An Open Letter On the Economics and Morals of Scripting
Doug Lee
July 23, 2015

I am prompted to write this by a Twitter discussion initiated by an audio post by Piotr Machacz (@pitermach). The initial post was itself prompted by a specific recent event (Hartgen Consultancy's acquisition of the rights to the Q9 computer game), but I neither address the specifics of that event here nor do I seek to address Piotr personally.

My goal in this article is to address general principals and assertions that I often see raised, from my perspective as a paid and a volunteer scripter, an advocate for software accessibility, and of course as a blind person and software user. To that end, I will present assertions from the audio post below, each with my response. I will then present my personal practices in scripting as relevant to this discussion, not as a definitive answer to how things should be, but as my own answer only. First though, I thank Piotr, whom I personally know, for providing me a place to start with this discussion.

Assertions In the Audio Post and My Responses

Assertions appear here as headings and are my paraphrasings of comments in the audio post above referenced. They also represent popular ideas I have frequently heard voiced, and as such, should be considered general to some in the blind community and not specific to the audio post's author.

Scripts are becoming less necessary over time

The nature of scripts is changing, means for producing natively accessible applications are improving, and awareness of how and why to do so is slowly growing; but I daresay we are far from the day when all mainstream apps can be used without any adaptation. Unfortunate, but true.

Call centers provide frequent examples where scripting remains crucial to successful job performance: Even if a call center application is "accessible," meaning every function is possible from the keyboard and every field and action is voiced appropriately, it may be very time-consuming to complete a common task without scripting. If it requires 25 Tab presses to reach the "Customer Balance" field, a faster means of reaching that field can significantly improve a screen reader user's productivity. Native hotkeys can help but can also become prohibitively complex to remember in large screens and applications.

It is wrong to charge for scripts

In my country at least, it is not wrong to charge for work or products; if you charge too much, you simply get no buyers. In the Bible, we have "the worker deserves his wages" (Luke 10:7, 1 Timothy 5:18, and a paraphrase of Deuteronomy 25:4). I'm not aware of a religion or belief system that would counter this concept. The Bible speaks against charging interest, formerly called usury; but not against charging for labor. Scripting is programming, which is labor even if more mental than physical.

Of course, it is also not wrong to do things for free by choice. May the authors of NVDA be rewarded in eternity for their long-term willingness to do so. But even NVDA is funded, as it is difficult to live on Earth without something resembling money.

Charging for scripts makes blind people pay more for an app than do sighted people

When you need a wheelchair ramp alongside steps into a house, the contractor that cuts the ramp doesn't do it for free either. This problem is universal to those who need adaptations: adaptations involve work, and work is usually paid for. I'm not saying it's ideal; I'm saying it's reality. If you believe this is unfair, take the opposite post and tell me you would build me a house for free because I need one. Do this, and you will very quickly run out of energy, time, and building materials.

The increased cost to blind people is why it's wrong to charge for scripts

No one is saying, "I'll charge everyone else $50 for this but I'll charge you $75"; that might be a legal issue. One person is saying, "I'll charge $50 for this, to you and all," and another says, "Oops, I see that thing doesn't work for you. I can fix that in a couple days if you pay me $25 for my time." If this upsets you, I humbly suggest that your best response would not be to say to the second person, "It's wrong for you to charge me $25 for that adjustment," but rather to say to the first person, "You should factor this adaptation into your work so I can use your product, too." In fact, the US Government has been trying to say that to a lot of folks for a while; and other governments have as well.

It's particularly wrong to charge for scripts that do very little

If you want $200 from guests at your Friday night bash, $50 from anyone wanting a swim in your pool, and an $85 fee any time you run groceries home for your roommate, you probably won't breed good will; but it's not a moral question. The market will teach its own lessons I think. If I were your roommate in that example, I expect this status would not last long.

It's bad to write scripts that save the user from complexities of their computers

I've made this argument many times in job settings: I believe it is wise for users to learn independent use of their systems. But there are balances to be struck, and Bill Gates himself knew this when he decided to write Windows to simplify computer use for most people. The market proved that his idea was useful to a great many. I suspect many blind people will make similar decisions, and for similar reasons, regardless again of what we might consider ideal.

My personal practices

These are my answers; I don't claim they are either best or wisest.

In Conclusion

With the unemployment rate among blind people, it is no wonder to me that people object frequently to being charged for the ability to do things that those around them pay less to do. I do not fault those who combat this problem with either rhetoric or code, though I commonly find code more useful in the fight. May my momentary lapse into rhetoric as a response serve some purpose beyond the filling of time and space.