Robert Cole appreciates the accessibility of GNOME

My name is Robert Cole. I am twenty-seven years of age and I currently reside in Modesto, California; I was born and raised in a small town in Ohio. I am very interested in computer science and information technology. I will be the holder of an Associate degree in Computer Information Systems as well as a Computer Applications Specialist certificate from Modesto Junior College following this current semester which ends next week. Though it is only an Associate degree, I have high hopes that it will go a long way in showing employers that I am capable of working and of being an asset to whichever of them will give me a chance at a job.

I have been married to my wife Gloria for over seven years (eight years come June 2012); we have a two-and-a-half-year-old son named R.J. as well as another little boy due around March 17. My family means the world to me, and my goal is to pursue a career which will allow me to provide for them and meet all of their needs.

I was born with a visual defect called microphthalmia, which is a big word that simply means that my eyeballs did not fully develop and are thus about one-third the size of a normal human eyeball. I have no sight at all in my left eye, and I have a visual acuity measurement of 20/2000 in my right eye, which basically means that my vision is very limited. Throughout the duration of my childhood, my mother (who was a single mother who had the task of raising four children including myself) as well as others around me had no idea what to do with me as I was the only visually impaired person (to my knowledge) in the town in which we resided. To say the least about my childhood, my mother did her best to raise us, but we lived well below the poverty level; I had few friends because many of the children my age were afraid to even be around me as I was ‘different’.

I was introduced to computers in 1998 during my eighth grade year. I felt completely hopeless as I attempted to see the screen in my middle school’s computer lab. The system ran Windows 98, and I felt like a complete failure because I felt as though I could never use a computer system. I purchased my first computer system (with money which I scrounged up over many months) in 2001. This machine ran Windows ME, and it is needless to say…I still felt like I could never use a computer system. As time went on I was introduced to commercial assistive technology software such as the ZoomText screen magnifier (produced by AiSquared) and the JAWS screen reader (produced by Freedom Scientific). I finally felt like I could do something with computers. In 2002, I earned a certification of completion from a local vocational school as well as a Honors Diploma from my local high school.

Thanks to a state agency, JAWS and ZoomText were purchased for me at no cost, and I felt much more productive in using a computer system. Then it happened: time for upgrades (which were by no means free)! I couldn’t afford them, and the state agency would not authorize them. Things just did not function as well on my updated computer system with frozen assistive technologies.

In 2006 I took a GNU/Linux class at a local college. I was afraid of how things would proceed as I had never used Linux although I had researched it a lot before the class. The class used Fedora Core 5 at that time, and I had no clue what was available for Linux in the area of accessibility. The professor of the class did some research and pointed me to Gnopernicus. Thanks the screen magnification available in Gnopernicus I was able to use Fedora Core 5 and I passed the class with a perfect score. During that class I fell in love with Linux and GNOME.

I did not fully switch to GNU/Linux until 2007, but during 2005 I worked a lot with an Ubuntu live CD to keep track of how far accessibility had come along as, though it was very helpful, Gnopernicus did not fully meet my needs. In 2007 I began to work with the GNOME Magnifier (gnome-mag) as well as the Compiz eZoom plugin. Accessibility had come a long way, and I could finally completely switch to Linux! I have been a happy Linux/GNOME user ever since.

As of recent months, my eyes have begun to grow tired much more quickly, so I have also been working with the Orca screen reader more and more to reduce eye strain. I also use the Compiz Negative plugin in GNOME 2.32 on a Linux Mint 11 system which makes reading much easier on my eyes. Although GNOME 3.x does not work with Compiz, it provides a very good magnification option using the built-in Zoom feature. There is also an inverse contrast feature which is under development; this will make my GNOME 3 experience much more pleasant as I will be able to read with a negative contrast (white text on a black background).

I am simply amazed with how far accessibility has come along in GNU/Linux and in GNOME. I can certainly testify that I could not have come along as far as I have without the work which has been done in GNOME as related to accessibility. Without all of the work which was put into things such as screen magnification and the Orca screen reader, I would still be stuck running outdated commercial assistive technology software on an up-to-date operating system.

I want to personally thank all of the developers who take accessibility into account. My most sincere hope is that of see this type of software flourish in the open source world. Accessibility and assistive technologies are very vital as the population of disabled users is rapidly growing. As of 2006, there were roughly over 21 million blind adults in the United States alone. For me that means a lot, as I know what it can be like to want to be able to use a computer system for numerous things, but there is no money available to purchase commercial software (often costing the same as purchasing two or more computer systems). For me, GNU/Linux and GNOME equal freedom, and without all of the hard work which has been put into all of this wonderful software, I would truly be at a loss. This is why further development and maintenance of accessible software is so important to me.

Thank you for all of the hard work; it has made a tremendous difference in my life, and it is something which I do not take for granted. I truly mean it when I say that without your hard work, I would not be where I am today! Thanks for everything which all of you do to make GNOME work!

(c) 2011 Robert Cole, Licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 3.0