America's excellence in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) -related research, development and business is a major underpinning of our country's global competitive advantage. On November 23, 2009, the President announced his "Educate to Innovate" Campaign for Excellence in STEM Education. The goal of this broad-based public-private investment is to move American students to the top of the pack in science
America's excellence in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) -related research, development and business is a major underpinning of our country's global competitive advantage. On November 23, 2009, the President announced his "Educate to Innovate" Campaign for Excellence in STEM Education. The goal of this broad-based public-private investment is to move American students to the top of the pack in science and math achievement over the next decade.
There is no shortage of brilliant students in our country. Many of them will go on to change the world as they excel in STEM careers.
There is also no shortage of brilliant students with disabilities in our country. These students include young people who have low-vision or are blind; are hearing-impaired or deaf; have a mobility disability or simply learn differently.
Assistive technology (AT) software, designed to accommodate the technology access needs of these students is expensive. There are very few commercial companies developing AT software. The cost for commercial AT software has, basically, remained the same over the past 15 years. Mainstream software has gone down in price.
The AT software industry is government subsidized. Given the state of our economy, there are significant lacks of funding for AT software. Millions of students whose educational success depends upon their use of AT software never receive it because their schools and families simply do not have the money to purchase it.
Injecting funding to purchase commercial AT software will not solve the underlying problem of high prices and lack of competition.
Innovation certainly can.
The White House Office on Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is in an excellent position to help correct this imbalance by working with the Department's of Education, Commerce and Labor to support and encourage the use of high-quality, open source, AT software in schools, colleges and in the workplace.
Educational institutions should be encouraged to evaluate and test portable, high-quality open source AT software before investing our tax dollars in expensive commercial AT applications. In many instances, there is little difference between the two. Unfortunately, there is no incentive to change the nature of this business.
If open source applications are effective, they should be used, and the developers should receive government dollars as an innovation "incentive" to continue enhancing their applications. If open source applications do not meet a student's needs, commercial applications should be purchased.
The benefits of employing the use of free, portable, high-quality, AT software are significant... especially if woven into the fabric of America's broadband software delivery architecture.
We know first hand, through scientific research that employing the use of open source AT software in schools and in the workplace can deliver the following benefits:
1. Improves transition outcomes from school to school, high school to college, high school to employment and in adult life in general;
2. Significantly reduces cost;
3. Enables students attending any school/university to use their AT software on practically any PC they desire/need to use;
4. Reduces incompatibility/interoperability issues with applications installed on the PC being used because the AT software is not installed on the PC being used... it is delivered virtually.
5. Eliminates innocent corruptions of PC-based AT software since virtually delivered AT applications are not installed on the PC being used. Students simply carry their AT software, personal files, and configuration files with them on a flash drive or invoke it from the Cloud;
6. Minimizes the licensing limitations that preclude students/employees from using their AT software on any PC students/employees desire/need to use;
7. Minimizes the problem of too few AT software-equipped computers in schools, colleges, libraries, community centers, places of employment etc.;
8. Minimizes financial losses resulting from AT software abandonment;
9. Minimizes acquisition time and red tape;
10. Minimizes problems associated with installing software because it is not installed on the PC being used;
11. Enables students and employees to become class/workplace ready more quickly; and,
12. Eliminates the “stigma” of having to use a "special."
Most important, I believe that exploring the technology opportunities and strategies described above makes good business sense from a science and technology policy standpoint.
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