kwasi boakye-akyeampong kboakye1 at
Mon Jul 30 09:15:44 EDT 2007

Hello Norbert,

Sorry, if I sounded like you did not know what you are talking about. My response was as a result of the following:

" ... as soon as this has been achieved, all visually disabled people everywhere will be able to benefit from this ..."

Taken out of context, it sounds like as soon as a screen reader becomes free then the digital divide will be bridged.

You are right, we must ensure that the technology becomes, at least, accessible to those who are fortunate enough to have it available like Kikki suggested. It is a shame that visually challenged people in developed regions are still struggling to have access to technology though it is available by others around them. This can be attributed to the same old devil, economies of scale, as someone mentioned earlier. If commercial interests are allowed to drive technological change, that is what happens.

May be the digital divide argument has been over-simplified and its definition too narrow. Matter of fact, the visually impaired and physically challenged folks in deprived regions (developing countries) of the world are totally left out of the discussions when it comes to national ICT policy discussions. And if we don't start talking about it now, we shall still be looking answers for these questions 20 years down the line.


Norbert Bollow <nb at> wrote: Kwasi Boakye-Akyeampong  wrote:

> Norbert, you wrote:
> "This of course needs to be funded somehow, but as
> soon as this has been achieved, all visually disabled people
> everywhere will be able to benefit from this ...".
> I disagree with the underlined bit because in the developing
> (under-developed) regions, even the non-visually impaired are
> struggling to have access to computers. Internet access is even
> worse.

Yes, yes.  I have been to rural Africa (not where tourists go, but
where the genuine reality is), and I would certainly say that visiting
with the wonderful people living there or in some other region with
major technological and economic development challenges, and trying to
understand them and their situations as well as possible for an
outsider who can only commit a relatively limited amount of time to
getting to know them, that is certainly an absolutely very
fundamentally valuable experience for anyone who would like to make a
contribution toward bridging or reducing the digital divide.

Please don't dismiss my statements about the benefits of making
screen reader software available as Free Software by addressing me
as if I were someone who doesn't know what he's talking about.  It is
not necessary to have reliable electricity or internet connectivity
before screen reader software becomes valuable to visually disabled
people.  Even when for a given area it is not possible to do more than
visiting them e.g. once a week with a mobile "information society
communication center" containing one or more battery operated laptop
computers, certainly at least one of those computers should be
equipped with screen reader software.

By the way, has it been tried to use screen reader software for the
purpose of making information society technologies more accessible
to illiterate/not-yet-literate people?

> Believe me, the digital divide issue is worse than we make it
> sound. Most of the solutions we propose are just not practicable in
> the deprived regions. They are models fit for the developed
> countries. For instance, most developing countries are struggling
> with electricity supply even in the cities. Most rural communities
> are not connected to the national electricity grid. So bridging the
> digital divide goes beyond providing them with computers.

Certainly.  In my opinion, based on the observations that I have made,
empowering people to use computers productively is much more difficult
than providing them with computers, electricity and some kind of
internet connection.  Quite a lot of measures are necessary in order
to transform that human-empowerment task from being virtually-unsolvably 
difficult into being feasible with the ordinary level of skill that can
be realistically expected from teachers at rural schools in economically
underdeveloped regions of the world.

One measure that will in my opinion help a lot is to provide them with
Free Software rather than proprietary software.

Screen reader software is a special case because in that area, AFAIK the
needed functionality does not exist yet as Free Software, hence there
is a need for thinking about how the develeopment of this kind of
software as Free Software can be funded.

In most other important areas, the essential functionality is already
available as Free Software and just needs to be marketed more


Norbert Bollow           
President of the Swiss Internet User Group SIUG
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