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PC Accessibility Options for the Blind? 33

Kevlar Gorilla writes "I've had the privilege of working over the summer as a night time security guard and computer tech resident for the CNIB Lake Joseph Centre way up north in Muskoka, Ontario. There are many blind and visually impaired guests that find their way around computers efficiently using programs such as ZoomText, JAWS, and Window Eyes as well as memorizing plenty of keyboard shortcuts. Given a small budget, I've been charged with updating some software and perhaps some hardware too. What newfangled, affordable and recommended text-reading software should we invest in? What new hardware would be a welcome addition? Is there any decent Linux or Mac stuff? What are your experiences with helping the blind or visually impaired with computing and the internet?"
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PC Accessibility Options for the Blind?

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  • VoiceOver (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Mac OS X Tiger introduces VoiceOver [], an accessibility interface that offers you magnification options, keyboard control and spoken English descriptions of what's happening on screen. If you have a visual impairment, VoiceOver enables you to work collaboratively with other Mac users or work on their computers without assistance.

    VoiceOver reads aloud the contents of files including web pages, Mail messages and word processing files, provides a comprehensive audible description of your workspace and includes
  • ss/ [] [] Both speakup and voiceover are free. Helps a lot when you can't afford the likes of Jaws.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I take it the UNIX equivalent is not xeyes then...

  • I know this is totally off-topic, but isn't "night time security guard and computer tech" just the best job description for a sa you've heard in a long time?
  • by Johnny Mnemonic ( 176043 ) <> on Thursday June 02, 2005 @09:57AM (#12704041) Homepage Journal

    Apple's Mac OS X 10.4 "Tiger" includes, for free, the screen reader technology they call "VoiceOver" [].

    It is purported to remove the need to see the screen; I haven't used it myself, much, because I'm not blind. The Mac also includes some voice control, which every one on a Mac tries for a week and then quits using, mostly because using the mouse is faster and who likes to hear themselves talk all the time? I don't know how well the voice control stands up for day to day use.

    I think it's worth emphasizing that both products are free and included with 10.4. I understand that screen reader technology is usually pretty expensive; since it's now bundled with OS X I wonder if that makes the Mac more cost-effective for your situation vs. PCs with an additional software package required.

    You could get BlueTooth or USB headphones and microphones that would improve the performance of both products. And don't forget that you could use the mini [] with your current keyboards and monitors. There's also the Mac's "ease of use" and minimized need to teach users about internet security, and it seems like it might be a good solution for you.

    • Yep, a new Mini Mac with integrated speech cost less than just the leading Windows screen reading software. The bundled magnification [] feature is also very decent.

      If you believe the chatter here [] -- mostly blind folks burnt out on Windows for the same reasons as everyone at /. -- VoiceOver 1.0 is on par with Jaws and WindowEyes, at least with properly coded OS X apps (just Mail, Safari, TextEdit, and Terminal for now).

  • I recently did some testing in this area with a focus on Java app support and the suprise was the the new VoiceOver tech. in Tiger worked better than JAWS or ZoomText on Windows or Gnopericus on Solaris or Linux, and it comes included with Tiger for free.

    However, of the packages I tested, JAWS seemed to be the most comprehensive, especially around braille device support, but you pay for it. They even charge for the eval version.
  • Hi,

    While VoiceOver is a nice addition it really isn't up to the level of JAWS on Windows. For example if you Tab around the "Universal Access" pages of "System Preferences" it doesn't properly announce the names of any elements. All you get is the fact is that you have select "1 of 2" radio buttons. I would be deeply suspicious of any assitive technology where the dialog that turns it on isn't properly accessible.

    Also VoiceOver doesn't appear to work well with Java which is a shame. Just bring up a contex
    • if you spend the time learning your way around VoiceOver, like most blind/low vision people do with other screenreaders, you might encounter that VoiceOver isn't as comprehensive as Jaws, but reads enough to be of some use as a screenreader.

      Apple continued the work that Freedom Scientific and all the other companies abandoned when they realized the Mac platform was just too tiny to develop anything for, and if VoiceOver is the result of the work, then I am very impressed. If anything, the current VoiceO
  • mud (Score:3, Funny)

    by iamcadaver ( 104579 ) * on Thursday June 02, 2005 @10:48AM (#12704614)
    From experience: Show them a game world of text, and they won't care about productivity anymore.
  • I can't see any comments here...
  • Several suggestions (Score:3, Informative)

    by dasunt ( 249686 ) on Thursday June 02, 2005 @01:39PM (#12706257)

    Assuming that you are willing to use some sort of terminal reader for the blind, I would first suggest linux, since it runs well without a GUI, and the documentation/help also tends to be in text or easily converted to text.

    Second: GNU screen. You can set it up to have a list of terminals at the bottom of the screen. So, lets say I'm running bash and w3m under GNU screen, I can have the bottom line of the terminal to say " 12:25 Jun 02 pyng : 0$* w3m 1-$ bash". (pyng is the system name). What is displayed is configurable.

    Third: A bunch of CHUI apps. 'w3m' for web browsing. 'slrn' for newsgroups. 'emacs' for editing, or for all of the above. ;) Emacs also has an emacs speak, which is supposed to be nice. There is even CHUI/TTY IM clients and IRC clients.

    Fourth: Man doesn't live by bread alone. Telnet and MUDs. Try to find a good list of them. The roguelike 'nethack' (and probably slash'em as well) has instructions on configuring it for the blind. However, roguelikes are incredibly frustrating.

    Fifth: Some people claim festival is nice for reading text. I'm not sure. But there is always Project Gutenburg with its text files. Don't forget the many shoutcast servers out there as well. XMMS can be setup to be controlled by keyboard shortcuts, look at xmms-shell.

    Disclaimer: I'm not blind. Perhaps the blind prefer voice software. Perhaps there are specialized solutions that work better. But in the end, the only way to know which solution is better is to let the end user try it out.

  • Go check out VoiceOver []. It is part of Tiger, and therefore, free with the OS.
  • From what I've read about blind people using computers, a lot of problems come from fancy GUIs. So one way to get rid of a lot problems may be to drop the GUI and use a textmode interface instead. My favorite Linux distribution [] can even be installed by blind people []. From there, using standard Linux textmode applications should be no problem.

    I think other Linux distributions may also support blind people, especially those who don't start a GUI just to select and copy a few megabytes from the optical drive t

    • > From what I've read about blind people using computers

      Please, talk to some computer users who happen to be blind!

      > a lot of problems come from fancy GUIs

      That was true back in the days of MS Windows 3.0, maybe. (And, sadly, seems to be obstacle for *nix.) MS Windows is a boon to screen reader users for same basic reasons as the majority:
      (1) Consistent interface from app to app, so learning a word processor teaches you 75% of what you need to know for a spread sheet.
      (2) The ability to expl

  • Ethics (Score:2, Funny)

    by 101percent ( 589072 )
    The GNU zealots proclaim that propreitary software is unethical. However I wonder if they would say propreitary software that clearly does good things like help blind people use computers is unethical. I wonder about other medical equiptment that is propreitary. How unethical it must be to save lives and help people.
    • Ah, but closed source software can hide faults which potentially are serious enough to outweigh the good aspects. Taking your example, what if the proprietary/closed source software that ran a medical device had a flaw that could kill a patient?
      • they'd get sued, go bust and salt would be sown on the smoking ground that used to house their offices.
        you would not believe the levels of testing for medical equipment and software. it's literally incredible. it's typically not done in open source as the effort invested in coding it is recouped through selling the software. the GPL approach to making money with it (free software, sell the support) just doesn't really fly with medical stuff as you NEED the vendors support anyway: you'd be in a very stic
    • Re:Ethics (Score:3, Informative)

      by nmos ( 25822 )
      The GNU zealots proclaim that propreitary software is unethical. However I wonder if they would say propreitary software that clearly does good things like help blind people use computers is unethical.

      I support some blind users, many using various Freedom Scientific products. These products definately provide a level of freedom and productivity that make a huge difference in their quality of life. That said, if you've ever felt even a little trapped or restricted by MS, then depending on these products
  • by Tux2000 ( 523259 ) <> on Thursday June 02, 2005 @03:23PM (#12707212) Homepage Journal

    A simple setup I tried with a co-worker of my wife, who can see only about 30% of what is considered normal:

    A standard PC with a TV output connected to the largest available TV set (about 82cm 16:9). Windows 2000 was set to a very low resolution (720x480), extra large fonts, high contrast, and a large mouse cursor. Together with the build-in Magnifier (Start -> Accessories -> Accessibility -> Magnifier), the system was usable.

    A larger TV set (100 cm 4:3) or a beamer capable of projecting a 200 cm image would have been better, but he said he could work with that setup. Some things that would have disturbed me, like the slightly unsharp picture and the low overall quality of the display did not disturb him at all, simply because he can not see those details. He uses the big part of the screen to find the program, then he used the upper part with the magnifer to read the text on screen. He that that there are better magnifier programs available, but they cost a lot of money.

    As a nice side-effect, you can use the TV speakers instead of cheap and noisy PC speakers.


    • Under Linux, there are also a number of tools for visually impaired users, some completed, and some in development:

      • KDE 3.4 includes several large-size, high-contrast themes. Apart from several pre-build colour schemes, the colours can also be adapted to to individual needs. KDE also ships a complete scalable monochrome icon set, that can be automatically coloured in the chosen foreground and background colour.
      • KDE offers a simple magnifier (KMagnifier) which does not yet handle all the features needed fo
  • Are there any solutions for helping blind users interact with sites that require frequent visual CAPTCHAs? Are boycotts by the blind community effective? Or should blind users who must interact with uncooperative businesses hire an attorney and threaten lawsuits under section 508 or something? (Please excuse me if I've got my legal references mixed up.)

  • by falonaj ( 615782 ) on Friday June 03, 2005 @06:42AM (#12712513) Homepage

    Accessibility has been the main focus for recent release of KDE.

    A few links to relevant pages:

    The general tendency is close cooperation between the various projects. No songle project currently offers a complete accessibile solution on Linux, but by combining the different solutions, a lot is possble, and closer cooperation will make even mor ethings possible in the future.

    A lot of this cooperation was kicked of at the Unix Accessibility Forum [] last sumnmer, which the KDE project organised as part of the KDE World Summit.

    We are currently busy organising a follow-up event [] during LinuxTag 2005.

    Olaf Schmidt, co-maintainer of the KDE Accessibility Project

  • I think most software intended for blind users suffers from the fundamental flaw of being designed as a mere adjunct to graphical software already being used by sighted people. A sighted person has the ability to quickly scan a desktop or menu for an obscure program or icon. Without a "command" mode available, a blind person must have all those menus and icons read back aloud before she can select the desired action. Thus a command-line interface is actually friendlier to a blind user than an interface whe

Logic is the chastity belt of the mind!