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Better Tools For Disabled Geeks? 228

Posted by kdawson
from the all-in-the-wrist dept.
layabout writes "We've seen tremendous advances in user interfaces over the past few years. Unfortunately, those UIs and supporting infrastructure exclude the disabled. In the same timeframe there has been virtually no advance in accessibility capabilities. It's the same old sticky keys, unicorn stick, speech recognition, text-to-speech that kind-of, sort-of, works except when you need to work with with real applications. Depending on whose numbers you use, anywhere from 60,000 to 100,000 keyboard users are injured every year — some temporarily, some permanently. In time, almost 100% of keyboard users will have trouble typing and using many if not all mobile computing devices. My question to Slashdot: Given that some form of disability is almost inevitable, what's keeping you from volunteering and working with geeks who are already disabled? By spending time now building the interfaces and tools that will enable them to use computers more easily, you will also be ensuring your own ability to use them in the future." Follow the link for more background on this reader's query.

This question is aimed mostly at the kind of disability we are susceptible to and I have been living with for the past 15 years. Even though we have speech recognition, it doesn't solve any problem except writing text. There have been a couple of attempts at making speech recognition more useful to programmers [0], but they have failed. The needs are clear:

[1] A working full-vocabulary, continuous recognition system on Linux.

[2] Tools that don't expect you to "speak the keyboard."

[3] Tools that let you edit as well as create code.

So why don't more geeks work on securing their own future, or at the very least, work to help their fellow geeks to stay on the economic ladder?

[0] VoiceCode and VR-Mode: VoiceCode or is an amazing piece of work. It makes it possible for a disabled programmer to generate Python code very quickly. Unfortunately, it does not solve the editing problem. Even more unfortunately, it's hand-wearingly complicated to set up and get working. VR-Mode makes it possible to use Naturally Speaking's "Select and Say" mode in Emacs — that is, if you can get it to work. It seems to have drifted into non-functionality as Emacs has moved forward.

[1] Naturally Speaking works well, is reasonably cheap, and works somewhat under Wine today. If we can make it work reliably under Wine, it solves the problem in months rather than decades. Other tools such as Sphinx 1-4 are great IVR systems if you have a vocabulary and grammar under 15,000 words. In contrast, Naturally Speaking's working vocabulary is in the 100,000-word range. Any disabled user will choose Naturally Speaking because it works so much better than the nearest alternative. We have people who are injured now and need these tools. They can't afford to wait 10 years or more for an OSS solution.

[2] "Speaking the keyboard" refers to speech user interfaces developed by people who don't use speech recognition. They expect you to say too much, which creates a vocal form of RSI — see [3]. Listen to what disabled users do, not to what you think they should speak.

[3] See VoiceCode in [0]. Unfortunately, today's tools are only for writing code, not correcting code. Code correction is a very different process and must be spoken in a different way: "change index" instead of "search forward left bracket leave mark search forward right bracket copy region." This is also an example of "speaking the keyboard."
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Better Tools For Disabled Geeks?

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  • Cite please (Score:5, Insightful)

    by HotNeedleOfInquiry (598897) on Sunday June 14, 2009 @10:43PM (#28331195)
    "Depending on whose numbers you use, anywhere from 60,000 to 100,000 keyboard users are injured every year â" some temporarily, some permanently. In time, almost 100% of keyboard users will have trouble typing" Cite please?
    • by BobNET (119675) on Sunday June 14, 2009 @11:01PM (#28331327)

      In time, almost 100% of keyboard users will have trouble typing" Cite please?

      It's hard to type when you're dead. Therefore I state that, in time, exactly 100% of keyboard users will have trouble typing.

    • by GrpA (691294) on Sunday June 14, 2009 @11:06PM (#28331361)

      I believe this Wikipedia article [http] covers that final statistic...

      Or there's this explanation [wikipedia.org] to cover the period up until then.

      GrpA

    • Re:Cite please (Score:5, Interesting)

      by JWSmythe (446288) <jwsmythe.jwsmythe@com> on Sunday June 14, 2009 @11:39PM (#28331585) Homepage Journal

          That's also assuming a fixed computer operator base, and not including in new additions (high school interns and recent graduates) and attrition to management (I don't send emails, my secretary does that for me) and retirement.

          Being that computers have been heavily in the workplace for say over 20 years, and typewriters for even longer, I'd say the warning should be taken just as seriously as the OSHA training that you get (don't stand on top of a tippy ladder, on one foot, holding live wires, over a puddle while drinking hard liquor and smoking a joint) and the frequently included warning of repetitive stress disorder on keyboards and mice. I particularly enjoyed one training where it was clear that we should go outside once an our and look at things far in the distance, to avoid eye strain. Good luck with taking that many breaks in a day without getting fired. :)

          I will admit, I have suffered pain from keyboards. I couldn't grasp anything with my right hand for about 2 days because of typing too much. (don't read anything dirty into that, please). It was on a Friday, so I did almost everything left handed. It was difficult to start my car, and shift gears (ya, I'm in America). Oddly enough, most doorknobs are ambidextrous, and most toilets flush from the left side. :) By Monday, the pain was gone.

          I've suffered worse pain from working power tools and hammers. Oddly enough, enough hammering will send some pretty good stress through your hands. It hurts worse if you misjudge your finger to hammer head distance difference. :) I haven't made that mistake in years.

          Keyboard stress? Bah. There are a lot of worse pains you can suffer. Unless you drop a server on your head (or have an unbolted rack fall on you), you haven't seen it. I knew one guy who seriously hurt himself because they were moving an enclosed sever cabinet. It started to fall. The guy on one side couldn't do anything (it was falling away from him). The guy on the other side tried to catch it by himself. He lived. He was hurt. He was very much not happy. He did say if it ever happened again, he'd jump out of the damned way. :)

          I've learned over the years, lots of people don't know how to judge levels of pain, because they haven't experienced high levels of pain. "Oh my god, this is the worst pain I've ever had" only means you haven't felt worse yet. I've seen grown men cry over stuff that my little daughter (2 years old) shakes off like nothing happened. She hurts herself and I tell her "that doesn't hurt", and she stops crying. Really, it didn't. She was walking barefooted in the house today, and accidentally closed an outside door on her toe. I heard a little noise from her, but that was it. She opened the door, removed her foot, and closed it again without the obstruction. :) It scraped the skin on her toe enough so I know it hurt a little (probably 2 on a scale of 1 to 10). We washed it, doctored her up, and she ran off to play. Later she pointed it out to me and said "owie." She just wanted the attention of it, she wasn't really complaining.

          She takes after me though. I've cut myself pretty bad in various ways over the years (I wasn't a gentle child), and doctored myself up without the need to whine about it. No infection, no lost parts, no problem.

        I think my finger hurts from flipping people off. Can I get workers comp and a voice operated home theater system? I don't think I can work the remote control without re-injuring myself? :)

      • Re:Cite please (Score:4, Interesting)

        by UncleTogie (1004853) on Sunday June 14, 2009 @11:48PM (#28331639) Homepage Journal

        I particularly enjoyed one training where it was clear that we should go outside once an hour and look at things far in the distance, to avoid eye strain. Good luck with taking that many breaks in a day without getting fired. :)

        At my shop, I justify it by not taking a lunch. 6 minutes to smoke a cig once an hour, while looking around the landscape * 8 hours = 48 minutes, which means my boss gets an extra 12 minutes a day.

        The cig smoking isn't the healthiest part, but it could be easily replaced by walking around the building once or twice. Either way, my boss gets an extra 12 minutes, so he has no cause to complain, and I get no eyestrain after 30 years in front of computers...

        • by JWSmythe (446288)

          That may be enough to get the boss in trouble, depending on the labor laws in your state. I'm pretty sure in an 8 hour shift, you are mandated to take two 15 minute breaks and one 30 minute break. I'm pretty sure you can't segment them up ad-hoc.

          I usually take more than the 3 legal breaks, but I usually make up for it by plenty of extra work hours. Even the smoke breaks are to think about a problem I'm on, or talk to someone else about the problem. Then again, some of them

          • California has such a employment law for hourly employees- (grew up there)
            many other states have no such protections....
            my current state (NJ) makes no requirements for hourly staff to have breaks.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Plunky (929104)

        I particularly enjoyed one training where it was clear that we should go outside once an our and look at things far in the distance, to avoid eye strain. Good luck with taking that many breaks in a day without getting fired. :)

        I've worked a Data Entry job in the UK (for a year and half) where I was staring at a screen and typing continuously at 10,000+ kph and we were required to log out and have a 10 minute eye break after every 60 minutes of work. Actually, the rules said that we just had to have a break

        • by JWSmythe (446288)

          I found the bathroom is a great place to take a break. I can take a 20 minute break in there, and if I ate at the cafe downstairs, the odor will linger in there for an hour. :) There's no question what I was doing, even if I spent most of the time reading my email on my phone. :)

          I like making fun of the cafe food, but the owners are really nice people. If you ever have the disfortune of working in that building, you'd agree. I say disfortune because I can count the number o

      • I particularly enjoyed one training where it was clear that we should go outside once an our and look at things far in the distance, to avoid eye strain. Good luck with taking that many breaks in a day without getting fired.

        If you get your work done what's the problem? Seems like a case of measuring what's easy to measure, rather than what matters. See also KLOC/day.

        • by JWSmythe (446288)

          At my old job that was always a skewed number. 75% of the time, I was fixing other people's code, so a "wc -l" of the original and resulting file would frequently result in a negative number. The remaining 25% of the time, I was writing original code and then optimizing it down to the minimal number of lines required to accomplish it correctly. I always estimated for every 100 lines of code in the end product, there were maybe 500 lines written. That was, of course, without a good plan g

      • Being that computers have been heavily in the workplace for say over 20 years, and typewriters for even longer, I'd say the warning should be taken just as seriously

        The article said X number of keyboard users become disabled every year. It did not say X number of keyboard users become disabled as a direct result of using said keyboard. Nice rant though.

    • by SL Baur (19540)

      "Depending on whose numbers you use, anywhere from 60,000 to 100,000 keyboard users are injured every year Ã" some temporarily, some permanently. In time, almost 100% of keyboard users will have trouble typing" Cite please?

      Sounds to me like the same kind of statistics used to prove the evils of smoking.

      Or better, if you are not allowed to smoke at your desk/keyboard, but are forced to take smoke breaks (that also rest your hands), then smoking is actually good for you.

      I find switching mouse hands from right to left, left to right periodically is also a good stress reliever.

      I *did* start to develop signs of something in the mid 1990s - sharp pain shooting up through my arm when I handled the mouse. Switching mouse hands made

    • Re:Cite please (Score:4, Informative)

      by layabout (1576461) on Monday June 15, 2009 @12:05AM (#28331731)
      http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Repetitive+strain+injuries+stretch+higher-a018341055 [thefreelibrary.com] when you work through the reports, the 300k number works out to about 100k for IT. while this report is old, nothing has changed to drop the rate. uk reports are more current http://download.microsoft.com/documents/uk/hardwar/Ergonomics_and_Repetitive_Strain_Injury.pdf [microsoft.com] As for the near 100%, think arthritis, medication induced tremors, loss of flexibility as you age normally or via trauma. It all adds up to loss of hand function.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by layabout (1576461)
      http://download.microsoft.com/documents/uk/hardware/Ergonomics_and_Repetitive_Strain_Injury.pdf [microsoft.com] http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Repetitive+strain+injuries+stretch+higher-a018341055 [thefreelibrary.com] http://www.rsi-therapy.com/statistics.htm [rsi-therapy.com] I think the UK stats are probably the best stats to go by. Most of the RSI injury rate information in the United States is based on the last clean census of injuries which was roughly 1994-1995. Unfortunately, since that time states with a large chicken processing workforce, have either
  • :O (Score:4, Funny)

    by DirtyCanuck (1529753) on Sunday June 14, 2009 @10:43PM (#28331197)

    "Given that some form of disability is almost inevitable, what's keeping you from volunteering and working with geeks "

    I'm disabled.

    • I work for a living and spend my non-work hours enjoying what I made by working.

      Besides, I don't write software unless I need it. So .. when I can't type, I'll use the crappy software we do have for whatever disability I have and make it better.

      Because that's what geeks do.....
  • > By spending time now building the interfaces and
    > tools that will enable them to use computers more
    > easily, you will also be ensuring your own ability
    > to use them in the future.

    Nobody thinks they are going to be disabled.

    It's as simple as that I'm afraid.

    In the Perl world I know one major hacker that has done a ton of accessibility work. In his case, it's his daughter that has the the disability, so he has a direct and immediate interest in helping her.

    • by DancesWithBlowTorch (809750) on Monday June 15, 2009 @04:32AM (#28332943)
      There are many people working on input methods for the disabled. As just one example, Dasher [cam.ac.uk] is an information efficient text-entry method that can be controlled by mouse, voice, gaze, two buttons or even a single button. Experienced users regularly type 20+ words per minute, just with their gaze. Try that with an on-screen keyboard.

      The same group has just published nomon [cam.ac.uk], a single-button text entry method (and pointing device) for the severely disabled. Did I mention that both programs are open source?
    • by AmiMoJo (196126)

      I sometimes wonder if this sort of problem is an unsolvable one anyway.

      I have arthritis (auto-immune) and it prevents me playing games much any more. Even just working on the hardware side of PCs, particularly with screw drivers, is quite painful.

      Okay, maybe I could spend lots of time and money finding a way to carry on doing those things on a regular basis, but for me it seems to make more sense to just accept it and move on to something else. Now I do electronics as a hobby, in particular game controller

    • by bjourne (1034822)
      I think it's rather that it's hard for not disabled persons to identify the needs of disabled ones. For example, web developers spend a lot of time adding alt tags to image but has anyone confirmed that that enhances the browsing experience for blind people? It is also often the fact that usability features degrade accessibility. The mouse is great for non-professional computer users but is an accessibility nightmare.
  • by Col Bat Guano (633857) on Sunday June 14, 2009 @10:46PM (#28331217)

    I lost a fingertip in an encounter with a circular saw.

    Later I bought an iPhone, and the documentation was titled "Fingertips".

    I've also used a fingerprint reader to try to log into a friend's computer - it said "too short", so I can't blame SteveJ for everything.

    I do hope that multi touch input does consider people who have less than full dexterity/digits, but somehow I suspect there are another class of people waiting to be left behind.

    • by TheLink (130905)
      Don't you have other fingertips to use?

      You could always use the ones that are undamaged. Unless you only enrolled with the damaged one (and didn't do multiples).

      That said, it's a silly idea to allow just fingerprints to login. Fingerprints aren't secure and fingerprints are very likely to get damaged.
    • If you hate Apple so much, why did you buy the phone? You kinda got the gist that it was a touch phone from the ads, that was the gimmick...

    • by Mishotaki (957104)
      I also lost part of a finger, but my personal problem is with the keyboards made out of plastic...

      Since it's made in plastic, the normal user uses their flat fingers to type and play

      Since i completely lost thf fingertip sensation of my middle finger, the other fingers gotta compensate while typing and playing...

      My thumb pushes on the "D" key sideways while playing, therefore it carves the key overitme... also my ring finger sits on the edge od the A key, cutting the edge of the key (now there is actually a

      • by Quothz (683368)

        If i would have a steel, or any material more friction-resistant, i'm sure i wouldn't have such weird, carved, keys...

        Yeah, but this is about tools for disabled geeks. A geek would probably not need this link [lmgtfy.com] to find steel keyboards.

  • by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Sunday June 14, 2009 @10:49PM (#28331245) Homepage
    I have a friend who was born with one arm and is about as geeky as they get. She uses voice recognition software for most online things (although apparently voice recognition software isn't so great for programming). I know someone else who developed hand injuries much later in life and has had a lot of trouble adjusting. It is much easier for people to adjust to being disabled at a young age than at an old age.
    • by plover (150551) * on Sunday June 14, 2009 @11:56PM (#28331687) Homepage Journal

      A relative was born with cerebral palsy which manifested itself as severe control problems, especially with her hands and upper body, including almost unrecognizable speech. She tried a mouse with a large wooden knob, and later a leather strap, but they were pretty frustrating as her control is so limited. Only close friends and family can understand her speech, so voice recognition has never been an option. But her feet are pretty good, so she's learned to manipulate a track-ball with her toe. It takes her a while, but she can get stuff done. ( I have to say being on line is one of the most liberating things that's ever happened to her. I'm glad she found a tool that works. )

      Another relative suffered a stroke fifteen years ago, and she has very little use of her right side and mild aphasia since then. She learned to use her left hand, but complex or multitasking instructions are now beyond her. She needs a distraction-free environment in order to function well.

      My point is that many disabilities are uncommon or unique. Some disabilities require a physical change to make the interface work -- it's not typically a problem you can solve in software. Others are environmental. So it's hard to find an off-the-shelf solution for any particular problem, as they're not economical to produce in quantity.

      • I wonder if the can be of any help. [emotiv.com]

      • by AmiMoJo (196126)

        Direct thought control might be the answer, but I don't know if it would work with people who have motor problems. I suppose it depends on if the problem is in the brain or somewhere else, and if despite the brain problems a computer could read the intent correctly.

    • My father is an amputee, he lost both his hands when he was about 6. His left arm has about 4 inches after the elbow, and his right ends at the elbow.

      In the early 8-bit hobby computing era he gave up his teaching job and started working as an analyst / developer. He types on a normal keyboard by holding a pen between his arms. Sometimes using his left elbow on Shift / Control keys.

      However he is far more productive than most of the able bodied developers he works with because he's written so many macros in vim to automate just about everything.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510)

        He types on a normal keyboard by holding a pen between his arms.

        Having both hands myself, I am curious why he doesn't use some sort of attachment to hold a "pen" on each stump? Is it too much hassle to strap them on each time he wants to sit down and work?

        • He has tried prosthetics a couple of times, but they were always more hassle than they were worth. He'd lose tactile feedback and dexterity. Plus these days you need to swap from mouse to keyboard fairly quickly, having a pointing device attached to his arm would probably be more annoying to deal with.

          Though talking about my dad in this topic seems a bit unfair. I don't think anyone who's met him would call him disabled. The only things he's incapable of doing by himself are fiddly things he can't reach, like tying a necktie.

  • by flyingsled (1475035) on Sunday June 14, 2009 @10:49PM (#28331249)
    At my work, they're grappling with the same problem. They have a number of blind people working the phones, and their workstations have all sorts of expensive specialised hardware to help them work. The problem is, as more apps move from older green screen technology (yep, there's still lots) to newer wiz-bang web applications, those web-apps have to be created with accessibility in mind. They use JAWS (a commercial product from Freedom Scientific) to make internal applications accessible. As for why there's not much work on the open source front, I guess it's one of those things where a competent developer hasn't had the urge to work on it. But I agree that making computers accessible at a reasonable price (or free) is very important, especially given as a huge chunk of society is getting to the age where this stuff will be needed a lot.
    • by pimpimpim (811140)
      There are probably even laws that state that websites from public institutions have to be accessible. But the sad thing is that in many cases "Accessibility" is implemented by adding a button somewhere on the site to make the font larger. I saw this at my former university. At the same time their webpage was so cluttered with frames (even after frames were fashionable) that the site would be very hard to browse with a text-only browser, so converting to braille would be hard. Really, websites with public in
  • by EdIII (1114411) * on Sunday June 14, 2009 @10:51PM (#28331255)

    It's not repetitive use of keyboards that is ultimately going to get me into trouble.

  • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Sunday June 14, 2009 @10:56PM (#28331285) Homepage Journal

    Just reading your question makes my fingers hurt. Doing what I do every day is clearly destroying my hands but its easier to just not think about it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by hedwards (940851)
      Or make sure the keyboard is at a comfortable height and switch over to Dvorak. Dvorak isn't any faster than QWERTY, but it was designed to minimize unnecessary fatigue and strain while typing. Long periods of time at the keyboard do not cause repetitive stress injury, despite what the medical establishment used to say. It's long periods in poorly laid out surrounds that do.
      • Re:Denial (Score:4, Insightful)

        by JorDan Clock (664877) <jordanclock@gmail.com> on Monday June 15, 2009 @12:14AM (#28331777)
        And the Segway was designed to revolutionize the way we get around, but that doesn't mean there is any evidence to suggest that happened.

        Every time someone says "Dvorak is better for your hands" or "QWERTY was designed to be slow" really needs to do some basic research and stop spouting out everything they hear. Dvorak has never been objectively proven to be faster or more comfortable. The only studies to support this claim were of questionable integrity. I will gladly accept this claim if it can be objectively demonstrated, but until then, stop saying it please.
  • Dasher is a great text-input interface: mouse driven, and you don't even have to click (very often). Not as fast as a keyboard, but still respectable.

    Heck, I wish it worked for my N800, and I don't even have any disabilities.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by lwsimon (724555)

      I've been thinking about building a Dasher input device for a long time - I'm thinking of a joystick with a 8" or so LCD to display Dasher. Running Linux, with USB, VGA, and even component video ports to attach to other display devices.

      The advantage being, you could use this on multiple systems, without installing hardware. Let the device send standard keyboard codes, and handle the Dasher software inside the device.

    • by SqueezeKey (13505) on Monday June 15, 2009 @12:13AM (#28331771)

      I have been using Dasher for the vast majority of my typing needs for the past year. I was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS) about two years ago and have slowly lost the use of my left hand and arm during those two years. Dasher is commonly recommended to paraplegic and quadriplegic patients. I know several ALS patients who use it with eyegaze or headmouse setups and love it. It should be usable on any *NIX system that supports GNOME. There are also Windows binaries available.

      Another possibility that can be used is an onscreen keyboard with dwell clicking for the mouse and word prediction capability in the keyboard software. I know that both xvkbd and the GNOME onscreen keyboard (GOK) both support word prediction. There are also a couple of projects that have adapted the Dasher word prediction engine into an interface like a telephone keypad that could also be used with dwell-clicking to provide a decent interface. Seems to me one of those projects was called Tapir and the other one was called dKeys.

      If anybody becomes interested in this kind of stuff and decides to take on a role in contributing to some of these accessible software projects, you will have the appreciation of hundreds of thousands of disabled users worldwide. Not a bad reward for a little bit of work.

    • Dasher is a good system. Especially if you can write language files for given programming languages.
  • by flnca (1022891) on Sunday June 14, 2009 @10:59PM (#28331313) Journal
    There are custom solutions for disabled people on the market -- if you have health insurance, you can ask them if they are going to pay for it.

    BTW, I always worry about things like accessibility, but employers for instance don't pay attention to that, and programming APIs for accessibility often dramatically increase the complexity of an application. That's why so few applications make use of accessibility functions. That must be changed someday. Thanks for the reminder. If I can, I will incorporate some of your ideas into an easy-to-use GUI framework, that frees the programmer from all extra work associated with it.
  • Oh yeah... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by NewbieProgrammerMan (558327) on Sunday June 14, 2009 @11:05PM (#28331353)

    My question to Slashdot: Given that some form of disability is almost inevitable, what's keeping you from volunteering and working with geeks who are already disabled?

    Nice -- throw out the guilt card right there at the end, when I'm just about to decide whether or not following the link is worth my time. That really makes me want to read more of what you have to say, yessir.

    If I was going to work on hardware or software for disabled people, I'd be more inclined to work on stuff for people with little or no voluntary muscle control. What fraction of disabled geeks also can't speak?

    • What fraction of disabled geeks also can't speak?

      To echo what Andy said, folks with CP may be one such example. My nephew has it - he can't speak pretty much at all, and his motor control isn't good either. But he's pretty danged smart. He has some sort of specialized computer, but I think it has dedicated software. I have tried looking for something to help him get into programming (his dream is to be a video games programmer), but I've turned up very little.

      So yeah, there is a pretty sizeable need

  • by holophrastic (221104) on Sunday June 14, 2009 @11:07PM (#28331375)

    I own two programming companies. We work on things that are a) profitable, in the short or medium term; and b) have the expertiese and understanding to accomplish.

    I am not presently disabled. None of my employees / contractors are disabled. So it won't help us any time soon, and we have no experience in the field.

    Here's the ironic part. I've built three development platforms (one for each type of device that we create). Each of the three "languages" (mark-up, script, whatever) have such stringent conventions that it wolud be pretty easy to develop a "vocabulary" to reference areas of the platform code such that while worknig with the platform code (as opposed to developing and enhancing the core elements) would be quite doable. That would cover about 90% of our workload too.

    But in the end, it will never happen. Here's the thing. Right now, it's more profitable for me to work as-is, than to work on accessibility. The day I become disabled, even if it were to be tomorrowb morning, it would still be cheaper for me to hire a co-op student to type for me, or to read to me, or both.

    Now, if hundreds of thousands of dollars of disabled clients were knocking on my door, it would take me fewer than six months to build the tools needed for a skilled programmer to navigate through my platform code with simple commands that could be mapped to .V.R., or a joystick, or a head-bob, or whatever. Right now, there are no such clients at my door-step.

    • And besides, what kind of "geek" asks for tools? Any disabled geek worth hiring if the tools were to exist could just as easily create those tools himself -- disabled or otherwise.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by SqueezeKey (13505)

      You obviously haven't seen the markup that gets put on computer equipment that qualifies as a medical device. Take a look around on the Dynavox website (www.dynavoxtech.com) and see if any of those gadgets look terribly complicated or difficult to replicate. Then look at the price list. The cheapest gadget (palmtop) goes for $3000+. The laptop-sized device goes for about $8000 unless it has the eyegaze system, which goes for an additional $7000, bringing the total to a cool $15,000 per unit. All covere

      • by sowth (748135) *

        All covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and most major medical insurance.

        This is why they are so expensive. They up and up the price because insurance companies have to pay legit claims, except of course the prices aren't really legit, but it is attached to the legit needs of the patients. Sort of like auto repair shops who reimburse customers with cash.

        Even though it is essentially the spirit of embezzling, they get away with it because the system is corrupt. Most patients don't care because they don't get ch

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by layabout (1576461)
      I tried going the route of having someone type for me. It would cost me, by the time agency fees are factored in, around $100-$200 per day. If I'm billing, I can afford that. If I'm not billing, I can't and that puts me right back in the place of looking for a solution. Unfortunately, even at the best of times, it was a very tough experience. The typist could not type fast enough to keep up with what I was saying. I would try to teach her macros (stored in her head) and I would say things about constr
  • by GrpA (691294) on Sunday June 14, 2009 @11:07PM (#28331377)

    What about the LOMAK?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LOMAK [wikipedia.org]

    GrpA

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Darkness404 (1287218)
      I'm not sure that would really work. The reason being is that these people can use keyboards (as in, they have use of their hands) but its simply painful or slow for them to type. Waving around head-mounted laser pointers isn't going to give them more productivity. Sure, for people who can only move their necks its a godsend, but for the average injured geek, that isn't worth the trouble.
  • by argent (18001) <peter@slasCOUGAR ... ga.com minus cat> on Sunday June 14, 2009 @11:12PM (#28331397) Homepage Journal

    verb-noun requires less typing

    Instead of "search forward left bracket leave mark search forward right bracket ..."

    You say "find left bracket change matching", which is the verbal equivalent of "f[c%" in vi.

    Not quite "change index", but THAT could be a macro for "f[c%".

  • Cold Truth (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TheRealMindChild (743925) on Sunday June 14, 2009 @11:19PM (#28331443) Homepage Journal
    It is about the law of diminishing returns. It might sound cold. It might suck. But you really need to consider why Pizza Hut doesn't offer Pickle Chocolate pizza... The effort and cost to patronize the .01% of potential users just isn't worth it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by russotto (537200)
      There's also a natural tension between making tools as useful as possible for the typical (able-bodied) user and the disabled user. Making a tool more useful sometimes means taking advantage of user capabilities which weren't being depended on before -- multi-finger touch-screen gestures, for instance. If you set up your system for the lowest common denominator you make it worse for the average user. If you try to include multiple interfaces appropriate for everyone from Stephen Hawking to Nastia Liukin,
    • by Eil (82413)

      It is about the law of diminishing returns. It might sound cold. It might suck. But you really need to consider why Pizza Hut doesn't offer Pickle Chocolate pizza... The effort and cost to patronize the .01% of potential users just isn't worth it.

      In the commercial software world, you are exactly correct.

      However in the open source world, people create, work on, and use the software that they need. It's the whole scratching-your-itch thing. The best example I can think of this is internationalization and loca

    • by DavidD_CA (750156)

      Yes, but there are no government mandates to support eaters who want pickle chocolate pizza.

      There's a lot of government mandates to make software accessible to those with disabilities, and that creates a number of opportunities for software developers who want to hit that niche market.

    • by Kjella (173770)

      I can understand the desire that if you were to suffer a severe hand injury, you'd like to be able to continue being all geeky with computers. But personally I don't think that's what I'd really do, sure better accessability would make me suck less but I'd still suck. Without a good interface I'd just grow incredibly frustrated trying to get the flow of my mind through the trickle of my fingers. I think I'd just find a way to get by and instead focus on things that involve talking to people instead. It'd be

  • Text to speech (Score:4, Informative)

    by Repossessed (1117929) on Sunday June 14, 2009 @11:29PM (#28331521)

    Text to speech in Linux actually works pretty well according to the people I've talked to who use it, in some cases better than the windows options. (GTK integration is pretty complete to my understanding). Some complaints of stuttering though. Ubuntu, and probably others, even have text to speech available in the installer.

    The big problem is that the kernel likes to randomly drop one the text to speech modules thats needed for geeks who want to hear the start up messages.

    Braille readers are a much bigger problem than the text to speech in Linux, the old serial port ones work fine, but expansion serial ports don't work right for it, and those are getting hard to find. Very few USB braille readers have Linux drivers. (Which i don't get, braille readers + a command line interface seem such a good match).

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Given that some form of disability is almost inevitable, what's keeping you from volunteering and working with geeks who are already disabled?

    That's the equivalent of when did you stop beating your wife. Everyone has their own lives & interests - do not expect us to drop them to suddenly start developing accessible apps.

    The answer is simple: people with serious forms of disability are in fact the minority. Temporary disability is just that - temporary. Time resolves that issue on its own. Accessibi

    • by layabout (1576461) on Monday June 15, 2009 @01:01AM (#28332003)

      It was intended as a serious, albeit in your face, question. what I was hoping for was a serious answer. I don't expect you to drop anything

      Let me introduce you to a term "TAB" Temporarily Able Bodied. It was created in recognition that physical ability is temporary, disability is the norm. I'm disabled because my hands don't work right. I'm also disabled because I need glasses. Minority or majority doesn't matter. My question was trying to provoke thought about what's going to happen to you when you become disabled. age-related ailments will steal your ability from you. But also do you want to leave the future to be a radical shift in career because your hands don't work or a shift in how you work?

      As to the direction on what makes something accessible, there is a good 30 years worth of research on the subject in the library if people would only look. Is honestly simple concept of separation of functionality from presentation. If I need a word processor with a speech user interface, then I should be able to purchase a word processor and then purchase a user interface that does what I need. If a blind person needs a text-to-speech interface, then they should be able to purchase their own user interface. None of us should have to rely on adaptations or, as I like to call them, "brutal hacks" on the application.

      Every two or three years we do hear about and disabilities. There was Nintendo thumb and now Blackberry thumb and other hand disorders from playing too many first-person shooter games. It's all right in front of us. we also have the issue of elderly, as you point out. I'm not worried as much about the elderly of today but, what happens when you hit 60 and you gradually discover you can't do anything. No texting, no video messages, no anything. Think about that future.

      Also think about the implications of what our mobile devices are doing today. I've seen people advocate getting rid of voicemail because you can just send someone a text message. Or the only telephone you can use if you are blind is something that just makes calls and receives calls. These choices exclude people from the mainstream culture. If you are blind and cannot send a text message, you lose social connection. If you can't send a text message, you lose the ability to give someone a time delayed message the way of voicemail works. I do admit that it may be cheaper to warehouse disabled people but, it would be nice if we made a conscious decision.

      And as a side note, I was not able to interleave my comments with your text because HTML is not friendly to the disabled.

    • Generally, I agree with the sentiment of your statement. There is just one point I want to make about this:

      However, the elderly do make up a tiny portion of the electronics-using population.

      I think this number will rise sharply as the people who are in their teens, twenties, thirties now and use computers on a daily basis begin to age. I, for one, plan to use my technological devices until the day I die, if at all possible. That being said, I don't expect the computers and communications devices to be the same as they are now. It's continuously changing, and the problem may very well be d

  • My question to Slashdot: Given that some form of disability is almost inevitable, what's keeping you from volunteering and working with geeks who are already disabled?

    Nothing at all and I added Emacspeak to XEmacs supported packages just as soon as I was made aware of it. The demo I got from its author, T.V. Raman, made a lasting impression on me. Being blind doesn't mean you have to be handicapped.

  • by Lars512 (957723) on Sunday June 14, 2009 @11:54PM (#28331671)

    As someone who's been managing RSI for some time, and still needs to be careful to avoid overdoing it, I'd be very happy for a way to supplement keyboarding and mousing with even limited additional input methods, preferably methods which used a different paradigm altogether.

    I've been checking out neural impulse actuators, like the one by OCZ [ocztechnology.com], but it looks like they only provide 2-3 buttons, need recalibrating every time, and are only really supported for gaming. Does anyone know of similarly commercially available hardware? I'm aware of research systems which can control a mouse this way noninvasively, but surely it's time they came out of the labs.

    I'm also curious about the long-term effects of devices which detect muscle action. People who migrate to voice recognition can damage their voice from the new strain. Would your face start creasing or cramping after a long time using a device which relies on facial muscles? It seems like some form of non-muscular neural interface is the way to go.

  • Some folks I've worked with get so wrapped up in the details or the fun of the project they forget the point- which may be what holds this up. Some of MS's interface stuff for voice and disability is pretty slick - but slick isn't functional and everything is still driven by the keyboard and mouse.

    Now I've seen some exciting hardware that can interface to the tongue to display images (poor res) but basically it's rewiring the brain for a different type of input channel.

    Who's got the time and money to build

  • Bad premise (Score:3, Funny)

    by hendersj (720767) on Monday June 15, 2009 @12:19AM (#28331811)

    > Follow the link for more background on this reader's query.

    Apparently I have a disability that prevents me from seeing the link referred to in the story.

    > Given that some form of disability is almost inevitable

    Somehow we got from 60,000-100,000 people injured either temporarily or permanently every year to "we're all going to be disabled". I don't see anything that makes this conclusion logical at all. It's almost as if the writer hasn't really done any research, and OH MY GOD MY HAND!!!!! AGHH!!!!

  • Because really, the problem is, you can't just go and "disable enable" a user interface. A user interface is a rich experience tailored to its users. If you really wanted to have computers that were enabled for the disabled, you need to be prepared to have entirely different interaction experiences.

    Like, blindness is the worst. Obviously. The whole you can go where you see it metaphor for forms is just wrong for blind people. What you really need, for them, is almost like menus were in the DOS apps of

  • Listen to what disabled users do, not to what you think they should speak.

    Even most user interfaces for non-disabled users contain serious problems. For disabled users, there are many more variations and restrictions, and the developer can't even use himself as a model and test subject.

    It's easy to say "do it better", but doing it better requires a lot more time and money given current tools. A single developer costs $100k-$200k/year, and to come up with a really good user interface takes many developers

  • At work I've got an ergonomic keyboard, an ergonomic trackball, a great chair etc... However, when I travel, it's back to typing on the laptop's keyboard, and using the trackpad. While packing a trackball isn't a problem, packing an ergonomic keyboard isn't exactly a piece of cake. Coupled that with trying to type at a hotel desk using a hotel chair, neither which are ergonomic, I'm asking for wrist issues...

    Anybody got a solution to this?

  • Nearly 130% of people will have difficult with basic arithmetic. And over 1% of people breath oxygen on a regular basis.

    • by selven (1556643)

      Nearly 130% of people will have difficult with basic arithmetic. And over 1% of people breath oxygen on a regular basis.

      And 200% of people make a spelling error in each comment.

      • I should at least get points for spelling arithmetic right.

        PS-oddly I have a problem where I often leave a suffix or even a final letter off a word when I'm typing. Anyone else seen that?

  • What about this: disabled people designing their own interfaces.

    I know it is difficult, but they are best positioned to actually effect change.

  • Coding good interfaces is hard even for able people. and thinking about disabled people creates far more of a challenges, as different disabilities my conflict with each other.

    Text to speech and voice interface great for the blind worthless for the deaf. Making a Text to speech UI where you get good speech commands may not make a good visual interface. (A one dimensional UI model represented in 2d, is not efficient.

    The best we really can do is offer a good UI for the able person and sadly a way for disabl

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