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Blind leading away from open source

Because ODF software does not yet work with screen magnifiers, which make computer documents usable by those who are legally blind, the state of Massachusetts is backing-away from its commitment to mandate the format.
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Written by Dana Blankenhorn, Inactive on

UPDATE: The man originally pictured here, Andrew Updegrove, writes in his blog that he is and was a supporter of the ODF standard, that the article noted here was not meant to oppose it and was not written for the Commission. He is currently vacationing, however, and I hope to interview him soon. Meanwhile, I've taken his picture out and made minor changes to the text, reflecting his views.

The original Computerworld story on this can be found here.  

I'm sure this is just a hiccup, but apparently the blind have given Massachusetts' efforts to mandate open source the shaft.

Because Open Document Format (ODF) software (Open Office) does not yet work with screen magnifiers, which make computer documents usable by those who are legally blind, the state of Massachusetts is backing-away from its commitment to mandate the format.

The Disability Policy Commission had been among those objecting to the mandate, and they were thrilled by the decision. For now the mandate is being put-off for at least a year. Windows has a magnifier built-in to XP, and Dolphin's Lunar only says it works with "Windows applications." Peter Korn of Sun wrote a long post last November which speaks to all this on ODF's behalf.

Korn blamed the vendors for the problem:

If Freedom Scientific and GW Micro and Dolphin Computer Access (makers of JAWS, Window Eyes, and SuperNova respectively) were to make similar investments in scripting and customizing their assistive technologies for OpenOffice.org as they have for Microsoft Office, or if they were to improve their existing scripting and customizations for WordPerfect and Wordperfect were to support ODF, then screen reader users should have no accessibility barriers to equal productivity and efficiency with ODF as they have with Microsoft Office in Windows.

"Credit" for this goes to attorney Andrew Updegrove (above), who wrote a paper for the Commission last year challenging the state's action. He has not yet commented because, according to his blog, he's hiking in northern Arizona. If you see him there ask him about it.

Personally I think that ODF support from disability software makes sense. But when that market is controlled by proprietary vendors who won't do the work, what is the open source movement to do?

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