Handicap International Centre icom’November 28, 2008 4:39 pm community, freesoftware, gnome
Friday afternoon I went along to Handicap International’s Centre icom’ here in Lyon, to see what they do first hand, to talk to the people there, and to figure out if there was any way that GNOME could be working better with people like them.
Handicap International, like all of the other groups I have talked to involved in bringing IT to people with disabilities – or indeed to anyone who doesn’t know computing very well – have a natural affinity with Free Software. First, for its price – equivalent proprietary software is expensive. But also for the philosophy of Universal Access that is so important to the GNOME project – that everyone should be able to access IT, regardless of their culture, or their physical or technical ability.
We had a great afternoon, including role-playing. I played a deaf person who could lip-read, it was eye-opening to see how long it took for people to realise what my handicap was, when a few extra minutes taken at the start of the session would have helped a lot. We got to try lots of AT, including a golf-cap with a metal tip for controlling the mouse with head movements, and a software face-tracker that worked with an ordinary webcam, both of which brought home just how hard using a computer is if you can’t use a mouse (we used both with dwell-clicking enabled).
It was surprising to see how little specific AT hardware there was – all the PCs were normal, and 90% of what the Centre does is set up preferences, and where necessary use specialised software.
One other thing was surprising – in spite of being aware of Dasher, there is no-one in the center that uses it – they prefer the on-screen keyboard. I wonder if there isn’t room for a dialogue there – and I would definitely like to hear from people using Dasher for actual data entry, to see in what situations it’s adopted.