stupid. Brail at drive through ATMs? Insane ammounts of reserved parking at Fry's? Mandatory fonts so huge people in Nepal can see them on your screen. Where will it end?

There, I said it. Mod me down. I really don't care.

Open Office Evolution/Intelligent Design (1)

digitaldc (879047) | more than 8 years ago | (#14043563)

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 it will follow in the footsteps of Google's success and become as ubiquitous as Office is today. New innovations and features will come with time.
Read more here:
http://www.openoffice.org/dev_docs/features/2.0/ [openoffice.org]

my 0.02$ (3, Insightful)

dogfull (819023) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.
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