Thursday Dec 18, 2008

Accessible OpenSolaris 2008.11

A couple of weeks ago Sun released OpenSolaris 2008.11. For the last year or more, Sun's Willie Walker has led the OpenSolaris accessibility effort, and this recent release shows all of the tremendous work done by Willie and a host of engineers on the OpenSolaris team. Particular attention was paid to accessible install (leading one blind OpenSolaris user to say "it was the smoothest operating system install that I have ever performed"). Leveraging the Sun-led open source GNOME accessibility work, OpenSolaris includes the latest in assistive technologies like Orca and GOK and Dasher, as well as a host of other accessibility enhancements that have been developed in the open source GNOME community.

Using the occasion of this release of OpenSolaris, Sun's Bill Vass wrote movingly about Dismantling the Digital Divide in his blog last week. In my meetings with Bill, I've always been impressed with his passion around technology accessibility, and the focus he brings to accessibility within Sun Federal which he leads.

Willie put together a great set of videos which demonstrate the accessibility features available in OpenSolaris 2008.11. I encourage you to check them out!

Saturday Feb 23, 2008

Videos of Orca use in India

I've just come across two YouTube videos talking about Orca use in India. The first video is an eight and a half minute collection of three Indian news reports about a seminar that Mr. Krishnakant Mane held for the blind in India late last year, using Orca and Ubuntu Linux. The second video - titled "True Vision" - is a 10 minute promotional piece by ELCOT (Electronics Corporation of Tamil Nadu Limited) in cooperation with the Government of Tamil Nadu, talking about their adoption and use of Ubuntu Linux and Orca to help the blind in India.

From the news video, there are two quotes of Krishnakant's that I particularly like:

The beauty of free software is that it is free to use. This is the reason I keep on saying that free as in freedom, not free of cost. You can always make even a business out of it, and we will have done it, and there is nothing wrong in it. But the software does not belong to me, or to you or to him. It belongs to all of us. It belongs to the entire community. And that is the reason it is called free or open source.

and

We are right now promoting free software use for free software actively amongst everyone, including the handicapped community, so that you get the complete benefit of reusing it on n number of machines you want. Modify it as per your requirements. Study it if you want to be a software engineer or a hobbyist. And most importantly, keep on helping others who need it, and you may charge for it of course.

Much of the "True Vision" promotional video, contains an interview with Krishnakant, answering a series of questions about what the blind can do in Linux with Orca. He notes that taskslike web browsing, e-mail, chatting, programming, authoring spreadsheets, and server administration are all quite possible for the blind. Krishnakant also compares open source access solutions to proprietary solutions in Windows. There is also a segment on the seminar that Krishnakant held for the blind (the subject of the first video), in which Krishnakant answers several questions from blind audience members about Orca's capabilities.

My favorite quote from this video comes at the end, from the narrator of the video:

It was we, the normally sighted people, who had been blind throughout, to the wonders of open source technologies on the Linux platform.

In both videos, you can see snippets of Orca with a variety of desktop applications, including with OpenOffice.org, the Firefox web browser, Pidgin chat, and of course the desktop.

Note: I will refrain from commenting on the start of the promotional video, other than to observe a comment that Willie Walker made in recent blog post: "Accessibility was always viewed as that once-in-a-while special interest segment you see on the nightly news -- sappy music playing in the background with the narrator using words such as "bravery," "overcoming hardships" and other content-free ilk meant to focus on the disability and tug at people's heartstrings."

Thursday Feb 21, 2008

Orca & Accercizer articles in Linux Journal

Hot on the heels of Steve Lee's article Python Powered Accessibility are two more articles on GNOME Accessibility. Both of these are published in this issue of The Linux Journal. Eitan Isaacson has a delightful article on how to "Make Your Application Accessible with Accerciser", and my Sun colleague and Orca screen reader lead Willie Walker has a great article "Orca—Take the Killer Whale for a Ride". More recommended reading!

Saturday Aug 18, 2007

A view of Linux as introduced by a blind user via Orca

Darragh Ó Héiligh, a blind Linux user in Ireland, has just posted an audio introduction of Fedora Linux with Orca. In his recording, Darragh acts as a tour guide showing some highlights of his Fedora Core 7 desktop through the Orca screen reader. Using the TTSynth text-to-speech engine (the only commercial software he is using), he invites you to listen in as he explores his desktop, reads some of his e-mail via the Evolution e-mail application, browses the web with Firefox, reads through an Excel (.xls) spreadsheet in OpenOffice.org, and reads through a Word document (.doc) also in OpenOffice.org. Both the spreadsheet and word processing document are files from his employer (with no confidential data revealed).

Darragh is a longtime JAWS users, and throughout his Linux introduction, he makes comparisons to the JAWS computing experience in Windows. In a posting last month to the Visually Impaired Computer Society of Ireland, Darrah describes his first experience using Orca on Linux to interview people at work - something he used to do on Windows with JAWS and MS-Office, but last month started doing with Linux, Orca, and OpenOffice.org. Darrah describes the process of reading through the interview script file (a '.doc' file), and writing notes in another window (saved as a '.doc' file to share with his work colleagues).

"Windows is still not my preferred operating system" reports Darragh at the end of his audio tour. "With the recent advances in Orca in GNOME, and the fact that with the work of the people on the Speakup Modified group, Fedora 7 makes it very easy to set up, and with the combination of everything it's just so fast to use; it's really becoming just a pleasure." His final comment, after noting the responsiveness of Orca with TTSynth and OpenOffice.org: "It's just getting the job done faster than it is in Windows."

In September he starts a new job with Novell, where he will be using Linux full time.

Monday Dec 11, 2006

Orca and Dasher on OpenSolaris

The Solaris operating system release cycle is somewhat slower than that of many (most?) GNU/Linux systems. This has meant that a lot of the recent great work on accessibility that Sun has been leading and contributing to in GNOME have appeared in Linux systems, but not (yet) in Solaris.

That has now changed. Earlier today, OpenSolaris build 53 became available for download. OpenSolaris is the open source edition of Solaris. Build 53 is based on GNOME 2.16.1, which includes Orca version 1.0 and Dasher version 4.2.0. (it also continues to contain GOK, which was also in Solaris 10 - version 1.2.0 of GOK is in build 53). So, if you are interested in exploring the open source scripting screen reader Orca on Solaris, or the amazing alternate text-entry system Dasher on Solaris, we invite you to do so in build 53 of OpenSolaris. You can also of course continue to try and use these assistive technologies on GNU/Linux systems like Ubuntu version 6.10 and Fedora Core 6.

For folks wanting to try the very latest editions of Orca and Dasher (and GOK) on Solaris, also install the Sun Studio 11 development tools and grab and build the latest Orca and/or Dasher (and/or GOK) sources (from either the source tarballs or from the CVS code repository directly).

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Peter Korn

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