Skip to Content

Massachusetts’ Move to Open Source Office Software: Are there major accessibility implications?

November 6, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Last month, The information technology department at the state of Massachusetts announced it would soon initiate a move to the use of open source Office applications and the associated Open Document Format as the standard of choice for conducting state business. Disability related organizations, including the National Federation of the Blind, have gone on record in opposition to this move due to the lack of accessibility features found in applications like Open Office and Star Office as compared to the reasonable levels of accessibility currently found in Microsoft Office when used with screen readers like JAWS and Window-Eyes. Read The Middle Click: An Open Letter to the Disabled of Massachusetts, review the comment I submitted in response and let me know your thoughts.

Thank you for the well thought out open letter. As a blind person, I have lost numerous employment opportunities due to inaccessible technology. I fear this loss of opportunity and its associated consequences will only get a lot worse before they ever start to get any better. Inaccessibility is all about the consequences. In a downsized future, the very lives of the blind and others with disabilities may be at stake. I absolutely love open source software, using a number of such applications on a daily basis. All the same, I don’t much care these days whether the software involved is commercial or open source, so long as it is reasonably accessible and ongoing development is underway to improve its accessibility as the software evolves. Microsoft Office is mostly accessible right now. Years of testing and ongoing development have been put into this accessibility. It works with the JAWS and Window-Eyes screen readers I must use in order to learn, do my job, take care of my personal finances and accomplish all of my computing tasks right now, not at some point in the future. The analogy of the disabled to an abused wife is, sadly, not at all accurate. Though it is extremely difficult for a wife to leave her abusive husband, it can, ultimately, be done if she has the fortitude. In contrast, fortitude or not, we can’t simply walk away from our disabilities. We can and must, however, do all we can to reduce the artificially imposed accessibility barriers, what I like to call the “No Blind People Allowed” signs, that serve to hold us down and out of participation in society on terms of equality with our sighted peers. Though I love the concept and implementation of the open source community, I must, sadly, throw in my lot with Microsoft on this one for the sake of the ability of my blind brothers and sisters in Massachusetts to obtain and retain their rightful status as gainfully employed human beings.

Categories: Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.