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Operating Systems Software Input Devices

Designing an OS for Blind/Deaf Users? 356

Sushant Bhatia asks: "I work for a team developing technology for individuals who are blind and I have had the opportunity to use some screen reading software and while there have been leaps of progress it is still quite tedious to use, and not at all user friendly. One of my managers recently posed an interesting question for me: 'How would you design an OS from scratch that would target individuals who are blind and/or deaf?' What about inputs such as keyboards or refreshable Braille devices?"
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Designing an OS for Blind/Deaf Users?

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  • by bravehamster ( 44836 ) on Tuesday June 28, 2005 @05:15PM (#12935693) Homepage Journal
    Well, at least for BlindOS you don't have to worry about writing video drivers...

    • Unless your tech support/any other user of the machine isn't blind.
      • so youre saying people who are not blind would be completely incapable of using a machine that did not have a video interface?
      • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Tuesday June 28, 2005 @05:37PM (#12935998)
        > > Well, at least for BlindOS you don't have to worry about writing video drivers...
        > Unless your tech support/any other user of the machine isn't blind.

        Ah, this is about finding an OS for tech support folks in India. They could be blind, because all the work is done over the phone. Spending five minutes on the phone proves they're deaf. And the quality of the solutions proves that they're dumb.

        Ever since I was a young boy,
        I took the support call,
        From Delhi down to Bangalore,
        I must have played them all.
        But I ain't seen nothin' like him
        In any support-cube hall,
        That deaf, dumb and blind tech
        Always says "re-install!"

        Sits there like a statue,
        He's a voicemail machine,
        Please to reading from scripts,
        Keeps his call queue clean,
        Bullshits by intuition,
        Never seen him fall,
        That deaf, dumb, and blind tech
        Always says "re-install!"

      • There's always SSH, remote desktop, and equivalents...
      • Cut costs there, sure. But other possibilities exist. Would you really need as fast a processor on a box like this? Your output needs/speeds may not be as high as the needs of a traditional user. I am not a deaf or blind user (IANABODU henceforth), but I'm assum... stating that these should be different machines. Think of the possible needs/lack thereof.

        Visually impaired: video drivers possibly not needed; traditional 3D gaming not an option; output devices less resource intensive (no monitor may be needed

    • And give up playing Doom 3...???
    • by pizen ( 178182 )
      And not having to power a laptop screen means you should get great battery life.
    • On the contrary (Score:3, Insightful)

      by phorm ( 591458 )
      The OS is going to be at least somewhat compatible with other OS's to be somewhat useful. I should also have specialized input devices for people with hearing or vision deficiencies, and probably be compatible with modern X86 hardware (unless you plan on starting everything from scratch).

      Since visual input plays a huge part in interfacing with a modern OS and/or software, you're probably not going to need software compatability. You would need, however, to make the document formats compatible with say of
      • Re:On the contrary (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Baricom ( 763970 ) on Tuesday June 28, 2005 @06:10PM (#12936354)
        I agree. The challenge in developing an accessible user interface is that every disability has a different set of needs. For example, a person with a hearing impairment might be able to get along just fine on a general operating system - my home computer has a pair of headphones which I basically only use when I'm listening to music.

        It seems to me that operating systems today are farthest behind in serving people with visual impairments. It's obvious that a person who is totally or partially blind isn't going to have much fun trying to use a Graphical User Interface.

        I think the best solution at the moment is to write software that works within existing operating systems, using the built-in accessibility toolkits. A lot of improvement could be realized in this area alone.
        • Needs (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Oculus Habent ( 562837 ) * <> on Tuesday June 28, 2005 @07:04PM (#12936785) Journal
          I knew a pair of blind gentlemen who worked MSN Tech Support, and we set up a computer for the two of them to learn MSN Explorer with JAWS piped to speakers so they could both listen together.

          The experience left me both in awe of their ability to hear all sorts of detail and in disgust at the lack of accessibility. The the custom interface was made out of poorly named images. One particularly useless one (Image 14, IIRC) was the minimize, maximize, and close buttons, all together. This brought me to my thoughts on a vector-based UI. Imagine the convenience of smooth scalability across different resolution displays...

          Anyway, concerns that I can think of are as follows:

          1. API
          A series of abstracted interface methods should be made available. The categories are pretty simple... User Interface (menus, buttons, inputs), Text (static & editable text), Media (audio, video, pictures)... this is all off the top of my head, so feel free to improve on it. Each category simply defines a type of data, and then you can build ways to retrieve or interact with it.

          2. Registration
          I don't care if everyone puts their close button in the same place with the same icon. Visual users can typically locate these things. What they should do is then register that component with the UI Manager. Components could fall into multiple categories, i.e. a graphic on a web page with URLs mapped on it is both a picture and a series of links. Add a "group" indicator or hierarchy to properly collect controls and data together, and I think you have the basic needs covered.

          Using these two parts, we should be able to build simple command interfaces. The ability to define the set of controls, displays, and texts for a given interface means you can see them all at once, or hear or feel them in sequence. Your interface can choose to discard or delay extra media (no sudden advert noises on audio interfaces or no need to waste processing time on decoding the video portion of a media file) through a variety of user-adjustable settings.

          For visually-impaired individuals, I think the vector-based interface could make huge strides. Right now, you can buy a 21-inch monitor and set it to 800x600, or use a projector, but new laptops are still 1024x768 or higher. I listened in on a Dell Customer Service call from an older gentleman who loved the laptop he purchased, but couldn't read the high-res screen. If a vector-based interface was available that allowed his to change the point size - similar to Mozilla's Ctrl-Scroll size changes - he would have been fine.

          I think the key, and the hard part, is getting buy-in on this kind of pervasive detailing of interfaces. HTML/XHTML is a great start for this, because this kind of extension is very easy based on the nesting and pre-defined components on a page.

          Interfaces for the disabled or impaired could come in handy for everyone. These same advances are where the "technologies of the future" come from. Until we push the mouse away, we're stuck to the desktop metaphor.
  • um... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ed.han ( 444783 )
    maybe i'm being obtuse, but wouldn't the sole useful input method for the blind be verbal? as for the deaf: why would you not use a GUI? this seems too simple so what am i missing?

    • Many blind people can type just fine.
      • re:um... (Score:2, Insightful)

        by ed.han ( 444783 )
        uberdave: yeah, i'm sure they can, but when you come right down to it, speech is still much faster. i seem to recall 40 WPM being considered the desirable benchmark for anything other than executive assistants, etc. i type at 85-90. but that's nothing compared to the speed of speech, which IIRC can run from speeds of 110-120 WPM. why limit the user?

        here's a question though: instead of the folder analogy, would everything have a flat file structure, with users performing search queries for desired files
        • Re:um... (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Txiasaeia ( 581598 )
          It's not the user that's limited, but the speech recognition software. When I type, I can be reasonably sure that what I'm typing will actually appear on the screen (even with my eyes closed or looking away). Voice recognition, on the other hand, isn't as accurate, and any increase in speed gained by using speech will be lost for a for a blind person when they need to get the computer to read back what you've written and manually correct it.
        • Although there have been significant advances, speech recognition is still a dream. (Feel free to post some links to the contrary. I'd be glad to look them over.)

          As far as storage, why would you need to change anything? The folder analogy is, after all, only an analogy. One could use a "slash" notation like linux uses: (ie /home/uberdave/documents/resume.txt). Text is easily "brailled".
    • Why wouldn't blind people use keyboards as input? Verbal input has a long way to go and a blind person can type just as fast as a regular person.
    • Put them together and whoa! You get RegularOS!
    • Re:um... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ne0n ( 884282 )
      I've seen a blind guy type over 100wpm, no errors. also, his screen reader sounds like a mad speak&spell on crack, it's so ridiculously fast. Much faster, in fact, than most sighted people can read.
    • AN OS? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Quasar1999 ( 520073 ) on Tuesday June 28, 2005 @05:26PM (#12935867) Journal
      What the hell does an OS have to do with who's using it?

      An OS should be a standard toolset for applications to be built on. Memory management, driver management, and application management is what an OS should do... it should worry about dividing hardware resources up among it's processes, it should worry about managing drivers... it should not have anything to do with the user interface that runs on it. This question was obviously posed by someone who hasn't the first clue about what an OS actually is.
      • Re:AN OS? (Score:3, Insightful)

        it should not have anything to do with the user interface that runs on it

        And are there not tools available in an OS that allow the user to choose and install applications for the OS to manage? How might such a disabled person start and/or stop any processes on your OS which, as you say, should not have anything to do with the user interface?

        Wipe your hard drive and do a fresh install of your favorite OS, then blindfold yourself and install and use your apps. Go ahead, I dare you.
        • Re:AN OS? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 28, 2005 @05:54PM (#12936180)
          The phrase "Blind OS" represents muddle-headed thinking from the very start.

          An operating system is an abstraction of resource managers of various hardware-level resources: CPU, disk, etc.

          The challenges a blind person experiences in using a computer has nothing to do CPU scheduling, filesystems, interprocess communication, nor of anything else that relates to operating systems. The challenge of the blind is all in the user interface.

      • Well, is Mac OS an operating system? How about Windows? According to most currently used definitions they are. Or perhaps you are some sort of pedant who wants to call them operating environments or OS+interface. Whatever. The poster was referring to the user interface, which is usually handled by the OS for most applications.

        That is also, I might mention, the best place to deal with a specialized user interface so that you need not depend upon every application developer to try to put in special suppo

      • Thank you. Why does everyone equate the OS with the user interface?

        The OP's question makes a lot more sense when it's phrased in terms of UI than it does when you try to make the user a function of the OS.

        I think the confusion comes about from marketing, but we should know better than to adopt every misconception propogated by talking heads.
        • Re:AN OS? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Infernal Device ( 865066 ) on Tuesday June 28, 2005 @05:53PM (#12936167)
          On the other hand, both your response and the one it responds to are crass and ignorant.

          It is reasonable that a non-technical person would confuse the OS with the interface, since more and more, the interface is designed to shield the non-technical user from the inner workings. This is the world we live in, rather than some idealized form where everybody has a clear understanding of everything.

          Perhaps the OP's real expertise is in working with the deaf and blind in a different area rather than computer interfaces. Perhaps this person has not had the exposure that you have had. Whatever the case, it doesn't matter if the person was informed or not; by both of y'all showing your asses, you've contributed a little bit more to one of the problems, rather than a sensible solution.
    • wouldn't the sole useful input method for the blind be verbal?

      You are forgetting tactile.

      Do blind people not have fingers? Can they not type just like you or I?

      Same goes for output: I have a blind friend who can read braille faster than a voice synthesizer can speak text.

    • Re:um... (Score:4, Informative)

      by pizzaman100 ( 588500 ) on Tuesday June 28, 2005 @05:28PM (#12935894) Journal
      One incorrect assumption about the blind is that they are blind. ;) There are a large spectrum of 'legally blind' people who do in fact have some usable vision. They won't be driving cars, but they can user computers. For such people, visual aids are helpful (magnification software, or really large resolution like 320x240).

      My four year old daughter is legally blind, but she is learning how to use a regular computer just fine. It's amazing to watch. In the mean time, I'm working on having the government buy a really large plasma display to 'facilitate' my daughter's learning environment. :)

      • Re:um... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by pizzaman100 ( 588500 ) on Tuesday June 28, 2005 @05:41PM (#12936056) Journal
        Another note: a good Windows utility for completely blind users is Jaws []. It is a speech software utility for Windows. (example: to navigate, the software verbally says: 'start', 'programs', accesories', etc. I saw a demonstraton of the software by a blind man, and he kicked ass (kinda like the hacker dude in Sneakers). Anyway, he could navigate way quicker using the keyboard than the typical sighted windows user could.
        • And how can a typical blind person afford a copy of Jaws? What job can a blind person do before beginning to use a computer?

          • Yes, it's expensive, but in a lot of cases the end user is not paying for it. There are foundations and charities that will help pay the cost. And if the user goes to public school, they can probably get the local district to pay for it (The government by law has to facilitate the needs of anyone with a disability).
        • Re:um... (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Kirth ( 183 ) on Tuesday June 28, 2005 @06:01PM (#12936251) Homepage
          Why the hell would I use a window-environment at all?

          80xSomething, textmode. The same as the braille-device has. Various consoles, a screenreader in the background which starts reading on a specific key on any console and in any program (be that shell, editor or webbrowser); maybe a hacked up "screen"-program could do that, that would also allow for dozens of virtual terminals without logging in dozens of times. I've seen a *real hacker* work on a vt220 with screen, slrn, bitchx, mutt, dozens of consoles, vim, ssh. Incredibly fast.

          In fact, most unices would already do nicely, I suspect, given some nice text-to-speech software and good drivers for braille-hardware.
    • Re:um... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by SeventyBang ( 858415 )
      You aren't missing anything. Someone got a little giddy over thinking of something interesting and jumped the gun.

      I know several deaf people who don't care about mods to a GUI, including Windows.

      When it comes to the blind, however, it doesn't mean it can't be a GUI, but there still has to be the correct UI. There are already a number of products which some of the blind people I know (one owns his own recruiting and consulting firm) and have said they don't need a change for most of what they do.

      So n
      • Maybe we should file a "request for clarification" from the author as to why they meant OS instead of UI?

        Probably because in practice the set of operating system distributions that come preinstalled on home and office PCs in the English-speaking world corresponds one-to-one with the set of distinct user environments.

    • Re:um... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Pengunea ( 170972 )
      As the parent article states, "blind and/or deaf". That possible "and" puts an interesting twist on things that blows "sole useful input" right out of the water.

      Yes, blind and visually impaired people can use vocal interfaces to use computers. Personally as a legally blind programmer I can't STAND vocal interfaces. They bloat the amount of time it takes me to tab through code by a factor of at least three. So I make do with using the PC at a lower resolution. I'm one of the lucky ones out there who can do
    • Yes, the Deaf can use GUIs, but...those GUIs tend to have a bunch of audio signals to indicate errors and the like. Not all of them have corresponding visual signals, and a generic "flash screen" doesn't let one tell different situations apart as easily as the variety of sound effects available. Heck, I'm surprised that GNOME bothers to give the "flash screen" option in addition to "flash window"; surely one would want to know the particular window having the problem.

      For that matter, written languages are
  • by winkydink ( 650484 ) * <> on Tuesday June 28, 2005 @05:16PM (#12935716) Homepage Journal
    about the OS, but for deaf/blind people, the hw platform should be a pinball machine.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Before closed captioning, sometimes on the news, they would have a guy at the bottom of the screen doing sign language during a section called "News for the Hearing Impaired". On Saturday Night Live, they made fun of this, with Garret Morris, in the role of the anchor for the "hearing impaited" would yell "OUR TOP STORY TONIGHT" when the anchor would say "Our Top Stoty Tonight"
  • 508 compliance (Score:5, Informative)

    by tyates ( 869064 ) on Tuesday June 28, 2005 @05:17PM (#12935721) Homepage
    I would start with the US government's recommendations for app development for people with disabilities. Most apps written for the Fed have to be section 508 compliant, which helps ensure that they'll work with screen readers. Keep in mind though that from my (limited) experience, 508 compliance is more than an art than a science - you know, you get something that's kinda sorta 508 compliant. []
    • An OS requirement would be that all output streams should produce meaningful output as per section 508, if piped into a suitable device.

      The implication of this is that streams would be informational in nature, rather than presentational. Presentation would be a function applied at the device level, rather than imposed by the OS or underlying application.

      So, you have a core OS which runs the applications, and an I/O OS which handles the conversion of the informational streams into a presentation format

  • by daveschroeder ( 516195 ) * on Tuesday June 28, 2005 @05:17PM (#12935722)
    While not part of an OS designed "from scratch" for vision-impaired individuals, Apple VoiceOver [] is the first such functionality of its kind to be included for free with a commercial operating system. It's a fully integrated screenreader and accessibility interface for Mac OS X, and is tightly integrated with both the operating system and its APIs, and is extensively supported in several common applications.

    As for hearing-impaired individuals, the task is much easier, as the primary interface to a computer is already visual. However, visual alerts and features that would correspond with otherwise audio-only events have also been integrated by Apple in Universal Access [].

    In addition, Universal Access includes features that assist individuals with motor impairments as well.

    While it may be an interesting and informative exercise to think about the types of things you'd do if you were going to "build it from scratch", it might be more productive to think about how these capabilities could be added to existing commodity operating systems, such that the technology can continue to be affordable and easily supported.
    • Apple VoiceOver is the first such functionality of its kind to be included for free with a commercial operating system.
      No. Windows XP has had Narrator [] since its release.

      However, knowing Apple, VoiceOver probably works better. I haven't had a chance to test it yet.
  • My ideas (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) * <akaimbatman&gmail,com> on Tuesday June 28, 2005 @05:17PM (#12935731) Homepage Journal

    1. Use a device that creates a topographical image on a pad based on the screen color values. This would allow the blind user to "feel" his way around the screen. More advanced versions could allow the user to use his hands as a mouse, by accepting a certain amount of pressure as a click.

    2. Controls on the device should allow the user to "zoom in" on particular areas. This would help the user more easily find toolbar buttons and the like.

    3. Replace the system fonts with braille fonts. (I'm uncertain as to how one might add bold or italics for emphasis, but I'm sure a system can be devised. Perhaps extra bumps outside the normal character area?)

    4. No right clicks. Right clicking is more of functionality for advanced users anyway. Mac OS X can get along without it, so other OSes should be able to do so as well.

    5. "Selected" items should actually invert in the control device. This would allow the person to easily understand what (s)he has selected at the moment.

    6. Standard controls such as checkboxes, radio buttons, and the like should be skinned to be more "feel" friendly. i.e. Simple invertable boxes would work better for checkboxes and radio buttons than our current iconic forms.

    7. One handed brail keyboard? It's just a thought, but if the blind could be taught to use a one hand keyboard, they could read and type at the same time.

    Deaf: What are some of the actual challenges facing a deaf computer user? Computers are primarily visual, and tend to suffer little with the loss of sound. (Unless I'm listening to music, I usually keep my machines muted.) My only thought is that the standard issues of movie subtitles apply.
    • Re:My ideas (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I wonder how many of these ideas would actually work in practice. Perhaps a blind person could contribute to this discussion, and we could get a true perspective on this. There's probably a huge difference between what sighted people think blind people need and what people who are blind actually need.
    • Unfortunately, not all OSs support screen flashing (in its many incarnations) as a substitute for the terminal bell.
      • Re:My ideas (Score:3, Insightful)

        by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) *
        The first thing I tend to do is turn off the damn bell. I can tell when my input is not accepted just fine, thank you. In fact, (as I stated in my post) I consistently mute my computer unless I'm listening to music or watching television. (I have a TV card.)

        Considering that muting the computer would have the same effect as being deaf (rest of the environment excluded), I fail to see how the terminal bell would help.

        The only case where I see an issue is with people who are both deaf and blind. Special noti
        • Re:My ideas (Score:3, Insightful)

          Special notifications such as new email would be hard for them to detect.

          There are pressable buttons on certain "multimedia" keyboards that open your email, open your web browser, etc.

          A nice way to do notification for someone who can't hear or see would be to pop-out a similar button on the keyboard (or equivalent). When the email notification would normally appear / disappear on screen, the button would pop out / pop back in off the keyboard. The button could be pressed to start the email reading func
        • The first thing I tend to do is turn off the damn bell. I can tell when my input is not accepted just fine, thank you.

          I like having feedback on things like tab completion not working, but I hate that hideous system beep too. My solution was to use xset the change the bell to a click --- it requires some fiddling with the parameters to find the right setting (it varies from machine to machine). But it's unobtrusive but effective, much less irritating, and I don't get death threats from my coworkers.

          • I like having feedback on things like tab completion not working,

            To each their own, I guess. In my case, I'm rather annoyed at the Sun CDE terminal. While you can switch the bell to a flash, there is no way to completely disable the functionality. A minor thing, perhaps, but it bugs me to no end. :-/
    • Re:My ideas (Score:3, Informative)

      by Dun Malg ( 230075 )
      5. "Selected" items should actually invert in the control device. This would allow the person to easily understand what (s)he has selected at the moment.

      Braille consists of raised bumps. "Inverting" them, i.e. turning them into dents, renders them essentially unreadable.

      • Re:My ideas (Score:3, Interesting)

        by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) *
        Braille consists of raised bumps. "Inverting" them, i.e. turning them into dents, renders them essentially unreadable.

        Sorry, I was unclear. I was referring to icons and buttons being inverted. Text should never be inverted, but should actually be raised when selected. Thanks for catching that.
    • 1. Use a device that creates a topographical image on a pad based on the screen color values. This would allow the blind user to "feel" his way around the screen. More advanced versions could allow the user to use his hands as a mouse, by accepting a certain amount of pressure as a click.

      Man i dunno about that, can you imagine the stuff they would have to feel while going through their spam?
  • One answer: (Score:5, Informative)

    by Rosco P. Coltrane ( 209368 ) on Tuesday June 28, 2005 @05:17PM (#12935738)
    blinux [].
  • CLI would be IDEAL (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BagOBones ( 574735 ) on Tuesday June 28, 2005 @05:19PM (#12935759)
    Really if you are going to take only text as input and output is going to be serial text, speech (blind but not deaf), braille CLI is the way to go.

    This does not prevent you from multi tasking BTW, it simply means that you need to work within a well defined context.

    Nothing new to invent.
    • well, even the well-crafted unix CLI tools could use some work before they'd be useful for Text-To-Speech applications.

      Anyone who's ever piped the output from 'ls -l' into festival knows this.

      • Agreed.

        The standard unix tools need to be redesigned to be as easily spoken as they are interperated by the average user.
        • by Kirth ( 183 )
          The standard unix tools need to be redesigned to be as easily spoken as they are interperated by the average user.
          Absolutely. There's a nice article [] on this. The author implemented an "ls" which outputs "644" on "ls -p". I'm all for something like that. Special switches to GNU ls or whatever to allow things like this. As long as there are enough letters left for parameters, do it.

          And then, there is /bin/ed of course ;).
        • Already done (Score:3, Informative)

          by TuringTest ( 533084 )
          It's called Archy []. This OS is a redesign of the command line with a focus on habit-forming, not navigational use.

          The LEAP technique for quick positioning would make it better for blind users than a traditional CLI where users can't easily scan the output of a command. In Archy, users can touch-type the destination point and have it read in loud voice, instead of having to hear the whole text.
      • well, even the well-crafted unix CLI tools could use some work before they'd be useful for Text-To-Speech applications.

        I'm not sure that the parent was referring to text-to-speech. In the case of a 80x25 terminal, it would be quite easy to build a monitor that pops up the bumps for each braille character. Reading it would be as simple as scanning down the page. Obviously "less" would be needed to prevent things from scrolling too fast.

        Such devices already exist, although I think they only provide one lin
        • Such devices already exist, although I think they only provide one line at a time (for some reason).


          This was the first advertised hit on google, but at this store you're looking at $10,000 []for a one-line 81 character display.

          For 25 lines, I'd rather just hire someone to read my screen for me.
  • Multi-modal:
    Deaf - Signing/GUI
    Blind - Verbal/Acoustic
    Multiple Challenge - Tactile/Special peripheral
  • If I were designing an OS for deaf individuals... I uh... wouldn't spend a lot of time on Music Players?

    It seems to me like a lack of eyesight would be a bigger barrier to computer usage.
  • by hilaryduff ( 894727 ) on Tuesday June 28, 2005 @05:24PM (#12935843)
    this was in '97. one bit of advice i can give is to make it so blind AND sighted people can use it. this is important because often the blind user will need to be taught to use it, and another blind user isnt always available/ideal for teaching another blind user (depending).
  • Oralux (Score:3, Informative)

    by TheSync ( 5291 ) on Tuesday June 28, 2005 @05:26PM (#12935857) Journal
    Oralux [] is a Knoppix live-CD to facilitate access to GNU/Linux for the visually impaired. The Oralux user interface is based on Emacspeak or Yasr, and has FLITE and EFM (Festival/MBROLA version).
  • Use Linux. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by DosBubba ( 766897 )
    Some Links:
    Linux Accessibility HOWTO []
    The Blind Linux Project [] with mailing list []
    brltty [] for your braille input needs
    Or, get an all in one distro []
  • FINALLY! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by drewzhrodague ( 606182 ) < minus pi> on Tuesday June 28, 2005 @05:27PM (#12935875) Homepage Journal
    It must not be so obvious to other people, but this is quite obvious to me. Computers don't necessarily need screens, we don't need to be hand-eye-coordinating little pointers on screens anymore. FOr those of us that have (most of) our sense intact, doesn't it make sense to not shunt them into a little tiny box?

    So I'm talking about UI.

    Does it make sense to use a mouse to click the start button while you're in bumper-to-bumper traffic, and driving a manual transmission? I can't imagine why this is still the case. Hay you UI and interface designers -- take a lesson from those of us who can't hear, or can't see, and imagine how they'd get things done. Same concepts can and should apply to handhelds, phones, PDAs, remote controls, etc. There are far more attractive (women) things to look at than little blinkety gadgets. Also, lots of user-wishes can be infered from small sensors (photodiode, accelerometers, available Wi-Fi networks), and the laptop doesn't really have to be open all the time in order for us to be connected and informed.

    Please take a lesson from the needs of our blind and deaf brothers -- and enlighten the UIs for everyone.
    • This gives me an idea.

      How about a special key (a-la alt-tab) for switching tasks, and a tone (or perhaps sample, like flute / piano / string) to tell you which task you're in?

      Of course if you can't understand, press another key and you'll get the same tone/instrument, followed by the task name.
  • I have sound muted on nearly all my computers -- that I can't hear them makes little difference to the OS or OS design. At worst, audible alerts need only be replaced by a flash of the menu-bar. Being blind would be a whole other matter.

    The point is that some "disabilities" have little impact on OS design, other have a huge impact and each disability affect OS deisgn in different ways.
  • The open-source mp3 player OS Rockbox includes a "Talking Menu" option [] that will read back commands, playlists, and song/file information. It's very useful for blind users, as well as sighted hands-free/driving use.
  • by esobofh ( 138133 ) <(khg) (at) (> on Tuesday June 28, 2005 @05:29PM (#12935914)
    your in a room - do you;

    1 go left
    2 go right
    3 go straight
    4 reload
  • I have a blind programmer that works for me. He does a wonderful job considering the limitations.

    Some people think that improved "input method" using "voice technology" is the answer. From what I have seen is just the opposite. He does not have a problem inputing data with a keyboard just like the rest of us. The problem is with the UI's and graphic rich society that we live in today -- the software to read from the screen using voice tecnology is the weakness.

    He showed me some websites in Links that
  • Okay, "haha" about the Deaf jokes. As a female (gasp!) Deaf computer user (abuser?) what I need is a captioning feed for videos. Popular news sites routinely feature video news clips but they are meaninless to me without knowing what is being said. How about some captioning? Too expensive? It sure seems so because I sure as hell never see it. As for Braille, not all blind people know Braille and legally blind people usually have *some* sight and prefer to utilize their sight as best they can along with scre
  • I wouldn't (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kfg ( 145172 ) on Tuesday June 28, 2005 @05:34PM (#12935965)
    I think this is one of those cases where it isn't mere pedantry to point out that the OS and the shell/interface are two very different things and that what you want is an interface designed from scratch for the blind.

    You can use any already existing decent OS as the base.

    You do not have to reinvent the wheel to invent the wheelchair.

    If it were me I think I would start out by trying to scratch build a decent IRC client. What you learn by doing that will teach you things you will need to know about such interfaces before you start out at a lower level.


  • My opinion is that a microkernel is better for blind and deaf users than a monolithic kernel is. And it goes without saying that the filesystem should support journaling!

    Um, shouldn't we be discussing USER INTERFACE for blind/deaf users, not the broad and mostly irrelevant topic of OPERATING SYSTEM?
  • The graphical version of an OS like Linux is just a runlevel starting the graphical set of services: X, gnome or kde, etc. runlevel 3 is text only. You could just build a small set of new I/O services and add a new runlevel to Linux (or BSD for that matter) instead of a brand new OS. That would allow it to boot to normal mode or the new mode as desired.

    A set of services for the blind might include text-to-speech for output,for example.
  • "I work for a team developing technology for individuals who are blind and I have had the opportunity to use some screen reading software and while there have been leaps of progress it is still quite tedious to use, and not at all user friendly. One of my managers recently posed an interesting question for me: 'How would you design an OS from scratch that would target individuals who are blind and/or deaf?' What about inputs such as keyboards or refreshable braille devices?"

    Back when I was studying at

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Mac OS 9 was the most blind enabled ever, even for 'refreshable-braille"

    The reason... for the first 10 years maybe 15 years EVERY developer followed EVERY rule and used the official GUI and official controls (with text labels in them) and the compter gui was also mode-less, as well as very intuitive.

    Sadly... apple hired cretinous morons who destroyed the gui in apples own idiotic tangential offerings ruining everything.

    At one point in their own written standards manual 'HUMAN INTERFACE GUIDELINE" apple p
  • The OS doesn't matter. Memory mnagement, hardware management, etc doesn't care if the user is blind, deaf, or other. Whats needed is specialized hardware for IO. Whats needed depends on the problem.

    Legally blind (bad vision but can see):
    WM needs to apply magnification to GUIs, and needs to anti-alias the enlargements. Since this will reduce screen space, it needs to either make heavy use of virtual workspaces or allow the workspace itself to scroll.

    Truely blind:
    Keyboard with modified keys with the bra
  • To actually answer your question:
    I'd build a larger, fast and strong braile-type grid grouping each braile-type-patch within a elevated, push-button border to give at least as much input as a regular keyboard and as much output as a complex CLI. Add cording and you've got even more possibilities.
    I'd build out- and input all around it. It would be something simular to the bash or zshell cli combined with Turbovision - but without overlapping windows.
    The fast and strong grid would even make it possible to pla
  • I'd start by asking some blind/deaf folks what they need and want. I don't know what problems deaf people would have because I work all day on a computer with the sound turned off (not down, OFF).

    As for blind people... I've worked with blind people who use computers. In both cases they each had a voice reader for the screen which was so distorted and set to speak so fast I couldn't understand it. One of the two also had an 80 char braille monitor made by Freedom Scientific.

    What I can tell you is that
  • The perfect OS for blind people is any operating system using the command line, such as the many unix-variants, DOS, VMS, or anything else except windows or mac. And the perfect text-editor is line-oriented; e.g. ed) (or DOS's edlin :-)

    The problem isn't that such OSes or application software don't exist. The problem is that most tasks people do with PCs, is not something that is suitable for blind people.

    Case in point: most of todays office or "productivity" software is WYSIWYG. That is pretty silly fo

  • The problem with writing an OS specificly for a purpose so small, is that you'll find there are less people who care enough to maintain it, or it'll cost a bunch for the OS to support a team of people to keep it up.
  • If you're going to spend the effort, you should try to support Helen Keller as well.

    Perhaps some kind of device where mechanical pins pushed with electromagnetism pop up to form a physical equivalent of a monochromatic screen? The pins would form the braille letters and could form simple pictures as well. Then use a single-handed chording keyboard so that one hand is free to read the "screen." You could lightly "buzz" the location where the cursor is so that Helen knows where to "look." If you build it rig
  • Point one (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gmhowell ( 26755 ) <> on Tuesday June 28, 2005 @10:06PM (#12937955) Homepage Journal
    My wife uses some of these devices (BrailleNote QT) and the biggest problem is using the wrong underlying operating system. DOS and Linux work just fine when translated to the command line; the WinCE that underlies her machine sucks. Hard. Sure, it gives a bare modicum of device and software (read: Outlook) compatibility, but at the cost of needless hardware overhead, and a special version of the three finger salute.

    Asking 'what about blind and/or deaf' shows a bit of lack of understanding. The best replacement for the blind is speech. The only option for DB is refreshable braille. I suggest you and/or your employer make some contact with DB groups. At a DB camp a couple of weeks ago, some devs and sales reps from some tech outfit (forget which one) displayed their wares. The kneejerk /. response is "did they contribute for their market research?" To which I say "sod off". The market is fairly small, and should be one with a tighter feedback loop between vendors and users. My email address is non-obfuscated should you need some ideas or contact info for some groups.

    Finally, expose the API and make some generic libraries available to use to people who like to program. PulseData/HumanWare wants, I belive a dev kit fee. Umm, screw that. Entry level prices on the BrailleNote are ca. $3000, IIRC, so there's plenty of money out there. Not sure about you, but Franklin Scientific, Blazie, PD, etc. are Hardware companies. Let a little bit of "Open Source"ism do some development for you. There is tremendous word of mouth, and if some third party makes some brilliant add on, it will get around the community. Depending on how you license it, you may be able to ship later. (Personally, I would go BSD or LGPL.)

    In summation:

    1. Don't confuse blind and deaf and deaf-blind. Each is unique with unique needs. An attempt to be all things to all people will either have stratospheric costs or poor quality or both.

    2. Ask your customers instead of some random slashbots. They are out there.

    3. Build it from the ground up, since you'll likely have bizarro hardware anyway.

    4. Make it possible to program for it. It (the DB group) is a tight community, with lots of people looking out for others, so it's not like you'll be helping a competitor. Think of third parties as value added.

    5. (Not mentioned above, but kinda goes with 2) Update your freaking website with real, up to date, and complete information. Have a company policy of a real, human reply to all correspondence within x hours, where x72. Even "I got your note and am investigating your concerns" is better than some of what I get from PD from time to time.

    And a freebie. My wife never uses the voice prompts on her BN, but I activate them if I have to do tech support (needing an onsite geek is a bad thing, BTW). Try to get a speech synth chip that sounds better than the WOPR or Speak and Spell I had as a kid. Seriously. It's 2005, and every time I hear the voice, I expect to hear "Would you like to play a game?"
  • by Ingolfke ( 515826 ) on Tuesday June 28, 2005 @10:17PM (#12938015) Journal
    I can't seem to find any screenshots. Has anyone seen the screenshots?
  • my experience (Score:4, Insightful)

    by greenrom ( 576281 ) on Wednesday June 29, 2005 @02:05AM (#12939226)
    About 5 years ago back when I was in school, I worked on a project sponsored by the state of washington to develop an improved text telephone for people who are both deaf and blind. To help us develop a prototype, we met with a lot of deaf-blind people and people who assisted them. I strongly encourage you to meet with people who are deaf-blind before trying to design a device that would meet their needs. Here are a few things I learned while working on the project.

    * Most deaf-blind people are not born deaf and blind. Most deaf-blind people are born either deaf or blind and then lose the other sense as they get older. I don't have any numbers to back this up, but the overwhelming majority of deaf-blind people we met suffered from Usher Syndrome []. Most people who have this genetic disorder are born deaf and then start going blind around 30. From my experience, most of these people only start to learn braille when they start to experience vision loss. It can be difficult for adults to learn braille. As a result, it's very useful to have a display suitable for people with reduced vision in addition to a braille display to ease the transition as these people are learning braille.

    * Deaf-blind people communicate by using sign language and feeling the speaker's hand as things are signed. However, deaf-blind people often need to communicate with people who do not know sign langage (a repairman, neighbor, paramedics, etc). To do this, they often rely on a computer, text telephone, or similar device that allows them to type messages back and forth to the person they need to communicate with. It's important to keep secondary uses like this in mind when designing a product.

    * For the severely vision impaired, we found that LCD and CRT based displays were not easy to read. The displays that were easiest to read had about 2-inch letters and emitted a bright light in the blue-green area of the color spectrum. Scrolling text is very difficult to read for people with severe vision impairments. Many of the people we worked with had severe tunnel vision that made multi-line displays confusing. These people would keep their head a couple of inches from the screen and move their head to scan across the line. We ended up using a large vacuum-flourescent display that would advance a line at a time at the user's control. We also found that having interchangeable color filters for the display made it useful for more people since everyone's vision loss is different.

    * We found that multi-line braille displays were confusing for a lot of people and didn't serve much purpose since you can only read one line at a time. The design we used that people seemed to like the best was a 20 character braille display with a button on the left-hand side for scrolling up one line and a button on the right hand side for scrolling down one line.

    * Some people we met were good typists, but most people tended to one-finger it. That's bad enough if you can see, but it's even worse for blind people. We had braille lettering on our keys, and we found that a lot of people would scan the keys with their fingers to locate the letter they wanted to type. However, they often ended up inadvertantly pressing these keys as they were scanning the braille. Using very stiff key switches greatly reduced this problem.

    * Placement of keys, power switches, etc is very important. Things need to be easy to locate but difficult to inadvertantly hit. This is harder than it sounds and you probably won't know the mistakes in the layout until you ask a blind person to use it.

    * Before I worked on this project, I had no idea that there are two different kinds of braille: 6-dot and 8-dot. Far more people are familiar with 6-dot since it's what's used for most books, but 6-dot has a lot of limitations. The only symbols you get are period and comma. Numbers are letters that are prefixed by the number symbol. As you can see, there can be some information l

Karl's version of Parkinson's Law: Work expands to exceed the time alloted it.