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New Technology for the Blind? 213

Recently, quite a few questions surrounding technology for the visually impared have dropped into the Ask Slashdot in-box and I'd like to take the time to share these questions with you. Please read on for more.

Gaming Accessibility Recommendations?

openSoar asks: "I work for a company that makes and runs a virtual online world called SecondLife. One of the most inspirational stories I've heard recently has been about a group of people with extreme physical challenges and limitations who are using our software to great effect including (to quote from the original forum post) - 'the chance to be on an equal playing field for once, to not have to have folks get past what they look or sound like... to be warmly received... to play and have fun the way their peers do.' - I want to make things even better and provide a broad range of accessibility features and options. Time constraints mean I can't tackle everything so I'm trying to hit the really useful ones first. Of course, we're going to ask the users what they think but I figured that the folk here would also have some great ideas and suggestions."

Blind Friendly Open Source Software?

scubacuda asks: "A friend of mine is blind, yet he effortlessly navigates through his Windows XP box (installing programs, buying stuff on eBay, reading web-pages, etc) using JAWS. When I asked him what open source resources were available for him, I was surprised to hear him say, 'Almost nothing.' Is this true? Are we just not looking at the right places, or do blind-friendly resources tend to be Microsoft-centric? I tried to get him to switch over to Firefox, but he says that it doesn't work as well with JAWS as IE does."

MP3 Players for the Visually Impaired?

holden caufield asks: "As the geek-in-residence for my circle of friends, I've been asked the 'Which MP3 player should I buy?' question repeatedly, and I'm yet to offer an answer to them that doesn't rhyme with 'iPod'. Now I've been asked this very same question from a good friend who is blind (only *very* limited vision in one eye), and I'm thinking the iPod is still the way to go? Can anyone tell me their visually impaired experiences with MP3 players? Keep in mind, I don't mean 'can you now use it without looking at it?', since the learning curve would have been flattened for you by being able to study it originally. Any suggestions? A few reasons why I think the iPod will work for him:
  • Simple user interface
  • Cursor changes can be heard with (or without) headphones on
  • Bright back-lighting may be helpful for him.
And now the constraints on the software side:
  • He uses a screen reader (JAWS for Windows), so compatibility with that is possibly more important than nearly any other feature.
  • He is looking for an MP3 player. Ogg and FLAC compatibility is not a consideration, and will not weigh in favor of any device.
  • Sorry, but switching to Linux is not an option, however open-source that is Win32-compatible is fine."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

New Technology for the Blind?

Comments Filter:
  • OS X works for me (Score:5, Informative)

    by mr100percent ( 57156 ) * on Monday December 20, 2004 @05:45PM (#11140851) Homepage Journal
    I beta tested some of Mac OS X's spoken user interface. The current version in 10.3 Panther is excellent, built right into the OS. It reads the text under the mouse, dialog boxes, has a variety of high-quality voices, and comes with basic speech recognition for launching apps and running scripts. The last feature has been there since 7.5, Mac users for years have been (frustrated with) using the "tell me a joke" voice script. Tiger looks like it will have even more [], but Panther has a lot already.

    I like OS X since it also has a bunch of other features for the handicapped, like zoom, contrast and grayscale adjustments. If you're not completely blind, this is quite useful. Check out the Universal Access preferences pane to see the hearing and keyboard and mouse stuff too.

    mp3 player for the visually impaired? Hmmm, maybe a laptop running iTunes and the spoken interface enabled. I set it up to read any highlighted text when I hit F8. The only minor problem is that it reads the whole line in the playlist, the name, time, artist, album, genre, etc. That would make quick browsing kind of hard.

    • Re:OS X works for me (Score:4, Informative)

      by mr100percent ( 57156 ) * on Monday December 20, 2004 @05:48PM (#11140876) Homepage Journal
      I was even able to post to slashdot with it, it would speak the text I was typing in, and recite the names of the buttons I was mousing over, ie. "Submit."
    • by davidwr ( 791652 ) on Monday December 20, 2004 @05:55PM (#11140957) Homepage Journal
      The original MacIntalk arrived in 1984, and was probably talking in the lab in 1983. There was even a developer's kit of sorts available. If I recall, it could speak English and Spanish directly and had a phonetic mode also.

      A historical note:
      I wasn't here, but I heard that the first Mac did, or was supposed to, introduce itself using MacIntalk. If true, in 1984 this would've had a lot of *ooh* *ahh* potential.
      • by davidwr ( 791652 ) on Monday December 20, 2004 @06:06PM (#11141067) Homepage Journal
        Here's a Technote from 1990:
        Macintalk, the Final Chapter [] You can find some more tidbits on google's groups, search for Macintalk with a date filter of 1990.
      • On a side note Texas Instruments were pioneers in computer generated speech. The Speak & Spell was a product of the 70s and in the 80s I enjoyed text to speech on the TI-99/4a via the "Terminal Emulator II" cartridge. I did show this to a couple of blind users and they were very much in awe by the fact that they could actually interact with online resources such as Compu$erve.

        I find it shocking that technology that was available as early as 1982 has progressed so little and isn't widely available.
    • Re:OS X works for me (Score:5, Interesting)

      by BWJones ( 18351 ) * on Monday December 20, 2004 @06:06PM (#11141076) Homepage Journal
      I work in vision research. While we are making advancements in vision rescue and understanding of processes that occur in retinal degenerations, we are some years off from a true rescue. Therefore, technologies such as the ones offered through OS X are going to be significant to our patients who are currently having to deal with vision loss.

      Of course Apple was having to work on their accessibility issues for federal approval, but not only are they are going far beyond the absolute base requirements, they have made the same OS a productive work environment for scientific research as well. Therefore, I am more than happy to try and integrate OS X into patient education and use as well as in my basic science research in the lab.

      P.S. There is a movement within the National Library for the Blind to replace all of their "books on tape" with a digital format compatible with .mp3 and the iPod would be absolutely ideal here as well with just a little software engineering.

      • the iPod would be absolutely ideal here as well with just a little software engineering.

        You're kidding, right? The iPod is totally visual. After the 1G Apple doesn't even have a tactile feedback controller. The entire UI is based on visually dialing through hierarchical lists. It is ill-suited for visually impaired people from both a hardware and a fundamental software architecture POV.
    • Re:OS X works for me (Score:5, Informative)

      by Spy Hunter ( 317220 ) on Monday December 20, 2004 @06:15PM (#11141170) Journal
      There has recently been a a bunch of great work work on integrating speech synthesis software with KDE. You can read about it here: "KDE 3.4 Will Talk to You []". It's not yet ready for completely blind users but the plan is for KDE 4.0 to support blind users. Plus, it's just cool to have your computer talk.
      • The KDE Accessibility project is cooperating closely with other accessibility projects (GNOME, SpeechDispatcher, ...) to develop common solutions for blind users.

        Last August, the KDE project has organized a "Unix Accessibility Forum" as part of the KDE World Summit. Attendees included people from IBM, Novell, Sun Microsystems, Trolltech, BAUM Retec, GNOME, Mozilla, and the Free Standards Group.

        In January, there will be another meeting to discuss close cooperation for impaired users, organized by the Fre

    • This thing about mp3 players for the blind got me thinking.
      At some point or another, we have all (most likely) had an original tape walkman.
      Could you operate that from your pocket without pulling it out?

      An iPod is designed to be held in your hand and played with - like a modile phone or a deck of cards, its not designed for use whilst tucked away.
      It seems like styling and design has overtaken functionality.
      Maybe, it could be recaptured by allowing a simplified clicker interface on the pod, sacrifice extra
      • The difference is that tape is a linear format, with a handfull of songs, and is very mechanical. So big mechanical buttons are practically required, and also there are only a handful of possible functions, and there's no way to search for songs or categorize or anything. mp3 players typically have more features (but require you to look at them) because they are non-linear, and they have lots of songs, and potentially lots of extra things that can be done once you're holding a computer in your hand.

        So si
        • Why shouldn't I be able to play and control my media in a linear fashion?
          The attraction of a large media player to me would be "plays as much stuff as the radio, but I can choose what to listen to".

          Simple skip buttons for Song/Folder would be enough for me. Sure, that way, I lose the pointless searching for music, and get on with playing it.

          I wouldn't have put the music on the device if I didn't like it, and at the point of putting it on, I can do whatever searching and arranging I want.

          I have winamp on
          • I'm not saying that you shouldn't be able to skip forwards and backwards, I'm saying that if those are the only options then managing a collection of hundreds or thousands of songs will be more or less impossible.

            As for whether or not you need to search, that's really up to the individual, I guess. Sometimes I make winamp randomize the playlist, and sometimes I sort by artist/album so that I can listen to a whole album. But sometimes I feel like hearing a particular song, and it's nice to be able to ju
    • Gnome has a lot of support for various technologies as well, and has had for a long time. Screenreading, yes, but also things like accessible keyboard functions, high-contrast themes, (indirect) support for braille screenreading and the like.

  • by GillBates0 ( 664202 ) on Monday December 20, 2004 @05:47PM (#11140869) Homepage Journal
    BLinux []
    • Don't forget KDE (Score:3, Interesting)

      by JaxWeb ( 715417 )
      Heh, I was just reading the KDE news bar on the left, and this came up: KDE 3.4 Will Talk to You []

      The KDE Accessibility team is in the process of integrating speech synthesis into KDE. Not only does this mean better support for visually-impaired and speech-impaired users, but the new features should also prove for a fun desktop experience overall.

      Seems very relevent!
  • POPFile (Score:4, Informative)

    by JohnGrahamCumming ( 684871 ) * <> on Monday December 20, 2004 @05:48PM (#11140882) Homepage Journal
    Back in the mists of POPFile [] time a developer came along and wanted to work on the HTML of POPFile's UI (made it HTML 4.01 and CSS1 compliant) and I said "If you want to work on it then you need to do that PLUS you need to make it pass the Bobby [] Accessibility Guidelines".

    He did all three and I have heard from users that POPFile works well with screen readers. I'm not sure about JAWS in particular.

    It wasn't particularly onerous to get the Bobby AA mark for the software and I'm always happy to have another satisfied user.

    • Re:POPFile (Score:3, Interesting)

      by zoeblade ( 600058 )

      "If you want to work on it then you need to do that PLUS you need to make it pass the Bobby Accessibility Guidelines".

      Beware that just because something passes Bobby, it doesn't necessarily mean it's completely accessible. As the W3C [] themselves point out, there is no automated test that can prove or disprove that your site is accessible. Several people have come up with accessibility checklists [], however, which are a good place to start (as is Bobby, for that matter; it's just not a good place to finish)

  • Interactive Fiction (Score:5, Informative)

    by Feneric ( 765069 ) on Monday December 20, 2004 @05:50PM (#11140902) Homepage

    For diversions, how about Interactive Fiction []? It has a textual interface that lends itself well to speakerbox usage, shell [] accounts, and there's a vast library [] of free titles available.

  • Phison mp3 player (Score:3, Informative)

    by John Harrison ( 223649 ) <johnharrison@gma ... m minus language> on Monday December 20, 2004 @05:52PM (#11140927) Homepage Journal
    Phison (and others I would guess) makes inexpensive flash memory key mp3 players with no screen. Operation and navigation simple by necessity since there is no screen. There is an on/off switch and then a rocker switch/button that is used to both skip songs (with a quick flip) or change volume (by pressing and holding). You can find the 512MB version online for about $60.
    • I played a few zillion levels of your random pacman. I must admit I almost didn't catch on to what makes this interesting before giving up on it, but it's good fun once the maze gets ridiculously detailed!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Open source software cannot take off in government until it has good tools to fit these needs. Government contracts require it.

    These tools are also the future of computers. We all want to speak to and hear our computers, we all want to use small interfaces that are low resolution and high contrast.
    • This is correct, and in some other countries beyond even that. Eg in the UK all business web sites have to be accessible. Sadly it needs a bit of enforcement yet (and the government to get its own house in order)

      The unfortunate rider is "except where it is illegal". Eg I can't use decss to make a DVD player for epileptics that filters out flashing video, or various other similar things. Apparently the right of the MPAA exceeds the rights of the epileptics.

      And then we have ebooks..

      "Bitkeeper doesn't pirat
      • I think you meant bittorrent.

        Bitkeeper would be a somewhat limited tool for pirating movies.
      • Is Britain really bound by the same onerous restrictions on fair use (i.e. DeCSSing a DVD) as the USA? I was under the impression we weren't. Indeed, the attitude towards DVD region coding here seems somewhat different - I am told that it is still quite difficult to get region-free players in the States, whereas can sell them freely.

        Of course, dear Blighty isn't as progressive as Canada, but...the DeCSS thing...?

        iqu :s
        • Fair use in the US sense isn't something present in the EU. As to DVD region coding - there have been actions in the past but the movie world seems to have just given up. To start with players are so cheap the consumer fight is pointless. When a 2nd hand DVD drive is UKP5 on ebay, and a new DVD player is UKP 25 (or free with 5 full priced movies) anyone who cares can just buy two.

          They do still harass companies selling non-EU region DVD's but they all moved out of the EU (and out of EU tax regimes) into cou
  • Sad truth (Score:4, Informative)

    by briancnorton ( 586947 ) on Monday December 20, 2004 @05:54PM (#11140939) Homepage
    In grad school I spent a lot of time on these sorts of things. The infrastructure for the blind is windows only. Some courageous souls work on Macs, but that's about it.

    As far as the Ipod goes, that's a terrible idea. He needs one with tactile controls. Ideally, it needs at least 6 control buttons on it, Play/pause, next, previous, volume up/down and power. The Ipod is about the last place you want to look, as the wheel thing will do him absolutely no good.

    • Re:Sad truth (Score:2, Interesting)

      by MattyIce ( 565167 )
      Speaking from experience (I've been blind since birth), Windows so far has the best accessibility using a text-to-speech interface. Web-browsing with IE is painless and most other Windows apps are farily easy to use with either JAWS or Window-Eyes. It is true that Firefox does not work well with screen reading applications (JAWS/Window-Eyes) but a beta of Window-Eyes and Mozilla (1.8) shows some promise. The iPod is not a viable option since it requires knowing what is on the display; the wheel does not
    • The iRiver IHP-1[24]0 might fit the bill if he's after one with a big hard disk (I know little about their other models). It's got the relevant buttons, and files are transferred to the device just by compying across to it as a removable disk. And if WinAmp is JAWS-friendly, so much the better.
  • Itch & Scratch (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Trurl's Machine ( 651488 ) on Monday December 20, 2004 @05:55PM (#11140955) Journal
    A friend of mine is blind, yet he effortlessly navigates through his Windows XP box (installing programs, buying stuff on eBay, reading web-pages, etc) using JAWS. When I asked him what open source resources were available for him, I was surprised to hear him say, 'Almost nothing.' Is this true? Are we just not looking at the right places, or do blind-friendly resources tend to be Microsoft-centric?

    Well, as they say, open source software is written when someone has to scratch an itch. Sounds nice, but it has that one unpleasant consequence: the open source community satisfies primarily the needs of the open source community, while the commercial & proprietary software developers at least try to pretend they actually satisfy the need of their customers. Since there's not much blind people among the open source community - there's not much free software writting for them. But since blind people have money and are able to buy a piece of software - there is some commercial software written for them. I think it's as simple as that.
  • RockBox (Score:5, Informative)

    by JaxWeb ( 715417 ) on Monday December 20, 2004 @05:55PM (#11140962) Homepage Journal
    Regarding the MP3 player, make sure he checks out Rockbox [].

    Rockbox is an open source (GPL) firmware project for the Archos Recorder MP3 player (among others). They've done great work, which included Talkbox - extra code which can allow the MP3 player to 'talk' to the users.

    Now the problem is that the actual hardware itself is terrible - that is not the Rockbox teams fault, of course, though.

    I've seen on the mailing list some blind users who've written in just to comment about how helpful and useful the Talkbox features of Rockbox are. So it seriously does help people. It is an amazing project, and I really wish I had worked on it myself.

    Anyway, check out the manual or something to check that it is suitable.
  • For Gnome there is Gnopernicus [], easy to install and it works with any GTK app including Firefox.
    • For Gnome there is Gnopernicus, easy to install and it works with any GTK app including Firefox.

      My experience from talking to blind people is that Gnopernicus is not yet stable enough to compete with the mature console screenreaders that exists for Linux. But experienced users have started to use it successfully, and in one or two years, Gnopernicus might well have evolved into a good everyday tool for blind users.

      By then, the application support for it will also have substantially grown: The KDE projec

  • iPod?! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Chriscypher ( 409959 ) <slashdot AT metamedia DOT us> on Monday December 20, 2004 @05:59PM (#11141002) Homepage
    I can see.
    Using the iPod in the car is *infruriating*, because with a WHEEL it is difficult to select one of 311 artists, or one of 520 albums.
    Spin-spin-spin...backspin, backspin, click click click.
    It is *difficult* to *impossible* to select an album, artist or song when confronted with 35GB of music.

    Wheel-selection is only somewhat practical to select a playlist (since I only have 2 dozen or so). A wheel interface is impractical unless you can constantly look at it / see it, and you have a limited number of items to select from.

    The iPod interface is *overrated*.
    • 311 artists? 520 albums? Don't you go through the Genres first?

      I've never had a problem with the iPod interface. Infact I find it piss-easy, and would be hard pressed to find another way to find something faster that didn't involve a live search-as-you-type feature, as like iTunes.

      Exactly what would be a better interface, BTW? You do realise that the iPod interface was designed to be looked at while opperated, right? It may not be suited to the visually impared, but that doesn't mean it's in anyway over

    • Let me get this straight...

      You're saying the iPod is a bad choice for a visually impaired person, because you have a hard time using it while *driving*?

      Just wondering...
  • Very pertinent announcememt [] from this morning
  • My eyes have this little quirk; see the cones in my retina work just fine, like everybody else (they're the ones for bright light and color) but the rods (dim light) just decided to take a vacation and not work at all, 0, nothing. The basic technological fix is well, the lightbulb i guess, but there are times that it isn't practical or useful enough. Has anybody heard of anything nifty to help my problem. I heard of Project Blink involving magnets and large contacts but is there anything else?
  • by mattrwilliams ( 534984 ) <> on Monday December 20, 2004 @06:08PM (#11141090)
    There is a standardized format for talking books on CD called DAISY []. My mother is blind and I put together a PERL script that takes a DAISY cd, extracts the title/author/chapter information from the DAISY index file and then embeds that as MP3 tags at the end of the MP3s. I then load that onto an iPod so that she can carry around 10-20 books with her without having to carry the fairly large DAISY reader. Huge benefits of the iPod (3rd gen, not 4th): - audible feedback when you push a button or use the scroll wheel (clicks) - customization of main menu to remove irrelevant entries and can put browse by album (book title) at top of menu - separate tactile buttons for play/pause and skip track (chapter). with the 4th gen iPod, these buttons were integrated into the scroll wheel like the iPod mini - much harder to use - large storage capacity - each book is on average 500 MB
  • This is actually one of my complaints about the iPod. It is difficult to do certain operations without looking at the screen. The scroll wheel does different things depending on what "state" the menus are in, and there is an elaborate system of "timeouts" where the mode of the machine moves from one state to another without your asking it to. Furthermore the wheel goves no tactile feedback (aural feedback, while nice, just doesn't connect to your brain in the same way) and it's easy to move it a click accid

  • My hope here is that some of you folks interested in this topic might have some insight on a related issue with the US voting systems.

    I've been a spectator in a recent discussion regarding the best approach to delivering a secure voting system to the blind. It was an offshoot of some discussions on the current US voting systems, their serious shortcomings, and solutions. So far, I haven't read what any proposal that made much sense to me - they are all either extremely expensive (ie: everyone gets a special $3k reading wand) or otherwise highly impractical (ie: convoluted, multi-step, off-the-cuff type procedures to supposedly ensure a secure vote for the blind citizen).

    I'm no expert in this area, and I want to understand it a bit better. Can anyone suggest a practical solution that could be reasonably implemented across the US ?
    • Print ballots in brail.
    • Accessibility is a main selling point of the electronic voting machines that worry so many of us Slashdotters. They have screen readers, large fonts, high contrast, and support multiple languages. This is a good thing for those who need these features.

      Of course, a system we could trust would be a good thing for everyone.

      • Thanks for the reply. The discussion has turned lately to how someone who is blind can verify their vote, securely, and without breaking the anonymity of the voting booth. It's a challenging set of requirements !

        And in general, the current electronic voting systems (voting machines AND tabulators) are bad, real bad... I think secure electronic voting machines are possible - it's not that computers are 'bad', the particular systems now are. Suggesting an electronic solution to the blind voter problem
    • In all these discussions about electronic voting, the entire issue of the usability of the electronic voting process has been ignored, irrespective of disability. There's plenty of discussion about whether these systems will be secure from hackers trying to influence elections, but I've really heard very little about what will be done to make sure that voters (with disability or otherwise) will be able to accurate choose the candidate they wanted to choose.

      We've already had problems with the butterfly ball
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 20, 2004 @06:21PM (#11141226)
    The Screen Magnifiers Homepage [] has a nice listing of software available to visually impaired users. As a visually impaired person myself, I too wish there was some nice open sourced solution to help me out as commercial software is REALLY expensive.

    I have tried ZoomText and it is excellent. I have also tried almost every freeware/non comercial screen magnification software listed at, but to be honest with you, none have even come close to being usable. Most of them offer no more functionality than the magnifyer bundled with Windows. I have not tried freeware/opensource screen readers, so I cannot comment on them. I would suspect that nothing would even come close to JAWS.

    Regarding you friend's experience using Firefox with JAWS, I have run into several programs that wouldn't work with ZoomText. FireFox was one, Putty was another. The software could not track the cursor properly. These Programs seem to be mostly compatible with very popular software packages.
  • Has anyone had good experience with emacspeak? It looks promising, but I've never been able to locate the software for it that actually turns words on the screen onto a voice when I've played around with setting it up. From memory it wasn't particularly easy to set up on the distribution I was trying for (debian).
    • Re:emacspeak (Score:2, Insightful)

      by shizzle ( 686334 )

      My 12-yr-old son has been using Emacspeak for about two years now. It was a pain to set up as we are using the IBM ViaVoice TTS engine that was available for Linux for a while (but no more, even back then), meaning that I had to scrounge around and make do with some outdated zip files. The situation was also complicated by the fact that I was trying to use the somewhat broken built-in Via audio; things got much easier when I put in a cheap but authentic soundblaster card. Using a free software TTS engine

  • I've always thought this was so well put, it
    inspired me to try it: unplug my monitor and go. []
  • If you give every object in the game a name, and you relate distance and time, you can quite easily turn a MMORPG into a text adventure that can be read. This is a primitive step towards artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence will have every real noun and verb in its dictionary, and create a virtual 3d world. Artificial Intelligence is a long way off, but wiring up a MMORPG to play in text mode could be done now if funded.
    More on AI []
  • Non-GUI UI (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Cranston Snord ( 314056 ) on Monday December 20, 2004 @06:38PM (#11141379) Homepage
    The thing that always gets me about computer technologies for the blind is that they seem to focus on providing a described graphical user interface for people who often have never seen anything in their lives. My grandmother went totally blind with macular degeneration (of the unfixable variety) over the past ten years. She doesn't want to learn windows. She doesn't want to learn a mac. She wants to send and recieve email. Explaining concepts like windows and how to use a mouse seem awfully stupid to me.

    Building computers that focus on whole-system TTS interfaces via CLI apps seems to be a much better approach. Has anyone done anything like this that is explainable to a computer-illiterate blind grandmother?
  • by Zerbey ( 15536 ) * on Monday December 20, 2004 @06:42PM (#11141441) Homepage Journal
    Unfortunately, it's not free either. A visually impared co-worker needed help finding free software and I couldn't not find any decent software that wasn't free. There are very few decent commercial products, either. This is a real shame because there's a lot of visually impared geeks out there who are crying out for decent software.

    ZoomText is available from AI Squared [] and works great with Mozilla Firefox. Unfortunately at $395 the price tag is pretty hefty and there's no Linux version. Blind charities can usually sell the software at a discount, however.
  • by Raunch ( 191457 ) <> on Monday December 20, 2004 @06:43PM (#11141455) Homepage
    The sysadmin in my CS dept is blind, he uses linux exclusively, exept for telnetting into the solaris machines that he administers.

    I have no idea what he uses, but he is completely blind. He has an audio output that reads what I assume is the output from the terminal at an incredible speed. I have never been able to understand what it is saying, but he is quick about the whole thing. Probably the fastest typist I know.
    • Well seeing as how he can't use a GUI at all, there's no reason to work within a GUI interface. I'm sure it's CLI, just a single terminal window reading back to him like in the old days.

      Personally I think methods for using severely limited interfaces is a very interesting subject, and not just for the blind. There are thousands of places where there's just no room/money for a screen or keyboard or mouse, but where you want sophisticated interaction anyway. Your phone, for instance. Standard phones have
  • Emacspeak (Score:2, Informative)

    by algae ( 2196 )

    I'm kind of surprised nobody has brough up Emacspeak [] yet. Since Emacs is already a complete text-based replacement for everything anyone could ever want to do with a computer system, making it blind and visually-impaired accessable is a no-brainer.

    Plus, it's written by the blind, for the blind, and is it's own development platform. Is there anyone out there using Emacspeak that would care to comment on it?

  • Bright back-lighting may be helpful for him.

    The iPod's backlight is bright!
    I use it as a flashlight (seriously), and the first time I turned it on at night I had to scream "AAAH! MY EYES!" (because I'm a dramatic sort of fellow ;-)
    Now I wisened up: I turn it on facing away from me so my pupils have time to adapt.
  • In all the 46 comments I've read, nobody has mentioned package called Speakup. This is a set of kernel patches that enable Linux to output everything from boot messages on to a hardware synthesizer attached to a serial port. A version of Fedora that has these patches installed is available at [] With this software and a hardware synthesizer such as a Doubletalk (or 10 others), one can do just about anything supported at the command prompt including email and web (using lynx or an
  • It's really great that games like second-life can allow physically impaired people to "be on an equal playing field for once" But it would also be nice if these games offered people a choice of physical impairments. I might like to have a quadraplegic or deaf alter-ego but I can't do that in game-world.
  • Tooting my own horn here for a bit, but:

    Plone [] has had excellent support for blind people for quite a while, and passes both the US Section 508 accessibility guidelines and the much stricter WAI-AA accessibility requirements.

    I've seen several blind people use the CMS without problems, and it's quite a satisfying feeling to see that people can make use of your application even when they can't see it.

    We regularly get thank-you e-mails from blind people that are extremely grateful for giving them a

  • []

    written by a totally blind programmer (and you thought C++ and asm was hard)
    not open source but dedication like that deserves some kind of cash reward and OSS wont pay the bills, so support him, his customers and the great work he does

  • by chrisopherpace ( 756918 ) <{cpace} {at} {}> on Monday December 20, 2004 @07:30PM (#11141880) Homepage
    I have a blind friend that used lynx, bash, etc on a Linux box. All the extra setup took was just a :

    sh &>/dev/ttyS0

    And he was up and running. I will admit though that he is a bit of a *NIX guy, and already owned a shell account (was new to Linux, but had used UNIX before). He's not a wizard granted, but he knew what he had to.
  • Actually, Linux (and other free operating systems) work great with blind people. What you do need, though, is a serial terminal that is able to translate the text-only display into either Braille or speech.

    Now... The problem is, of course, that these terminals are getting fewer and fewer by the day... Blame companies such as Microsoft and the makers of JAWS (can't remember the name of the company right now) for sucking dry the market.

    Frankly, I have wrestled with JAWS quite a few times, for a friend who h
    • I think blaming JAWS or Microsoft is completely unreasonable, especially when you try to put the blame in economic terms. It's actually a very good thing that the "market" for blind people is so small and not a normal economic thing.

      Also partly a disclaimer, but I do a lot of work for some of the accessibility researchers at IBM, including some who are themselves disabled in various ways. The economics are always problematic, so they are always trying to think of ways to generalize and leverage the techno

  • I haven't tested that feature myself but it seems like Klaus Knopper has some blind relative or something, considering how much effort was put in this set of features in Knoppix. I mean, I had to use Knoppix a lot for some time and I was stumbling upon pieces "for the blind" all the time. Knoppix seems to be very serious about that, down to pushing boot-up messages to a reader device...
  • I'm blind myself (Score:2, Informative)

    by rshugart ( 48491 )

    OK, as a blind person myself, let me try and address these questions.

    1. games for the blind
    2. There are actually quite a few games out there that the blind can play. Most of them are specially designed for us. For more information, I'd dirrect you to some [] of [] the [] manufacturers []. For something that's a little closer to what the original poster was looking for, check out this [], this is the closest to a virtual world we have. The majority of these games are actually pretty good considering the size of the deve

  • As I was reading through these comments, one thing that might work is to have a small mp3 at the start of each playlist that identified that playlist?
  • I am the author of a free software program called im_narrator [] that provides text-to-speech services for a variety of IM clients on both win32 and Mac OS X. It's written in pure python and yet it uses a variety of platform-specific accessibility APIs, such as Microsoft's "Active Accessibility" and both Microsoft and Apple's TTS services. So it should prove useful to anyone who's interested in providing these kinds of services in free software.
  • by jbabco ( 683308 ) on Monday December 20, 2004 @10:47PM (#11143465)
    I was a technical manager on the CNIB (Canadian National Institute for the Blind) "Children's Discovery Portal" []. This is the children's interface into the larger CNIB Digital Library [] initiative that provides digital access to the entire CNIB audio archive, including newspapers and magazines. It's a free service to CNIB members.

    The project was sponsered to a large extent by Microsoft. They threw millions at it. Not surprisingly, the entire infrastructure around it consists of MS technology (interfacing with the legacy CNIB user data). We're talking W2K3 Servers, IIS, SQL, .NET, even Commerce Server to provide users with book recomendations (a la WMV was even chosen for the streaming audio format.

    The sole browser/screenreader combo targeted is IE/JAWS.

    I can tell you, JAWS was not chosen for any sort of advanced features or (percieved) usability. From an implentation POV, it's a nightmare. It's archaic software that is very picky in what/how it reads. It predates browsers and does not play well with pages that are not specifically designed for it. That said, the only reason it was targeted for the project is that it is the de-facto standard screenreader for the blind community. It's been around so long that it's ubiquitous. And as bad as it is, the kids use it intuitively and to it's fullest extent. I couldn't believe how fast they had JAWS cranked up (it was reading the screen at something like 10x speed) and they jump around the page using the keyboard controls faster then I (a sighted person) could read what was on the screen! Really something.

    Anyway, love it or hate it, it seems like JAWS will stick around for at least a while yet.
  • Use [] festival to do text to speech. Then it's a matter of redirecting stdout to /dev/speech (ok you've got to install the speech driver) and you've got web browsing with speech.

    I'm sure there are other apps available. Just a matter of emerging them
  • don't they have braille terminals? How hard is it to make a 40x25 character braille "display" ?
  • I am developing a Jaws emulator for Firefox called Fangs []. Fangs is GPL and targeted at sighted web developers to help them understand how a web page is rendered by a commonly used screen reader. As a side effect it helps Jaws read Firefox pages in a similar way to how it reads IE pages.

    In that work I have received loads of emails from people who would like to use Firefox in an assisted way. That is why I am planning to start a new project using the same rendering engine as Fangs to create a navigatable te

"I have not the slightest confidence in 'spiritual manifestations.'" -- Robert G. Ingersoll