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Hack Ability: Open Source Assistive Tech

Time:13:30 - 14:15
Day:Friday 22 January 2010
Location:Renouf 2 (MFC)

Sometime in your life you'll likely have a physical impairment. People with disabilities might need mobility devices, assistive or augmented communication devices for speech-to-text or eye controlled input, screen readers for visual impairments, or what we now describe as ergonomic adaptations. Mass produced, closed-source, proprietary designed objects don't meet the individual needs of people with disabilities. So we need to approach the invention of assistive technology in a way that expects and welcomes hacking. How can we change the view of assistive technology so that it is not a medicalized special need that has to be begged for, and open source development so that it includes universal accessibility from the beginning?

Rather than obsess over impossible levels of healthiness and longevity, we need to change people’s expectations of how they will deal with changing physical limitations. Popularizing simple designs, and a DIY attitude for assistive tech, will extend the open source culture of invention. Complicated access hacks need open information, open collaboration, and community in order to be successful enough to rival mass produced software, hardware, and gear.

Liz Henry

Liz Henry is a producer and developer at BlogHer, the award-winning aggregation, syndication and advertising network for women bloggers. She is on the Systems team for the Organization for Transformative Works and is a developer for Dreamwidth. She has been writing online since 1990, drafted the Common Public Attribution License for SocialText, and has been a key figure in organizing BarCampBlock, WoolfCamp,, and Wiki Wednesday. She has been a wheelchair user on and off for fifteen years, and is a proud member of the Secret Feminist Cabal.