Americans, as well as everyone else around planet Earth, have a variety of technologies available to them at low or no cost that enable us to interact with one another in many ways.
Some of these technologies enable us to interact with each other on business levels, despite a person's disability. These technologies include operating systems, office packages, phone service, and much more.
The Ubuntu Operating System and Accessibility Features
The Ubuntu Operating System is free of charge for anyone at all to download from the Internet, burn to a CD or DVD, and use. The operating system has a number of accessibility features and offers these features quite intentionally. Ubuntu states, "Ubuntu aims at making the operating system, and its derivatives, usable by as many people as possible across ages, languages and physical abilities. This includes providing an accessible platform with high quality assistive tools, and ensuring that other applications work well with these. The assistive tools on Ubuntu, along with the entire operating system, are provided free of charge."
Ubuntu has a built-in screen reader named, 'Orca,' that is flexible and uses various combinations of speech synthesis.
Orca uses Braille, as well as magnification, and helps to provide access to applications and toolkits that support the AT-SPI or Gnome desktop. The development of Orca has been led by Sun Microsystems.
For people with mobility impairments, Ubuntu offers a number of assistive features. Keyboard modifiers are one of these features, giving users a number of options for modifying the behavior of their mouse and keyboard. The modifier keys Shift, Ctrl, and Alt can be made, 'sticky,' so when they are pressed once they stay active until another key is pressed. What this does is make it possible to type in upper case characters, or to use the keyboard shortcuts while only pressing one key at a time.
Additional features include, 'slow keys,' and, 'bounce keys,' things that control the reaction and repeat rates of keys on the keyboard, as well as, 'mouse keys,' something that permits the numeric keypad to be used to control the mouse cursor. Ubuntu offers an on-screen keyboard called, 'onBoard.' It is a lightweight text-entry application that is extensible through scripts, macros, and custom layouts. Another on-screen keyboard is available as well called, 'Gnome On-Screen Keyboard,' or, 'GOK.' GOK also does basic text entry, but additionally provides facilities for controlling the entire desktop and its behavior through the on-screen keyboard.
For people who are unable to click with a hardware button, Ubuntu offers a utility called, 'Mousetweaks,' that enables them to perform various clicks through software.
Mousetweaks gives people a number of features such as:
Ubuntu also offers something called, 'Dasher,' that provides an intuitive way for people to enter text without using a keyboard at all! Dasher uses a head-mouse or eye-tracker instead. There is also a speech recognition engine in Ubuntu known as, 'Julius,' that can be used to recognize voice commands and to execute pre-set commands.
Office Software and People with Disabilities
When it comes to basic business interactions, office package software is a must. The LibreOffice package is absolutely free for anyone to use and is designed for use with Linux, Macintosh, or Windows. It gives people six different professional applications for document production and data processing needs - Writer, Calc, Impress, Draw, Math, and Base.
Options are always nice where software is concerned and AbiWord is a wonderful option. AbiWord is also free and is similar to Microsoft Word. It is very usable for a number of word processing needs. With AbiWord you can collaborate with multiple people on one document at the same time if you want. The program is integrated with an online service that gives you the opportunity to store documents online, and share documents with others. AbiWord also performs document format conversions on the fly.
A spreadsheet is perhaps one of the most basic pieces of office software. Gnumeric is a free spreadsheet that is a part of the Gnome desktop environment included in Ubuntu or other Linux operating systems. The goal of Gnumeric is to be the best spreadsheet; the creators are not attempting to somehow, 'clone,' other existing applications. Gnumeric can; however, read files that have been saved by other spreadsheet applications.
People today need to stay in contact with one-another and Skype is a good way to do just that. Skype offers people a number of very usable features at low or no cost. For example, with Skype you can make free calls to anyone else who uses Skype, anywhere in the world for free. You can also use Skype to make face-to-face video calls to others, or use it to make group video calls.
Enabling an Accessible Technological Society
Using the software presented, People with Disabilities can perform any number of business and administrative tasks. We can perform tasks such as customer service, accounting, document processing of a variety of types, conferencing duties, and more. What is needed is a change in the perspectives of employers.
People with Disabilities can work from home, or we can work from offices.
We simply need some flexibility in our working environments and the hours we work. Shared jobs, part-time flexibility, and open-minded employers could find millions of working-age People with Disabilities employed on at least a part-time basis from their own homes or in office environments. A willingness among employers to provide often times simple accommodations would help immensely.
Software such as Ubuntu, LibreOffice, AbiWord, and Gnumeric are free for individual users who use them from their homes. The Ubuntu Operating System is far more virus free than other operating systems, leading to a more secure software environment. The costs of using a Linux operating system such as Ubuntu in an office environment are far less expensive than using some other operating systems.
Accessibility is not all about curb-cuts and door openers.
Accessibility is also about creativity and open-mindedness in workplace environments. Enabling People with Disabilities to work from our own homes performing very useful office and administrative tasks truly is both accessibility and accommodation. The technology is there, it is inexpensive, and People with Disabilities are able to use it. America - reach for accessibility.
Ubuntu - www.ubuntu.com
LibreOffice - www.libreoffice.org
AbiWord - www.abisource.com
Gnumeric - projects.gnome.org/gnumeric/
Skype - www.skype.com/intl/en-us/homepage
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