Orca Experiences with the Project Gutenberg 2006 DVD

Earlier this week, I downloaded a copy of the July 2006 DVD ISO via Bittorrent from Project Gutenberg and burnt myself a copy.

This single DVD has over 17,000 books on it, from their first 19,000 titles. I was curious to see just how easy this was to use, not only for myself but for a blind user.

If I pop the DVD into the DVD player on a Windows Xp box, it will automatically bring up my Firefox browser pointing at the "index.htm" file on the DVD. From there, I can follow the numerous links and find either the title or the author I'm looking for, then double click on the book link, uncompress the zip file and bring up the book as a text document. I can then just scroll or page down to read the book.

Unfortunately, this same auto-start functionality in not quite present on my Ubuntu machine. If I insert the DVD into my DVD player there, Nautilus brings up a new window displaying the contents of the top-level directory on that DVD. I can then double click on the "index.htm" icon, which opens up a new tab in my browser and so on. Not too different but still a couple manual steps required.

For a blind user, it's not much harder. They would need to use the keyboard instead of the mouse, but nowadays on the GNOME desktop, most Gtk+ applications and the Firefox browser (v3.0 alpha) have good keyboard navigation and accessibility support. When they have the book of their choice in a text editor (gedit by default), then they can use Orca to listen to it. Pressing the + key on the numeric keypad (there is an equivalent for laptop users) does a "say all". It will keep presenting (speech and braille) each line in the document until you tell it to stop (with the Esc key). If you hit the + key again, it will carry on from where you previously stopped.

I did notice that you had to set the punctuation level to None (via the Orca Preferences dialog), otherwise it spoke some, most or all the punctuation as well. The other thing that was disconcerting to me, but wouldn't bother a blind user at all, was that the visible contents in the gedit window was not scrolled to show the current line that was being spoken.

Overall I was very impressed with how well this experiment went.

Now if you have those 17,000 books in your new eBook library and you don't know which one to read first, may I recommend "Nonsense Novels" by Stephen Leacock.

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