Monday, November 26, 2007

I found a post from someone who's discussing the use of the OLPC XO laptop as assistive technology for disabled persons in developing countries. I had to look up the term AAC, which I hadn't encountered before -- it's "augmentive and alternative communication".

OLPC + assistive tech for disabled persons = an idea whose time has come. I already have been thinking about the uses of a ruggedized, spillproof, portable device like the XO for persons like my friend Joe J, whose fine motor control is limited and who frequently needs to replace computer keyboards as a result of the additional wear-and-tear his condition causes. But for him to be able to use it, the XO would need a screen reader capable of interfacing with his braille display. XO-compatible screen-reading software isn't in existence yet, but if there's a demand for it, I'm certain that it soon WILL be.

I'm bookmarking the assistive-tech blog. I'm glad to see that there are others, who WORK in the assistive-tech field, who've been thinking along the same lines as me.


Samuel Sennott said...

Gabey, I really like the way you are thinking. It is a fine line balancing the idea of open source accessible software with the excellent proprietary software we have now.

Yet, for children and adults in developing nations, we don't really have a choice, do we?

What do you think about which sector of the open source community would be best for creating software of this type?

Donna said...

I'm not entirely familiar with the sectors of the open source community... yet. I kind of came in the side door of that discussion, rather than the main entrance, because I started to become aware of it as I started educating myself about the OLPC project. But I think anyone who understands what the accessibility software is trying to accomplish should have a go at getting it to run on the XO. They just need to have a clear idea of what the purpose of the software is, and what it needs to be able to do.

This is as opposed to a video I was watching on YouTube a few days ago regarding a GameJam (I think that's what it was called) where people had a contest for writing educational games for the XO. The presenter explained that displaying text needed to be avoided, because the XO's users will be in multiple different countries using different languages and even different alphabets. Text that appears in a game would require translation into every one of those languages. One programmer asked, "So displaying text is bad, but displaying text as a graphic is OK?" The answer was no, that was even worse because it would make it even harder to translate into different languages. But my point is, I heard that question and thought, "This programmer doesn't quite Get It yet. He sees the task as writing a game program, rather than writing a game program that's supposed to accomplish certain educational goals."

Anyway, people creating accessible XO-compatible software will need to understand the needs of the people who will be USING the software. Just getting software to work on an XO won't be enough -- it will have to do what the users NEED it to do.

And this is the tricky part -- if additional hardware is required, such as a refreshable braille display for example, when THAT is designed for use by children in developing countries, it will have to be designed to meet the same rugged, temperature-resistant, sand-resistant, low-power specs as the XO. *Those* developments are probably some years down the road, and they surely hinge on the XO gaining widespread usage.

But it doesn't mean that the work on creating assistive tech based on the XO can't begin immediately. THAT can start as soon as the XOs begin shipping to the people and/or school programs who've taken part in Give One, Get One.