FOSS and Disability
Ella the Cat posted up their i3-gaps configuration to help with Parkinson’s, and it got me thinking a lot about how FOSS software typically views disability. Briefly, they have Parkinson’s Disease, which causes tremors, which makes the mouse a pain to use. The i3-gaps desktop is keyboard based, so it doesn’t require much mouse interaction. They then modified the key-bindings to stop their specific tremors in the left hand from exiting a program accidentally.
Proprietary Disability Support
Windows and Mac in-built tools seem very mature, and full-featured, but after reading Ella the Cat’s post, I noted they also make strict divides. They envision disabilities as some fixed list, with fixed solutions:
- partially blind: bigger writing in the OS
- fully blind: screen reader
- deaf: just mute the thing and use subs on YouTube?
The classic ‘Windows’ response to Parkinson’s disease seems to be some new software for the OS which would help with ‘general Parkinson’s Disease’. However, it wouldn’t necessarily help with Ella’s specific tremors.
FOSS Disability Support
I don’t want to advise anyone to change their OS for better disability support - I really have no idea how good Linux Mint is for blind people. I just want to note that (despite Linux Mint having some disability support) the essential FOSS attitude towards disability is to not acknowledge it - it doesn’t really recognize individual problems as category A, then category B.
Instead, FOSS provides tools to suit any workflow, whether someone has problems seeing, issues with screen brightness, tremors, memory issues, arthritis, or financial limitations. Personally, I don’t feel comfortable using computer mice. This has nothing to do with disability - but from the FOSS point of view, it makes no difference. I can configure my computer to avoid the mouse, and to help with my poor planning abilities. Everyone receives myriad, gratis tools, each of which can be configured for their needs precisely.
Coming back to blind support, the Fake VIP often uses a text-to-speech reader, together with a mostly text-based workflow. Nobody designed the terminals to support blind people - but since the output is already plain text (as opposed to a bunch of hieroglyphs symbolizing ‘configuration’, ‘settings’, and the like), it joins naturally with a text-to-speech reader. Nobody made text-to-speech readers specifically for blind people either - you could use one to proof-read your own writing, or use one to make a raspberry pi tell you what’s in the calendar that day.
The ecosystem doesn’t doesn’t contain a view of ’normal people with a normal-person OS’, and ‘strange people, types A,B, and C’. In FOSS-land, we’re all equally odd, and every configuration is special.