Krishnakant Mane says that the freedom and flexibility provided by open source software enables him to work with a variety of interfaces and is integral to his work at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research.
This 27-year-old is visually disabled. He works as a research fellow at TIFR and is adviser to several State Governments. He has been consultant to several companies where he has tried to bring about awareness about the problem faced by people with disabilities using propriety software because it cannot be improvised to suit their needs. “Most people take things for granted and are not aware of our problems,” he says. Like most young men his age, he is an Internet addict, blogs extensively and also helps people on online support groups. Besides working on software solutions for the blind, he is also working on tactile display for the hearing and speech disabled. “I am ashamed to use proprietary software that dictates what I can or should be able to access. A visually disabled person is left at the mercy of the owners and has to wait for them to recode the software to suit his needs,” he says.
“Why should I let the software limit what my magnifier or reader can process?” It is this lack of flexibility that he opposes. Not being employed, a visually impaired person cannot afford to pay huge sums of money, every time something needs to be modified, he argues, speaking to The Hindu on the sidelines of the ongoing Open Source India Week programme.
It is with great indignation that he says that the Government has not done enough to provide computer education to the visually impaired. He completed his education in a regular school and was forced to take up arts due to lack of supporting infrastructure.
“I work for education,” he says with a great degree of optimism. He was on a NASSCOM board which has now committed to including open source software education in the postgraduate curriculum. “It is only a promise and I know that NASSCOM has been a strong supporter of Microsoft; but I still have not lost faith in them. The Knowledge Labs in TIFR is doing hardcore work on Free software and education, but I think the key is to make it a mandatory part of all elementary computer education.
He rejects all proprietor software and says that most people misinterpret it to be a war against Microsoft. He can barely hide his irritation when told that this reporter uses proprietor software. “Nothing in this world comes free; which is why the cost of Free or open source software lies in the willingness to share,” he says. It frustrates him that people advocate open source software for all the wrong reasons; they should understand the value of the freedom and flexibility it offers, he explains.