10.2 Brazil - Open Source Assistive Technology

Access to, and training in the use of, screen-reading software can enable a blind person to work with many mainstream office applications. However, a single license for the leading proprietary screen-reader software required by a blind person typically costs the equivalent of two or three desk-top PCs. As identified in the TVET 99 case study, this proves prohibitively expensive for individuals and training centers in developing countries to provide. Even the small minority of individuals who can afford this license fee must also incur the additional cost for software training in order to become employable. Even then, an employer will typically not be able to incur the cost of buying and maintaining this software.1

One possible answer is to provide Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) assistive technology (AT). An example of this type of software is the Orca screen reader which runs on the Linux platform.2 Both OCRA and Linux are open-source technologies, but most people do not have the IT skills required to install these technologies on a computer.

Mais Diferenças3 is the leading Brazilian NGO specializing in inclusive education and culture. Through the Educação Livre Project, it works with a local assistive technology company, the Botelho & Paula Consultoria,4 to train students and job seekers in the use of these types of open source ATs.

Developed by the Botelho & Paula Consultoria, the F123.org5 USB (or pen) drive contains a range of ATs that can be used on the majority of computers. A 2 GB USB drive contains a mix of open-source technologies, including Linux, Gnome and Orca. A small change in the boot sequence of the BIOS of a computer allows the person with a disability to use almost any computer without needing to install any software on the hard drive. This means the person is not tied to using just one specialized computer in a school or training center. He or she can bring the AT with them to use on a PC at an Internet café or at home. This form of technology also has the potential to be used in work environments, without incurring large licensing fees on the employer.

The Educação Livre Project trains students and job seekers in the use of these open-source technologies. The Educação Livre Project aimed to achieve the following in 2010:

  • Nineteen of its current 39 students will finish training in July 2010.
  • An estimated eight students will start training in August.
  • A class of six new students is expected to begin in a new NGO in August.
  • Twenty to 22 of their current students are expected to conclude training in November.
  • Depending on costs and funding, 20 to 30 students will take an intensive course for instructors.

One of the main lessons of this initiative is the importance of exploring FOSS assistive technology solutions, in order to build capacity within local companies to modify and support this technology and to train persons with disabilities in its use.

1TASCHA page 15-16