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OATS - Open Source Assistive Technology - a way forward

By Simon Judge and Andrew Lysley


The global Assistive Technology(AT)and Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) software field, while expanding all the time, remains small land very specialised. AT is a relatively under funded field with its players widely spread across the globe. Open sourcing, if managed sensibly and creatively could offer the AT field an inexpensive opportunity to create, share, and above all disseminate good products that have high AT end user value but no (or relatively little)commercial interest or return. Open sourcing offers great potential for AT software users, however currently there are a number of barriers that stop its use in AT situations. It is generally difficult to find on the Internet and there are no specific areas dedicated to developing or downloading AT software. Open source software can also be unfriendly to install, often obliging the user to download many different packages before it can be used. This project is investigating the viability of the open source model for the future development of AT software. The OATS project removes these barriers to Open Source AT software: users will have a single point of contact for obtaining open source software and developers will have a forum to write software to meet the needs of specific users. The potential uses and market factors involved with Open Source AT software will be investigated and the underlying concepts promoted. Open Sourcing is a well-established and growing method of software development and it has potential to be beneficial within the Assistive Technology field. Open Source development allows multiple developers to work on software simultaneously even on different sides of the world it also encourages a very close relationship between the user and the developer. Many developers are looking to use their skills on interesting, challenging and worthwhile projects and offer a potential resource for the field that has not so far been utilised. Open Source also allows customisation to software œ an important aspect when working with such a diverse range of users as exist within the Assistive Technology community. Further to this, Open Source promotes common standards œ something very much lacking in existing Assistive Technology software œ and could allow better portability for users between programs. The main deliverable of this project is a website where users can find appropriate software to meet their needs and Open Source developers can find exciting and interesting projects. This software 'Repository' has a user-friendly web interface to allow users to browse the software and download/installitwith ease. The second part of the website, the 'Forge', allows software developers to find motivating, interesting and useful projects. The 'Forge' also provides a wide range of Open Source development tools including Subversion CVS (a tool to enable 'source code' to be stored on-line and for multiple developers to access it)and Trac(a project management tool and bug-tracking system). The site is developed using Plone - a powerful content management system that allows users control over their own project areas and provides a range of tools such as polls, noticeboards, FAQs etc. The website is fully accessible and meets the W3C WAI guidelines. To summarise the OATS project and website offers: \ud - Downloadable Open Source AT software that is of sufficient quality to disseminate widely. \ud - A 'forge' for the development of new Open Source AT software based on specific user needs. \ud - A searchable list of links to other related websites \ud - A discussion forum to promote discussion between end users, AT professionals and Open Source developers. And, in the longer term, itcouldalso provide: \ud - Specific solutions to individual needs by 'tuning' existing applications \ud - End users with help to develop solutions themselves \u

Publisher: Communication Matters
Year: 2005
OAI identifier: oai:eprints.whiterose.ac.uk:10290

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