Ubuntu Accessibility Part 4: The future of Ubuntu Accessibility
Thanks to the improvements in Linux's accessibility over the last 5 years, a lot more people with disabilities are able to make use of it, at least part time. There are also a hand full of users who use Linux full time, even though there is still much to be improved. It is these users who have helped get Linux accessibility to where it is today. I am proud to be one of these users, firstly using it part time, and then full time from mid 2004 up till now. The desire to help improve Linux's accessibility is what has kept my interest, and what lead me to getting involved with improving Ubuntu's accessibility.
Since first discovering the GNOME accessibility project, helping to start the Ubuntu Accessibility Team, and helping with furthering both projects developments, I strongly and passionately believe that within 2 years, given enough manpower, Linux will be a viable free alternative to proprietary solutions, for the vast majority of users. Already, it is an alternative that provides users with an out of the box solution for computer use, for the cost of the computer hardware alone. With Linux being able to run quite happily on older hardware, this allows people who have disabilities, and are not as well off as others, to be able to make use of computer technology, and have access to the same opportunities in life, that the Internet has already brought those of us fortunate to have such technology at our fingertips.
I would like to see Ubuntu at the forefront of developments in assistive technologies, and delivering these technologies to users. At the same time, any improvements we make where possible, should be given back to the Linux community, so other distributions also benefit. I would also like to raise more awareness of what Linux has to offer in terms of assistive technologies, and encourage all Linux distributions to make accessibility a higher priority in their development. This is a field where all distributions need to join together, and put up a united front to compete with the proprietary technologies available on Windows, and Mac OS X.
There is also the issue of Linux on the enterprise desktop to consider. As more and more governments around the world bring in legislation for anti-discrimination, equal opportunity employment etc., the importance of having accessibility solutions available on corporate/enterprise, and education institution desktop systems becomes more crucial. I strongly believe that if Linux is to be seriously considered for use in enterprise and education, we need to ensure that there is a mature set of assistive technologies ready to go, and supportable by distribution vendors. Ubuntu could be the leader in providing a totally out of the box accessibility solution, that can easily be deployed in education institutions, and on the enterprise desktop.
Take a recent example, in the deployment of Ubuntu desktops for use by students in Macedonia. It is fantastic that they have decided to use Edubuntu for their OS of choice. However, at this point, if there was a student who had a disability, while there is technology to help them, this technology is not nearly as tightly integrated as it could be, particularly when it comes to the LTSP client/server model that Edubuntu uses. There is also likely to be poor, or even no support for their native language, not in the UI, but in the speech synthesizer, espeak. Espeak supports many languages already, but in no way does it support the number of languages that Linux itself supports.
In my next posts, I will go into such issues in more detail, and outline how we as a community, can solve them. We need to be sure that other countries/education institutions can make the Linux/Ubuntu choice, without fear of having little or nothing to offer their disabled students.