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BCS backs open source project to boost software for disabled users

Justin Richards

The BCS is backing an open source initiative to promote the development of assistive technology.

Assistive technology is an area of computing closely related to accessibility and usability. It provides developers with an insight into usability that can be directly related to more mainstream software.

The technology includes equipment designed to assist people do anything from speak (for example, by using a synthesised voice), access a computer, control a TV, turn on the lights or generally live a full and independent life.

Typical assistive technology devices include text-to-speech screen readers, alternative keyboards and mice, head pointing devices, voice recognition software, and screen magnification software.

The Open Source Assistive Technology Software (Oats) project is a one-year pilot scheme. It was set up last year to provide a "one-stop shop" for end-users, clinicians and open source developers to meet, exchange notes, promote new ideas, develop new software and download reliable open source assistive technology software.

Given the emerging importance of assistive technology within the open source field, the BCS Open Source Specialist Group is supporting Oats as it comes to the end of its year-long evaluation. If successful, Oatsaims to become a self-supporting, ongoing web-based service.

The project develops and provides information on open source assistive technology programs to enable users to find appropriate software.

It is hoped that the site will create a community of users who will find appropriate software, comment on it and feed back to the authors.

The nature of open source development allows easier customisation to users' needs - a likely requirement for people with unique needs as a result of a disability. The user is allowed a closer relationship with the developer and software can often be originated directly from specific users' needs. Open source is also a fertile ground for innovation, collaboration and standardisation.

As part of its support for the Oats project, the BCS Open Source Specialist Group will be holding a meeting dedicated to it in August.

The BCS Open Source Specialist Group exists to help demystify open source practice and its implications, to illuminate the pros and cons of open source and to act as a centre of expertise on open source within the BCS.

www.oatsoft.org


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