Chris Hofstader appointed as GNU access technology director
BOSTON, Massachusetts, USA -- Tuesday , May 11, 2010 -- The Free Software Foundation (FSF) today announced the appointment of Chris Hofstader as director of access technology software for its GNU Project, and the publication of the GNU Accessibility Statement.
GNU Accessibility is a free software pan-disability initiative to create features that can be used by people with low vision, deafness, learning and reading disabilities, and for people with mobility and other physical issues who can use an on-screen keyboard.
According to the United Nations in 2005, there were 600 million people with disabilities in the world -- an exceptionally large and disenfranchised group.
To use computers, many people with disabilities need special software known as "access technology." Like other programs, these can be free software or proprietary. Those which are free software respect the freedom of their users; the rest, proprietary programs, subject those users to the power of the program's owner.
When people with disabilities use proprietary access technology, they have little or no way to correct whatever is wrong with it. People with unusual combinations of disabilities, who require relatively unusual software, or who encounter a bug that keeps them from doing their job, have no way to get the changes they need made. These products are only changed or improved when the vendors see a business reason for doing the work; this leaves many users behind.
Talking about his appointment as director of access technology, Chris Hofstader said, "The FSF has led the software world to an understanding of the importance of computer user freedom, but there is still much more to do to achieve accessibility for people with disability in free software. There are a number of projects in this area that have been hurt badly by recent layoffs at some large technology companies, and there is a vacuum in leadership on this issue in the free software world. Our first major tasks include finding free access technology software and cataloging it, raising awareness of what can be done to improve access for people with disability, and finding people to help us make programs accessible."
The inventory of free access technology is an ongoing process, but GNU is actively recruiting volunteers in all areas of tasks that can be performed to expand the accessibility of free systems. "Some of the tasks are obviously very technical and will require relatively senior programmers, but many others, ranging from writing documents on a wide array of best practices, universal design as it applies to free access technology, testing programs that claim to be accessible with free access technology, helping webmasters make their sites become more accessible, and literally dozens of other things to do to further this cause, can be done by people with different skills," continued Hofstader.
In order for access technology to work, the other software in use must interoperate with it. The majority of computer programs and web sites (85% in one estimate) do not comply with accessibility standards and guidelines, so they do not work with access technology. They provide a frustrating experience, and can bar users from jobs or school activities.
"Software accessibility is increasingly important to all concerned. We are thrilled, therefore, to welcome the new emphasis on accessibility from the GNU Project," said Janina Sajka, the chair of open accessibility at the Linux Foundation. Sajka continued, "We aim to work together with GNU to achieve solid, user-friendly enhancements to the computing environments available to persons with disabilities. This is indeed a very welcome development."
Sina Bahram, a leader in the world of software development by people with vision impairment, a blind user of access technology, and a PhD candidate in human computer interfaces (HCI) at North Carolina State University said, "I am delighted to see that the FSF has recently added its strong and influential voice to the growing and crucial movement for accessibility, universal design, and software freedom for all. Given the myriad of ever present and growing perils to both software and cyber freedom, it is extremely heartening to see the FSF take a firm stand on accessibility by encouraging all developers to strive to do better in this space. It is my firm belief that free software has already done and will continue to do so much to revolutionize accessibility for all users. The FSF's commitment to this cause helps guarantee success”.
Hofstader has been a software engineer for about thirty years. Along with Richard Stallman, he co-founded the League for Programming Freedom (http://progfree.org/) and supported himself making mostly proprietary software. He had a moderate to severe vision impairment until he was about 35, when he slid into profound blindness. He then took a job at the company that makes the most popular proprietary software used by people with vision impairment, believing incorrectly that a well-funded, profit-oriented company would be able to make the best software for people with disabilities. Hofstader left that job about six years ago and has been working in the research and development area of access technology since. He officially joined the GNU Project in February of this year.
About the Free Software Foundation
The Free Software Foundation, founded in 1985, is dedicated to promoting computer users' right to use, study, copy, modify, and redistribute computer programs. The FSF promotes the development and use of free (as in freedom) software -- particularly the GNU operating system and its GNU/Linux variants -- and free documentation for free software. The FSF also helps to spread awareness of the ethical and political issues of freedom in the use of software, and its Web sites, located at fsf.org and gnu.org, are an important source of information about GNU/Linux. Donations to support the FSF's work can be made at http://donate.fsf.org. Its headquarters are in Boston, MA, USA.
Director of Access Technology
Free Software Foundation
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