Open Source Assistive Tech
Liz Henry linux.conf.au 2010
My wheelchair is a
machine to get my body
from one place to
I'd like for it to be easy to fix
Like a bike or a car.
You can ﬁnd info on how to ﬁx a
Or you can go to a car repair place
Anyone can start a car ﬁxing
You can ﬁnd out how to ﬁx a
And there's little independent
bike shops everywhere
But you can’t ﬁnd out
how to ﬁx a
Or build one
Because rather than
just being a tool like
a bike or a car or a
It's a MEDICAL
YOU will likely be
- have a signiﬁcant physical
for around 8 years of your
✤ Hands are important
✤ RSI is hard
✤ People invent stuff to help with
✤ It’s proprietary and expensive
✤ Or in out of print books and
Everyone needs a voice
In the last few years, Dynavox
Eye Response Technologies
Assisted and Augmented
Communication is big business
✤ Why care now?
✤ Until you need it, you don’t
✤ When you need it, you will be
busy, poor, and in pain
✤ Don’t count on magic
benevolence or immortality
nanobots. Design and code for
Why isn’t there more free/open
source access hacking?
* Medical expert model
* Charity model: PWD are passive
recipients of charity
* PWD are often isolated from
* Solutions are individual, and
then aren't shared
Your impaired body is under the control of
MEDICAL INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX
Your wheelchair repair manual
or voice control hack
might get you sued
if someone is injured
might violate copyright or a patent
might ruin someone's PROFIT
YOU will need assistive technology
YOU WILL WANT TO HACK IT.
You'll need DIY attitude
You'll need open source information
structures and communities
Vision, speech, gaming making some
but mobility mods aren't integrated with
open source culture
✤ I have a sometimes obvious
✤ People ask me questions about
✤ Disabled = all disability in their
✤ So let’s look at the
commonalities. How are
software, web access, projects
handled compared to physical
The Tennis Ball Walker
✤ Common DIY hack
✤ Standard parts
✤ Easily noticed + copied
✤ Still necessary!
✤ Individual solutions
✤ Easy viral/info spread. People
see it in public.
✤ No special skills, tools needed
✤ Crutch pockets and other
carrying and gripping gadgets
✤ Crutch holders on a bike
✤ Lesson for inventors
✤ Don’t assume
✤ People’s abilities vary
✤ Sometimes from day to day
✤ Or hour to hour
✤ Computer and web access is
treated as an easy hack
✤ Bolt on the crutch holders!
✤ Add some alt tags!
✤ Stick hand controls on the gas
pedal! (Be sure to patent that!)
✤ That creates many problems. It
doesn’t make for a viable DIY
or free/open source culture.
✤ Information hack can be simple
✤ Labelling tape has raised letters
✤ Control languages for voice
activation (use another human
language for a meta language)
✤ Address labels on your
✤ Individual, doesn’t require
✤ Infrastructure changes
✤ Need strength, special tools
✤ Architectural mods
✤ Need maintenance
✤ (This is Miguel Valenzuela’s
hydraulic $100 toilet lift)
✤ It’s a good hack: it’s not a
viable ongoing project yet
✤ Still no pathway to make it one
✤ Ramps. Online how-to information is
✤ Nonproﬁts, state/county govt.
✤ Detailed blueprints. Disassembly too.
✤ Regulations, how to hire contractors or
ﬁnd volunteer group to build it
✤ LOTS of meta information. Good!
✤ But it’s all Web 1.0. Hand coded html
pages, no feedback, no path to change.
Metropolitan Center for Independent Living, Minnesota
Giant legal disclaimers.
Center for International Rehabilitation
✤ Complex open source access
hacks need community
✤ Just as any open source project
✤ Whether it’s hardware,
gadgetry, or software.
✤ “The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone
regardless of disability is an essential aspect.” - Tim Berners-Lee
✤ Accessibility is still an afterthought.
✤ Accessibility for developers is important.
AAC and web access
✤ Software and web devs consider access to info and UIs
✤ Speech recognition, Text to speech
✤ Eye control, Switches
✤ Web site accessibility
✤ Software navigation
✤ In practice this often means bolting a crappy handrail onto a decently
designed building. That sucks for everyone! Design with access in
mind from the beginning.
Contributing to FLOSS
“I hope to be able to read, browse the net, and even participate in
conversations by email and messaging. Voice synthesizers allow local
communications, and I am making use of a free service for ALS patients
which will create a synthetic model of my own natural voice, for future use.
I may even still be able to write code, and my dream is to contribute to open
source software projects even from within an immobile body. That will be a
life very much worth living.” - Hal Finney
✤ GNOME projects for
accessibility in Linux
✤ Cash for tasks completed.
Good idea. Still active? KDE: KMouth, KMagniﬁer
✤ http://live.gnome.org/Orca Adept1 (not free)
✤ http://live.gnome.org/Orca/ Ophoenix (Ubuntu project)
HowCanIHelp - Excellent
guide to starting work!
“There’s something inherent in the
Bloggers, hackers, abundance of a digital world and
dawning digital culture that requires,
testers, consultants even demands, openness on many
✤ Extreme users are excellent
product designers and testers
✤ Experts on pushing systems to
work in unusual ways,
adapting them for new
✤ Lifekludger.net - David N. Problems:
Wallace * asking for volunteer work
* work/beneﬁts issues
✤ Glenda Watson Hyatt: http://
✤ Global Assistive Technology
✤ OATS (Open Source Assistive
✤ Disapedia, Wikihow
✤ Create a user
✤ Choose content blocks
✤ Scanning speed
✤ Audio and font size setttings
✤ The site then scans through
navigation options. Good for
one switch or gaze control.
Build it into FLOSS
✤ BBC scanning idea is good!
✤ Could build similar options
into popular platforms like
✤ Or into operating systems?
Rethinking navigation and
✤ Tactile Maps
✤ Mashup, maps for visually
✤ Lighthouse for the Blind, SF
✤ $15 for businesses
✤ Free for California residents
with visual impairment
✤ What about a mashup of open
street map and MUD/
Interactive ﬁction style text
descriptions of geographic
✤ You are standing in front of the
convention center. To the north
there is a stairway and a ramp
up to the city center plaza.
There is a small mailbox here.
✤ Creating systems that PWD
Antifeatures! can’t contribute to
✤ Information silos
✤ One-off solutions that aren’t
put into public domain
(student contests, charity, what
you might do for relatives)
✤ Exploiting vulnerable
populations, insurance, govt.
✤ Freaking out about liability
✤ Selling out to industry
✤ Examples from charities.
Arts for All
✤ Idealistic, cool, great!
✤ Golf carts, mowers, rotisserie
motors, attach to walkers and
✤ Patents + bad online store =
limited and local
✤ Could publish the plans as DIY,
and still sell this stuff to
FLOSS culture emergency!
schools and so on.
✤ Wheelchair Mission
✤ Neat invention
✤ Plastic lawn chairs, bike wheels
in a kit, ship 500 to Uganda
✤ Unmaintainable, breakable
✤ Undermines local industry and
✤ Thanks though...
✤ Rugged $200 chairs
✤ Partnering with local industry
in Nicaragua, Guatemala
✤ Manufacturing, training for
local repair industry
✤ Focus on sharing information
✤ But not completely free/open
source design (yet) for various
✤ 3D Printers as materials get
better may provide a pathway
for inventors of stuff that will
be useful for people with
✤ Ponoko, Shapeways
✤ Medical model of thinking of assistive devices, liability,
greed have limited hardware and gadget development
✤ Spreading FLOSS philosophies and community/
collaboration methods would help invention.
✤ The active FLOSS assistive tech projects out there are
unusually vulnerable to loss of individual contributors,
✤ They’re also vulnerable to the power of the medical-
industrial complex. Fight the power!
✤ Improve your software by considering extreme users.
✤ Cross pollinate ideas
✤ physical inventions, hardware,
needs more open sourciness!
✤ open source culture needs
adaptations driven by
necessity, of pwd
✤ Document projects, preserve
IN THE FUTURE...
Will you be a sad lonely person fumbling to epoxy tennis balls onto the feet of your totally
World War II looking hospital walker ?
Or will you be hacking your burning man jetpack in a vibrant community that supports
serendipity and a culture of invention!
A DIY approach to
will help everyone
We'll invent cool shit
We'll open source our way out of
nursing home prisons run by the
medical industrial complex
The future will be awesome!!!