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Operating Systems Linux

The State of Linux Accessibility 138

Posted by samzenpus
from the all-inclusive dept.
Dog's_Breakfast writes "This week's edition of DistroWatch Weekly News features a unique story entitled 'Linux Accessibility — What is it and Why Does It Matter?' The article was written by Robert Cole, a blind person with a computer science degree. Mr Cole points out that Linux offers an excellent set of free tools for seeing-impaired users. Putting together a similar set of tools on Windows would cost at least US$600, about double what a retail copy of Windows itself costs."
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The State of Linux Accessibility

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  • Linux (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 21, 2012 @11:09AM (#40064855)
    Close your eyes. Let your mind take control. And turn your brain into a dance floor.

    Dance floor build initiated.

    Start the drums. Building graph sequence. And the baseline created the melody. Melody programmed.

    Now, add the people. Enter access code... Access granted.

    Welcome to the dance floor. Here is your DJ, Armin van Buuren. This is... THE STATE OF LINUX ACCESSABILITY!
  • by Lord Lode (1290856) on Monday May 21, 2012 @11:14AM (#40064905)

    Because you can do everything with the command line. Keyboard text input. Spoken text output.

    • Because you can do everything with the command line. Keyboard text input. Spoken text output.

      I guess we'll see a decrease in Perl programmers among non-visual users then.

      It's so bad that Slashdot's filter bitched about junk characters until I but out about 50% of the program:
      open(Q,$0);while(){if(/^#(.*)$/){for(split('-',$1)){$q=0;for(split){s/\| /:.:/xg;s/:/../g;$Q=$_?length:$_;$q+=$q?$Q:$Q*20;}print chr($q);}}}print"\n";

      • by vlm (69642)

        There's always cobol. Of course I haven't programmed in cobol in about 7 years but I remember PIC lines were pretty hellish

        001 IDENTIFICATION DIVISION.
        002 PROGRAM-ID. 'HELLO'.
        003 ENVIRONMENT DIVISION.
        004 CONFIGURATION SECTION.
        005 SOURCE-COMPUTER. IBM-360.
        006 OBJECT-COMPUTER. IBM-360.

        (Shamelessly copied from wikipedia, but lets be realistic, cobol is not exactly a language for the worlds unique snowflakes, on

        • by arth1 (260657) on Monday May 21, 2012 @01:37PM (#40066855) Homepage Journal

          Cobol is one of the most audibly readable languages there is.
          "multiply a by b giving c" sounds a lot better than "c equalsign a asterisk b semicolon".

          If I were to vote for the language that is the hardest to understand when read out loud (whether by machine or human), my vote would not go to perl, but lisp. With perl, at least you have the option to make it somewhat readable. Good luck balancing lisp parentheses correctly.

          Not to mention typical block comments (in most any language), where you risk hearing five minutes of "asterisk asterisk asterisk asterisk..."

          • If I were to vote for the language that is the hardest to understand when read out loud (whether by machine or human), my vote would not go to perl, but lisp.

            I'd vote for APL [dyndns.org] (the FFT example is illuminating). At least Lisp constructs are pronounceable, this [wikipedia.org] is not. Then again, a one-liner for Conways' game of life is impressive. APL was one of the first two computer languages I learned, and it remains one of my favorites.

          • by Atzanteol (99067)

            I'm guething lithp would have other ithues as well when thpoken.

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      And with GIMP having a single window interface at last, there's no excuse left for a blind person to stick to Windows/Osx.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 21, 2012 @11:16AM (#40064931)

    ...Because when I saw "accessibility" I immediately thought "ease-of-use" and had a laugh.

  • From the article... (Score:5, Informative)

    by bigredradio (631970) on Monday May 21, 2012 @11:17AM (#40064945) Homepage Journal

    When you boot up an Ubuntu live CD or USB drive, press CTRL+S when you hear a drum sound. This will start the Orca screen reader, and you can either try Ubuntu using Orca or install Ubuntu with your eyes closed; it's entirely your choice. I was able to do a complete installation (including partitioning my drives) without having to look at my screen!

    Didn't know about this option. I have to say that this is pretty cool.

    • I just wonder how a blind user knows whether the install CD is inserted the right way up in the first place.
      • Burn the same thing on both sides. Or rely on the fact that a sticker feels different from the plastic on the side with the data.
        • by Pieroxy (222434)

          You've already seen a double side CD? I didn't think so. It does not exists because the CD is 1.2mm thick and the distance btw the laser and the dye layer is supposed to be 1.2mm as well... So your dye layer is necessarily on one edge of the CD. Since it is supposed to be opaque, a laser could not see though it if you flipped it on the other side.

          • You've already seen a double side CD?

            No, but I've seen a double-sided (stamped) DVD, and I've read of a double-sided (stamped) DualDisc that has a DVD on one side and a (non-conforming) mostly-CD-compatible layer on the other.

            • by Pieroxy (222434)

              DVDs have been designed to be double sided. They are 1.2mm thick and the dye layer is supposed to be at 0.6mm from the surface, in other words, right in the middle. This allows for double side by design.

              A double sided CD/DVD makes the disc not conforming with either spec since it's going to be thicker. It works for the most part. A double sided CD would be much harder since it would have to be twice as thick and that wouldn't work at all.

          • There exists a manufacturing process for a CD/DVD disc: DualDisc [wikipedia.org]. Your details are correct, though, and even that method involves creating a slightly thicker disc (1.5mm).
        • Or rely on the fact that a sticker feels different from the plastic on the side with the data.

          Do you know of any easy way to rely on that without getting fingerprints all over the data side?

          • Re:Fingerprints (Score:4, Informative)

            by arth1 (260657) on Monday May 21, 2012 @01:58PM (#40067213) Homepage Journal

            Or rely on the fact that a sticker feels different from the plastic on the side with the data.

            Do you know of any easy way to rely on that without getting fingerprints all over the data side?

            Sure! Licking it will not leave a fingerprint!

            As others have said, CDs and DVDs already have a built-in feature for blind people and people changing discs in the dark. The side that goes towards the laser (usually "down") has a ridge near the hub. It's prominent enough that you can easily feel it through a paper sleeve (and if you have a jewel box, you should already have it the right side up, but you can still feel for it if in doubt).

          • Like many other things blind people do, just put it away the right way up and be careful with it.
      • Re:Which side is up? (Score:5, Informative)

        by michaelwigle (822387) <michaelwigle@hotmail.com> on Monday May 21, 2012 @11:46AM (#40065359) Homepage
        Next time you look at a CD check out the spindle hole. Around the edge on one side it is raised. It's hard to see but you can feel it. The raised ridge always goes down.
        • Your comment is a bit confusing, I consider the "edge of the spindle hole" to be the actual physical hole --- but the ridge you're describing is at the edge of the non-writable/readable area around the hole, in the middle of a flat section of the disc. The hole itself is totally flat on the side which goes down, and on the other side has a small step recess (or possibly a better word would be "bevel").

      • by Lumpy (12016)

        CD? They are blind, not out of date luddites. Inserting the USB boot stick is quite easy for a Visually impaired person

        • A burned optical disc cannot be modified by malware --- which is, simultaneously, its strength and also weakness (since the OS burned on it will always boot unpatched).

          I'm still waiting for the USB sticks with the true write-protect switches to become available again --- but I'm not holding my breath. Know of any solution for this need? It would be even better if there was some open interface which could lock some partitions while leaving others writeable!

          • by tepples (727027)

            A burned optical disc cannot be modified by malware [...] It would be even better if there was some open interface which could lock some partitions [on a USB mass storage device] while leaving others writeable!

            What would keep malware from connecting to this open interface and infecting the flash drive's "locked" partition?

            • by Lumpy (12016)

              A switch that is disconnecting the Flash chip's write line. I dont care how good of a virus writer you are, you will not write one that flips a physical switch.

          • by chill (34294)

            Linux allows you to mount partitions as "read only". Also, look up "immutable" (chattr) and the extended ACLs used in SELinux.

            • by Hatta (162192)

              That won't help you if you plug your USB device into a compromised system. What's needed is a real hardware lockout, like the physical switches we had on floppy disks back in the day.

              • by arth1 (260657)

                We have them on CF/SD/MS cards.
                It's only USB keys that mostly seem to lack them.

                But one of the main points in favour of CDs/DVDs is price. Even though USB keys have gone way down in price, we're still talking cents to dollars here.
                Another point in favour for things like distros is that you don't have to burn each of them individually. You can stamp out thousands.

                Then there's mailing. You need a box or bubble wrap bag for USB keys, while a cardboard envelope works for CDs and DVDs.

                • by Hatta (162192)

                  No you don't. That switch just sets a flag that the OS can choose to ignore.

                  • by arth1 (260657)

                    No you don't. That switch just sets a flag that the OS can choose to ignore.

                    Um, so? If the user controls the machine, he can do whatever he likes anyhow.
                    The switch is useful to protect against accidental overwrites. On commercial software, an SD card with the switch removed serves the same purpose as a no-notch floppy.
                    With floppies, you could cut a notch, or even remove the spring that checked whether the notch was there (which for one external drive I had made it into "Right side up, write protected, upside down, write allowed").

                    It doesn't prevent hackers writing; it prevents us

                    • by Hatta (162192)

                      Read up thread a bit, we're talking about protection against malware. In the case that you're sticking your USB key into machines you don't control (which is largely the use case for USB keys), you need to have your data protected against malware.

                      And yes, with floppies a user could tape the disc, or modify the disc drive. But a virus could not do either. That's the important point.

        • by Hatta (162192) on Monday May 21, 2012 @12:58PM (#40066363) Journal

          Inserting the USB boot stick is quite easy for a Visually impaired person

          Or rather, it's no more difficult for a visually impaired person. Even with two functioning eyeballs, it often takes three tries to fit the USB connector.

          • it often takes three tries to fit the USB connector.

            Some of mine are so badly made, it takes five tries. How much skill does it take to design a flat connector that takes five attempts to insert it the right way up.

      • I just wonder how a blind user knows whether the install CD is inserted the right way up in the first place.

        Well...
        1) When taking out of the case, it is usually the label side up
        2) By feel
        3) If the user does not hear the drive seeking or eventually the drum sound, it's worth trying flipping around
        4) You can simply try both ways without it causing any damage
        5) Ultimately, ask someone else

      • by chill (34294)

        Texture. I'm not blind, but I've done this all the time without looking. The data side is much smoother.

  • by ArsonSmith (13997) on Monday May 21, 2012 @11:18AM (#40064953) Journal

    It has tons of accessibility features for the visually impaired if you know where to look.

    I get this same feeling every time I lose my glasses. The bitter irony of having to look for your glasses...

    • by arth1 (260657)

      It has tons of accessibility features for the visually impaired if you know where to look.

      Where to look might be an issue for visually impaired people...

      Then there's Gnome 3, which won't even let you change font and widget sizes and styles.

      • Then there's Gnome 3, which won't even let you change font and widget sizes and styles.

        They really are dead set on copying OS X, are they...

      • accessibility -> text size -> large.

        Was that really so hard?!?
        • by arth1 (260657)

          accessibility -> text size -> large.

          Was that really so hard?!?

          There is no "Accessibility" in Gnome 3. Try "Universal Access".

          What's "large" and "larger"? Arbitrary figures that some "developer" (and I use the term lightly) thought was as large as anyone would need, regardless of eyesight and DPI, that's what.
          And there's no way to choose a font that the user can actually read. For Gnome 3, form wins over function.

          You need to let the user decide himself. And just because he wants bread text in 20 pt doesn't mean he also wants titles blown up to 50 pt, which is what

    • It has tons of accessibility features for the visually impaired if you know where to look.

      Yeah, that's Linux in a nutshell.

  • There are a lot of people in the world who have sensitive eyes. A lot more than the blind. And still there is a lot of software that uses the black-text-on-white-background color scheme. Of all the possible choices, this is the one that causes the worst eyestrain. So if you are a software developer, take pity on hurting and watering eyes and allow us to use a darker color scheme. Windows Aero, I'm (not) looking at you!

    • by Hatta (162192)

      All the major GUI toolkits allow you to theme your colors however you like. There are even tools for reconsiling themes across different toolkits. I can't remember the last time I came across an app that didn't source my GTK theme and just look right.

      • There are a few ghastly legacy applications that oozed out of the 'we'll just build our own damn widget set, because!' school, which obey absolutely no system-wide settings whatsoever, not theme, not font size, screenreaders can forget about it, and so forth; but those are thankfully rare... Even then, you can always just give the contrast, gamma, or color curves a good hard shove at the driver or monitor level.
      • by pipatron (966506)
        Google? Slashdot?
    • by arth1 (260657)

      And still there is a lot of software that uses the black-text-on-white-background color scheme. Of all the possible choices, this is the one that causes the worst eyestrain.

      No, that distinction should go to blue-on-black and black-on-blue.

    • There are a lot of people in the world who have sensitive eyes. A lot more than the blind. And still there is a lot of software that uses the black-text-on-white-background color scheme. Of all the possible choices, this is the one that causes the worst eyestrain. So if you are a software developer, take pity on hurting and watering eyes and allow us to use a darker color scheme. Windows Aero, I'm (not) looking at you!

      Also websites, as people spend a lot of time with those. Currently the situation is that when you set your web browser to force some kind of black theme, it breaks so much that it's not worth it. So a good (and quite simple) solution would be a trend among web developers to make sites offer a black color theme.

      I have also been using the Compiz "Invert colors" effect with some success, but it's not the nicest way to do it. :)

      • by Arker (91948)

        This is a matter of horrible website design, aided and abetted by all the major browser makers. Unfortunately it is indeed very common, and unfortunately the solution you suggest is not simple, and definitely not good. It's trying to patch over a huge gaping wound with a million little individual scabs, each of which would have to come from a different source and be implemented independently.

        Instead of offering multiple 'themes' per page, the logical way to do this is simply to use proper HTML, which means

      • by Chemisor (97276)

        Actually, the main problem with web pages is the current fad of using div background images as ui elements. "Use my colors" in Firefox turns off all backgrounds, and while that is indeed what I want, the UIs break. The correct solution, of course, is to use the img tag for images that are part of page content. Displaying backgrounds is supposed to be optional and any web designer relying on them for displaying content is doing it wrong.

    • Check out "redshift". I find it works wonders when working in low light, so it may have a positive effect for light-sensitive users as well.
  • Putting together a similar set of tools on Windows would cost at least US$600, about double what a retail copy of Windows itself costs

    If you want the impaired version of windows, otherwise.....

  • Orca good? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Beetle B. (516615) <beetle_b AT email DOT com> on Monday May 21, 2012 @11:29AM (#40065113)

    I used to work with a blind programmer. He is a Linux geek. Every year or two he tries the screen readers in Linux, and says they all suck compared to Jaws in Windows (including Orca).

    So he does all his email, web browsing, etc in Windows, as well as as much programming as he can get away with. For him Linux has been relegated to a toy he plays with once in a while.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I'm not contesting the fact that your friend's blind. He might even be a good blind computer user. But it seems he doesn't meet the requirements of a "Linux geek". A Linux geek is one who doesn't just play with or treat Linux as a toy. How can one be a "something" geek, if you don't use that something regularly. Call him a Windows geek or a computer (in general) geek, but not a Linux geek.

    • by rubycodez (864176)
      "used to work"....so your 2nd hand opinion is HOW old? maybe he tried it again recently and found it ok
    • by Microlith (54737)

      For him Linux has been relegated to a toy he plays with once in a while.

      Actually, I think that runs counter to the notion of calling someone a "Linux geek."

      • My thoughts exactly. When I notice things like this, I tend to take every other assertion by the author with a grain of salt.

      • by Beetle B. (516615)

        Actually, I think that runs counter to the notion of calling someone a "Linux geek."

        So, you're saying that if I'm a Linux geek today, go blind tomorrow and can use Linux only with great difficulty afterwards, I need to relinquish my title as geek?

        Extremist much?

    • by Noryungi (70322)

      Depends.

      While I have no experience with Orca, it seems to me most people with sight disabilities should use Linux on the command-line.

      I know a lot of people who have that kind of disabilities long for the good old days of DOS 80x25 text screens, and there are tons of programs for Linux that can be really useful even with that kind of screen, starting with alpine, mutt, lynx, links, slrn, vim, emacs, snownews, screen and so on and so forth. Having a GUI is, frankly, not really useful for that kind of user. O

      • by Beetle B. (516615)

        He uses Linux from the command line. It's not like he has much of an option.

        On the other hand, a simple text screen can be "read" with either a Braille terminal or a speech synthesis software.

        After installing and configuring JAWS on Windows a couple of times for a blind friend, I can testify that it is the most expensive PoS I have ever seen...

        He paid roughly $700 for Jaws. His Braille terminal cost in the thousands (although I think a lot of it was paid for by grants, etc). If someone has to pay out of pocket, Jaws is probably a lot cheaper.

        Well, let me clarify that: He bought his Braille terminal a long time ago - perhaps they're cheaper now. However, given how sturdy it's been all these years, the money may have been worth it.

        Nevertheless, although he uses his Braille

    • It's extra hardware(and not inexpensive, from what I've read); but I would think that the classic 'terminal window on ttyS0' would be an nearideal match for an 80-column refreshable braille display...

      I've no doubt that Windows has superior 'kludging some degree of blind usability on top of a GUI' software offerings, because there is some serious cash in the 'corporations that don't like ADA suits' market; but I would(perhaps naively) expect that the unix-style environment(not exclusive to Linux, of cours
    • Re:Orca good? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by FatMacDaddy (878246) on Monday May 21, 2012 @12:14PM (#40065743)

      I hate to say it, but that's the general consensus. And is it surprising that an expensive product put out by a software company is favored over an open-source alternative? The biggest problem with JAWS, from my perspective, is the whopping $1,000 price of admission for a target user group that has high unemployment problems already.
       
      I have to give a shoutout to the NVDA project (http://www.nvda-project.org/), and would encourage your friend to give them a shot if he would like an open-source alternative to JAWS on Windows.

  • From the article:

    That's tough if you are a student or if you need your computer for work related activities. Believe me, I've been there.

    I think that's part of the problem: employers are willing to pay inflated prices for assistive tech in order to deter disability discrimination lawsuits.

  • A couple months ago there was a great hacker public radio episode where a linux dev told stories about working on accessibility and then cried for helpful volunteers because everyone in the corporate financed linux accessibility community is/was getting downsized.
    It was a recording of a speech at a con.
    It was an excellent talk, about average sound quality for HPR (in other words not great, but tolerable) and probably in the top 1% of HPR episodes WRT content.
    I can't successfully google for it, if someone el

  • I'm sure this review proves the suitability of Linux for all other visually impaired users with computing science degrees.

    Meanwhile, for all other visually impaired users...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "Putting together a similar set of tools on Windows would cost at least US$600, about double what a retail copy of Windows itself costs"

    Why the hell is it compared to the cost of the OS? This is like saying, "Broken leg? How much would you pay for crutches? $50, $100? That's twice what you paid for *pants*. Here's this FREE solution of a stick and some duct tape!"

    It's great that it's becoming at least partially commoditized, but, really, for something that you will actually use every day that could save you

  • It happened to my friend. No hands, no legs.

    First we fixed phone: after some research with Android (not really Linux) we ended up
    with 5 year old bluetooth car installation: the only one where you can make calls without
    any keys, just sound.

    Computer is next: some tests were made using joystick (manipulated by head movement)
    installed on wheelchair. Not really fun.
    There are some expensive monitors with build in infrared cameras tracking eye movement.

    Any experience on Linux desktop? Any advice what works?

    Thanks,

  • A retail copy of Windows costs $300? I guess you're including the price of the netbook?

    • by aiht (1017790)

      A retail copy of Windows costs $300? I guess you're including the price of the netbook?

      Seriously, how do people keep not getting this?
      Microsoft Store, Retail Windows 7 Home Premium - US$299.99 (download) [microsoftstore.com]. And no, I don't think they throw in a netbook.
      Can you get it cheaper elsewhere? Sure you can! Even Ultimate is less than $300 on Newegg.
      That does not mean that Windows does not cost $300 - it only means that you'd be daft to pay Microsoft's full price.

  • I was actually looking for information on this for a blind friend. Is there Linux distro anyone knows of with these features already installed and turned on?

  • Sam Hartman and Mario Lang gave a talk and demonstration of accessibility in Debian [debconf.org] in 2009, covering various software in Debian (and Windows). Video is linked from the talk page.

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