Science and technology

Remixing Linux for blind and visually impaired customers

When I used to be round 5 years outdated, my father introduced house our first laptop. From that second on, I knew I needed to pursue a profession in computer systems. I have not stopped hanging round them since. During highschool, when contemplating which particular space I needed to deal with, I began experimenting with hacking, and that was the second I made a decision to pursue a profession as a safety engineer.

I’m now a software program engineer on the safety compliance crew. I’ve been at Red Hat for over two years, and I work remotely within the Czech Republic. I’ve used Linux for about 12 years, primarily Arch Linux and Fedora, however I’ve additionally administered Debian, Gentoo, and Ubuntu previously.

(Vojtech Polasek, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Photo description: Black and white picture of a smiling Vojtech, with a pink body round it and an illustrated paper airplane within the background.

Outside of my day job, I play blind soccer, and I’m concerned in numerous initiatives connecting visually impaired and sighted folks collectively, together with working in a small NGO that runs actions for blind and visually impaired folks. I’m additionally engaged on an accessible Fedora venture at the moment known as Fegora, an unofficial Linux distribution aimed toward visually impaired customers.

The assistive expertise stack

When I exploit a wise system, I want a number of items of assistive expertise. The first and most important known as a display reader. This is software program that presents what’s on the display to blind or visually impaired folks, both by way of speech or by way of braille (principally, it tries to function our eyes). It can learn out notifications and inform me which button or web page ingredient I’m specializing in, permitting me to work together with graphical person interfaces.

Screen readers use speech synthesis to talk aloud what seems on the display. There are quite a lot of speech synthesizers, and a few voices are extra “natural-sounding” than others. The one I exploit, Espeak, just isn’t very natural-sounding, however it’s light-weight and quick. It additionally helps nearly all languages, together with Czech (which I exploit).

Finally, I exploit a Braille show, a tool that represents a line of textual content in Braille. I exploit this quite a bit, particularly when I’m coding or doing code opinions. It’s simpler to know the construction of code once I can freely transfer from one code ingredient to a different by contact. I also can use its buttons to maneuver the cursor to the character or space of the display I’m fascinated with, and it has a Braille keyboard too if I wish to use it.

How I exploit assistive expertise every day

When utilizing a pc as a blind or visually impaired particular person, there are a few issues which can be comparatively simple to do utilizing the tech above. Personally, these are a number of of the issues I do day by day:

  • The textual content console is just about my favourite software. As a common rule, when one thing’s in textual content, then blind folks can learn it with a display reader (this does not maintain true in all circumstances, however in most.) I primarily use the console for system administration, textual content modifying, and dealing with steerage and documentation.
  • I browse the net and work together with web sites.
  • I code and do code opinions utilizing VSCode and Eclipse.
  • I ship emails and immediate messages.
  • I can use phrase processing software program, like Google Docs (which isn’t open supply, however widespread within the fashionable workplace) and LibreOffice. Google Docs builders have added loads of keyboard shortcuts, which I can use to maneuver round paperwork, bounce to headings or into feedback, and so forth.
  • I can play multimedia, normally. It is determined by how the applying is written. Some media gamers are extra accessible than others.

Possible however painful

This brings me to duties that are not really easy. I prefer to name these “possible but painful”.

PDF recordsdata might be tough. Sometimes I find yourself needing to make use of optical character recognition (OCR) software program to transform photographs to textual content. For instance, lately I wanted to learn a menu for a restaurant. They had the PDF of their menu on their web site, however it had been flattened, and did not have a textual content layer. For me, this exhibits up as a clean display. I had to make use of an OCR software from my smartphone to extract the textual content for me. Not solely is that this an additional step, however the ensuing “translation” of the textual content is not at all times completely correct.

Viewing and making a presentation might be problematic. To work round this, I create slides in HTML, utilizing software program equivalent to Pandoc, which may course of markdown and convert it into slides. I’ve been utilizing this for a few years and it really works nicely—it permits me whole management of the ensuing slides, as a result of the markdown is simply easy textual content.

Video video games might be made extra accessible by basing them on sound or textual content. However, taking part in video games might be doubly difficult on Linux as not solely would you want to discover an accessible sport, however most PC video games are additionally native to Windows so you’ll be coping with some compatibility points as nicely.

Some web sites and interfaces are harder to navigate than others. These points are sometimes fairly simple to unravel simply by setting some attributes accurately. In common, numerous net content material comes within the type of photographs, particularly as we speak. One of the simplest methods to make net content material extra accessible is to be sure that various textual content is added to pictures in order that display readers can learn it out, and individuals who can’t distinguish the picture have some thought what’s there. Another factor I expertise quite a bit is unlabeled controls: you understand there is a button or a verify field however you do not know what it does.

The Fegora venture optimises Linux for accessibility

Developers do not deliberately got down to construct purposes that are not accessible. The downside is that they normally do not know check them. There aren’t many blind Linux customers, so there aren’t many individuals testing the accessibility of purposes and offering suggestions. Therefore, builders do not produce accessible purposes, and they do not get many customers. And so the cycle continues.

This is one factor we hope to deal with with the Fegora venture. We wish to create a Fedora remix that is user-friendly for visually impaired and blind customers. We hope it’ll appeal to extra customers, and that these customers begin discovering points to report, which is able to hopefully be solved by different builders within the open supply neighborhood.

So why are we doing this? Well, it is necessary to level out that Fedora just isn’t an inaccessible distribution by design. It does have many accessibility instruments obtainable within the type of packages. But these aren’t at all times current from the start, and there are loads of small issues which have to be configured earlier than it may be proficiently used. This is one thing that may be discouraging to a newbie Fedora person.

We need Fegora to be as pleasant and predictable for a blind person as attainable. When a person launches a dwell picture, the display instantly begins being learn as quickly as a graphical person interface seems. All environment variables wanted for accessibility are loaded and configured accurately.

Fegora brings the next modifications, amongst others:

  • Environment variables for accessibility are configured from the beginning.
  • The Orca display reader begins as quickly because the graphical interface masses.
  • A customized repo is added with further voice synthesis and packaged software program.
  • Many various keyboard shortcuts have been added.
  • There’s a particular script that may flip your monitor on and off. Many customers don’t want the monitor in any respect and having it off is a superb energy saver!

So how are you going to assist?

First, if you would like to contribute to Fegora (or simply unfold the phrase), you’ll find out extra on our repository.

Additionally, when engaged on a crew with somebody who has a visible impairment, there is likely to be some extra concerns relying on the accessibility tech getting used. For instance, it isn’t simple for us to hearken to somebody and skim on the identical time, as a result of we’re principally getting each issues by way of audio, until somebody may be very proficient with the Braille show.

Lastly, keep in mind that blind and visually impaired customers devour the identical finish merchandise as you do, whether or not that is presentation slides or web sites or PDFs. When constructing merchandise or creating content material, your selections have an enormous impact on accessibility and the way simple it’s for us to have interaction with the top end result. Know that we’re right here, we love to make use of computer systems and expertise, and we’re typically prepared that can assist you check it, too.

(Vojtech Polasek, CC BY-SA 4.0)

 Image description: Vojtech holding a soccer. He is sporting a soccer uniform and protecting goggles.

Most Popular

To Top