Open Source Accessibility

Lori Carter


Student Materials


Group Discussion:


Ethics background required: It is helpful if students are familiar with the utilitarian and virtue ethics methods of considering ethical dilemmas. They should understand what stakeholders are. For any who need it, there are brief reviews of these concepts in the assignment. It is suggested that the Media Literacy Lab be completed prior to this lab, but principles of finding credible articles are reviewed in the student homework handout.

Subject matter referred to in this Lab: Linux or other open source software.

Placement in overall ethics curriculum:

Time required:

Learning objectives:

Ethical issues to be considered: Accessibility, Media Literacy

This lab requires students to complete some homework outside of class. They will be finding credible articles that consider the pros and cons of open source software and posting summaries online prior to class. During class they will be discussing within groups how open source and proprietary software measure up in regard to accessibility (economic, mental, and physical).

Preparation: Read the entire lab. Post the homework assignment online (or print on papers if you would like to have the assignment completed off-line. Print the group discussion questions either one per group or one per student.


Guide for Instructors

Lesson plan

Introduction (to be read or summarized to class) (5 min)

Ask students: “In your own words, what is open source software?” (definition is on handout)

One of the strongest arguments for open source software is that it is free, making it economically accessible to most people. In this discussion, we will consider other aspects of accessibility with regard to open source software. Accessibility is one of the current ethical considerations that software engineers must take into account as they design new software.

The Oxford Dictionary defines accessibility as:

“The quality of being able to be reached or entered.”

It further explains accessibility as

1.1 The quality of being easy to obtain or use. ‘students were concerned about the accessibility of quality academic counselling’.

1.2 The quality of being easily understood or appreciated. ‘the accessibility of his work helped to popularize modern art’

1.3 The quality of being easily reached, entered, or used by people who have a disability. ‘many architects believe that accommodating wheelchairs is all there is to providing accessibility’.

Have students brainstorm on the disabilities (learning, mental, emotional, physical) that people have to deal with today. Then ask them to come up with reasonable accommodations that software engineers might be able to include to help with these issues. The chart below provides the instructor with some ideas. There are many more.

Disability Software accommodation
Blindness Audible output
Color blindness Particular color schemes (don’t use red and green or pink and gray together)
Deafness Closed caption or other written instructions/descriptions
Limited mobility Special hardware
Dyslexia Choice of font (Arial and Courier are good)
ADHD Good spacing in text – pages that are not too “busy”
Chronic pain Interfaces that reduce the amount of movement required
Depression Clear written instructions, allows for remote (work from home) communication
Anxiety Simple interfaces and instructions
Autism/Asperger’s Good spacing in text – pages that are not too “busy”

Activity (10 min)

Students evaluate open source and proprietary software with regard to accessibility (10 min)

Reflection as a class

Ask students what the problem is with an ethical analysis using virtue ethics (both approaches – proprietary and open source violate various virtues). Ask students to suggest some of the virtues violated.


Ask students if the discussion changed the way that they look at open source or proprietary software

Ask students what they learned about designing software with an eye for accessibility

Ask students to provide 2 accessibility issues with open source software

Ask students to provide 2 accessibility issues with proprietary software

Ask if virtue ethics or utilitarianism was a better framework for considering this ethical dilemma and why