Free Software Foundation Embraces Accessibility

by Ostatic Staff - May. 11, 2010

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) has appointed a director of access technology software for the GNU Project, and published an accessibility statement to encourage Free Software developers to embrace accessibility guidelines.

Chris Hofstader, the new director, has an interesting background. According to the FSF release, Hofstader has a history working with proprietary software for people with visual impairments. Hofstader, who is now blind himself, decided that the proprietary model can't do the best job at making software for people with disabilities.

The statement from the FSF states the case for free software and accessibility very effectively:

People with disabilities deserve to have control of their own technological destinies. When they use proprietary access technology, they have little or no way to correct whatever is wrong with it. Virtually all major decisions of the proprietary developers are made by people who do not have the disability;20 years' experience shows that people with unusual combinations of disabilities, who require relatively unusual software, or who encounter a bug that keeps them from doing their job have no way to obtain the changes they need. These products are only changed or improved when the vendors see a business reason for doing the work; this leaves many users behind. As a secondary problem, proprietary access software is far more expensive than a PC. Many users cannot afford to give up their freedom in this way.

For users with disabilities, as for all other users, free software is the only way the users can control their own computing, their only chance to make software fit their needs rather than passively accepting whatever developers choose to offer them.

The accessibility statement goes a bit farther than it should with a swipe at cloud computing ("please don't invite users to do something on a server that they could conceivably do on their own computers"), but is otherwise well worth reading. But it's good to see the FSF encouraging accessibility. If this means that the FSF is going to keep pushing accessibility and working to make sure GNU software is accessible, it's a very good move.