I introduce myself
My name is Jean-Philippe Mengual. I choosed being "auto-entrepreneur", i.e. a "individual businesssman" so that I could explore an activity which creates a relationship between my passion and the economical imperative. This situation enables to provide a trusting and stable structure for those who need, to try the project I defend, a contract warranty, a law status. The French "auto-entrepreneur" status covers an activity and puts around it more law warranties, in particular because I am responsible for everything I do. At the same time, this status enabless me not living in a profitability approach, and not leaving my other projects which have also an important place in my life.
When I started with computing
The starting has a big influence on my approach of noawadays of computers.
Everything started in 1995. As every impaired people in France, I had to fight to be integrated at school, and thus I had to buy some specific hardware. It consisted on a braille display, connected to a laptop. This hardware was very expensive. My family and I had to be helped by institutions, we had a relative success. Finally, after big familiar efforts, we had some help.
But the technologies change very quickly. A few time after buying the hardware, the Windows operating system imposed itself everywhere. But to access to such system when one is blind, a new expensive software was needed. Its cost was about 1500 euros.
I was lucky, my school bought the software and I was lent the it. Before the university, I had to give back this software. So the question was : how can I pay for this software to be personally equipped? I did not have enough energy to fill new forms, get very low helps considering my capabilities and the cost of the solution, negotiate, etc... At the same time, a friend told me about Linux and he explained to me that the solution was a fully freeware, but it was rather for interested people in computing.
An insignificant discovering of the Free Software
It became an emergency. So I started getting information about this operating system, from a technical point of view. As I got answers which reassured me, and since I was involved by the curiosity of a geek, I switched.
Thus, I left the Windows universe on my personal computer. However, yes, it was necessary to be a geek to work with Linux: help was hard to find for a beginner, the environment was in text-only, without icon, item and menu, the syntax of the commandline was not always understandable, all the websites were not necessarily accessible for the text-based browser... To survive in this world, it was necessary to spend a lot of time, energy, geek efforts, workarounds, concessions...
But no problem for me. I liked this. However I knew I was not a typical user. I did not intend to promote my solutions, although they suited for me.Everybody is not a geek.
One step more toward the universal credibility of the Free Software
In 2008, I had to buy a new computer. After installing again Linux on this newer machine, I felt like to explore some projects I had heard of about during my learning, and which were designed to enable blind users to access to the graphical user interface of Linux. After some searches, I discovered these solutions. I think they are usable, and they changed my life : I had a friendly file manager, an access to the Internet through Firefox, to the office work through openoffice.org, etc... So I was aware of the fact the power of the community. Technically I worked in better conditions, so I tried understanding the backends of the Free Software philosophy.
Definitive switch of my own conviction
But something was missing in my building. My solution was suitable for me, but it implied some braille hardware. It was expensive, it implied that the user knows to read braille, I did not think that Linux could be universal for sight impaired people. Yes, there were speech synthetisers, but their quality was very low and the interface was dedicated for geeks.
While I followed my searches, I discovered a speech synthetiser software which, when connected to the screen reader provided with the Linux graphical user interface, supplies a sound quality strictly similar as this existing for Windows, and a quality of the interface that we can use and which is freeware, although it is less full than the solutions under Windows and which implied paying.
After this last discovering, I was aware of an essential theory: except one thing, whose cost is only 30 euros (to pay for the proprietary speech synthetiser which has a similar quality as the Windows universe), a sight impaired can, nowadays, access to a computer, only through free software, created without paying by the community. They are usable and they can be installed very qickly, that makes faster the integration process. If some financial help implies a few months, or one or two years, the free software can be installed and learnt in some days or some weeks. All the more since the interfaces of the software improved very much.
So I was implied more and more in free solutions, as an user who tests, translates, geeks the configuration. I discovered the free software philosophy and I found a high quality of the social relationship. Creating a network between friends is very pleasant in such community. Since this day, I have defended very much the Free software, saying GNU/Linux, defending LibreOffice in front of OpenOffice.org, so I privileged the community on the leadership. However, I quicly saw that the help I could give to the community was neither via development, nor via system administration. But I prefer helping the users (documentation, translations, support, assist on the philosophy of the free software, promotion of solutions as accessibility tools).
Since this time, I have decided first helping the community for improving these solutions, but also show them to the users.
All the more as I quickly understood the kind of needs that were covered by such utilities, and their major interest for public space. My thought was in progress through the talks I could give in free software events and via people I met: first, in Bordeaux, on 2011, July, for Libre Software Meeting; then in Lyon, on 2010, october for Les journées du logiciel libre (Free Software days),
Finally, several events enabled me to imagine the future for this project: the number of people listening to my developpers-oriented talks surprised me very much. It shew me how the community now is aware of the importance to make software and websites accessible, as well as they were amazed with existing free solutions which existed. I realised this on 2010, May, for Libre Software Briton Meeting in Rennes; then on 2011, February, in Brussels for the FOSDEM, or for the events which were organized before the General Gathering of an organization which gathers users of Free Software.
It results that noawadays, I am sure that the project can live, and it has an essential role in computers' accessibility for sight impaired people. Details about the idea around this project can be found at the Why this project page.