From a three year old slideshare presentation by Ahmed Mekkawy on “FOSS: Technologies, Communities, and the Society“, it is clear that there is interest in the current status of Free & Open Source Software (FOSS) in Arab societies.
A recent FOSS survey is seeking to learn more about user engagement with the open source community. It has been produced by ‘a regional research team affiliated with the Access to Knowledge for Development Center (A2K4D) at the School of Business of the American University in Cairo, in collaboration with Ma3bar, the Arab Support Center for Free & Open Source Software at the University of Balamand, Al-Kurah, Lebanon.’
It would be wonderful if the results of the survey could provide us with more information about Arabic open source assistive technologies but for the moment just knowing about the availability of any products would be helpful. (Sadly the survey ends with a Captcha so it is not screen reader accessible.
There are blogs on the subject such as ArabicFOSS - it is written in Arabic (Try our Google translate plugin that works with the major browsers) and another is LinuxArabia.com. The Jordan Open Source Association has a good following at present and their Facebook page links to many other discussion forums and blogs, but not to the Arab Afro Open Source Software Forum if that part of the world is of more interest.
Despite searching and contacting individuals accross the area we have struggled to find FOSS assistive technology programs that have already been developed in the Arabic language. Please leave comments to tell us about any you might have found.
Miftaah on Ma3bar.org offers Araic translations for information about several portable apps. Their range of apps includes office, browser, email, PDF readers and VLC. However, I discovered that although the menus may be in Arabic (as we have achieved with our Access Tools pendrive menu (version 2) the actual programs are still those available in English from Portable apps).
ArabEyes has links to a number of start up projects including the Duali spell checker and Khotot, a set of open TTF Arabic fonts. More information is available about the latest release of the bold version of KacstOne font v5.0.
Sadly many of the other sites are dated and the code is no longer being updated.
The Firefox browser is available in Arabic but when you start to look for ‘add-ons’ you immediately return to a US version from the Arabic page – search on ‘Arabic’ and the results are mainly linked to keyboards, dictionaries and translations. The spell checker uses the same database as that used in all the browsers and ATbar – Ayaspell based on Hunspell – also available as the Ayaspell project from Source Forge.
Zekr have produced a “Free Open Source Quran Study Software for Windows, Linux and Mac OS” that is available in several languages including Arabic with audio support but thre does not appear any support to update the work on espeak in Arabic although it is happening in European Languages.
Perhaps the place for professionals to find out more is the ArabNet as this crosses boundaries when it comes to the commercial and open source world. It hosted the ArabNet Digital Summit in Beirut and as Mike Butcher from TechCrunch said:
“The MENA (Middle East North Africa) region’s largest digital event has been expanded to 5 days featuring speakers, panels, workshops, a startup competition and about 1,500 delegates. In a sign the the Arab business world is really getting switched on to tech these days, there’s even a hackathon-style developer event during the conference. I daresay there will be some interesting startups for TechCrunch to unearth there.”
So hopefully you will join us in the quest for open source and freely available Arabic language assistive technology. Here is a short video from the Mada Center in Qatar about building the awareness around assistive technology and accessibility in Arabic.