Before selecting which packages to include and to work on improving, it will be useful to consider the different needs of our target audience. The GNOME Accessibility Project has a good overview of different disabilities, including:
- Visual impairments
- Mobility impairments
- Age-Related Impairments
In addition, we also need to consider different computing requirements.
This is a group of advanced computer users and early adopters of Linux. They use Linux out of personal or professional interest and have strong motivation for helping Linux accessibility improve. They have likely tried several versions of Linux, including Ubuntu, and their choice of distro may be strongly influenced by how well the accessibility features work.
This group will be comfortable with making changes in configuration files and perhaps also compiling code. A small sub-group will be actual developers and perhaps working upstream on accessibility projects. Good on-line documentation will be helpful to this group in the early phase of moving to Ubuntu, though they will also be able to turn to mailing list or IRC from their old platform.
This group is a small part of the general population, but is very important to our project because they provide useful testing of code and hardware and help drive the actual development forward. Since other user groups will be slower to adopt Linux, it is likely that this advanced group currently represents a large majority of disabled Linux users.
The needs of this group are in some areas less demanding and in other areas more demanding than that of the average computer users with a similar disability. For this group it is slightly less crucial that things "just work" from the first installation, as they will be able to tweak some things, though they might also just try many Linux distros and just stop at the first one where the features they need "just work". This group is also less sensitive to the selection of sensible defaults, as they will be happy to try a few different options and select the best one for them.
On the other hand, this group will tend to want to install their own systems and so will require an accessible install process. They may also want to do development or custom configuration, which would require accessible development tools, access from the first stages of boot, accessible console tools, accessible remote desktop tools and more.
After the early adopters, this may be the next group to require accessible computing. As more schools, universities and companies move to a Linux platform they will come up against legal requirements for accessibility. A school with 500 students, amongst whom 5-6 have varied disabilities, will need to find ways to cater for these special needs.
Traditionally, on the Windows platform, this might have been done using a combination of the (very) basic accessibility tool provided by default and then purchasing custom hardware and software as required. The Windows based software is generally quite expensive, but it does install easily and predictably as the platform is so common. The situation is less tidy on Linux, where a variety of desktop UIs and distros support accessibility features to varying degree. These users will generally have less freedom to change distro to suit their needs than the power users.
Many institutions may actually choose to use Windows or MacOS machines for their disabled users, but this has the disadvantage of locking those users out from the standard computing environment, which may contain unique functionality not easily reproduced on Windows/MacOS X. These large networks are typically administered by one or two system admins, who may not have the expertise or time to provide satisfactory solutions for a small group of users with specific needs. We should aim to make this system administration as easy as possible through easy-to-install packages and good documentation.
Private Home Computer Users
This is by far the biggest group in terms of numbers in the long term, since many of those who use computers in school or at work will also use computers at home. This group may also include a large number of elderly users with intermediate loss of vision or motoric skills. This will likely be the last group to switch to Linux/Ubuntu because there is no strong motivation to do sof if their current Windows or Mac system does what they need.
This groups mainly need to perform daily desktop computing tasks, such as using the web, email, office programs, music and multimedia, etc. In the future these users may buy a standard computer with Ubuntu installed, or install it themselves, possibly with help. In those cases it is important that the default accessibility features "just work" and are easy to install. Sensible defaults should be chosen for the diffrent needs, and information about alternative systems should be available on-line and installation of these should be made easy. While this group may be slow to change their OS from Windows or Mac, even compared with other basic computer users, they may be more motivated to customise their system to get accessibility working properly once on Ubuntu.