Globally, the Assistive Technology (AT) software field is small and specialised...
As we all know, AT development remains an underfunded field with its key players often working in relative isolation. Software is becoming an increasingly powerful and effective tool within the field. However the restrictions of the field are holding back development. Open-source software offers a new way of driving forward the Assistive Technology field. The ethos of OATS, as with all open-source activities, is to make its source code freely available to end users and developers, who then have the right to modify and redistribute the software. The OATS Project, a web-based pilot project, has been established to evaluate what demand and interest there might be for open-source software within the AT field and whether this would ultimately warrant the establishment of an ongoing, self-supporting web service. If successful, the OATS “Repository and Forge” will offer the AT field an innovative, inexpensive opportunity to create, share, and above all disseminate good, well-maintained products that have high AT end user value. Importantly, it will also offer the opportunity for end users to drive the development of software in a direction that provides truly user-centred software.
Open-sourcing offers great potential for AT software users. However, currently there are a number of barriers that stop its wider use within the AT community. It is generally difficult to find on the Internet and, until the OATS Project, there have been no specific websites dedicated to developing or downloading AT software.
Open-source software can also be unfriendly to install, often obliging the user to download many different packages before it can be set up and used. Often it is still “under-development”, poorly documented or technically demanding, something that the end user finds frustrating and irritating. To see just how complicated this can be for the lay enquirer, one need only visit the most well-known source of mainstream open-source products, Source Forge (http://sourceforge.net/). Finding OATS products here is like experiencing death by a thousand cuts!
The OATS Project’s repository will strip away all the technical complexity and provide via its database and search engine an efficient and intuitive way to access good quality OATS. By removing these barriers to open-source AT software, users will not only have a single point of contact for obtaining open-source software but volunteer developers will also discover a forum where they can develop ideas and write software that meets the real needs of specific end users.