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VRUG Linux desktop push could benefit disabled


To: <voicegroup@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>,<voice-users@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>,<VoiceComp@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>,<DragonNaturallySpeaking@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Subject: VRUG Linux desktop push could benefit disabled
From: <WheelsJL@xxxxxxx>
Date: Fri, 12 Oct 2001 14:34:59 -0500
Importance: Normal
Sender: <owner-voice-users@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>

I thought some of you may be interested in this:

Linux desktop push could benefit disabled
The Technology Network

Linux desktop push could benefit disabled
By Terry Costlow, EE Times
Oct 10, 2001 (2:01 PM)
URL:
http://www.eetimes.com/story/OEG20011010S0069

If the push to extend Linux to the desktop is successful, the disabled will
be big beneficiaries. The Gnome Accessibility Framework is finalizing a
release
that incorporates support for accessible applications programs, a move that
will make it far simpler for developers to link peripherals such as screen
readers to systems running the open-source Linux operating system.

The project to develop the hooks needed for accessibility hardware and
software was begun by Sun Microsystems Inc. (Palo Alto, Calif.), but has now
gained
the help of a number of companies within and without the small industry that
focuses on accessibility for handicapped people. Among them are IBM,
HP-Compaq
and Linux proponents Red Hat, Eazel and TurboLinux.

"Gnome 2.0 has been completely redesigned; we're building full support for
disabilities into it," said Peter Korn, accessibility manager at Sun,
referring
to the GNU project's Gnome platform for home and office desktop PCs. "It's
no longer just a Sun effort. We have gotten lots of help from the open
community."

"Those of us on the receiving end of this haven't seen anything to base a
firm reaction on, but in theory what they're doing will be very beneficial,"
said
Bud Rizer, director of the Center on Disabilities at California State
University, Northridge (CSUN). "I'm sure this will come to market soon;
they've put
too much into it not to get it out."

The Gnome Accessibility Framework is expected to ship late his year, and
those involved in simplifying computer access for disabled people are
anxious to
see it in action. (The word, an acronym for GNU Network Object Model
Environment, is pronounced guh-nome.)

Moreover, the timing for the framework's arrival is propitious. Earlier this
year, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act was enacted, directing federal
agencies to provide computer and Internet access to people with disabilities
or face being sued.

Some observers contend that 54 million Americans, about one in five, have
some form of disability, from carpal-tunnel syndrome to more severe
impairments.
Proponents of accessibility technology also contend that many of the
developments which make products useful for disabled people benefit other
citizens
as well. Sidewalk cutouts, for example, are an aid not only to people in
wheelchairs but also to bicyclists and skateboarders.

Whether or not the Gnome Accessibility Framework sees widespread usage, of
course, hinges on the overall acceptance of Gnome itself on the desktop. Sun
has pledged to adopt Gnome for its own desktop environment, and a number of
major companies also support it.

Gnome is up against stiff competition, however, since it hopes to vie with
Microsoft Office for desktop preeminence. Meanwhile, Microsoft Corp. too is
putting
a strong emphasis on accessibility software. The Redmond, Wash., company has
mustered a 40-member team that has contact with all in-house development
groups,
advising them on accessibility issues. Microsoft last year won an award for
12 years of effort in computer accessibility.

Hooks for accessibility have been built right into the Gnome framework,
making it far simpler to integrate hardware and software that meets the
needs of
handicapped people. Screen readers, voice-recognition programs and
speech-synthesis systems are among the types of gear that can help the
disabled operate
computers. "Products can work with the full operations of the operating
system they're running on instead of being bolted on and working just with
some
things," said Sun's Korn.

Java has these hooks, and its developers at Sun have garnered much praise
for including them in that OS. "A few months ago, the American Foundation
for
the Blind [gave an award to] Java for building the hooks in. Java was a
predecessor to Gnome," Korn said.

Many of the companies that serve the disabilities marketplace are looking
forward to the availability of Gnome because it will simplify their
development
cycles. The open-source Linux environment is expected to go through fewer
changes than other operating systems, so the time and expense of upgrading
to
new OS versions will be vastly diminished. That's a big concern in the
accessibility world, since many of the companies in the field have just a
handful
of employees and limited resources.

"Compared with the mainstream computer companies, companies in the disabled
marketplace are very, very small," said Rizer of CSUN. "Each time there's a
change in the desktop environment, going back to the time of DOS, they have
had to do a total redesign of their products. If Sun does this [Gnome
framework]
as planned, those types of changes won't be necessary anymore, and they can
focus on developing better products."

Korn added that Sun's experience in making Java accessible to designers of
equipment for handicapped people has helped in the creation of the Gnome
Accessibility
Framework. "When people go from Windows 95 to 98 to ME, companies need to
create new versions of screen readers, or whatever product they make," Korn
said.
"They have not had to do that with Java, and they will not have to do that
with Gnome. We've said this is the responsibility of the platform. It's like
building a house with Legos: People usually use stock windows and doors. In
software, if there are stock pieces available for free, people will use
them,
so that's what we've done in Gnome."

Affordable systems

Korn and others believe that as more accessibility components become widely
available, the cost of equipment will decline, making computing far more
affordable
for the handicapped and the agencies that serve them, both of which often
are on tight budgets.

"There are tremendous implications for supports and maintenance costs as
well as for the initial costs," Korn said. "If it doesn't take an
engineering team
a year to write a screen reader, a screen reader might not cost $1,200."

In addition to the Accessibility Framework, Sun has released version 1.4 of
its Java 2 software development kit. The kit contains core support for
accessibility
and the Swing user interface libraries, which support the Java accessibility
API (also included in the kit). Other elements include the Java Runtime
environment
and plug-ins for browsers. Sun is also shipping version 0.4 of the Java
Accessibility Helper, a test tool for Java accessibility.

EE Times
www.cmpnet.com
The Technology Network

Copyright 1998
CMP Media Inc.


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