Open source and disability

People challenged by their own bodies need the savings open source provides more than anyone else does. When might they get them?

In 2006 open source did best in two kinds of markets:

  1. Enterprises investing in solutions and seeking a return.
  2. Mass markets where costs are spread out over millions of users.

The disabled have neither of these advantages. (Image from Assistive Technologies Inc.) When you lose your sight, your hearing, or your mobility you become a minority. Your ability to invest in solutions declines, although the necessity of such investment becomes absolute.

Worse, the disabled are not all one minority. Your specific problem defines your market need. How blind are you? How much mobility do you have? Different folks for different strokes.

As a result the assistive, adaptive and accessible markets are balkanized, and each segment within that market becomes too small to benefit much from open source.

This is why Microsoft beat the Open Document Format in Massachusetts. The makers of screen enlargers did not support it. They only supported Microsoft's format. So open source could be spun as discriminating against the handicapped.

We're getting the same spin now regarding Microsoft Vista. It's more accessible than ever. But it's not that accessible, it's just that open source projects are less-so.

If I had a personal Christmas wish, it would be that this change in the coming year. People challenged by their own bodies need the savings open source provides more than anyone else does. When might they get them?

We can start the effort here, at the California Technology & Persons with Disabilities Conference, to be held this March at Cal State Northridge. There is plenty of room on the exhibitors' list for open source representatives.