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What Accessibility Options Exist for Unix? 329

pll asks: "My wife is getting a Masters in Human Factors and Information Design. Tonight she attended a session on Handicapped Accessibility in Technology. Evidently MS has spent years studying this area, and the options one has under Windows is supposedly quite impressive (provided you install the accessibility packages). According to the lecturer, there are over 50 million handicapped people in the United States alone, and obviously even more worldwide. This got me thinking...the Free/Open software communities pay an awful lot of attention to i18n, but other than Emacspeak, what kind of attention have we paid to handicapped accessibility? I'm not aware of anything, other than Emacspeak, and that doesn't do much to enable the use of Gnome or KDE to a handicapped person." While Emacspeak does have some uses in this area, it's primarily only useful for the blind. What about people without the use of their hands, or features for the deaf, and so on?
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What Accessibility Options Exist for Unix?

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  • GNOME accessibility (Score:5, Informative)

    by JanneM ( 7445 ) on Tuesday December 04, 2001 @03:29PM (#2655135) Homepage
    Take a look at the GNOME accessibility [] project to see what is being done under GNOME.

    • I guess my identical post got modded down becasue i submitted it 0.25 seconds later than you, but them's is the breaks. ;-P I think it's important to point out how deeply involved Sun is with the project. their developers have been really active on all the lists recently and they are really making the accessibility stuff happen. It's really cool to see the positive benefits of these companies getting involved.
    • by Uruk ( 4907 )
      Here's an app that might be interesting to some people:

      GTKeyboard []. This is an on-screen keyboard for X11 that allows redirection of keypresses to foreign windows, remapping keyboards, multiple layouts, and lots of other features. This is a type of application that's listed in the GNOME accessibility page, although it doesn't have any particular affiliation with GNOME.
  • The GNOME Accessibility Project []

    They are making some serious headway too, their developers are very active on all of the Gnome development lists.

  • Some work has been done in that area for GNOME - Here's []the GNOME developer info about it.

    They are working on getting specialized input/output devices like braille keyboards, screen readers etc. working with GNOME.
  • I have to say that the company i work for had to spend a lot of time writing a NON-i18N version of a bunch of standard library calls because after some profiling, we discovered that 75% of the CPU time this one app was using was spent in calls like toupper and isalpha and other things like that. Our code needed to deal with stuff in STANDARD ASCII only. We replaced them with an inline lookup table style function and got an immediate and _HUGE_ performance boost.
    The point of this is that people adding any sort of strange feature creep (i know call me insensitive for not giving a damn about the handicapped and non-english speakers) should be kept modular so there is still a readily available fast and simple version of all functions that are polluted by slow and cumbersome new features.
  • by MaxwellStreet ( 148915 ) on Tuesday December 04, 2001 @03:33PM (#2655175)
    This may be a wee bit offtopic, but I think this is another example of those self-serving misuses of statistics.

    You know - like the wildly overstated incidence of spousal abuse on Super Bowl Sunday.

    50 Million disabled Americans? Assume (generously) that there are 300 million people in the U.S. - does this mean that one in six people could benefit from accessibility technology?

    Don't get me wrong - I believe that the ADA was an excellent law, and am all for accessibility enhancements for software. But grossly exaggerating the (statistical) need seems to weaken the argument more than strengthen it.
    • by gorilla ( 36491 ) on Tuesday December 04, 2001 @03:45PM (#2655273)
      I'd say that 6 out of 6 people could benefit from accessibility technology. You see, even though the disabled need accessibility, but we all benefit when it's included. If you make a program speech enabled, then it's possible to use that program over a telephone. If a program can be configured to use large fonts, it can be used on an LCD display. If a program has keyboard shortcuts for mousable operations, then we can use the program without taking our fingers off the keyboard.
    • Re:Bogus statistics (Score:2, Interesting)

      by JanneM ( 7445 )
      OK, I can't comment on the statistics. I suspect it's fairly accurate, though; it depends of course on the definition of 'disabled'.

      Sometimes, people forget (I'm not accusing you of this) that making things easier for the disabled makes things easier for the rest of us as well. A wide elevator and access ramps are essential for someone in a whellchair, but are also a great help whenever you need to move something heavy. Kitchen utensils designed for arthritic use are usually also much easier to use for everybody. Websites designed to comply with standards for screenreaders are easier to navigate with a text browser as well. Consistent menu and button placements are a help both for visually impaired and for everyone else.

      • TANSTAAFL (Score:2, Interesting)

        Making things easier for people with a particular handicap doesn't always make things easier for "the rest of us" or even neccessarily for "the disabled" taken as some sort of mysteriously unified group.

        Curb cuts make it easier for wheelchair users, but harder for the blind to detect curbs. Wheelchair toliets are higher, making bowel movements more difficult, especially for the elderly. (These two examples taken from The Death of Common Sense by Philip Howard). Making things accessible drives up the cost.

        Does this mean we in the computer industry shouldn't try to make our products accessible? Of course not. With software it is much easier than with physical devices to make something that can be all things to all people. But it is still not free. Increasing complexity makes things harder to debug--epecially when you have multiple UIs. Using accessibility layers makes it harder to reuse existing code.

      • Don't forget closed-captioning -- which should be mandatory in sports bars.

        The poster next to me is talking about added difficulties created by accessibility, but I would venture to argue that such problems are often a rarity. Yes, TANSTAAFL. But the fact is that I'd rather have a big area to play with than a small one.

    • My personal favourite:

      Quarters cause cancer!
      A breakthrough reporrt has discovered that ordinary Quarters cause cancer. The study was conducted by taking two groups of mice. One group had quarters surgically inserted into their bodies whle the other group was used as a control. The scientists discoverd that the occurence of cancerous cells in the test group was almost double that of the control group!

      the morale: don't use quarters!

      As a side note, I believe this was an actualy study, although I admit to fabricating the exact details.
    • In our rapidly aging country, there are more than one in six who are over the age of sixty, and suffering the infirmities of old age. A major segment of that age group have enough loss of visual or auditory acuity to require assistive devices. Then there are those with age-related mobility problems, especially arthritis, that makes keyboarding a literal pain. The numbers grow rapidly if you look beyond wheelchairs and white canes to define disabilities.

      The Disabled American Veterans has a million members all by itself. My state issued more than 200,000 handicapped parking permits last year. So why should I not believe those numbers?
  • by DoktorMel ( 35110 ) on Tuesday December 04, 2001 @03:33PM (#2655178)
    kit to enable speech and speech recognition in various Linux projects. See here [].
  • by FortKnox ( 169099 ) on Tuesday December 04, 2001 @03:33PM (#2655179) Homepage Journal
    As mentioned in a side discussion on the window-less office [] article, open source developers only develop stuff to scratch their own itch. If there isn't handicapped open source developers, you won't find much open source handicap software packages.

    I don't agree that this is the way Open Source should go, but that's the reality of it.
    • Actually, there are a lot of open source/free software developers who are interested in accessibility either to 'scratch their own itch' or that of a friend or loved one.

      Traditionally, disabled computer users have faced a very frustrating situation - they desperately need/want improved accessibility and certain bugfixes, but there was no 'market justification'.

      Add to this the fact that careers in computer technologies are well suited to many disabled people, and you get the result that many disabled programmers have been stymied by their desire to improve their situation but have not been able to because of proprietary software. Open source software (and perhaps even more so, completely free software) takes that barrier away, and for the first time the disabled community no longer must appear as supplicants begging for the fixes or technical documentation required to make software products accessible.

      Historically many of the first accessibility solutions have been pioneered and developed by end users, in a situation that parallels much of the history of the free software movement. Now that accessibility is gaining a toehold in the linux GUI world via Gnome Accessibility and the nascent KDE Accessibility projects, I think we will see a sea change in the quality of accessibilty support, notwithstanding the impact of legislature such as the US Americans with Disability Act.

      - Bill Haneman, Architect, Gnome Accessibility Project
  • People generally are limited by two things when it comes to their computer. The input and the out put. The input... the muscle control it takes to type or move a mouse. This typicall is taken care of via nifty specialized input devices. There are tons of these devices... all of them are odd looking but serve a specific function. As for out put... persons that are blind are the people that are hurt most in this area. People that are deaf are not terribly disadvantaged by having a computer without sound (unless they are playing games... then they get fragged quite easily.) In fact most of the NT/Win2k machines on the campus where I work do not have speakers attached to them.
  • by SilentChris ( 452960 ) on Tuesday December 04, 2001 @03:35PM (#2655186) Homepage
    From my experience with handicapped PC users, a decent magnifying utility is 9/10 of the ball game. Most users have supplementary problems with entering input, but nearly all have a difficult time seeing the screen.

    Windows XP ships with a decent magnifying utility (called "magnifier") but even they recommend in the opening dialog box getting something more robust. Popular packages to increase the entire desktop start around $19.99, but more "professional" ones can scale all the way up to $700!

    Another problem is that, despite "anti-discriminatory practices", handicapped people simply aren't hired for too many computer-literate positions. Many IT managers don't want to foot the bill for high-end accessibility utilities. That's why something more robust than Gnome's project (and KDE's paltry magnifying utility) are so needed.

    • I've found the price differences often are only the result of who the target buyer is. (This is largely related to non-computer assistive tech that I've seen.) For example, if the state is going to buy some adaptive tech, they get charged... $1000. A private employer pays $500. A private citizen pays $200.

      All the same tech. It just depends on the purchaser. My brother-in-law got a night-vision scope (for night-blindness). Cost government ~$1000. Same product retails for $250. Why the difference? I don't know. Probably the company got a long term contract a long time ago, and just never changed their prices. They might have also gone through some BS certification process or something.

      Anyway, my wife likes the command line. Nothing like an 80x24 screen on a 17" monitor. And if that's not enough, I can find one of the terminal font packages and change it to around 40x20 or so.
    • by DevNull Ogre ( 256715 ) on Tuesday December 04, 2001 @04:31PM (#2655603)

      Well, there's xmag (which has been around forever), but it's certainly not feature-rich. Besides it probably makes things too big and doesn't magnify much of the screen at a time.

      A better idea might be using XFree with a low resolution and a large virtual desktop. Then things will look big without reducing the workspace size. Jumping between a bunch of different modes (with Ctl-Alt-Numpad+/-) would give differing levels of magnification. Since XFree lets you do pretty much any screen resolution you want (that your hardware can handle) this could be as finely grained as wanted. (Okay, so entering a hundred modes in XF86Config would be a pain, but it's doable.)

    • a decent magnifying utility is 9/10 of the ball game

      Are you basically saying that ctrl+alt+plus on the keypad for XFree86 (i.e. to set a 320x200 resolution on a 1024x768 virtual screen scrollable with whatever moves the pointer) is basically 9/10 of the game? Really?

      Well, if it is so, let's concentrate on the remaining 1/10.

    • Well, we've got a Legally Blind guy here. Since I'm the IT manager, well, I resemble that remark.

      But Seriously, Folks, he's got a 36" monitor running at 640x480. He's tried the magnifier thingies and prefers the optical variety you hold in your hand. (I'll bet no HF folks thought of that one!).

      Even more seriously, I talked his Powers That Be into budgeting for a 51" monitor next year. He's a valuable asset, and this is really chump change compared to the value he provides us.

      And just so I'm perfectly clear: we're a not-for-profit. His monitor is a significant dent. Anyone (IT or not) who has a hard time shelling out $700 so someone can work is hurting their employer by making them miss out on what might probably have been a Valuable Asset to their team.
    • Two pieces of info in the magnification arena: Gnome 2 will come with a simple magnification utility that can provide focus tracking, mouse-follow, and fullscreen magnification (if you have a second video card, it may be a few months before fullscreen support for single-framebuffer machines is available).

      Secondly, a full-featured screen magnifier which we hope will be on par with expensive commercial offerings is now under development, with an LGPL license, as part of the Gnome Accessibility Project, called "Gnopernicus", and now available from Gnome CVS. It also provides screenreading and braille display support. It is being developed in coordination with a commercial firm with extensive experience in this area.

    • I was born with Nager's syndrome and have multiple physical disabilities. I am currently unemployed (laid off from a dotcom company about eight months ago). I noticed a lot of employers are afraid of people with disabilities like me. This is true when I go for job interviews (already had about ten of them and applied over 650 jobs within eight months).

      My field is in the Information Technology (IT) area and I have a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science. My strongest areas are in Web Development/Design and Software Quality Assurance (SQA).

      The thing I have is that I don't need heavy accomodations. I don't need special computers, tools, access, etc. The only thing I need is people's patience to understand that I am like people without disabilities. I tell them that I have speech impairment (can't talk clearly), but this shouldn't stop them from hiring me because I can type, e-mail, ICQ, AIM, write my sayings on papers, etc. I can still handle any IT jobs like programming, testing, etc.

      When I was working for the last company, everyone was impressed with my skills and knowledge. I always worked hard and done a lot overtime. I was serious about my job.

      With the downturn of the economy, it makes my job search situation even more difficult and frustrating. Having disabilities make my chances very slim.
  • Perhaps we could take a page from the methods people use when they can't type because of wrist injuries. Check here [] for one man's experiences. Interesting to note that in the end, the author had to move to Windows for the accessibility options...
  • 50 million handicapped people in the United States alone

    There are about 275 million people total in the USA. I find it hard to believe that almost 1 out of 5 is handicap. Okay, maybe if we count all the lawyers it makes sense.
  • by EccentricAnomaly ( 451326 ) on Tuesday December 04, 2001 @03:35PM (#2655191) Homepage
    I did some tutoring for blind students in college and UNIX systems were much easier to use than Windows for blind students just because you could do everything without a GUI. The braille displays or auditory displays work best with text and with UNIX type systems you can do pretty much anything at the command prompt and text only... even web browsing.
    • I wouldn't doubt it - I wrote two text to grade 2 braille conversion programs and a collection of motley programs to let friends access door games... all this was in the age of DOS, and they were set. Later on, Windows made it harder and harder to get stuff done... I've lost touch with all my friends who were blind, so I'm *way* out of the loop... they were all using Blasie Braille'n'speaks at the time for classes and such.

      Check out SuSE Linux - they have serious braille support, to the point that the installer looks for braille display devices so you can do a whole install from a barebones computer with no problem (I assume). Call them and ask - they obviously have someone doing QA and testing (or I could hope so) who would be very versed in Linux VI issues.


  • Emacs speak (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    There is a version of emacs [] that can be used by the blind. it is very good, i like it alot.
  • by Puk ( 80503 ) on Tuesday December 04, 2001 @03:36PM (#2655198)
    285,663,670 / 50,000,000 = 5.71.

    So more than 1 in 6 people is handicapped. *Looks around the room.* I know of one person out of the 110 or so in my workplace that is "handicapped" to the point that they use accessibility options. Admittedly, there are reasons why my workplace would be lower than average on the number of handicapped people, but I was wondering just what the criteria used were.

    Note that I'm _not_ saying that there aren't a lot of handicapped people around, or that accessibilty options aren't important (they're very important to that one individual, who is in turn very important to us). I'm just curious about how those statistics were arrived at, since it feels like an astoundingly high number to me.

    After all, 95% of statistics are made up on the spot.


    p.s. If you're going to flame me about my use of the word handicapped or claiming I'm downplaying the importance of accessibility tools, please don't even bother.
    • I have a handicap that doesn't interfere at all with using a computer. I'm partly blind in one eye (vision is 20/200 (the other eye is 20/20)), the result of a playground disagreement many years ago. I can't see stereo very well, but then, the computer screen isn't 3-d, is it? So while I am handicapped enough to fill a spot on the EEOC forms, I'm not handicapped enough for it to interfere with my work, or to require accessibility features.

      Plays hell with my ability to play, however. Try swinging a bat at a baseball with one eye closed. Or hammering nails.

    • An example of a similar misuse of statistics was when a date-rape activist came to speak to the dorm where I worked. She said that one out of every 5 people have been the victim of sexual assault (and that only one out of 10 get reported(?)).

      We resident assistants got an extra question and answer session with her, and someone asked what defined sexual assault. She said any unwanted physical contact.

      Well, using that criteria, I guess you can add me to that number since some chick grabbed my butt back in high school.

      I still do not know how they figure out how many are not reported.

      As for the handicapped issue at hand, they could mean that there are 50M Americans who do not have 20/20 vision, or who are not coordinated enough to type effectively.

      Could be that you and I are hadicapped, and just haven't been told.

  • Text!

    Seriously, all of the blind people I know at school love linux because it is very friendly to doing real work with text. The importance of this cannot be understated.
  • ...there really doesn't seem to be that much (at least in the research I've done, I haven't found much)

    There is, as others have pointed out, the GNOME Accessibility Project []

    However, I haven't seen anyone point out Linux AccessX [], which was a project at the University of Illinois, and as should be obvious, is for Linux only. It however, hasn't been updated for 2 years, so I don't think there's much hope there...

    Pity... accessibility is the topic of my honours thesis, and from the looks of it, it's probably going to concentrate on Windows... (Not that I really expected anything else though)
  • Java Option (Score:2, Informative)

    by jeffphil ( 461483 )
    If you can live with the speed of Java client apps, then accessibility is built into the Java Accessibility Framework Classes []

    This a great option for all platforms.
  • What kind of features would the deaf need? I have a computer at work with no sound card, not even the crappy little PC speaker. I haven't really found that it interferes with my computing experience at all. Oh wait, the visual bell setting on your terminal! That's about all a deaf person would need so, yep, got it covered ;^)

    • by Buran ( 150348 ) on Tuesday December 04, 2001 @06:13PM (#2656318)
      I have a congenital birth defect that rendered my left ear all but useless and my right ear severely impaired. This means that (1) I do not have stereo hearing; (2) I have a difficult time in situation where there is a lot of background noise; (3) computer software and/or games that depend on audible alerts to signal the user are nearly useless to me.

      First off, let me say that I'm glad that there are some provisions for the deaf in Windows; I recently installed XP and used 98SE before that. (At this point, the applications I use basically require Windows, though I have several Linux boxes in the house for applications where free software exists; I also use MacOS X). I will concentrate on Windows because that's (unfortunately) what most people use.

      The accessibility options for the deaf are relatively scant. Yes, it's true that those who are hard of hearing don't need a lot in the way of assistance because we can see just fine (aside from sometimes wearing glasses, like me). But there are two major issues with the built-in accessibility tools: (1) They aren't installed by default (I don't think they are; I had to check the box for them when custom installing XP and I believe I did for 98SE as well), so if you don't know that they exist, you won't get them. (2) They don't do a heck of a lot. I've checked the boxes for having applications flash a visual alert, but I've yet to see one do this outside built-in (for that app) options. (I use SecureCRT for telnet; it too has a "visual bell" setting.)

      Now, I do a lot of chatting over the Net (you don't know how empowering it is to sit in a group of two dozen people and not miss a word and be part of the conversation until that is denied you in the real world) and I use MUSHClient and mIRC to do it. Both of those applications have built into them options to flash the taskbar button if new text arrives while the program is not the foremost window. All well and good. However, again there is the problem of obscurity: while the options are of course installed with the software, they are not turned on by default and are usually somewhat hard to notice. MUSHclient's is buried deep within the preferences for a specific connection and isn't program-wide, so I can't check "Flash visual alert on activity" in global preferences -- I have to do it one at a time. mIRC is much the same: I have to right-click on a channel's mIRC-Taskbar button and select "Flashing" (not too descriptive an option name; Flash on Activity would be better) and it seems to be rather sporadic at times regarding whether or not it does it in query windows.

      Games. I'm a gamer. And a lot of games these days have options for subtitles (Wing Commander III-V stand out here, having options for French and German as well as English subtitles) and a lot don't (why is Starlancer, also made by Chris Roberts, missing them?!). I can't play Thief because it doesn't put up any visual cues. Return to Castle Wolfenstein has none in its cutscenes but since it's a first person shooter game, I can get by without the cutscenes ... but it'd be nice to enjoy them. Diablo II has none, though the Collector's Edition DVD fortunately had subtitles on its versions of the cutscenes.

      It is not that hard to add subtitles; fan petitions got some added to at least one of the Zork games. Movie theaters don't have them yet because people claim they're intrusive, but as long as they can be toggled (with a control in a plain, obvious place!), that's not an issue.

      So what does Unix need, then?

      It needs built-in alert options, which are part of the default install, as part of window managers. KDE, GNOME, Enlightenment, whatever. A standard needs to exist for how applications will address it. Apps need to use it.

      The controls to turn these on need to be in an obvious place and marked with clear symbology (the white-on-blue wheelchair symbol is a good start.)

      Applications need to be marked as captioned for the hearing impaired on their web sites and on packaging. Develop a standardized symbol for this.

      If I sound rather platform-independent, then that's a good thing. If I use all sorts of OSes, then other people out there like me do, too.
  • "What about people without the use of their hands..."

    In this case, the solution would be hardware based. I worked with one person who had Parkinson's disease (which slowly debilitates motor functions) and they were using one of those great big logitech trackballs.

    In more serious cases, there are still hardware options. I read in a paper-based magazine (sorry, no url available and I can't remember which magazine it was) about one kid who was using a device that he could control using his leg because his other appendages were unusable for fine control.

    So in the domain on physical-motor-control disabilities, the hardware solutions are already there or are on their way. The *nix community needs to do what it has been doing already and expand driver support.

  • by Wonko42 ( 29194 ) <ryan+slashdot@wo[ ].com ['nko' in gap]> on Tuesday December 04, 2001 @03:38PM (#2655217) Homepage
    This is one of the major advantages of commercial software. Your average open source developer is generally not very interested in developing features that he or she doesn't have any use for. Thus, unless you have a good percentage of handicapped open source developers, your open source projects will tend not to contain good accessibility features. And, unfortunately, there aren't very many handicapped open source developers. :/

    This is where commercial software (especially companies like Microsoft who spend countless millions each year on research alone) has a distinct advantage. People who write code for commercial applications or OSes are not writing it for their own benefit -- they're writing it because they were told to and because they get paid to.

    That said, I'm very impressed with Windows XP's accessibility features, but I really don't think they would be too difficult to implement in Linux applications. The only major problem is that "Linux" is just a kernel, and accessibility features don't belong in the kernel. Thus, it will be left up to individual distributions (Red Hat, Debian, Mandrake...) or individual application developers. This makes for a very uneven and inconsistent level of accessibility support across different applications. :/

    Sadly, this is one area where companies like Microsoft and Apple have much more of an advantage than open source OSes, due mainly to the structure of their OSes.

  • Accessability is very important, however I think this Swedish site took it a bit too far with its Information for deaf people. [] (follow the numbered links for quicktime movies)

    What? Suddenly deaf people can't read?

    Nice gesture, but oh so useless. Moral of the story: Accesability is good, but only when it's done in a way that really helps those that need it.

  • > According to the lecturer, there are over 50 million handicapped people in the United States alone

    According to the United States Census for 2000, there is a total population of 281,421,906 people in the United States. For argument's sake, let's round that up to an even 300 million.

    So... one in six persons is handicapped?

    I suspect accidentally or purposefully inflated numbers, though I'm quite willing to be proven wrong. Does anyone have any hard data that would back up, or refute this particular claim?

  • "According to the lecturer, there are over 50 million handicapped people in the United States..."

    The population of the United States was 285,663,707 [] earlier today. That is one out of 6. When you look around you, do you see one handicapped person for every 6 people?

    Okay, maybe they don't use Linux, but they aren't handicapped.

    Links to respected news sources show how U.S. government policy contributed to terrorism: What should be the Response to Violence? []
  • Have you tried to use Windows 2000 without a mouse? It is near impossible. First of all, everything is in a GUI. It is a lot easier to deal with text rather then images when you are blind. Ok, you can finally do some things from the console like type "net start Windows \ 2000\ Service\ for\ making\ me\ type\ too\ much", assuming that what you want to do can be done that way.

    The keyboard macros and accelerators in newer versions of windows are hovering somewhere between terrible and non-existant. I'm not speaking of the programming running under 2000. Just the built-in stuff like configuration, server management, the shell, etc.. It wouldn't fair to judge microsoft on 3rd party software :)

    As far as X windows applications go, they are usually worse then Windows applications... although Gtk and QT (and their respective desktop environments) are doing much better then most older applications.

    Are things getting better? for unix yes, for windows no. But they both still suck.

    It isn't really an issue with the platform, though.. but more of a problem with bad UI designers writing 3rd party software.
    • As far as X windows applications go, they are usually worse then Windows applications... although Gtk and QT (and their respective desktop environments) are doing much better then most older applications.

      Why would a blind person want to run a GUI? You don't need one with Unix, and the command line is fully capable with multitasking and everything... a braille reader and keyboard is all they would need to surf the net with lynx, chat on irc, use email, code, whatever.

      Voice recognition, et al, will be brilliant for quadraplegics, but Unix is great for blind people right now! (And deaf people too ;^)

  • Sue Center (Score:2, Informative)

    by Dr.Altaica ( 200819 )
    Thare is a Perl program called Sue Center if you can't push any buttons and can just move the mouse around. I'me not sure if it working in X yet but the source is avlible.
  • Voice Recognition (Score:5, Informative)

    by Troodon ( 213660 ) on Tuesday December 04, 2001 @03:51PM (#2655323) Homepage
    Personally this is rather opportune, after years of cramping my hands taking notes in lectures and hammering on keys, recently the arthritis I suffered as a child has reoccured. Though not crippling at the moment, I can only type for a little while before discomfort sets in, not very portentous for begining a CS degree. Thus Im looking for ways to mitigate things.

    Anyway Ive started looking at Voice Reccognition:

    IBM have made there Via Voice SDK [] freely available, which is being made use of in the rather interesting looking XVoice [], though its been passed between developers, the most current page is here [] ang the mailing list here []. However training hasnt been implimented yet, but Via Voice Dictation for Linux compares rather favourably at ~ $50 compared to several hundred for the windows version.

    Alternately, there is the Freespeach/Open Mind Speach project [], gpl and makes use of the Overflow language/enviroment.

    Not really aware of any active projects beyond such, hopefully this ask slashdot will prove to be interesting reading.

    • unfortunately, the IBM ViaVoice package for Linux is a nonfunctional toy compared to the functionality of NaturallySpeaking or even ViaVoice under Windows. As I complained on the ViaVoice mailing list,

      My experience with ViaVoice for Linux has been extremely disappointing. It is not a real product and it is most definitely not ready for anything
      close to primetime. My major complaints:

      1) extremely poor handling of sound systems

      There are no tools, utilities or guidance to help you diagnose sound problems. Part of this is due to the immaturity of Linux sound systems but
      part of this is clearly a problem with IBM's package. It would be wonderful if they would come out with a single standardized version that
      was guaranteed to work with USB audio! I wouldn't care if I have to go purchase a specific USB audio pod (as long as I can use my microphone ;-)

      note: this is could also be part of Red hat's value add. for speech recognition purposes, you do not need to get all soundcards working because
      most soundcards are crap on audio input. Simply getting USB audio to work mixed with standard soundcards output would solve the 90 percent
      case. Requiring both directions of audio (input and output) to be USB would solve the 80 percent case.

      2) totally ineffective support.

      There is a mailing list and the people there do try to be helpful but it's quite clear that their hands are tied and they are not able to help as much as is needed by the customer. personally, I have spent thousands on speech recognition software and hundreds on speech recognition related hardware. I would gladly spend more on a Linux solution that worked right and only required a small number of hours of setup effort.

      3) dependence on a specific Java release

      While I have no problems with Java as a language, I must admit I get rather tired of having to load up a half a dozen different versions of Java
      virtual machines to work with different Java based applications. Note: this is true whether you run on Windows or Linux. Java is truly write once, debug everywhere.

      3a) not keeping up with advances in Linux releases.

      this is clearly a damned if you do and damned if you don't situation. On one hand, building for an old release is one way to make the product usable by the widest population but on the other hand, if it only works with an old release then the user population can't take advantage of improvements in performance, stability, and driver availability.
      In my situation, I cannot run any Red Hat release except 7.1 on my (speech recognition driven) laptop because the video, PCMCIA, networking and sound system software didn't work right(er) until Red Hat 7.1. Therefore any product that counts on Red Hat 6.2 is not a product I can use.

      4) dependence on user downloaded packages

      If I buy a commercial piece of software, I expect to get *EVERYTHING* I need to run a package. I should not have to go scurrying across the net to download a Java run-time environment or fonts just to run the silly thing.

      5) not fixing known bugs

      Actually, this is a complaint about all software. We are all guilty of rewarding software manufacturers for creating crappy products by buying their products. Then we reward them for fixing what should not have been broken in the first place by purchasing updates. We would not accept this kind of quality in cars, food, or other products. Why do we accept it in

      While my language may be harsh, it's mostly out of frustration caused by being so totally dependent on speech recognition for computer use. I do
      recognize the efforts folks have made here to try and produce workable speech recognition under Linux but when it comes right down to it, it just
      isn't there yet.
      • Thankyou for the info, makes for rather depressing reading. I was hoping to find something usable for linux, perhaps that was a bit optimistic for something that is still rather primitive and on a developing system. It would be a bit irksome to have to use a dedicated computer for windows/voice recognition and a ssh connection to a linux box, but perhaps that may be a more viable alternative. Hmm perhaps Ive found something to tinker with as I do this degree.
  • Section 508 (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tomfuck ( 532526 ) <.moc.461tla. .ta. .mot.> on Tuesday December 04, 2001 @03:53PM (#2655341)

    I've been working quite extensively within section508 guidelines [] which outlines electronic accesibility within government systems - from webpages, to software, to the photocopiers in the office. The statistics that are used in cases like this are misleading to those unfamilar with accesibility. You may not think that 1/6 people are 'handicap', but this term is fairly broad when used in this contex. The term also refers to the color blind, people with carpel tunnel syndrome, people with hearing-impairments (but not completely deaf), and the like - anyone who may require any assistance at all or may have difficulty navigating the web or a software product.

    At the rate many of us are going, we're going to have weakened eyesight and carpel tunnel syndrome from so many hours on the computer. So we will be relying on many of these advances in accessibility options in the future.

    I really recommend [] which is a really great resource for accessibility.

  • BLINUX (Score:4, Informative)

    by ninjaz ( 1202 ) on Tuesday December 04, 2001 @03:57PM (#2655374)
    The BLINUX folks have a wealth of this sort of information (as applies to Linux, anyway), at their site: []

    Complete with FAQ, docs and mailing lists.

  • Look here:
  • Linux Speakup (Score:2, Insightful)

    by CmdrPaco ( 531189 )
    Linux Speakup [] is an organiztion of blind folks who 'like to mess around with linux'. This is one type of software to help the (visually) impaired. A gentlemen on one of the mailinglists I subscribe to uses this package, and claims it works well. It must work at least half way decent if he's able to be on a mailinglist, and offer all the knowledge that he has, which is quite extensive.
  • []
    Information and discussions for blind SuSE Linux users (english)

    Software for Blind Linux Users: Brass - Braille and speech server []
  • by deaddeng ( 63515 ) on Tuesday December 04, 2001 @04:13PM (#2655486) Homepage
    The "50 million" figure thrown around in the press is based on a broad extension of the original American's with Disabilities Act definition.

    Traditionally the term "disabled " referred to a segment of the population, perhaps 4 or 5 percent, handicapped by blindness, deafness, problems with mobility or mental incapacity. Crafters of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, expanded that definition dramatically to where it now takes in 50 million people, including the mentally or emotionally unstable.
    No one seems to know exactly how the population to be covered by the ADA was, or is, measured, but that enormous estimate often is cited. Most of that number are mental cases. The psychiatric industry's 300 or so various diagnoses were used in structuring the ADA , meaning that symptoms such as bad moods or anxiety may be taken as indicators of an illness requiring accommodation by the employer. The ADA does rule out direct protection in cases of active users of illegal drugs, pedophiles, voyeurs, compulsive gamblers, kleptomaniacs, pyromaniacs and several other particularly antisocial sorts found in psychiatric diagnostic manuals.

    The ADA is a civil-rights law; it's protections span the spectrum of American life because, like racial-discrimination laws, it attempts to level the playing field absolutely -- from the public water fountain to bus transportation to restaurant service to job equality and more.
    • What's the current American population anyhow? 300 million? Do they really expect us to beleive that 1 in 6 people is handicapped in a way that makes a computer hard to use? Give me a break. One more statistic that's easily disputed by simple math and at least one half-working eye.
  • You need to consider disabilties a bit broader than the guy in the wheelchair.

    I, like many people, have red-green colorblindness. This doesn't mean that I can't tell those colors apart, but certain shades give me problems.

    For example, those damn red LED screens that all the fast food restaurants are putting in their drive-throughs look completely blank to me during the daytime.

    My own company's application, OpenView, uses green, red, and yellow icons to show status of managed nodes. I can't tell the default green and yellow apart, forcing me to modify the Xdefaults file.

    Unix does need work. In Windows, I can easily make my mouse pointer larger, add trails, and change the color so I don't lose it on the screen. Under X11, I'm hosed and at the mercy of each application.

    - Necron69
    • There's an old rule of thumb with regard to user interfaces: Color should be used only as a secondary, never as a primary, conveyor of information. This is partly because a significant portion of the population -- something like 6-8% of men -- is color-blind (many more males than females because common forms of colorblindness are X-chromosome-linked). It's also because, for example, color isn't preserved in many printouts/photocopies.

      Upshot: OpenView or whatever should have clearly different icons for status, and the color should only be provided as a backup indicator.

  • by rxs ( 541297 )
    I'm a deaf/hard-of-hearing student, currently in high school and for the past four years I've devoted most of my time to teaching myself and others about computers and how they work. As far as accessibility goes for people with my handicap, I can say that I've not had much problems using FreeBSD or Linux. Most of it is text (except when it comes to running an mp3 server... btw, I can hear enough to listen to music, thank god), and therefore there really is no need for sound. The good thing about my handicap is that I don't have to listen to those damned Windows startup theme songs! Overall, when it comes to the needs of people with my condition(s), most are provided in a *nix experience with the added bonus of no stupid Windows sounds in the first place. Now, if there was a feature repelling the tech-illiterate from asking me inane Windows questions or bugging me about their sound drivers, I'd be even happier. ;)
  • by epepke ( 462220 ) on Tuesday December 04, 2001 @04:24PM (#2655554)

    Windows was based on the Macintosh (which had speech synthesis in 1984, a screen magnifier in 1985, and sticky keys by 1986, by the way). The Macintosh was based on the Xerox Star/Alta/Lilith. This was based on a user interface design done 30 years ago by some very young people with fine eyesight and motor coordination. They built the entire user interface on their assumptions about the visual and motor systems of healthy young people.

    So, now, on top of all that are some tools to degrade the experience enough to improve the system for specific disabilities. All of a sudden, Microsoft is a Disability Hero.

    Yeah, right.

    Consider UN*X and its command line interface. With any reasonably well designed command line program, it is possible to pipe standard input from any device and send output to any device. I have seen interactive Braille output devices hooked up to UN*X systems and working with essentially everything. In 1982. That's 19 years ago.

    With the right physical devices and some code that takes a weekend to write, a person who could only operate a single switch and could only recieve information by means of Morse Code with wires on his tongue could use almost all of UN*X, up to and including rewriting the kernel.

    • With the right physical devices and some code that takes a weekend to write, a person who could only operate a single switch and could only recieve information by means of Morse Code with wires on his tongue could use almost all of UN*X, up to and including rewriting the kernel.

      Riiight, but can they read or write email?

      How about Gnome? How disability friendly is the latest build of StarOffice? Mozilla?

      I dont think MS is anything special in terms of UI design/disabilities compatibility, but lets clear: Linux is not much, if any better. Especially bad is the GUI area. So fine, lets say that 1 in 25 computer users rely entirely on the CLI - lets so that 1 in 5 of those have a type of disability, and lets say that 1 in 10 of those are blind. I am sure that all six of them will be reassured that grep is braille compatible.
  • For those of you who hope to get Linux into the government market, you should know about Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1977. This federal regulation mandated accessibility compliance for any government purchased IT systems. The government is also getting more picky about enforcing this law as of late. How do I know? The company where I work just went through a self-audit to make sure we complied...
  • Not UNIX per se, but...

    Here [] is a link to an article about a Perl project to help the disabled. It contains a link to the project's website, as well.

  • From the: You-can't-have-everything-ya-know dept.

    As far as I'm concerned, I'm more than willing to let M$ have the monopoly on producing accessibility software. The *NIX world, Linux especially, has other areas of GUI development and polishing that need attention before accessibility issues. Not having an office suite that is as-good-as-or-better-in-all-aspects as M$ Office yet is a larger deficit to overcome than, say, lacking Speech Recog. or something like that. The major things need to be worked on before the minor ones, folks. And face it: the handicapped are a minority, especially in the IT world. Not that this is a bash on them, don't get me wrong. I'm just looking at practicality issues here.

    Cold truth is, it doesn't pay to develop server rooms that are wheelchair accessible (and if they're anything like mine, they have cords and all manners of things that make it hard for walking individuals to navigate!). In a similar manner, it doesn't pay (or benefit, for you free software folk) to develop accessibility software for *nix at this time. At least, not on a large, concentrated scale.
  • According to the lecturer, there are over 50 million handicapped people in the United States alone, and obviously even more worldwide.

    Huh? 5 million maybe. If there are 50 million, that means that one in every six, or about 17% of the population is handicapped. If that's true, we need a LOT more handicap parking EVERYWHERE. 5 million seems more likely - that would put it at about 2%. Still significant, but not nearly so.

    Unless, of course, the lecturer is counting MCSE's in that tally...

  • I'm surprised no one has mentioned Apple Computer's pioneering working on making their computers usable for the disabled. Apple was doing something about this problem back in the mid-1980s, long before Microsoft even thought of it, much less before they produced even a usable version of Windows. (Some would say they never produced a usable version of Windows, but I digress...) For example, Easy Access was an INIT which offered a small but useful assortment of "handicap friendly" utilities and system modifications (like really long "double click" times, etc.).

    While Windows has largely caught up, OS X still has a number of disabled-friendly options [] to it, and since OS X is (all together now) based on UNIX, that means [the completion of this sentence is left as an exercise to all Slashdot readers with an IQ over that of an electric can opener, which probably excludes some []...]

  • For information on accessibility support being developed for Mozilla, see the Mozilla accessibility project [] and the netscape.public.mozilla.accessibility [] newsgroup.
  • by gig ( 78408 ) on Tuesday December 04, 2001 @06:26PM (#2656433)
    Mac OS X 10.1 has a lot of accessibility features, which are all installed by default. The user just has to configure them to taste in System Preferences. It's not entirely free, but the core OS is free and open source, and UNIX compatibility is built-in. You can still install and use all the same software as on any UNIX system, while also having access to Mac software that has a long history of accessibility features. I have a good friend who doesn't have the use of his hands and uses a Mac OS X Mac every day all day.

    The Universal Access System Preference offers enhancements to keyboard and mouse input. Sticky Keys makes modifier keys stick so that a person can type with one finger or with a mouthstick. It has great on-screen feedback, with translucent icons that float over a corner of the desktop showing what modifiers are currently active without blocking your work. Mouse Keys makes the numeric keypad into a mouse substitute. Mac OS has long had standard key shortcuts that work everywhere (Command+F is always Find if Find is available, Command+G is Find Again, Command+Q always quits an app, etc) so a person who is using the keyboard can count on those things working in every application. Macs also have keys on the keyboard for volume up/down, mute audio, brightness up/down, and the eject key for removable media is also on the keyboard, which helps a lot of users. You can also eject disks from the GUI by dragging and dropping or using a menu or key command.

    In the Keyboard System Preference, you can enable Full Keyboard Access, which enables you to navigate the entire Aqua GUI with the keyboard. Key shortcuts highlight the menus or Dock so you can move through them from the keyboard, and you can move through dialog boxes and similar things of course. This is an option that many people use outside of whether they have a special need ... if you work with this for a short while, you can get very fast in Mac OS X without taking your hands off the keyboard.

    Speech recognition is and text-to-speech are also built into Mac OS X. It's trivial to open applications and run scripts using your voice. It's easy to have text read back to you in a variety of voices, from almost any application. If the built-in speech recognition isn't enough, then IBM's ViaVoice is available, and enables you to navigate the GUI and dictate into almost any application.

    In Finder, you can set icons to be displayed at 128x128, which is large enough that even on a 1600x1024 display, a person with vision difficulties can still have honking great icons. Icon labels are large and bold as well. You can also navigate and perform all kinds of file management tasks using only the keyboard. There is an Undo feature in Finder so that if you make a mistake while you're learning these features, you can easily go back a step, even if you Trashed a file. Those kinds of safeguards benefit every user, of course.

    Another aspect to consider is that the Mac UI itself is considered to be much simpler to learn (a bonus when you also have to learn the accessibility features on top of what everyone else has to do), and these kinds of accessibility features have been around since System 6 on the Mac ... applications know about them and developers have adapted their software to work with them. Text-to-speech has been around even longer, and it's common for Mac applications to read stuff to people.

    The downside is that there is currently a transition going on between Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X, so for now and for about six more months, most users have an extra layer of complexity as they work with a mix of native and Classic apps. I don't know how that affects accessibility, but it makes sense that the slight differences between how native and Classic apps react to certain things are going to have to be managed a bit by the user. Window controls are slightly different on new and old -style windows, for example. This is temporary, though. There's a new native "marquee" app coming out about every week. The most recent were Microsoft Office, IBM ViaVoice, and Adobe Illustrator. Also, most Mac freeware and shareware is already native, and there are UNIX and Java2 apps up the ying yang.

    AppleScript is another technology that can really help out a person with special needs. You can encapsulate an entire workflow in AppleScript, essentially turning a user task into a script task. So you can make a script such that you drop a file on it, and the file is opened in five or six applications and modified in certain ways and passed onto the next application and then finally uploaded and made live on the Web. This benefits all users, but if I were using a mouthstick, I'd probably have twice the AppleScript collection that I have now, because extra keystrokes are even more precious. Also, it's trivial to add languages so that you can script the Aqua GUI with JavaScript if you want. The component for that is free.
  • I have a blind friend who has told me many times that she found the web completely unusable until she tried Emacspeak. With the ever-increasing reliance on graphics this is only getting worse. And usability by the blind rarely ever makes it into the discussion when web sites are designed, much less making it onto the feature list.
  • It has been pointed out more than once in the replies to this question that those who write free software often do so to "scratch an itch". There's a lot of truth in this. But it's not such a valid reason for a paucity of free software for the disabled.

    Jouke Vissier's pVoice [] is an outstanding example of creative itch scratching. pVoice allows people who cannot speak to synthesize speech by means of a grapical interface. It's written in Perl, free for personal use, and runs on both Windows and Unix systems.

    And, interestingly, it's entirely the work of one dedicated hacker, written primarily for the benefit of his own daughter.

  • Hi,

    1 out of 6 is including minor disabillities of course. I find it remarkable however, how few people with a handicap reacted.

    If you're a bit spastic [] like me, but you still can type a bit, get an old IBM keyboard. They're solid and have membranes, so you know for sure when you hit a key (handy with passwords). It's also fairly easy to write a mouse driver which translates the mouse movements. You could make a very slow acceleration curve with a cutoff so your jerks get filetered out. As a windowmanager, I recommend ion. It's designed to be used with the keyboard and you can even beat a normal person with a mouse when it comes to window handling...

  • Some helpful sites (Score:3, Informative)

    by acoopersmith ( 87160 ) on Tuesday December 04, 2001 @09:22PM (#2657368) Homepage Journal
  • 50 million handicapped

    "Handicapped" is a pretty large term here ... First of all, if you assume genereously that there are 300m people int he US, your saying that one out of every 6 people is handicaped... excuse my frankness, that statistic is bullshit.

    Second of all, only 2 kinds of handicappedness effect your ability to use the computer -- blindness or no arms to move a mouse (and no, deaf dosen't count,.. no sound is meerely an annoyance, none of the computers at my work have speakers, and we all get along :).

    All the other kinds of handicapped don't count ... I have a herniated disc, that dosen't affect my ability to use a computer :)

    My cousin can't eat strawberies, he still gets in 6 hours of the sims a day :)
  • Making Linux more accessible to non-disabled people would be the logical first step, no? Then we'll have available 80% of the people to work on making it more accessible to the disabled.

    Microsoft has done a good job in this area. You know, I even like switching to large fonts or icons sometimes, or using the magnifier... even though I don't consider myself to be disabled. It seems helpful to relax or just goof off. :)

    Make no mistake - Microsoft has spent a boatload of money making their OS usable by as many people as possible with the lowest learning curve. Don't take that to mean it's superior by any means. But the more people who can use it, the more people Microsoft can sell to. Wouldn't you agree?

    That brings me to my point - some people say "just because Microsoft did it that way, doesn't mean it's the right way to do it." (often referring to changing display resolution from within Xwindows). Hey, it makes total sense to do it that way, it's intuitive to most people, and they did usability research on it. Why don't we leverage some of that research; let them spend the money on it. This is the way Microsoft used to be anyway (say, Win95 days) - XP just blows my mind thinking about what they were thinking when they created it.

    Of course, an alternative would be to listen to the "blathering idiots" and "newbies" on the newsgroups who are also giving the open source community feedback - for free - which can be used to improve open source software.
  • If so, then 50 million is way to low.
  • What about people without the use of their hands, or features for the deaf, and so on?

    Well, considering that the deaf people I've known have a better time communicating with the outside world using a computer than without one, I would say that there aren't many software features that a deaf person can't use, with the exception of winamp.

    To me saying that we need operating system features for the deaf is like saying we need features for people without legs, or lower back spinal cord injuries. These just aren't disabilities that impede the use of a computer.

  • by Noryungi ( 70322 ) on Wednesday December 05, 2001 @06:43AM (#2658864) Homepage Journal
    I have had some experience working with and helping blind users and, in my opinion, Linux use would greatly help them for one reason (and one reason only): character/terminal-based applications.

    While the focus of most developers today is the pretty GUI/multimedia/gizmo-of-the-day, there are literally tons of useful applications that work perfectly well in text mode -- and that can be used with a Braille output and keyboard configured as a serial terminal.

    Applications such as Lynx, links, mutt, vi, Emacs, nano, TeX, ispell, ps2ascii, etc... provide blind users with a level of service and capabilities they would hard-pressed to find under Windows. As a matter of fact, Linux and *BSDs are the only operating systems I know to maintain such a huge number of terminal-based applications.

    Whenever you are tempted to program something only for a GUI, remember the UNIX philosophy and program a command-line utility, as well as graphical (X) shell -- you'll probably help a blind user somewhere!

If you want to put yourself on the map, publish your own map.